The professional integration of migrant women in France

Before looking at the professional integration of migrant women in France, it is important to understand different aspects of French history, politics




[This article was originally published in French by Natalia Lerin. Translation : EPALE France.]

Before looking at the professional integration of migrant women in France, it is important to understand different aspects of French history, politics and economy, as well as the different representations and challenges that the complex phenomenon of migration has created in this country.

In this article, we will discuss the notion of integration and how it has been understood in France. We will then look at the way in which this concept relates to the migration of women and the difficulties that migrant women face in the process of professional integration, including the consequences of these difficulties and finishing with the recommendations that have been made to combat them and to strengthen the capacity of migrant women to take action.


The concept of integration

According to Tap (1991), the concept of integration is associated with one of the two dimensions of socialization: social integration and psychological integration. Social integration refers to the process through which an individual begins to become part of a new group or community. For this, they need to learn how to integrate the system, find their place within it, and finally articulate the similarities and differences with other members of the system. Psychological integration consists of integrating and assimilating the social and cultural characteristics of a system. For Tap, professional integration enables social integration and occurs when the individual tries to find their place in the system. Finally, we can add that this concept is also associated with the idea of social mobility.


Some history

Some authors, such as Nicole-Drancourt and Roulleau-Berger, state that the term “insertion professionnelle” (professional integration) was used in legislative documents in the early 1970s (Dubar, 2001). However, it was established in 1980 with the publication of the "Schwartz report” dealing with the professional integration of young people. This is how this concept came to be used to describe the relationship between this sector of the population and employment. Later, it was also used to refer to the context of competition for access to work, which marked a major break with the 30-year post-war boom (1945-1975), a period of great prosperity and economic apogee in Europe, when the transition from education to employment was almost automatic for most young people (Dubar, 2001).

Thus, the "professional integration" of young people began to be perceived as a social problem, which led to the introduction of various measures, i.e., the establishment of a set of tools to help young people develop strategic and proactive behaviour helping them to integrate in the world of work. This encouraged research on the professional integration of young people and led to the subsequent opening of a field of research on the same subject, with other audiences who also experience difficulties in accessing employment, such as women and migrants. In the 2000s, we began to talk about the "field of activity of professional integration".


Professional integration and female migrants

In the 1970s, migration flows to the European continent began to include more women (Roulleau-Berger, 2010). For a long time, and even today, female migration has been considered as a complement to male migration. However, in the 1990s, it was observed that women move autonomously and independently, with their own migration projects (Roca, 2013).

Also during the 1990s, the professional integration of migrants became a concern in France, although the integration of migrant women was not yet a priority, since the protagonists of migration were men, as explained earlier. According to the Migration Data Portal for the year 2017, there are 7.9 million international migrants living in France, 51.8% of whom are women, slightly more than half. These figures have remained virtually unchanged since 2008. Women have been in the majority in the migration process for just over a decade.

It was not until 2014 that the Ministry of Women's Rights in France created a document entitled "Equality for Migrant Women" which summarizes the conditions of migrant women in terms of professional integration. The importance of this text lies in the fact that it evokes the difficulties of being a woman and a migrant in France. It also makes a series of recommendations to promote the inclusion and integration of this group in the workplace.


The difficulties of being a "woman", "migrant" and "job seeker" in France

Three major factors that make it difficult for migrant women to enter the labour market in France have been identified: language, access to employment and exposure to different forms of violence. In the case of Latin American migrant women, we can add another factor: the fact that the migration of this group is relatively recent. We will explain each of these factors.



Migrant women in France come from all walks of life and each of them has a different level of language proficiency on arrival: some do not even have the basic notions, others do; others still have a diploma attesting to their level and many have French as an official or co-official language in their country of origin, though they may not necessarily master it. It is therefore difficult for the measures in place to facilitate the integration of migrants through language to be adapted to the needs of each individual. In addition, these courses must be adapted to the different status and situations of each woman. Some are students, others are mothers, for example, and their activities prevent them from taking the courses offered to them.

Not mastering the language then becomes an obstacle to accessing fundamental social rights and understanding their obligations under the French administrative system and, consequently, a barrier to accessing work; not to mention the fact that women have less independence and autonomy in integrating and understanding the practices of the host society.

Language then becomes a tool of discrimination, not only because it excludes people from an established social system, but also because today in France there is a form of discrimination based on language, which is little known but common in everyday life: glottophobia.

Glottophobia is a notion introduced by sociologist Philippe Blanchet to refer to the stigmatization, contempt, or rejection of a person or group of people based on their linguistic practices, for example, the use of their mother tongue or the individual characteristics of their language (accent, vocabulary, syntax), without taking into account the extent of the effects this may have on them (Blanchet, 2016).

