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France passes controversial immigration bill

The French parliament has passed legislation toughening France’s immigration policy after months of political wrangling, report agencies.

The amended bill was backed by both President Emmanuel Macron’s centrist Renaissance party and Marine Le Pen’s far-right National Rally (RN).

The vote divided Mr Macron’s party, and the health minister Aurélien Rousseau announced he was going to resign.

The new legislation makes it more difficult for migrants to bring family members to France and delays their access to welfare benefits.

It also bans detaining minors in detention centres.

A controversial provision discriminates between citizens and migrants, even those living in the country legally, in determining eligibility for benefits.

The tougher version appealed to right-wing parties, who backed it on Monday.

Ms Le Pen welcomed the amended bill, calling it an “ideological victory” for the far-right.

“This is our bill,” said Eric Ciotti, the leader of the right-wing Republican party. He called it “firm and courageous”.

The French vote came hours before an EU agreement to reform the asylum system across the bloc’s 27 member states.

The new pact, agreed by EU governments and European Parliament members, includes creating border detention centres and enabling the quicker deportation of rejected asylum seekers.

The new system allows asylum seekers to be relocated from southern member states, which have the highest numbers of arrivals, to other countries.

It still has to be formally approved by the parliament and member states.

The new French legislation exposed divisions within the governing alliance. 27 MPs voted against while 32 abstained – almost a quarter of pro-Macron MPs.

The deal would delay access to housing benefits for unemployed non-EU migrants by five years.

The compromise also introduces migration quotas, makes it harder for immigrants’ children to become French, and says that dual nationals sentenced for serious crimes against the police could lose French citizenship.

Just six months before European Parliament elections in which immigration will be key, however, it could also boost Marine Le Pen who, sensing a political opportunity, called the rejigged bill “a great ideological victory” for her far-right party.

She surprised the government by announcing her party would vote for the bill, causing immense embarrassment to the left wing of Mr Macron’s party, who find it unpalatable to vote in unison with the far right.

Other governments across Europe are opting for tougher immigration policies.