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French nationality law

From Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia

Armoiries de la République Française.svg
Parliament of France
Enacted byGovernment of France
Status: Current legislation

French nationality law is historically based on the principles of jus soli (Latin for "right of soil"), according to Ernest Renan's definition, in opposition to the German definition of nationality, jus sanguinis (Latin for "right of blood"), formalised by Johann Gottlieb Fichte.

The 1993 Méhaignerie Law required children born in France of foreign parents to request French nationality at adulthood, rather than being automatically accorded citizenship. This "manifestation of will" requirement was subsequently abrogated by the Guigou Law of 1998,[1] but children born in France of foreign parents remain foreign until obtaining legal majority.

Children born in France to tourists or other short-term visitors do not acquire French citizenship by virtue of birth in France: residency must be proven. Since immigration became increasingly a political theme in the 1980s, both left-wing and right-wing governments have issued several laws restricting the possibilities of being naturalized.[citation needed]


French nationality and citizenship were concepts that existed even before the French Revolution.

19th century

There are three key dates in the legal history of naturalization:

Year Event
1804 Civil Code, which allowed the possibility of naturalization.
1851 third generation immigrants (those with one parent born on French soil) were allowed to naturalize.
1889 second generation immigrants (those born on French soil) were allowed to naturalize once they reached the age of majority.

Third Republic

Military service and state education were two processes central to the creation of a common national culture. Military conscription (universal from 1872, in theory if not in practice) brought inhabitants of the state's regions together for the first time, creating bonds of friendship and encouraging the use of French rather than regional languages. Universal education (the aim of the Jules Ferry Laws, 1879–1886) brought the whole of the population into contact with state-sanctioned version of French history and identity. State teachers, the "Black hussars of the Republic,"[2] conveyed the national language to the people of the regions.

Acquisition of citizenship

There are various ways a person can acquire French citizenship, either at birth or later on in life.

French citizenship by birth in metropolitan France and its overseas territories

Children born in France (including overseas territories) to at least one parent who was also born in France automatically acquire French citizenship at birth (double jus soli).

A child born in France to foreign parents may acquire French citizenship:[3]

  • at birth, if stateless.
  • at 18, if resident in France with at least 5 years' residence since age 11.
  • between 16 and 18 upon request by the child and if resident in France with at least 5 years' residence since age 11.
  • between 13 and 16 upon request by the child's parents and if resident in France continuously since age 8.
  • if born in France to parents born before independence in a former French sovereign colony/territory:
    • at birth, if born in France before January 1, 1994.
    • at age 18, if born in France on or after January 1, 1994.

A child who was born abroad and who has only one French parent can repudiate their French nationality during the six months prior to their reaching the age of majority, or in the year which follows it (article 19-4 of the Civil Code).

French citizenship by birth abroad to at least one French citizen

The child (legitimate or natural) is French if at least one parent is French.

In the case of an adoption, the child has French nationality only under the "full adoption" regime.

Parentage to the parent from whom the French nationality is claimed, must be established while the child is still a minor (under 18).

When the child is born abroad from a French parent, it is essential for the French parent to record the birth of the child in the French civil register. In the event of litigation or to establish definitive proof of French nationality (or request a French passport) French nationality may be established by petitioning for a French nationality certificate from the Tribunal d'Instance (local court) of the person's place of residence, or if residing abroad, via the French Nationality Office in Paris[4] having jurisdiction over French persons residing abroad.

French citizenship by birth in France

A child (legitimate or natural) is French if born in France to at least one parent who (i) is a French citizen; or (ii) was also born in France (even if the parent is not themselves a French citizen). The principle in point (ii) is known as double jus soli.

A child born in France before 1 January 1994 to a parent born in a former French overseas territory prior to its acquisition of independence, is automatically French. The same is true for a child born after 1 January 1963, to a parent born in Algeria before 3 July 1962.

Birth in France to foreign parents

If both parents are foreign, simply being born in France does not confer French citizenship at birth, except for children born to unknown or stateless parents, or if the citizenship laws of the parents' country/-ies of origin do not allow citizenship to be transferred to the child.

There are cases in which a child born in France to foreign parents can acquire French citizenship at various points during their childhood and upon turning 18, subject to certain conditions.

French citizenship acquired at age 13-16

The foreign parents of a child aged between 13 and 16 can obtain French citizenship for their child by making a declaration if all of the following conditions are met:[5]

  • The child was born in France;
  • The child has had their primary residence in France since the age of 8;
  • The child resides in France on the day on which the parents make the declaration;
  • The child consents to the declaration being made (unless the child has a mental or physical disability that renders consent impossible).
French citizenship acquired at age 16-18

A child aged between 16 and 18 and born to foreign parents can obtain French citizenship by making a declaration if all of the following conditions are met:[6]

  • The child was born in France;
  • The child resides in France on the day on which they make the declaration;
  • The child has had their primary residence in France for a total (but not necessarily continuous) period of at least 5 years since the age of 11.