Indeed, in France, migrant women may be excluded because they speak their own language or because they have an "accent" when speaking French. This discrimination does not occur exclusively against this group, since there are regions in France that have been discriminated against for years because of their accent or expressions (Occitania, Nouvelle Aquitaine, Haute-France, for example) and are even denied access to certain professions such as journalism or teaching. Nor is it generally exclusive to France, since there are examples of this type of situation in other French-speaking European countries such as Switzerland. Gómez (2010) tells the story of a woman to whom, after her job interview, the secretary said: “With that accent, you won't be able to work for us” (p.54).

Thus, plurilingualism is devalued and although it is a skill that could be valued in the professional field, in a globalized world, it is relegated to the individual’s personal life, in preference of the only legitimate language: French.


Forms of access to employment

            Just as migrant women in France come from all walks of life with different levels of proficiency in the French language, they also have different levels of education and professional experience. The first obstacle they face, especially non-European migrant women, is the equivalence of studies.

            The main problem faced by women, especially those with a high level of education, is the lack of recognition or poor recognition of their diplomas. This exposes them to a loss of qualification: they are forced to occupy positions below their professional skills and competencies. Little is said about the psychological effect on these women, as this has a very strong impact on them. Many women have to give up and leave their profession in order to reinvent themselves and start a new professional project. Others have to cope with losing an executive position or even their own business, to become housewives and financially dependent. There is a diverse range of situations and processes that each person goes through to deal with their new working situation and begin the process of professional integration.

            Migrant women also lack job hunting techniques adapted to their new context. They also sometimes lack a professional and social network (being newcomers) to recommend them to people/companies likely to hire them or simply to take care of their children during working hours or in case of an emergency, for example. 

            Finally, there is a difference between the representation of a "normal", "ideal" and "successful" professional career in France and in other countries. For a long time in France, a successful career was achieved when the person studied and found a permanent contract in his or her field, then stayed with the same company until their retirement. To reach this goal, which is still relevant for many, it was necessary to work a few years and gain experience, perhaps changing city but always in the same job. Recently, people have started to talk about the right to have several working lives, that is to say, the possibility of changing professions. We also talk about the possibility of working in different companies and at the same time, we have even used the neologism "slashing" to talk about this very particular practice.

            In other countries, having different occupations, working in different companies or abroad, working without a contract and not being entitled to pensions or other benefits is often the norm of working life. Thus, when a migrant woman writes her CV and different titles appear in different fields, different positions, in different companies and at the same time, the candidate would not have clear professional objectives in the eyes of a French recruiter or the CV would lack coherence or could even generate an effect of mistrust, they might be assumed to be lying!

This is not exclusive to migrant women. French people who go abroad to work can also have difficulties with professional integration if they choose to introduce an "anomaly" into their professional career. This experience abroad may not be taken seriously, because validating and legitimising in France the professional experience and skills acquired abroad is a challenge, even for French people.


Exposure to different forms of violence

As mentioned earlier, migrant women lose their autonomy and independence because they do not master the French language. This situation then makes them dependent on their husbands to be able to complete all their administrative formalities: application for a residence permit, application for social security, etc. This dependence creates an asymmetry between the two sexes: the man will have power over the woman and her legal, economic and even social situation in the country. The female migrant becomes dependent on her husband and is easily relegated to the domestic space. This situation can lead women to endure all kinds of physical and psychological violence in order not to jeopardize their situation in the country, especially if there are children involved.

According to Noblecourt (2014), non-European women are more likely to be victims of theft and sexual assault, both within and outside the relationship, and those with a lower level of education are three times more likely to be exposed to violence and exploitation at work. It seems that being non-European plays an important role when talking about migration and that is why we consider it important to mention a particular group whose migration is recent and therefore their professional insertion has been little studied in European contexts: Latin American female migrants.


Particularities of Latin American female migration

Latin American migration in Europe, and particularly in France, is "recent" compared to other migration flows. While it is true that Latin Americans have been officially present since the 16th century (Ramírez Bautista, 2000), it was not until the 1980s and 1990s that they gained in visibility. Despite the very close cultural, political and economic ties that France has with certain Latin American countries such as Mexico, Chile, Ecuador and Colombia, little is said about the professional integration of Latin American migrants in this country.

This does not prevent Latin Americans and Europeans from constructing representations of life and work on the two continents that are fed by the media, mainly the Internet. For Gómez (2010), the idealized image that the Internet sells on the European continent is one of the reasons that reinforces women's willingness to migrate, in addition to the precarious conditions that some of them experience in their countries of origin.

Europeans, according to Gómez (2010), associate the idea of a "working migrant woman" with a person with no professional training, who does not master the language, neither oral nor written, and who comes from a poor economic and social context. This representation is often far removed from reality.

