updated 11/29/2005 4:35:03 PM ET 2005-11-29T21:35:03

French Prime Minister Dominique de Villepin announced tightened controls on immigration Tuesday as part of his government’s response to the nation’s worst civil unrest in four decades.

Authorities will better enforce requirements that immigrants seeking 10-year residency permits or French citizenship must master the French language and integrate into society, Villepin said.

France also will implement a stricter screening process for foreign students and plans to crack down on fraudulent marriages that some immigrants use to obtain residency, he said.

Both Villepin and Interior Minister Nicolas Sarkozy, his rival, have announced law-and-order measures since rioting broke out this month in depressed suburbs where many immigrants live.

The two men — members of President Jacques Chirac’s conservative party — are expected to vie for the presidency in 2007. Both want to appear firm in response to the violence and France’s broader problems absorbing immigrants.

The roughly 50,000 foreign students who come to France each year to study now will be screened by French officials in their home countries, Villepin said.

“We want to channel our efforts to receive the best students, the most motivated, those who have a high-level study project,” he said.

Crackdown on sham marriages
Marriages celebrated abroad between French people and foreigners should no longer be automatically recognized in France, Villepin said. A measure requiring consulates to screen a couple before a foreign spouse is granted French identity papers will be brought before Parliament in the first half of 2006, he said.

“It’s not an attempt to undermine the right to marry, but to check that all the conditions for a true marriage are in place,” Villepin said.

Marriage is the largest source of legal immigration to France: about 34,000 French people married foreigners from beyond the European Union last year.

The government also will propose a law next year requiring legal immigrants who want to move their families to France to wait at least two years before they can apply, an increase from the current one year.

So-called family reunions are the second biggest source of legal immigration to France, affecting about 25,000 people in 2004.

Call for polygamy controls
Villepin also said the government should better enforce a law outlawing polygamy. There are 8,000-15,000 polygamous families in France, according to official figures.

Some French officials cited polygamy as one reason that youths from underprivileged immigrant households joined the rioting — saying large polygamous families caused behavioral problems and difficulty integrating into French society. Outraged opposition politicians and human rights groups warned against fanning racism and anti-Muslim sentiment.

The violence broke out Oct. 27 near Paris and spread throughout France. While promising to ease unemployment for youths and fight racial discrimination, the conservative government also promised tighter controls.

Villepin told parliament that the number of illegal immigrants sent back to their home countries has more than doubled over the past three years, with France on target to deport more than 20,000 people in 2005.

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