The child does not require parental consent to make this declaration, unless they have a mental or physical disability that renders them unable to perform the procedure unilaterally.

French citizenship acquired automatically at age 18

A child born to foreign parents acquires French citizenship automatically upon turning 18 if all of the following conditions are met:[7]

  • The child was born in France;
  • The child resides in France on their 18th birthday; and
  • The child has had their primary residence in France for a total (but not necessarily continuous) period of at least 5 years since the age of 11.

French citizenship by adoption

Plenary adoption is the only act of filiation which carries direct effects on nationality. Unlike the process of simple adoption, a child adopted according to the procedure of plenary adoption breaks any bond with his family of origin.[8]

Filiation must be established while the child is a minor to take effect. Consequently, the recognition of a child older than the age of majority has no effect on his or her nationality.

French citizenship by naturalization

Eligibility resulting from residency

A person aged 18 or above may apply for French citizenship by naturalization after five years' habitual and continuous residence in France (if married and with children, then the applicant must be living in France with his/her family).[9] In addition, it is required that the applicant has his/her primary source of income in France during the five-year period. Those applying who are not European Union, European Economic Area or Swiss nationals are required to be in possession of a "titre de séjour" (a residence permit).

  • The residence period may be completely waived for those who have served in the French military, for refugees, or in other exceptional cases.[10]
  • The residence period can be reduced to two years for a person who has completed two years of higher education and successfully obtained a qualification in France or who has rendered exceptional service to France through his/her talents and abilities.[10]

The residence period is counted backwards from the date on which the applicant lodged his/her naturalization application.

The applicant must show that he/she has been residing legally in France during the 5 or 2 year residence period. Any periods of irregular residence in France before the 5 or 2 year residence period will not be taken into account when the application is considered. If the applicant's residence period is completely waived, he/she must have resided legally in France in the 2 years immediately preceding the date on which he/she lodged his/her naturalization application.[11]

Naturalization will only be successful for those who are judged to have integrated into French society (i.e. by virtue of language skills and understanding of rights and responsibilities of a French citizen, to be demonstrated during an interview at the local prefecture, as well as an ability and/or potential to integrate in the labour market), and who respect the values of French society. The applicant must also be of good character (no criminal offences with a sentence of 6 months' imprisonment or more and no tax avoidance). In assessing the applicant's character, the decision reached must be proportionate (for example, a naturalization application should not be rejected solely because the applicant occasionally declared/paid taxes late).[12]

Naturalization through residency is accorded by publication of a decree in the Journal Officiel by decision of the Home Ministry and the prefecture of the region where the applicant has submitted his/her application. There is an obligatory delay of 12 months from the date of submission before the applicant is notified of the result of his/her naturalisation application.

Eligibility resulting from marriage to a French citizen

The spouse of a French national can apply for nationality, and must be able to prove that they have been married for five years and live together, (four years if the couple can prove continuous residence in France for three years since the wedding, or if when living abroad, the French spouse has been registered as a French citizen living abroad (article 79 of law 2006-911 published in the JO of 25/07/2006).) The applicant must also have a good knowledge of the French language, spoken and written, and the couple must appear in person together to sign documents.[13]

Eligibility resulting from service in the French Foreign Legion

Foreign nationals may apply for naturalization after three years of service in the French Foreign Legion, a wing of the French Army that is open to men of any nationality. Furthermore, a soldier wounded in battle during Legion service may immediately apply for naturalization under the principle of "Français par le sang versé" ("French by spilled blood").[14]

French citizenship and identity

According to the French Republic, the French people are those who are in possession of French nationality. According to the French Constitution, "France shall be an indivisible, secular, democratic and social Republic. It shall ensure the equality of all citizens before the law, without distinction of origin, race or religion. It shall respect all beliefs. It shall be organised on a decentralised basis." Article 1

Since the middle of the 19th century, France has exhibited a very high rate of immigration, mainly from Southern Europe, Eastern Europe, the Maghreb, Africa and Asia. According to a 2004 report by INED researcher Michèle Tribalat France has approximately 14 million persons (out of nearly 63 million, or approximately 22%) (see demographics of France) of foreign ascendancy (immigrants or with at least one parent or grandparent immigrant).

