France should stop saying “GET OUT” to talented foreigners

Dec 15, 2011
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Let me preface this article with a bit of a disclaimer. A while ago, I published a response to the diversity debate that Michael Arrington kicked off in the Silicon Valley. I mentioned that – contrary to what one would think – France’s tech startup scene was incredibly diverse, including entrepreneurs of Moroccan, Tunisian, Israeli, Indian, Chinese and even Peruvian origin (to name a few). But diversity is not the topic of this article. It’s the administration. And while I realize that the US is far less than friendly when it comes to welcoming foreign talent into the US, France isn’t really any better.

Meet Greg.

Naturally my point of view is swayed by my own experience as an American studying/working in France as well – but let’s start off by considering the case of Greg Beuthin. Greg has a very impressive background (go on, read his Linkedin profile), speaks fluent French and English and is currently a senior project manager at ISAI-backed startup, Commerce Guys. According to an article on the company’s blog, Greg has a bit of rare know-how and has contributed to training numerous people in France. Oh, but he’s American. Which means that a few days ago, the French administration decided not to renew his work visa and to give him 30 days to leave the country. That’s just, well, RUDE!

Front National, is that you?

Sadly, this is not the first time I’m hearing this type of story. French entrepreneurs come up to me ALL THE TIME asking for help hiring an American. But it isn’t just Americans – it’s everyone. In fact, French newspaper Nouvel Observateur has a column featuring different foreign students that are refused the right to work in France despite having a French university degree and high-level jobs. Like Mehdi, a 25 year old Moroccan engineer with a French degree and work experience at Areva, who was asked to “go home.” In fact, since the beginning of the year, France has been on a bit of a mission to reduce immigration – apparently bot illegal and legal alike. But hey, I guess no country has a perfect immigration system.

L’immigration choisie.

Don’t expect things to get any better as we move closer to the 2012 French presidential elections. And while once upon France was pioneering its famous selective immigration procedures to welcome only the best migrants, seems things have now gone a little haywire. Still, there is the option of the “carte compétences et talents” which is the best-suited visa for foreign entrepreneurs. It does require showing a business plan, maintenance funds, potential to create jobs in France (duh) and is valid for a period of 3 years. While I haven’t met many people who have taken this route (which I find a bit odd given that I work with so many entrepreneurs), it is perhaps the best route to go and the visa that people have also recommended that I look into (I’ll be sure to let you all know how it goes, sure the administrative work will be fun!).

In the meantime, let’s get Greg his visa and work permit renewed, this is just ridiculous.  If you’ve had an issue with immigration in France, feel free to share your story and any advice.