Here’s your degree. Bon voyage!

Here’s your degree. Bon voyage!

Aida Alami reports on new regulations making it more difficult for foreign students who study in France to remain after graduation: 

They speak French as a mother tongue, pepper cafe conversation with Sartre and Camus and are educated at some of the most elite schools in the country. And yet, a tightening of French immigration rules is forcing many recently graduated foreign students back home to North Africa, where few jobs await, potentially depriving France of productive, highly trained labor.

On May 31, Interior Minister Claude Guéant and Labor Minister Xavier Bertrand of France sent a memo — now called the “May 31 Circular” — to all prefectures in France, demanding a stricter application of the law regarding the status of foreign students applying for work permits and demanding a tightening of the number of permits issued.

“The government has set a goal to adapt to the legally set immigration needs,” the circular reads. “Given the impact of the most severe economic crisis in history on employment, this implies a reduction of the flow.”

As a result, foreign students say, obtaining a work permit after graduation has become a major challenge, and, since June, hundreds of them have returned to North Africa to economies offering little or no employment prospects.

With unemployment around 20 percent in Tunisia and Morocco, it’s going to be a challenge for those government to absorb a new influx of highly-educated, underemployed young people. But one could take the optimistic view and argue that Tunisia has never needed its best and brightest at home more than it does right now. 

But as an analyst quoted in the story points out, it’s really the France that’s losing out here by preventing these graduates from "investing in France and creating wealth, even though they are young, talented graduates and multilingual."

This is, of course, a political issue in the United States as well, where talented foreign graduates of U.S. universities are often forced to return home once their student visas run out. As Senators Chuck Schumer and Lindsay Graham argued last year while making the case for comprehensive immigration reform, "It makes no sense to educate the world’s future inventors and entrepreneurs and then force them to leave when they are able to contribute to our economy."

It should be a point of pride for the United States and France that talented students from around the world are flocking to their universities, and a source of embarassment that they seem so poorly equipped to capitalize on that pool of talent.