Migration study finds dramatic rise in numbers leaving France


The numbers of people leaving France to live abroad has risen dramatically over the past eight years in comparison to the numbers of those taking up residence in the country, according to a study published this week by the French National Institute of Statistics and Economic Studies. The institute also found that immigration now accounts for a relatively small proportion of the growth in the French population. Michel de Pracontal reports.

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Between 2006 and 2013, the numbers of people migrating to France rose by 10%, while the numbers of those emigrating from the country has risen by 60%, reveals a study published this week by the French National Institute of Statistics and Economic Studies, INSEE.

This latest research by the institute into migratory flows to and from France (available in French here) covers the eight full years from 2006 until 2013. It demonstrates that, far from the perception put about in some political quarters of an explosion in the numbers of non-European Union (EU) immigrants arriving in France, their numbers have remained broadly stable.  

In 2013, the number of people newly settling in the country was 332,000, compared with 299,000 people who emigrated that year, a net difference of 33,000. That compares to 301,000 new arrivals in 2006, when 189,000 people left the country, and when the net difference was 112,000 – more than the triple of that in 2013.

The net difference has continued to fall steadily since 2006, amounting to74,000 in 2007, to 57,000 in 2008, and thereafter oscillating between 30,000 and 40,000.

In January 2014, the French population (i.e. the total number of people living in France, but excluding the French Indian Ocean département or county of Mayotte) numbered 65.8 million people. Among that total were 4.2 million foreign nationals, and 7.6 million people (or 11.6 % of the total population) who were born abroad (of whom 3.4 million had, by January 2014, subsequently obtained French nationality).

Compared to 2006, the total population in 2014 had risen by 2.6 million people, of whom 2.2 million were accounted for by a rise in the birth rate (above the numbers of deaths).

Because there exists no direct tool with which to calculate migration to and from France, the calculations by INSEE are estimations based on data drawn from several sources, including the country's yearly census polls and the records of civil registers. There is therefore a small margin of error. “In some countries, other measurements are used, such as in the United Kingdom,” INSEE statistician Chantal Brutel, who led the research, told Mediapart. “In the United Kingdom, studies are carried out in airports to measure the flow of entries and departures.” But she insists that there is no significant margin of error in the indirect measurements her study is based upon. “When using the cumulated data for the period 2006 to 2013, the uncertainty is very slight,” she said.

During the period 2006-2013, INSEE found the total number of new arrivals from abroad amounted to 400,000, representing 16% of the increase in the French population, meaning that 84% of the rise in the population in France was due to a higher than average birth rate in comparison to that of the EU as a whole where, overall, the rise in population was primarily due to immigration.

However, the numbers of foreign nationals in France has increased from 5.8% of the population in 2006 to 6.4% in 2013 when 7.8% of births that year were to parents of foreign nationality. Between 2006 and 2013, the numbers of new arrivals in France, and which include French nationals returning from abroad, rose from 8.1% of the total population to 8.9%. During that same period, the numbers of people living in France who were born abroad as a percentage of the total population rose from 10.9% to 11.6%. Inversely, the numbers of people living in France who were born in the country fell from 89.1% to 88.4%.

In short, the incoming and outgoing fluxes over this period result in a bigger percentage rise in emigration. “Departures abroad of people born in France have grown since 2006, whereas their return, less numerous, has varied little during this period,” writes Chantal Brutel in the introduction to her study. “Their net migratory numbers [editor's note: the difference between those returning and those leaving] is thus negative, and has doubled during the period: it is estimated at 120,000 people in 2013 against 60,000 in 2006.”

In its analysis of the migratory flows, INSEE identified three population categories: these were immigrants, French citizens born abroad, and those born in France. In 2013, out of 332,000 new arrivals, 235,000 were immigrants (more than two thirds). The remainder were French citizens returning to France and French citizens who were born abroad.

Between 2006 and 2013, while the number of immigrants arriving had risen, the number immigrants leaving France rose even more, leaving a net difference of 140,000 (i.e. more immigrants in France) in 2013 compared to 160,000 in 2006. The numbers of French citizens born abroad who arrived in France in 2013 totalled 20,000, while 7,000 left the country.

In all, between 2006 and 2013, the numbers of French citizens who left the country numbered 857,000 more than those who returned.

“A study published last year shows that the share of Europeans in immigration into France has grown since 2009,” Brutel told Mediapart. “In 2012, almost one out of two people entering France were born in a European country, and three out of ten in an African country.”

The numbers of new arrivals in France in 2012 from European countries were primarily from Portugal, Spain and Italy. The numbers of Spanish and Portuguese arrivals doubled between 2009 and 2012. During that same period, the numbers of immigrants from Africa rose by 1% each year, and were mostly Moroccan and Tunisian nationals (while those from Algeria fell). “It is possible that the global rise in immigrant departures results from this increasingly European immigration and corresponds, at least in part, to a return home by Europeans who had come to work a few years in France,” said Brutel.

However, the question of European immigration cannot explain the constant rise in the numbers of French citizens leaving France, a phenomenon that remains insufficiently studied. According to statistics from the French foreign affairs ministry, the number of French citizens living abroad in 2012 was about 1.5 million, a figure broadly confirmed by data from 34 OECD member states. INSEE, meanwhile, estimates the number of people born in France and now living abroad to be 3.5 million, which is close to the number of foreign nationals who currently reside in France.



  • This is an abridged version of an article originally published by Mediapart in French and which can be found here.


English version by Graham Tearse

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