National Front leader Marine Le Pen, who’s built a political career fueling fears of immigration, plans to scrap it altogether, while Republican Francois Fillon and Socialist Benoit Hamon both want to stop foreigners with fewer labor rights undercutting French workers. With less than six weeks before the first round, candidates are vying for support from voters at the bottom end of the labor market who feel threatened by the influx of cheap foreign labor. Those who arrive on the guest-worker program pay social security contributions in their home countries — typically much lower than in France — and offer a cheaper alternative to French workers. Some 286,000 EU citizens were working on those terms in 2015, up 25 percent from a year before.
Morin-Chartier wrote to Fillon Friday to warn him that he risked provoking swift retaliation against 200,000 French citizens working as guests in other EU states. The heat on foreign workers, often low-skilled migrants laboring in agriculture, construction or domestic service, was turned up a notch last week when lawmakers in France’s two biggest regional economies introduced measures to encourage companies only to hire French speakers. Opposition to immigration helped swing the Brexit vote in the U.K. last year and is fueling criticism of Angela Merkel in Germany. Austria’s center-left chancellor, Christian Kern, has proposed incentives for companies that hire Austrian workers over foreigners.