France will give work permits to hundreds of illegal immigrants on a case-by-case basis but will not offer a general amnesty, the government said on Thursday.
The powerful CGT trade union and the government say negotiations are going smoothly over the fate of illegal workers, some of whom have been on strike since last week to demand legal status.
"Today... around 800 dossiers have been submitted, that gives an indication of the number," Immigration Minister Brice Hortefeux told RTL radio. He also told Le Figaro newspaper there would be "no massive regularisation".
Some restaurant and hotel industry groups say there will be a crisis unless the government softens its stance on illegal immigration, and the hotel sector has called for 50,000 to 100,000 work permits to be awarded.
Churches and rights groups regularly call for an end to deportations, which have increased since President Nicolas Sarkozy made clamping down on illegal immigration a priority when he was interior minister in a previous government.
They also want clearer rules to govern illegal immigrants, but Hortefeux says current measures are sufficient as they allow local officials to issue work permits to applicants who are already employed in sectors short of labour.
The far-right National Front rejects any granting of work permits to illegal immigrants and has called for a protest on Friday against the hotel industry's request.
Since the 1960s, France has given hundreds of thousands of work permits to illegal immigrants, though the numbers have been on a clear downward trend in recent years.
Sarkozy has spoken out against broad amnesties declared unilaterally by some European Union countries, arguing that the EU's open borders mean a single state's policy affects the bloc as a whole.
In 2006, Italy granted residency to some 500,000 illegal immigrants, while Spain legalised almost 570,000.
Sarkozy wants to harmonise EU immigration policy, a theme on which he is likely to focus when France takes up the 27-member bloc's rotating presidency in July. (Reuters)
France says no mass amnesty for illegal migrants