The French parliament has taken up an immigration bill the government says is aimed at attracting educated and skilled workers, but opponents call it racist.
The new law would create what is called a three-year skills and talent residency permit for those seeking visas.
Interior Minister Nicolas Sarkozy drew up the plan and defended it before the lawmakers Tuesday.
He said last year's riots by mainly unemployed Muslim youths shows the country's immigration system is failing and that many immigrants will not integrate into society.
He said most French would be willing to accept what he called "selective" immigration.
More than 5,000 people marched in Paris against the bill Saturday. Leftists and some religious leaders call it racist and anti-Christian. They also complain that the bill would make it harder for immigrants to bring their families to France.Some information for this report was provided by AP and Reuters.