September 13, 2018 / 4:20 PM / 2 months ago

French restaurants look to asylum seekers to fill jobs

PARIS (Reuters) - Restaurateurs in France want the government to speed up its asylum process and make it easier to identify suitable staff to help them fill thousands of jobs they say are increasingly snubbed by French workers.

FILE PHOTO: A barman pours a glass of Beaujolais Nouveau wine in a bistrot in Paris, France, November 16, 2017. REUTERS/Benoit Tessier/File Photo

The hotel, cafe and restaurant union GNI-Synhorcat says some businesses are downsizing or shortening their opening hours as a result of the shortage of manpower.

Under France’s immigration laws, asylum seekers have to wait six months from lodging the application for refugee status before they can work.

“It’s frustrating,” said Alain Fontaine, owner of the Parisian bistrot Le Mesturet where waiters’ cries of “chaud devant” — or watch your back — mix with the lunchtime chatter.

Fontaine has employed several refugees in recent years, but only once they have waited months for their papers.

“Here you have a workforce, you’ve got potential, you’ve got people who want to work, and on the other hand you can’t hire them,” Fontaine said.

Unemployment in France hovers above 9 percent, a headache for President Emmanuel Macron who promises his business-friendly reform drive will create more economic growth and jobs.

However, restaurateurs say the long hours and often low pay of their trade puts off some jobless French people.

France rewrote its immigration law this year and the target is to halve the time it takes to process asylum requests to six months from the average of 11 months when Macron won power last year.

Yet even when migrants become eligible to work, the paperwork can be daunting.

An Interior Ministry spokeswoman acknowledged the process was bureaucratic and said reform was under way to streamline it.

Malian Bakary Kanoute fled his home country at the age of 15. By then he had already developed a love for cooking and once he secured his immigration papers in France he sought work in a kitchen. He was hired by Fontaine.

“When you work, you’re helping your boss and helping yourself,” the 22-year-old said.

The GNI-Synhorcat union wants to work closer with migrant charities to identify potential workers for the cafe and restaurant industry earlier in the asylum process. It is holding consultations with lawmakers on how processes can be made more efficient.

“The moment a migrant is awarded refugee status ... we say bingo! We’ll train them and hire them,” GNI-Synhorcat union boss Didier Chenet said. “We want to pre-empt that moment.”

Reporting by Johnny Cotton; writing by Richard Lough; Editing by Alison Williams

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