The bill, which passed by 367 votes to 164, will now go to the country's senate for debate on June 6.

It would create a three-year "skills and talents" residence permit to attract skilled workers, but allow in unskilled workers only when there are labour shortages in certain sectors.



It would also make it harder for resident immigrants to bring their families to France, require newcomers to learn French and end any automatic right to a long-term residence permit after living for 10 years in the country.


Nicolas Sarkozy, France's interior minister, called the bill "selective immigration" and said it was essential after riots last November in France's suburbs by youths from France's disadvantaged immigrant communities. 

"Selective immigration is aimed at deporting Africans from France just because we haven't been to school"

Ousmane Diarra,
Mali immigrant rights activist

"The violence which exploded in our suburbs is not unconnected with the shocking failure of our policies of integration and immigration," he told the National Assembly.

"We are closing the doors to those who have a job and opening it for those who don't. This absurd system is an essential ingredient in our malaise."

Racist charge

However, critics say it will increase racism and discrimination against the poor.

France was rocked by protests 
in November last year

Several thousand people protested last Saturday across France over the bill, demanding the text should be withdrawn.

"The National Assembly has validated a policy that takes us back 30 years," rights group Movement against Racism (Mrap) said in a statement on Wednesday.

"This day will be one of shame and anger for all those who defend and promote the rights and fundamental freedoms of immigrants."

Sarkozy has also faced protests during visits to the African nations of Mali and Benin, where he is meeting officials to discuss the new measure.

In the Malian capital, Bamako, several hundred demonstrators marched on Wednesday, calling the French interior minister a racist.

Ousmane Diarra, an activist supporting Malians who have been expelled from France, said: "Selective immigration is aimed at deporting Africans from France just because we don't have diplomas [and] just because we haven't been to school."