France cuts back visas for Maghreb nationals over immigration policy


FILE PHOTO: French Government's spokesperson Gabriel Attal attends the questions to the government session at the National Assembly in Paris, France, September 21, 2021. REUTERS/Gonzalo Fuentes

PARIS (Reuters) - France will slash the number of visas available to nationals from Maghreb countries because of their governments' refusal to take back illegal migrants sent home by the French authorities, government spokesman Gabriel Attal said on Tuesday.

Immigration is becoming a key campaign issue for the French presidential election set for April next year, with right-wing and far-right parties challenging centrist President Emmanuel Macron's policies. Macron has not yet said whether he will stand for re-election.

Attal said the French government would halve the number of visas available to nationals from Algeria and Morocco and reduce those for Tunisians by almost a third.

"It is a decision that is made necessary as these countries do not accept back nationals whom we do not want and cannot keep in France," he told French Europe 1 radio.

Far-right leader Marine Le Pen said on Monday she would call a referendum proposing drastic limits on immigration if she is elected president next year.

Le Pen said on France 2 television the referendum would propose strict criteria for entering French territory and for acquiring French nationality, as well as giving French citizens priority access to social housing, jobs and social security benefits.

In 2017, she made it to the second round of the presidential election, but was defeated by Macron, who won more than 66% of the vote.

(Reporting by Matthieu Protard and Kate Entringer; editing by Philippa Fletcher)

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