THE last French census, which closed on March 7, 1926, showed that in the five years since 1921 the population of France had gained in absolute figures by slightly more than a million and a half. In 1921 it had been 39,209,766; in 1926 it was 40,743,851; increase 1,534,085. However, closer examination gives a quite different meaning to the statistics. During these same years the number of "foreigners resident in France" increased by slightly less than a million (1921, 1,550,459; 1926, 2,498,230; increase, 947,771); while the annexation of Alsace-Lorraine accounts for another 1,795,000. Considering only the territories comprised within the old frontiers of France, we find that the native population of the country has actually diminished over the period of fifteen years since 1911 by slightly more than two million (2,021,775).

The rural districts especially have suffered. Eighty years ago (1846) three quarters of our population (75.6 percent) belonged to the peasantry. In 1926 that proportion had dropped to barely half (53.6 percent). Today it is less than half (48 percent). In certain sections the losses are especially apparent. Within twenty years the departments of Lot, Mayenne, and Gers have lost about one in five of their inhabitants. Today Gers has 120,000 acres of uncultivated land and 2,500 abandoned farms. Part of these losses are accounted for by marked tendencies toward urbanization. Comparing the census reports of 1926 with those of 1921, it is evident that small communes are steadily losing, while great centers are tending to gain.

While the population of France is at best stationary, with an inclination to decrease, her neighbors, and especially England and Italy, have recently shown steady average gains of about five hundred thousand souls per year. Here is a table comparing populations today with the figures of 1870:

Country 1870 1927
France 38,000,000 40,000,000
Germany 40,000,000 63,000,000
Great Britain 26,000,000 43,000,000
Italy 26,000,000 40,000,000
Russia 65,000,000 102,000,000
United States 39,000,000 120,000,000
Japan 32,000,000 60,000,000

Thus in the fifty-seven years since 1870, France has increased her population by two millions (thanks to the return of Alsace-Lorraine), Germany by twenty-three millions, Great Britain by seventeen millions, Italy by fourteen millions. Going farther afield, the United States is stronger by eighty-one millions, Russia by thirty-seven millions, and Japan by twenty-eight millions.

That France should therefore be exercised over the question of population is certainly not surprising, the more so as a million and a half of her best men fell in the frightful carnage of the Great War.

While the native substance of France is thus seen to be gradually using itself up, another development, disquieting and at the same time reassuring, is coming to the fore. Foreigners in larger and larger numbers are settling on French soil. This is, after all, only the operation in France of that same principle of "population pressure" which has caused the astounding movement of emigrants to the United States in the last fifty years. In the last five years alone there has been an increase of nearly a million in the numbers of "foreigners resident in France;" nor does this figure include seasonal workers, tourists (of whom we have another million), or natives of our colonies (those in Africa especially), of whom some one hundred and twenty thousand find employment in French mines, factories and other industries.

Of the manifold causes of this foreign invasion we may consider two or three of the most important.

The first is the Great War. For four years and more French territory was the world's battle ground. Immense ruins piled up, villages were destroyed, great buildings were overthrown, fields were ravaged, roads were ruined. The country suffered all the consequences of a struggle engaging millions of combatants. The restoration of economic life to such regions was a gigantic task rendered all the more difficult by the fact that the numbers of our slain were almost equalled by the numbers of young men whom the war left with reduced social efficiency by reason of wounds or disease. The man-power of the nation was so depleted that in the work of reconstruction we were compelled to look abroad, and notably toward those countries which had suffered losses less serious than ours. Agreements for immigrant help were accordingly negotiated with Poland, Italy, Czechoslovakia and Belgium. Official commissions were sent to those countries to recruit labor. As a result, a considerable number of foreign workmen (estimated at 202,926 for the year 1923, and 236,365 for 1924) were installed permanently in France, adding this much strength in the task of rehabilitating devastated departments and speeding up production in our coal and iron mines, -- in short, maintaining and expanding our national industry.

The second cause is the immigration policy of the United States. The laws passed on May 19, 1921, and May 26, 1924, put strict limitations on immigration from Europe. The number of foreigners to be admitted to the United States was fixed at two percent of the total previous immigration from the different countries as determined by the American census of 1890.

The more prolific nations of Europe, notably Italy, Poland, and Russia, at once found the flow of their immigrants to America seriously reduced. In the year 1920, a total of 430,000 individuals entered the United States, two-fifths of them Slavs or Italians. In the following year, 1921, the figure was 805,000, two-thirds of them Slavs or Italians. Compare these figures with the figures set by the restrictive measure of March 1924, which brought the Italians down to a quota of 3,845, the Poles to a quota of 5,982, the Russians to a quota of 2,248, and the total of all immigration to 164,667.

It was only natural, accordingly, that the flood of emigrants from Europe, on finding its principal outlet blocked, should turn to a country which, though of course unable to present the attraction of a wage scale comparable to the American, still could offer foreign labor excellent living conditions, appreciable social advantages, and, best of all, steady work. Hence the influx into France of the million resident foreigners registered by the census of 1924. And the rate of increase seems if anything to have grown during 1925.

