France – major overhaul of work permit rules brings new opportunities

Pro-Link GLOBAL’s latest Global Brief covering the French labour market and immigration systems, which have been restructured and now provide new opportunities for foreign countries and employees.

Paris, France. Global Dispatch Pro-Link GLOBAL
A stagnate economy and slow job creation has prompted the French government to pursue reforms of their labour market and immigration structures.As part of the reform, a major overhaul of France’s employment-based immigration system presents some new opportunities for companies and foreign national employees with two new permit categories and short-term assignment exemptions for some activities. However, significant uncertainty regarding certain changes in the application procedures has brought forth some challenges as well. 

France’s labour market challenges and opportunities

Until the 1990s, France was among Europe’s most vibrant economies with solid annual GDP growth of around 5 per cent. However, since that time the country’s economy has faltered and is currently perceived by many economists to be among the weakest in Europe, with IHS Markit going so far as to label it Europe’s economic “weakest link.”Slow market trends and high unemployment rates only add to many of these perceptions, as France’s economy is only growing by an anaemic 1.5 per cent, and the country faces a persistent unemployment rate of 10 per cent.According to a recent report by the International Monetary Fund, the primary culprit of this entrenched stagnation and unemployment is France’s own labour policy, which has been described by economists as hopelessly out-dated and inflexible for a developed nation in the modern global economy. The IMF has continually argued that the only cure now for France’s economic woes is a major labour law reform.

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These criticisms have finally been taken to heart by President Francois Hollande’s Socialist administration, which enacted a significantly more business-friendly set of revisions to its 3,400-page labour code earlier this year, over Parliament push-back and vigorous protests from labour unions.Close on its heels, the government also issued a decree on 28 October implementing into practice France’s new Law on Foreign Workers (Law No. 2016-274), also enacted earlier this year. This major overhaul of France’s employment immigration scheme, which Pro-Link GLOBAL reported on previously in our Global Brief of 22 April 2016, took effect as expected on 1 November, despite some last-minute administrative delays that threatened to postpone its roll out. The changes implemented by the new law present more opportunities and flexibility for employers to utilize foreign talent in France, and some significant changes in immigration procedures.

What's changed?

At its core, the law creates two new categories of residence permits available to companies seeking to assign or employ highly skilled foreign nationals in France – the “Talent Passport” and the “Intra-Company Transfer (ICT)” Permit. In effect, these new residence permit categories will also automatically grant work authorization, as holders of either new permit will be exempt from obtaining separate work authorisation. 

Talent Passports

The new “Talent Passport” will be applicable to foreign nationals in the following categories: 
  • Change of status for students holding a Master’s Degree from a French institution
  • European Blue Card holders 
  • Intra-Company Transferees “Salarie en Mission” with a local employment contract in France 
  • Scientists and researchers
  • Master’s Degree holders who plan on opening a business in France
  • Those who present a project in innovation recognized by an official administration
  • Investors investing directly in France
  • Artists
Talent Passports will be issued with a four-year validity, and accompanying dependents of legal working age are granted automatic work authorisation as well. 

ICT Employee Permits

A new “ICT Employee” residence permit is now available with the following three sub-categories: 
  • “ICT Employees on Detachment” Permits will be issued for foreign nationals on an assignment or posting in a position of senior management, or a position providing expertise, for a French company that is part of the same corporate group as the foreign national’s home country employer
  • “ICT Trainee” Permits will be issued for foreign nationals in an approved training agreement within the framework of an internship with a French institution or company in the same corporate group as the foreign national’s home country employer 
  • “Mobile ICT Employee” Permits and “Mobile ICT Trainee” Permits will be issued for foreign nationals who already hold an ICT Employee or ICT Trainee Permit issued by another European Union country
The above creation of the “Mobile ICT Employee” and “Mobile ICT Trainee” subcategories constitute France’s enactment of the EU Intra-Company Transfer (ICT) Directive (2014/66/EU), making it the fourth European Union member to do so. For more details on the ICT Permit and the EU Directive, download our free white paper “EU ICT Permit: Potential Game Changer for EU Mobility?” and see our Immigration Dispatch of 7 November. As both the Talent Passport and ICT Employee Permit are new immigration categories just being rolled out, some of the details regarding the rules, application forms, and submission requirements have yet to be confirmed.Although the new regulations have technically come into force, the uncertainty and unclear regulations have led to delays in implementation and a temporary hold on the permits’ availability. However, Pro-Link GLOBAL and our KGNM office in France continue to reach out to French authorities for more detailed guidance so that we can advise clients on the opportunities here.

