Immigration in France

France is unquestionably one of the most popular countries around the world due to its cultural heritage, its economy, and its respect for human rights. That’s why many people have sought to move there. However, immigration in France has been a sensitive topic as of late. Many events over the last decades have led to questioning if it should still welcome immigrants, and if so, under what conditions.

Immigration has been an important part of France’s identity since the 19th century, but it has brought tough challenges with it in recent years. It is not the same as what it used to be many years ago. The advances in technology, the war on terrorism, and several other factors have shaped up the opinion that French people had about immigration.

Today, we’ll learn where immigrants to France come from as well as what people think about it and what challenges the government and society deal with as a consequence. C’est parti!

Some Key Figures

According to the site, approximately 46,000 people migrated to France in 2020 alone. The average number of immigrants between 2008 and 2019 was between 30,000 and 50,000 people per year, with a high bump in 2012 and 2013. In those years, France received 72,000 and 100,000 immigrants respectively.

A 2014 census carried out by the French national institute of statistics (INSEE) counted nearly 6 million immigrants, accounting for 9.1% of the total population. A 2016 estimate made by Eurostat, a department of the European Union, increased those figures to nearly 8 million or 11.8% of the total population.

40% of immigrants live in Île-de-France (Greater Paris). Other cities with a significant number of immigrants are Lyon and Marseille.

Where Do Immigrants Come From?

Globe with Africa in the foreground.

Most immigrants come either from other European countries or North Africa. Below is a breakdown per country of origin as of 2014:

Country of originPercentage of total immigrant population
United Kingdom5%
Italy 4%
United States2%

French law prohibits censuses from including information regarding race or religion, but it is estimated that Muslims comprise nearly 9% of the total population according to a 2017 survey. In fact, France has one of the largest Muslim populations in the western world due to the migration of people from North Africa and the Middle East, where Islam is the predominant religion. Islam is the second-most widely professed religion in France behind Christianity.

Why Do Immigrants Come to France?

Poor woman begging on the street.

France is one of the countries with the highest number of immigrants not only in Europe but also all over the world. According to United Nations data, there are nearly 8 million immigrants in France, accounting for 12.3% of the total population. But why do immigrants come to France?

Short answer: to seek a better life. The long answer is more complicated and requires a full article of its own. Many people leave their countries of origin to flee poverty, persecution, or war.

The average income in countries like Morocco or Algeria is between $3,000 and $4,000 annually, creating extreme poverty conditions for millions of Africans who choose to immigrate to rich European countries.

Other people immigrate to France by seeking asylum. Most immigrants under this category come from Afghanistan, Albania, Georgia, Guinea, and Côte d’Ivoire.

Illegal immigration is the last recourse for many and has been a major problem for the French government.


Graffiti with the message We are all immigrants.

One of the major problems with immigration is social integration. This does not pose a problem when it comes to immigrants from other European countries, but it’s a different scenario when we talk about immigrants from North Africa or the Middle East. France is a free country where law and religion are separated, but that is not the case in many Muslim countries. This has inevitably led to lots of incidents where culture and religion have played a major role. When someone immigrates to another country, there will always be some kind of cultural shock, but in the case of Muslim immigrants, it seems to be greater.

Even the simplest of things can make a difference. Take the case of the Algerian woman who refused to shake hands with a French official on religious grounds in 2018. French officials considered she was not ready for integration into French society and denied her naturalization application.

Clothing has been another major issue in France since the 80s. In Muslim culture, it’s normal for a woman to wear a hijab out in public as a sign of modesty. There has always been some controversy as to whether women should wear this article of clothing at school or work. Something similar happened with the burqa, another type of face covering. This was even the motive for lawsuits. Eventually, the French government banned these items in 2011, becoming the first country in Europe to do so.

Probably, the most sensitive topic is the use of Muhammad’s image in mainstream media. Muhammad is sacred to Muslims, and it’s forbidden by law in those countries to make caricatures depicting his image. That is not the case in a secular country like France. For instance, Charlie Hebdo, a French satirical magazine, has published caricatures of Muhammad more than once angering Muslims. The French claim their right to freedom of expression, while Muslims consider it insulting and blasphemous. This has resulted in bombings and other incidents as retaliation.

It’s definitely not easy for Muslims to preserve their identity while living in a country like France. Abiding by the law and by their religion at the same time can be sometimes contradictory.