Still a third cause may be noted. Since the war many European nations have undergone political convulsions which have driven across the frontiers large numbers of citizens unable to adapt themselves to new political conditions. From Soviet Russia, from Fascist Italy, from Hungary, from Spain, vast throngs have poured into France in order to escape persecution at home and to find personal security and freedom of thought under the flag of our Republic. To them must be added Jews fleeing Rumania and Poland before waves of anti-Semitism, and Armenians who have not welcomed a choice between the yoke of Turkey and the yoke of Soviet Russia.

France, nevertheless, has not yet awakened to the importance of immigration, either as regards its dangers or as regards the benefits which may accrue from it; and the problems which arise in connection with it are referred for solution in a more or less haphazard way to departments of five different ministries. For example, questions of industrial and commercial employment, as well as of health and sanitation, come before the Ministry of Labor, while the recruiting and distribution of farm labor are supervised by the Ministry of Agriculture. The Foreign Ministry negotiates the treaties and agreements that bear on immigrants; but the Ministry of the Interior has control of policing and the Ministry of Justice control of naturalization. Certain classes of immigrants from the colonies depend on the Ministry of Colonies; others, notably natives of North Africa, on the Ministry of the Interior.

That such a loose organization should result in divergent policies and lead sometimes to lamentable consequences goes without saying. No serious supervision is exercised at the frontiers; and once the immigrant is safely within the country it is impossible to control his movements. At present, for instance, our immigrants tend to avoid the lands that lie uncultivated in half populated rural districts where they would have been welcome. They seek instead the great cities where there are already too many people, where the housing question is acute, and which in any case are daily attracting our native population from the fields. In many cases, far too many, French workers have been deprived of their positions by foreigners who have entered the country with contracts so favorable as to exempt them from all competition. Amendments to the Labor Code[i] made last year do indeed prevent such displacements of farm labor; but the reforms do not yet go far enough. The obligation of a foreign hand to remain in an agricultural occupation does not extend beyond one year.

The foreigners who migrate to France tend also to congregate together, and certain of our departments have become veritable centers of irredentism. Several villages in the Départment du Nord are peopled entirely by Poles who have brought their wives, their children, their priests and their schoolmasters along with them. Immigrants from Poland make up 20 percent of the population of Lens, 40 percent of the population of Courrieres, 68 percent of the population of Ostricourt. Thirty thousand Italians have settled in the south-west. The conquest of our frontier provinces by a process of infiltration is proceeding systematically. In the Riviera district nearly a third of the whole population is foreign, while the proportion reaches almost a half in Nice.[ii]

The sick and infirm of all the world have free entry into France -- our doors are wide open, everybody is welcome. But as though our natural hospitality were not sufficient, we have made reciprocal agreements for free medical assistance to immigrants with Italy, Poland, Belgium and Luxembourg, though those countries have only insignificant numbers of French immigrants. Paris has been described as the "world's hospital." There is some exaggeration in the phrase; but still the numbers of foreigners receiving gratuitous aid are impressive. In 1925, 19,500 foreigners received free assistance in the hospitals of Paris, seven or eight percent of the total number treated. The expense to the city of Paris was between eight and ten million francs.

It goes without saying that there also is a certain correlation between physical and moral decadence. The figures for arrests of foreigners made by our police show a steady increase. Of total arrests made by the Sureté Generale, a proportion of 10 percent were foreigners in 1921 and 1922; the figure became 12 percent in 1923, 14 percent in 1924, and 16 percent in 1925.[iii]

The absence of a coherent policy toward immigration in France may be credited with some, at least, of these regrettable features of our population problem. And the question arises as to what such a policy ought be be.

It should, in my opinion, hold in view an adequate supply of hands for our industries and more especially for our farms by facilitating the entry into France of foreign workers, carefully chosen in advance, who are eager to leave their own country and are likely to be profitable additions to our own. What kind of men do we need? Above all peasants, to check the abandonment of our farmlands which is proceeding at a terrifying rate. By proper understandings with certain countries, based on reciprocal concessions, a steady current of farmers of robust stock should be kept moving toward our fields. A judicious choice must be made. We must not create race problems for ourselves by mixing people who will not and cannot coalesce. We are not hostile, in principle, to the assimilation of Asiatics and Africans, for whom we as a nation feel none of the harsh hostility that appears in the United States. Nevertheless we agree that such a mingling of races is undesirable. A policy for replenishing the French race should be based on the introduction of kindred blood. It is from Europe itself, and almost exclusively from Europe, that we should draw the peasants necessary for our countryside. Among the Latin peoples, Spaniards, Italians and Belgians are easily absorbed and constitute excellent materials; but these Latin stocks might well be balanced by Slavic and Nordic elements -- Czechoslovaks, Poles, Russians, Scandinavians, Dutch, Swiss, prolific and sturdy races all, which could be distributed all through our territory with the best results.

