Global Glance: April 3, 2017
A quick look at intriguing international stories
By John Bostwick, Managing Editor, Radius
French Expats in London
Last week we published an overview of the coming French presidential election, the outcome of which could (like Brexit) affect the EU experiment. As it happens, Emmanuel Macron — one of France’s leading presidential candidates — was in London recently to deliver a campaign speech to a couple of thousand French expats.
The crowd that gathered to hear Macron represented a small fraction of the total number of French citizens living in Britain. The UK is home to some 300,000 French, about two thirds of whom live in London. London is such a popular destination for French expats, in fact, that it’s widely referred to as France’s sixth largest city. (Though a BBC article points out that based on actual numbers of French expats in London, it would rank about 30th on a list of the country’s most populous cities.)
The BBC notes that Macron was perhaps drawn to London because the French expats there reflect his political base at home — “many are young, educated, upwardly and geographically mobile.” A post in the UK's HR News says that many of these young French expats in London “hold jobs in digital technology companies — an area where the UK is facing talent shortages.” The young expats are attracted to the city by its proximity to France, its cosmopolitan nature, its relatively low unemployment, the UK’s “restricted bureaucracy” and other factors.
A 2016 article in The Financial Times explains that French nationals make up a significant part of the UK economy. More than 3,000 French-owned businesses, it says, employ about 400,000 people in the UK. Many French transplants — about 100,000 — work in London’s robust financial services sector, and a system of French-speaking schools, childcare providers and other service providers has sprung up to support them. The system allows French expats in London to retain their home-country identities and ensure their children are exposed to French language and culture.
All these UK-based French expats — bankers, schoolteachers, tutors, nannies, cooks etc. — now enjoy the benefits of the EU community, including freedom of movement between the UK and France, the right to work and own property in the UK, and access to UK healthcare, pensions and local tuition rates. Now that Article 50 has been triggered, however, these rights are in doubt and some are concerned. A French expat quoted by the Times predicted that London’s “French-speaking network is likely to be badly affected by a Brexit.”
The Huffington Post explains that French and other EU expats in the UK may be required to apply for work permits post-Brexit, as Europeans must now do in Switzerland. This and other potential immigration hurdles could not only prevent nannies and similar workers from coming to the UK from France and other EU countries, they could affect London’s allure as a destination for startups. An article in The Wall Street Journal about European expats in the UK quotes a French software executive who chose to expand to the UK instead of the US because of the relative “ease of hiring software engineers from across the EU.”
Depending on the outcome of Brexit negotiations, such European companies may in the future be less inclined to choose the UK over the US or other EU destinations. But it’s worth remembering that the outcome of those negotiations — which haven’t even formally started and could take a full two years — is far from certain. The Journal notes that many EU expats in the UK “aren’t worried” because they know “the UK depends too heavily on labor from across the EU to kick people out or even close the door.”
A handful of post-Brexit-referendum articles have reported that some French nationals in London have felt uneasy in their adopted home since the vote. An article published in The Independent notes that Sylvie Bermann, French ambassador to the UK, addressed the House of Lords in October, saying: "In the aftermath of the referendum some French nationals were subjected to negative or aggressive language. … And some of them now view Britain in a different way and are ready to change their plan in the short run.” Other examples of this kind of thing include a USA Today article that mentions a UK-based expat who “could feel an anti-European atmosphere building up in Britain” even before the referendum.
That said, the USA Today piece observes that “migration from EU countries to Britain since the June referendum is little changed.” And an article in The Wire (a Delhi-based nonprofit website) indicates that “applications for [UK] permanent residency have doubled” since last June’s referendum. In other words, some important statistics suggest that the UK continues to be a powerfully attractive expat destination for EU nationals.
Whatever Brexit negotiations may bring for French expats in London and the rest of the UK, some in France are hoping to use current Brexit-related uncertainties to entice their fellow nationals to come home. According to the BBC article about Macron’s London campaign speech, the candidate told the crowd, “French Londoners, France loves you,” and said France “needed their drive and expertise.” Perhaps not surprisingly given the audience, Macron emphasized that he aims to reduce France’s bureaucracy so that local businesses will be less tempted by the UK’s comparatively friendly regulatory environment.
The Wire confirms that “France rejoices to see its expats — and their money — come home” from the UK, and that “French authorities have already started rolling out the red carpet for doubtful businesses seeking new headquarters.” The site reports that two dozen companies are moving from London to Paris with the help of a government entity that helps relocating businesses find office space and negotiate France’s “fiscal and labor law.” France’s labor laws are, however, legendarily worker-friendly and difficult to change. So the challenges for French authorities (including the country’s next president) in wooing these French businesses and expats from the UK will be significant.