Paris will sharply reduce the number of visas granted to people from Algeria, Morocco and Tunisia, accusing the former French colonies of not doing enough to allow illegal immigrants to return, a government spokesman said Tuesday.
"It's a drastic decision, and unprecedented, but one made necessary by the fact that these countries are refusing to take back nationals who we do not want or cannot keep in France," Gabriel Attal told Europe 1 radio.
The station first reported the visa clampdown earlier Tuesday, saying President Emmanuel Macron took the decision a month ago after failed diplomatic efforts with the three North African countries.
Immigration is shaping up to be a key issue in next year's French presidential election, when Macron is widely expected to face off again against the far-right leader Marine Le Pen.
When visa requests are denied, French authorities must still secure a consular pass in order to forcibly expel individuals to their home countries, a document that Paris says Algiers, Rabat and Tunis are refusing to provide.
"There was dialogue, then there were threats, and today we're carrying out those threats," Attal said.
"We're hoping that the response will be more cooperation with France so that we can apply our immigration rules," he said.
According to Europe 1, citing administration figures, Macron has ordered the number of visa deliveries to Algeria and Morocco to be halved from 2020 levels, and by a third for Tunisia.
It said that in the case of Algeria, French courts had rejected 7,731 visa requests in the first six months of this year, yet because consular passes had not been granted, only 22 individuals had been expelled from French territory.
For the next six months, Macron has capped visas for Algerians at 31,500, the report said.
France granted a record number of visas -- 275,000 -- to Algerians in 2019.