Regarding the reconstitution of our peasantry as the prime objective, we should turn our attention especially to the children. The foreign child is marvelously responsive to contact with his French comrades. He acquires offhand at school capacities and qualities which his parents are unable to attain in a whole lifetime of effort. He loses his foreign accent and he often wins the highest grades in school work. It is as though the grafting of the new shoot on the aged trunk of France brought with it promise of new and splendid fruitage. We therefore should give preference to immigrants who are married and have large families.

French immigration policy should profit by the vast experience of the United States, where the four millions who peopled the country at the time of the Revolution have been converted by immigration into the 120,000,000 of today -- a powerful, amalgamated mass, a new and vigorous race. We should admit to permanent residence among us only individuals whom successive examinations have shown to be without serious moral and physical defects. And this control should be exercised, not after the foreigner is within our doors, but before he is admitted. It is difficult to exclude or deport undesirables who may have come from great distances with large families and are unable to return to their places of origin. A first control should be applied therefore in the immigrants' home country, the French Consul according his visé only to individuals who conform to conditions prescribed impartially for all newcomers, if not by law, at least by ministerial regulation. The requirement of the passport and the visé on the passport should be continued permanently, if not for tourists, visitors and transients, at least for immigrants, who should never be admitted without them. A second examination should then take place when the immigrant arrives at our frontiers. There physicians permanently attached to Immigration Offices should see that the newcomer conforms to the regulations already applied to his case by the Consuls.

It seems evident that even before any attempt is made to evolve a complete legislation for governing immigration policy, we should have a unified and central department to deal with all matters pertaining to immigration -- something, in a word, similar to the Immigration Bureau of the United States. M. Albert Thomas, Director of the International Labor Commission, has justly remarked that such a French bureau would have derived better results even from existing laws, but especially that it would have suggested and accelerated new legislation. It is certain that the important immigration law of 1924, establishing quotas for American immigrants, would not have worked so smoothly in the United States had not the Bureau of Immigration, established in 1913, had the benefit of many years of experience.

French immigration policy should have as its ultimate objective the permanent assimilation of the foreigner -- in other words, his naturalization should be complete. Short-sighted as any other outlook would appear, quite opposite views have prevailed in recent years in the counsels of the French Government. A narrow-minded hostility toward everything foreign seems to have presided over the formulation of the different laws hitherto made for dealing with questions of nationality. Numberless difficulties were strewn in the path of the foreigner desirous of becoming a French citizen. Applications for naturalization were subject to long administrative delays. The formalities themselves were cumbersome, and on the whole so costly as to be beyond the reach of any but the most determined. An article of the Civil Code compelled the foreigner, in the first place, to furnish documentary proof of ten years of consecutive residence in the country. Then when an application had been granted, the children born of the immigrant's marriage abroad were still free to decline French citizenship on attaining their majority, and even those born in France could do the same. Every step in the complicated procedure was peppered with prohibitive taxes and fees.

To remove some of these regrettable conditions I introduced a bill in the Chamber of Deputies, on October 29, 1925, providing for the reduction of the residence requirement for naturalization from ten years to three, and for the extension of French nationality to the minor children of naturalized foreigners. Both these provisions were incorporated in the Nationality Bill which passed its final reading in the Chamber on July 14, 1927. It also provided that minor children shall acquire full rights to the new nationality of their parents, that the age at which an application for French citizenship may be filed be eighteen instead of twenty-one, and that the French woman who marries a foreigner -- hitherto compelled to assume her husband's nationality -- shall remain French unless she elects to repudiate that nationality at the time of her marriage. Even in this case she may later elect to reassume her native citizenship; and any children born to her on French soil are French citizens by that fact. It need not be said that this new law is of the first importance for the future of France. It is a long step toward realizing a broad policy of immigration indispensable to the growth of the nation.

It would be absurd to claim that these measures are the only ones to be applied in fighting the depopulation of our country. Social remedies -- the subsidizing of large families, the fight on infant mortality, on bad housing conditions, on contagious diseases -- must still occupy a chief place in our thoughts. But these remedies produce results very slowly, while the dangers are present here and now before our eyes. Our principal recourse must be to immigration, an immigration vigorously stimulated but at the same time controlled by careful selection, that we may welcome only individuals worthy of becoming Frenchmen.

We need hundreds of thousands of new hands for our fields and factories. In procuring these, and in dealing with them after they have arrived, we must abandon policies based on xenophobia and anti-foreign prejudice. To hold to these policies would be to deny the French nation its one chance of regeneration, without preventing the establishment on our soil of foreign colonies which a decade hence we might well be unable to control. On the other hand, to follow a broad policy of assimilation toward carefully selected immigrants is to give new vigor to the country, to halt the process of depopulation, to strengthen the development of our colonies, to increase the production of our shops and our fields, and to guarantee our national security in the family of European nations.

[i] Labor Code, Book II. Articles 64, 98, and 172. The amendments alluded to were voted on August 26, 1926.

[ii] Alpes Maritimes, 140, 648 foreign residents out of a total population of 445,253; Nice, 91,712 out of a total of 201,872.

[iii] These figures do not cover arrests made by municipal authorities.

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  • CHARLES LAMBERT, member of the French Chamber of Deputies, former Cabinet member, author of "La France et Les Étrangers"
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