France is introducing a new immigration visa for people working in the technology sector in a bid to help startups in cities like Paris take on rival firms in London and Berlin.
The “French Tech Visa” will allow overseas developers and founders outside the EU to be fast tracked on France’s “Passeport Talents” visa programme.
It will be available to skilled recent graduates, highly-skilled workers, researchers, founders, and investors, as well as anyone that’s internationally or nationally renowned in the tech field.
Business Insider spoke to Axelle Lemaire, French Minister of state for digital affairs, to find out more.
This interview has been lightly edited for clarity.
Business Insider: Why has France introduced this visa?
Axelle Lemaire: “This visa aims to complete the supportive framework we implemented in France for innovation and startups by easing the French startups ecosystem, whether they are incubators, accelerators, startups or investors, to have access to the best talents.
“We have the conviction that the only way to seize all growth opportunities in the 21st century is to attract as many brains and talents as we can. In the global competition for these talents, we had to boost France competitiveness.
“This is the goal of this initiative: making the administrative path to obtain a visa simple, fast and readable in order to reinforce France attractiveness for foreign entrepreneurs, employees and investors.
“The idea to create that visa crossed our minds when we realised the success of a similar initiative, the French Tech Ticket. In two years, this program allowed 230 entrepreneurs to come to France to launch their startup. 230 [but] over… 4,500 candidates! This gap showed us that there was a large potential for France in terms of attracting foreign talents.”
BI: Do you think the visa will help France to compete with countries like the UK, Germany and Sweden when it comes to building “unicorn” businesses?
AL: “Well, giving a strong advantage to French innovation ecosystem in the international competition is clearly our goal with the implementation of this visa. France offers a truly supportive fiscal and legal framework for startups and we wanted to complete it with a fast track visa dedicated to those who are likely to boost French startups growth with their knowledge, capital and creativity.
“That being said, I’m convinced that we won’t build unicorns in Europe if we keep a narrow national mindset. We also need to build more and more bridges between different ecosystems to create the condition for the uptake of global digital champions in Europe. That’s precisely we’ve launched initiatives like the French-tech hub London, to build bridges between French and British ecosystems; that’s also why we’re currently working with Germany on creating a €1 billion fund to help international development of scaleups in the EU.”
BI: Do you see a time (post-Brexit) when UK tech workers may have to apply for this visa?
AL: “UK leaders are still unclear about the path they will follow in their adventure and we still do not know what will be the results of the negotiations with the EU, but it is a possibility. UK citizens chose, freely and democratically, to leave the EU.
“As democrats we respect that vote, even if I, having been a French resident in London for 15 years, was personally deeply affected and disappointed by the result of the ballot. But since the question of freedom of movement will certainly be part of the discussion, there is a possibility that UK citizens might need to apply for this visa in the future if they want to come to France. And I am sure many of them will do so, and they are welcome!”