The absence of official statistics on French citizens of foreign origin is deliberate. Under French law passed after the Vichy regime, it is forbidden to categorize people according to their ethnic origins. In France, like in many other European countries, censuses do not collect information on supposed ancestry. Moreover, all French statistics are forbidden to have any references concerning ethnic membership. Thus, the French government's assimilationist stance towards immigration as well as towards regional identities and cultures, together with the political heritage of the French Revolution has led to the development of a French identity which is based more on the notion of citizenship than on cultural, historical or ethnic ties.

For that reason, French identity must not necessarily be associated with the "ethnic French people" but can be associated with either a nationality and citizenship, or a culture and language-based group. The latter forms the basis for La Francophonie, a group of French-speaking countries, or countries with historical and cultural association to France. The concept of "French ethnicity" exists outside France's borders, in particular in Quebec where some people claim membership to a "French ethnic group", but again many view it as not so much ethnicity-based as language-based and would also include immigrants from, for example, Lebanon and Haiti. France's particular self-perception means that French identity may include a naturalized, French-speaking ethnic Portuguese, Italian, Spaniard, Poles, Romanian, Lebanese, Vietnamese, Tunisian, Algerian or Moroccan. Nonetheless, like in other European countries, some level of discrimination occurs, and there are higher unemployment rates among job-seekers with foreign-sounding names.

Rights and obligations of French citizens

In modern France, in general, the rights are fundamentally the same as those in other EU countries.

Despite the official discourse of universality, French nationality has not meant automatic citizenship. Some categories of French people have been excluded, throughout the years, from full citizenship:

Modern citizenship is linked to civic participation (also called positive freedom), which includes voting, demonstrations, petitions, activism, etc.

Travel freedom of French citizens

Visa requirements for French citizens are administrative entry restrictions by the authorities of other states placed on citizens of France. As of May 2018, French citizens had visa-free or visa on arrival access to 187 countries and territories, ranking the French passport 3rd in terms of travel freedom (tied with the Finnish, Italian, South Korean, Spanish, and Swedish passports) according to the Henley Passport Index.[17]

The French nationality is ranked number one as of 2018 in The Quality of Nationality Index (QNI). The ranking is considering internal factors such as peace & stability, economic strength, and human development and external factors such as travel freedom. France's comparative advantage lies in its greater settlement freedom (attributable mainly to the country's former colonial empire.[18])

Dual citizenship

Dual citizenship was officially recognized for both men and women on 9 January 1973; since then, possession of more than one nationality does not affect French nationality.[19][20] In the period of 9 April 1954 until 8 January 1973, only French men younger than the age of 50 were permitted to have dual citizenship, while a woman lost her French citizenship upon the acquisition of a foreign citizenship.[21][22] France later denounced Chapter I of the Council of Europe Convention on the Reduction of Cases of Multiple Nationality and on Military Obligations in Cases of Multiple Nationality of May 6, 1963. The denunciation took effect March 5, 2009. [23]

Citizenship of the European Union

Because France forms part of the European Union, French citizens are also citizens of the European Union under European Union law and thus enjoy rights of free movement and have the right to vote in elections for the European Parliament.[24] When in a non-EU country where there is no French embassy, French citizens have the right to get consular protection from the embassy of any other EU country present in that country.[25][26] French citizens can live and work in any country within the EU and EFTA as a result of the right of free movement and residence granted in Article 21 of the EU Treaty.[27]


According to Giorgio Agamben, France was one of the first European countries to pass denaturalization laws, in 1915, with regard to naturalized citizens of "enemy" origins. Its example was followed by most European countries.

As early as July 1940, Vichy France set up a special Commission charged with reviewing the naturalizations granted since the 1927 reform[citation needed] of the nationality law. Between June 1940 and August 1944, 15,000 persons, mostly Jews, were denaturalized.[28] This bureaucratic designation was instrumental in their subsequent internment and murder.

Previous law: Article 21-19(5º)

In 2001, as Bill Clinton finished his second term as President of the U.S. (the legal limit of terms under the U.S. Constitution), a theory was published by CNN that he could claim citizenship of France and run for leadership there.[29] The open-letter by historian Patrick Weil held that a little known "law, passed in 1961 [article 21-19(5º)], enables people from former French territories to apply for immediate naturalisation, bypassing the normal five-year residency requirement for would-be French citizens."[30] As Clinton was born in Arkansas which had been part of French Louisiana before it was sold to the US, it was held that he would qualify under this law. And as a naturalised French citizen, he could run in the French presidential election.