Public Opinion

Arab and Black people at a protest.

There are mixed opinions about immigrants. France was historically one of the most welcoming countries toward them, but that is slowly starting to change. Public sentiment seems to shift unfavorably every time there is a terrorist attack or an incident involving immigrants.

Some people refer to the 2005 riots (a three-week period of riots involving youth of African or Arab descent) or the Charlie Hebdo bombings as reasons to impose stricter controls on immigration.

The most recent event that sparked controversy around the topic once more was the murder of Samuel Paty, a college professor, who had shown a caricature of Muhammad during one of his lectures. He was beheaded soon after by a zealous Muslim. Many French people feel that immigrants are not integrating well into society but rather seek to impose their ideas and culture, including religion. Even President Macron referred to this separatism during one of his recent speeches.

In 2016, a survey showed that the majority of French people believed there were already too many immigrants in their country. A significant portion of respondents cited fears of terrorist attacks as a reason to stop immigration. Some went as far as suggesting the closure of French borders.

Besides religion and terrorist attacks, many people are concerned about the economic burden set upon France. Some feel they abuse the French welfare system. The COVID-19 pandemic only worsened the situation, putting a strain on France’s economy and the healthcare system.

Response from the French Government

French flag.

France is a member of the Schengen Area. Countries in this area abolished passport and immigration control at their common borders, meaning citizens from those countries can travel freely in that area.

However, it’s another ballgame when it comes to immigrants from non-European countries. In 2018, the French government approved a controversial bill that tightened the rules for those seeking asylum. The highlights of the bill are:

  • Shorter application deadlines.
  • Doubling detention time of illegal immigrants.
  • A one-year prison sentence for those entering illegally.

In November 2019, Edouard Philippe, France’s Prime Minister, presented a list of 20 measures to take back control of immigration. Some measures included establishing quotas for economic migrants and restrictions on access to healthcare.

Earlier this month, President Macron vowed to fight against “Islamist Separatism” in efforts to better integrate Muslim immigrants into French society. His measures include cracking down on illegal religious schools and requiring mosques to provide transparent financial information.


Immigration in France has always been a controversial topic, especially in the last few years. Some people believe immigrants help strengthen and enrich a country both culturally and financially, while others claim they’re just a burden for the country.

It has become a sensitive topic as of late due to many incidents involving Muslims or other immigrants. This has made them look bad in the public eye.

People immigrate from various parts of the world due to poverty or war, but unfortunately, they don’t always find what they’re looking for when they migrate.

They say we should never generalize. Immigration is indeed a hot topic with lots of advocates and opponents. What do you think? Are you in favor of or against immigration? Why? Let me know in the comments below. Au revoir, les amis!

Immigration in France.
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4 thoughts on “Immigration in France”

  1. Hi Enrique,

    This is very, very interesting to read. I live in the United States and have experience working with undocumented immigrants from Mexico and Central America, but I’m not very familiar with immigration in other parts of the world, so this was especially interesting to me.

    I am very much for immigration and for reformation of the system we currently have in place in the US, where an unfortunately large portion of the public’s sentiment sounds similar to that of France’s.

    • Hi, Jade,

      Yes, immigration is a controversial topic. There are many sides to be taken.

      I think public sentiment shifts negatively every time something bad happens. It’s easier to look for a scapegoat than to investigate the causes of a problem.

      Thanks for commenting.

  2. I moved to France from Poland, and I definitely don’t consider myself a burden.

    I’m grateful that France gave me the chance to work 10 hours per day in these challenging times and provide for my family.

    Their system made it possible for me to find a job, and in return, I keep the economy stable by investing myself as a 9-5 worker.

    Immigrants are not bad people. They are just everyday workers who are forced to leave their country for various reasons. We don’t mean anything wrong, and we just want to put food on our table.

    God bless! <3

    • Hi, Gorjan,

      I totally agree with you. I’m an immigrant too, but I can understand the negativity toward us up to a certain extent. As you mentioned, most of us are just looking for a better life by working honestly. Unfortunately, many people believe we just came to take away their jobs or abuse social welfare.

      Immigration is a sensitive topic, much more these days. I hope the day arrives when we all see each other as family. We’re all one race: the human race.

      Thanks for sharing.


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