Too long, too expensive, too restrictive, often incomprehensible … In Africa, obtaining a visa for France is still too often a struggle. Two majority deputies have taken up the subject and are today presenting a report aimed at facilitating the process.
« This mission was born out of a feeling of discrepancy between the ambition displayed by the executive and the reality on the ground. « This is how the information report presented to the Foreign Affairs Committee of the French National Assembly on January 12 by two deputies from the ranks of the majority begins: Sira Sylla, elected representative of Seine-Maritime and specialist in issues affecting the African diasporas, and M’jid El Guerrab, deputy of French abroad whose constituency covers North Africa and West Africa.
In the course of their duties, both of them say they are « very often » solicited by voters encountering visa problems: students, French people in a couple with a foreigner, companies wishing to bring in employees for a specific mission… Requests so numerous that they have prompted them to look into the process of issuing visas, particularly in Africa.
« 45% of visa applications made by Algerians are refused ».
Everywhere, there is talk of long delays, high rates and, above all, an exceptionally high refusal rate. « Sub-Saharan Africa represents 15% of the world population but only 10% of the visas issued by France, » note the two rapporteurs, who point out that some countries are particularly badly treated. Thus, if the average rate of visa refusals is 16.3% worldwide, it reaches 45% for Algerian applicants.
A human and political problem
The problem is both individual, human – separated families, students prevented from attending French universities, wasted professional opportunities … – and political, stresses Sira Sylla: « I am working especially on the continent and on the implementation of the words of the President of the Republic in his speech in Ouagadougou, when he said that Africa was a priority, that we should talk about circular mobility, a rebuilt partnership … ».
The difficulty encountered in obtaining a visa, including within the framework of devices supposed to facilitate circulation such as Campus France or the « talent passport » system, clearly runs counter to Emmanuel Macron’s proposals, and the two MPs want to remedy this.
« What emerges from my exchanges with people in the diaspora, but also with the inhabitants of the continent, such as those of Djibouti, where I was yesterday, is a pragmatic attitude. Many feel that France has forgotten them. That it lives on a rent situation, especially with French-speaking countries. So they turn away. In Djibouti, people told me clearly: today, our partner is China. »
For several months, the two deputies therefore met with many actors involved in the issuance of visas to nationals of the continent. They drew several conclusions from their investigation.
First, they observe a real problem of balance in the government’s management of the system. Today, in France, visa policy is co-managed by the Ministries of Foreign Affairs and the Interior. However, « since Nicolas Sarkozy’s term of office, » from 2007 to 2012, it is the latter ministry that has taken the upper hand, putting security issues and the fight against illegal immigration above all other considerations. Security is important, » admits Sira Sylla, « but the attractiveness of France should not be overlooked either. »
Second observation: the delegation of part of the delivery process to private providers (who in particular ensure the collection of supporting documents and appointment scheduling) seems to have had a positive impact. « Without these providers, we simply would not have been able to meet the demand in some countries. They have made the process smoother, » says M’jid El Guerrab.
I was skeptical at first, » Sira Sylla bounces back. I was skeptical at first, » says Sira Sylla. « Entrusting a mission that is a real treat to private actors was a problem for me. But I was pleasantly surprised. We no longer see, as before, the long lines in front of the consulates, people are better welcomed, better respected. »
Make the process fairer and more efficient
The process of obtaining a visa, however, remains complicated in many cases and often takes too long. The deputies are proposing to generalize the visa delivery system within 48 hours. It works in Asia, » said M’jid El Guerrab. Why not in Africa? »
Addressing the topics one by one, they drafted a list of thirteen proposals to make the process fairer and more efficient. Some deal with the accompaniment of foreign students or the system of guarantors for applicants, others with the creation of circulation visas avoiding the repetition of applications, the simplification of payments, or proposing a dialogue with the countries of origin in order to reflect on « readmission » on their soil. They also suggest better communication between consulates or a less overwhelming weight from the services of the Ministry of the Interior.
The most urgent proposal is placed at the top of the list: to allow families temporarily separated by the Covid pandemic to benefit from an exemption allowing them to be reunited.
Decrees and not laws
But these are only proposals. What future can we predict for them? M’jid El Guerrab details the process: « Today we present the report to the Foreign Affairs Committee. If it is accepted, it will become a report of the commission and will be published and disseminated. At the same time, we have a meeting at the Quai d’Orsay, where we will talk about the attractiveness of France. We hope that certain proposals will be translated into decrees. »
Decrees and not laws? That’s not the most important thing, » notes Sira Sylla. Some measures can be dealt with simply by changing the instructions given to public servants and do not require a normative change. Others fall within the scope of an order-in-council, and if there is a need to go as far as legislation on certain points, we will of course be happy to defend it. »
There is still a long way to go, but it begins today with the presentation of a report that will at least have the merit of asking the question: is it normal and acceptable that it is more difficult for Africans to obtain a French visa than for anyone else?