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Last Updated: Wednesday, 30 April, 2003, 16:15 GMT 17:15 UK
France to fingerprint tourist visa applicants
Tourists in Paris
Tourist visa applicants will all be fingerprinted if plans are approved

All applicants for tourist visas to visit France will be fingerprinted under measures approved by the French cabinet on Wednesday.

The plan is part of a clampdown on illegal immigration spearheaded by French Interior Minister Nicolas Sarkozy.

More than 7,000 people have already been deported this year, Mr Sarkozy has announced.

Other measures include a five-year wait for residency papers - up from the current three, a requirement for applicants to prove their "integration" into French society, and the systematic expulsion of tens of thousands of illegal immigrants.

Fingerprinting of all tourist visa applicants
Five-year wait for residency papers - up from three
Requirement to prove "integration" including knowledge of French
Illegal immigrants can be held for 32 days instead of 12
Two years' marriage to gain residency - up from one
Easing of deportation rules after jail terms

Mr Sarkozy's plan was accepted by the French cabinet on Wednesday, and now goes to parliament for approval.

"If you have your papers you are welcome in France. If you have false papers, or if you have no papers, you will be accompanied to your country of origin," Mr Sarkozy said after the meeting.

"It shows that one can be at the same time firm and just. Indeed one is firm because one is just," he said.

President Jacques Chirac welcomed the plan, praising its "firmness and humanity".

"It will give France the judicial authority to take to the border foreigners who don't have the right to reside on the national soil," he said, quoted by government spokesman Jean-Jacques Cope.

Nicolas Sarkozy, French Interior Minister
Nearly 80% of people found without papers came to France on a three-month tourist visa
Nicolas Sarkozy

Mr Chirac's right-wing government has focused heavily on law and order as well as combating illegal immigration since his re-election last year.

The fingerprinting rule would not apply to European Union, US or Japanese citizens who do not need a visa to enter France.

All tourist visa applicants visiting French consulates abroad would have to give their fingerprints, which would be stored in a data bank in Paris.

The three-month tourist visas were "patently used for illegal immigration," Mr Sarkozy told Le Figaro newspaper.

"Nearly 80% of people found without papers came to France on a three-month tourist visa," Mr Sarkozy told the paper.

"Once on our territory they tear up their papers, or lose them, and thus become impossible to expel because no one can tell where they are from."

Mr Sarkozy wants to deport between 20,000 and 30,000 illegal immigrants every year - roughly the number entering France every year.

Immigrants 'weakened'

Some human rights groups and opposition politicians said the bill would victimise foreigners living in France.

The problem is to limit this immigration, but in conditions that don't turn the foreigner into an undesirable
Noel Mamere
Green Party leader

They welcomed plans to abolish the so-called "double penalty" under which immigrants jailed in France can be deported after serving out their sentences even if they have dependents in France.

But Green Party leader Noel Mamere said that while there was a need to combat illegal immigration, it should not be at the expense of human rights.

"The problem is to limit this immigration, but in conditions that don't turn the foreigner into an undesirable," Mr Mamere told French television.

The plan would "weaken" the position of immigrants, he said.

The government has denied that its proposals are too harsh.

"The government wants to restore a serene approach to immigration, with a generous welcome of immigrants - especially victims of persecution - and the strengthening of the fight against illegal immigration rings," the text of the plan said.

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