Miami has long been a hub for young aspiring French entrepreneurs and chefs looking to invest in their futures.
But the U.S. travel ban on international students and restaurant closures in Miami-Dade are driving them back to France, according to the French Consulate in Miami.
“My fellow (French) citizens are desperate... People invested in this country, in Miami, and now they are not able to work here and (students could be unable to) reenter the country,” said Laurent Gallissot, Consul General of France in Miami.
On Tuesday’s Bastille Day — a French holiday that commemorates when Parisians stormed the Bastille prison on July 14, 1789, releasing seven prisoners and giving rise to the French Revolution – Gallissot said the French Consulate is focused on outreach to those most impacted by the pandemic.
The consulate recently founded the Florida French Relief Association — or Entraide Floridienne in French — which provides French-born and French-affiliated people in the state with access to affordable healthcare, psychosocial and administrative services and financial relief when available.
The newly inaugurated French Tech Miami initiative, a global network of startups, investors and policymakers three years in the making, is also offering support to young French people working and studying in the greater Miami area.
But Gaulissot said the consulate will not be able to keep French people from leaving South Florida unless local governments and the Trump administration recognize their contributions.
In 2019, French companies were among the top three foreign job creators in Florida, employing more than 30,000 people. France also traded more than $4 billion in goods and services with Florida last year and contributed nearly 1 out of 10 new foreign investments into Florida’s businesses over the past 10 years, according to the consulate.
By contrast, Florida’s largest trading partner, Brazil, accounted for $21 billion in trade in 2019, according to Enterprise Florida.
The French Consulate in Miami estimates there are about 35,000 French citizens in Florida, with more than 10,000 French-born people and nearly 70,000 people of French heritage among Miami-Dade, Broward and Palm Beach counties, according to Census data.
Many of them, Gaulissot said, came to South Florida to study here or work in the hospitality industry, and are now facing an uncertain future.
With a surge of COVID-19 cases hitting Florida since the state began reopening in May, Miami-Dade Mayor Carlos Gimenez banned indoor dining for the second time in the county Wednesday, setting further financial strain on an industry that faced a 60 percent decline in sales in May.
Meanwhile, on July 6, a new federal immigration advisory struck international college students, threatening to deport more than 10,000 students in South Florida.
Since January, the number of student visas issued by the U.S. government to French students has declined by more than 70 percent compared to last year, according to monthly data by the U.S. Department of State Bureau of Consular Affairs.
In April and May, no visas were issued to French students, while in 2018 and 2019 more than 500 visas of the approximate annual 5,000 were issued in those months, according to the data.
The data show that the number of visas issued to French students has been declining steadily since Trump took office because of increased scrutiny on internationals and higher student application fees, according to a PRI investigation.
Gaulissot said the new measures against restaurant operations and international students have already driven dozens — mostly American-French bi-nationals — to return to France.
“The restaurant ban is targeting one kind of business, while we don’t see the same enforcement for others,” Gaulissot said, referring to the list of businesses that were not impacted by Gimenez’ recent emergency order, including beaches, offices, stores and hair salons, the Herald reported.
“And young French students are waiting to see what’s going to happen to them if they have online classes.... This ban is very drastic,” he added.
The Consul General said the measure threatening international students could hurt relations between the U.S. and France. U.S. students have been gradually re-welcomed to France since July 1 and efforts are in place to allow American tourists – who are currently banned from entering the European Union due to the more than 3 million confirmed COVID-19 cases in the United States – to return to France soon, according to Gaulissot.
He also criticized both measures for being inconsistent with the U.S. national and local responses to the virus.
“These measures are supposed to be mirrored by other precautions against the virus, but then when you enter in (Florida) airports there’s no tracking, nothing. You just give a paper, notice and number and you stay at home, but nobody checks,” Gaulissot said.
“What we see is not really coordination between the cities in greater Miami. We see lots of uncoordinated initiatives and a low enforcement of the law,” he added.
While funds to boost contact-tracing in the state have already been greenlighted by Gov. Ron DeSantis, local officials are still scrambling to execute a plan to do the work, the Herald reported.
Miami-Dade County has not released information as to how many contract tracers have been hired or how many cases have been investigated so far.
Local governments should learn from France, according to Gaulissot.
The number of hospitalized patients and patients in intensive care have been steadily declining in the country for weeks, according to the New York Times.
France has recorded only 172,377 confirmed COVID-19 cases as of Monday, according to the New York Times.
Restaurants and businesses have been open since June. And while France fears a second wave is coming, the country’s new Prime Minister Jean Castex said he is not planning to issue another nationwide lockdown, focusing instead on making testing more widely available and targeting stay-at-home orders to smaller areas as necessary, according to France24.
“In France we see that (student) exchanges and businesses have to be sustained. And at the same time, we have strong enforcement of preventive measures on COVID-19,” Gaulissot said.
“Now, we are looking for more cooperation with (local) universities and Miami-Dade County. I think that it would be a loss for everyone if we see more and more people moving out and going back to France.”