Exemptions for certain short-term assignments

The new law also provides new work permit exemptions for foreign nationals on local contracts for short-term assignments of up to 90 days in the following areas: 
  • Sports, cultural, artistic, and scientific events
  • Professional conferences, seminars, and workshops
  • Film, audio-visual, entertainment, and phonographic publishing production and distribution where the foreign national is an artist or in a technical position that is directly part of the production or project
  • Modelling
  • Personal services and domestic workers during their employer’s job assignment in France
  • Education by visiting professors
Foreign nationals providing these listed services may work in France for up to 90 days without formal work authorisation. Note that to qualify for these exemptions the foreign national must have an employment contract directly with a French employer.An additional short-term work permit exemption has also been created for foreign nationals posted or seconded (referred to as “detachement” in the French labour code) by their foreign employer to France on assignments as auditors and experts in the following fields: information technology, management, finance, insurance, architecture, and engineering.This exemption applies to foreign nationals not on a local contract with a French employer, but whose foreign employer assigns them to France as an auditor or expert to provide one of these services to a French company on a temporary basis. If the assignment will be completed within 90 days, the foreign national is not required to obtain formal work authorisation.However, foreign nationals and employing companies should bear in mind that the above exemptions do not remove the visa entry requirements for applicable nationalities. Citizens from countries not eligible for visa-waivers will still need to obtain a short-stay Schengen “C” Visa before entering France. Note that the specific application and document requirements and procedures applicable to the above situations have not yet been announced by the French authorities.

Questions regarding application procedures and possible delays

Perhaps the aspect of the new law with the most immediate impact on sponsoring companies is the provision shifting responsibility for processing ICT Permit and Talent Passport applications away from the Ministry of Labour, Employment, Professional Development and Social Dialogue and to the overseas French consular posts. This is a significant divergence from the past practice of first obtaining employment authorisations through the Regional Directorates of Commerce, Competition, Consumer Affairs, Labour and Employment (DIRECCTEs) and thereafter applying for a visa, if required, through the applicable consular post abroad. The new procedure, purportedly in effect since 1 November, requires new applications to be submitted for processing directly to the consulate in the applicant’s country of residence. This change in procedure is presumably designed to alleviate workload for the DIRECCTEs and may eventually result in a more streamlined process. However, in the short term, applicants are likely to experience delays and longer processing times as the consular officers get up to speed with their new responsibilities and the work authorisation process. All applications submitted prior to 1 November will be processed under the previous procedures. However, French consulates abroad are reportedly not accepting new applications until internal procedures can be established and new application forms and instructions are distributed. 

How these changes affect you

The changes brought by the new Law on Foreign Workers which took effect 1 November appear to present an assortment of the good and the “not-so-good,” at least in the short term. Companies and employees engaged in the activities that fall within the new permits’ purview will obviously benefit from no longer having to go through the in-country work permit application process. This will especially be advantageous for those foreign nationals from visa-waiver countries who are also exempt from the Schengen visa requirement.The new Talent Passport also presents a convenient four-year option for employees who fall into one of the eligible categories; perhaps the most widely applicable being the EU Blue Card holder and the Intra-Company Transferees “Salarie en Mission” with a local employment contract in France. Further, the implementation of the provisions of the EU ICT Directive should also help to standardise ICT processes in France to the rest of Europe.That being said, the current temporary halt on submitting the new residence permit applications through the French consulates presents a significant disruption in many companies’ employee assignment plans. Further, once the applications process opens again, there are likely to be delays in processing as procedures are new and consular officers are unaccustomed to the work authorization process. To ease some of the transitional “growing pains,” Pro-Link GLOBAL recommends that clients begin the planning and document gathering phase of the immigration process as soon as possible when anticipating upcoming assignments in France. Items such as required certificates of social security coverage, which are often time-consuming to obtain and apostille or legalise, should be requested early to minimise delay.At Pro-Link GLOBAL, we are eager to see the new application forms and guidance documents from the French authorities. We will continue to proactively seek out more information from the French authorities and update our clients as we learn more. In the meantime, as always, should you have questions or concerns regarding specific upcoming assignment plans in France, please don’t hesitate to reach out to your Pro-Link GLOBAL Immigration Specialist.

For related news and features, visit our Immigration section.

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