Clinton himself later repeated this claim in 2012 as an amusing thought when speaking to an interviewer.[31] Clinton had always dismissed the idea, and at the time of his retelling of the story in 2012, unknown to him, the possibility had already ended. This was because article 21-19(5º) of the Code civil was repealed (by article 82 of law 2006-911) on July 25, 2006 under the direction of Nicolas Sarkozy, who was then Minister of the Interior. Since "Weil's article made this provision of the French nationality law notorious, the French parliament abolished it".[32][33]

See also


  1. ^ French Embassy (in French)
  2. ^ from Charles Péguy's L'Argent
  3. ^ Vink, Maarten P.; de Groot, Gerard René (November 2010). "Birthright Citizenship: Trends and Regulation in Europe" (PDF). EUDO Citizenship Obvservatory. Archived from the original (PDF) on 26 November 2012. Retrieved 13 January 2012.
  4. ^ "Bureau de la nationalité - Annuaire |". (in French). Retrieved 29 May 2018.
  5. ^ "Nationalité française d'un enfant né en France de parents étrangers |". Retrieved 24 April 2019.
  6. ^ "Nationalité française d'un enfant né en France de parents étrangers |". Retrieved 24 April 2019.
  7. ^ "Nationalité française d'un enfant né en France de parents étrangers |". Retrieved 24 April 2019.
  8. ^ Civil Code of France, Article 343
  9. ^ Le code civil des Français, Article 21-17
  10. ^ a b "Naturalisation".
  11. ^ "Circulaire INTK1207286C du 16 octobre 2012 relative aux procédures d'accès à la nationalité française" (PDF).
  12. ^ "Circulaire du 21 juin 2013 relative à l'accès à la nationalité française" (PDF).
  13. ^ "Déclaration de nationalité française par mariage".
  14. ^ "The French Foreign Legion – the last option for those desperate to escape the UK." The Daily Telegraph. 3 December 2008. Retrieved on 28 June 2013.
  15. ^ Loi no 2000-493 du 6 juin 2000 tendant à favoriser l'égal accès des femmes et des hommes aux mandats électoraux et fonctions électives (in French)
  16. ^ B. Villalba. "Chapitre 2 - Les incertitudes de la citoyenneté" (in French). Catholic University of Lille, Law Department. Archived from the original on 16 November 2006. Retrieved 3 May 2006.
  17. ^ "Global Ranking - Passport Index 2018" (PDF). Henley & Partners. Retrieved 22 May 2018.
  18. ^ "World's Top Nationalities Revealed: France Is No. 1, U.S. Ranks 27". 26 April 2018. Retrieved 30 July 2018.
  19. ^ "Loi n°93-933 of 23 July 1993".
  20. ^ "Loi n° 73-42 of 9 January 1973".
  21. ^ "Fac-similé JO du 10/04/1954, page 03451 - Legifrance".
  22. ^
  23. ^ "Services aux citoyens". France Diplomatie : : Ministère de l'Europe et des Affaires étrangères.
  24. ^ "France". European Union. Retrieved 4 May 2015.
  25. ^ Article 20(2)(c) of the Treaty on the Functioning of the European Union.
  26. ^ Rights abroad: Right to consular protection: a right to protection by the diplomatic or consular authorities of other Member States when in a non-EU Member State, if there are no diplomatic or consular authorities from the citizen's own state (Article 23): this is due to the fact that not all member states maintain embassies in every country in the world (14 countries have only one embassy from an EU state). Antigua and Barbuda (UK), Barbados (UK), Belize (UK), Central African Republic (France), Comoros (France), Gambia (UK), Guyana (UK), Liberia (Germany), Saint Vincent and the Grenadines (UK), San Marino (Italy), São Tomé and Príncipe (Portugal), Solomon Islands (UK), Timor-Leste (Portugal), Vanuatu (France)
  27. ^ "Treaty on the Function of the European Union  (consolidated version)" (PDF). Retrieved 10 July 2015.
  28. ^ François Masure, "Etat et identité nationale. Un rapport ambigu à propos des naturalisés, in Journal des anthropologues, hors-série 2007, pp.39-49 (see p.48) (in French)
  29. ^ Weil, Patrick (22 May 2018). "Bill Clinton: The French Years" – via
  30. ^ "Goodbye White House...bonjour Paris?". CNN. 17 January 2001.
  31. ^ Grace Wyler (26 September 2012). "Bill Clinton Has Figured Out How He Could Be President Again".
  32. ^ Joshua Keating Wednesday (26 September 2012). "Sorry, Bill Clinton. You can't be president of France or Ireland".
  33. ^ "No, Bill Clinton Can't Run for the French Presidency". 11 March 2013.


External links

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