Roca (2013), Piccoli (2006) and Ramírez Bautista (2000) indicate in their various studies that Latin American women are considered by Europeans as traditional, homely, affectionate, cuddly, calm, attentive, patient, helpful, submissive and physically and sexually attractive women. This reinforces their professional disqualification and relegates them to care or personal services work; not to forget that these stereotypes also increase their exposure to sexual and occupational violence.



In the scientific literature on female migration, reference is often made to the "double discrimination" to which migrant women are subjected because they are women and foreigners. However, so far, we have addressed many of the issues that women face as "women", "migrants" and "employees or job seekers". This is why it seems relevant to point out that women can be victims of multiple forms of discrimination, domination or stratification in a society, which corresponds exactly to the definition of intersectionality proposed by Kimberly Crenshaw in 1989.

Indeed, when different types of discrimination converge, we can speak of intersectionality. Integrating this concept will allow us to identify the different types of discrimination a woman seeking employment face and consequently, we will be able to assess her intersectionality. Categories to be considered may include the following:

  • Ethnic origin: Being foreign / Being Latin American
  • Skin colour: Nationality and mixed couples are associated with skin colour.
  • Gender: Because they are women.
  • Glottophobia: For language use, accents, syntax, etc.
  • Level of education: non-recognition or poor recognition of foreign diplomas, professional forfeiture.
  • Socio-economic status: The stereotype of working migrant women is associated with poverty.
  • Other forms of discrimination: there are many other factors that can give rise to different types of discrimination. It is currently common in France, for example, to talk about discrimination against overweight or obese people. Other factors related to physical appearance may also be discriminatory. Disabilities, sexual preferences and age can be added to the list.
  • We may also add that sometimes within migrant groups (of the same or different nationalities) there are various forms of discrimination and violence which are very little studied and given little attention. There are many situations of violence and discrimination to which a migrant in general, male or female, may be exposed.

As can be seen, discrimination against a migrant woman who is active or looking for work is not only "double" and each woman will have a different intersectionality depending on her migratory situation, which will have to be analysed in order to draw up an action plan to enable her to enter the working world.


The consequences of the difficulties of professional integration and the different types of discrimination suffered by women.

Facing such a demoralizing context to enter the labour market is not easy for migrant women and can have both intrinsic and extrinsic consequences for each woman and her environment.

Gómez (2010) observes that migrant women sometimes manifest psychological problems that can range from a loss of motivation or self-confidence, for example, to more serious health problems such as depression.

In the family context, women may be under pressure from their family of origin and/or their host family. The family of origin may believe that the woman is not trying hard enough to find a job. On the other hand, the host family, which is usually the in-laws (since many women migrate in the context of family reunification) may believe the cliché that "foreign women" marry for economic interests and/or "papers" in order to obtain residence or even nationality in the host country.

In the context of work, Gómez (2010) argues that women tend to lose technical skills in their areas of speciality (for example, a surgeon may lose dexterity with his hands) and because of all the changes they are going through, it is very difficult for them to realize what they have gained in terms of adaptation and cross-cultural skills.

Finally, in the economic context, if the period of inactivity is prolonged, the situation can quickly become very precarious and women can find themselves in very difficult circumstances, especially if there are children involved (Gómez, 2010).


Recommendations of the Ministry of Women's Rights to empower migrant women

The Ministry of Women's Rights in France proposed in 2014 three recommendations at national level to empower migrant women in all aspects of their integration into French society. These actions are welcome, accompany and include.

The mission of welcoming and accompanying is essentially based on the French Office of Immigration and Integration (OFII) under the supervision of the Ministry of the Interior through the implementation of civic training and language training which will lead to the signing of the Republican Integration Contract (CIR). But this mission is also carried out by the various Regional Programmes for the Integration of Immigrants.  Then, the relay is taken over by the associative networks present in each locality.

As for inclusion, training and professional integration actions are at the centre of public policies because it has been observed that women have more diplomas than men. But that does not protect them from unemployment.

Immigrant women are oriented towards professional sectors that are characterised by part-time or undeclared jobs and the family very often remains at the heart of their migratory project, unlike men. Their entry into the labour market is also slowed down by their language handicap, the absence of a professional network, the lack of confidence and self-esteem, as well as a lack of knowledge of the French professional world. It also seems that the time spent in France is an important factor for their integration: the longer a woman has been in France, the greater her chances of finding a stable job.

Any action that contributes to understanding the procedures and rights involved in migration, to learning and practising the French language and to promoting personal well-being and understanding of the functioning of the French system in all its aspects, contributes to strengthening the capacity for action of migrant women.

Finally, it has been observed that a lack of participation in the public sphere can lead to poor integration, which is why activities that develop and promote participation in the public sphere or in social life are strongly recommended.



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