There are several ways to obtain citizenship according to French law. It is possible to be naturalised by declaration or by decree. Naturalisation by declaration is only possible for refugees and beneficiaries of subsidiary protection’s children born in France or arrived in France before turning 13 years-old. Otherwise, their children will either have to lodge an asylum claim of their own or submit a residence permit request. It is also possible to access citizenship by marriage to a French citizen.
Beneficiaries of international protection usually obtain citizenship by decree. The criteria and conditions for naturalisation are listed in the Civil Code and the 1993 Decree on citizenship,1 as follows:
Five years of previous regular residence;2
Strong knowledge of French: the candidate can produce a diploma or any document certifying his or her linguistic skills, proving he or she is able to have a conversation about any topic of his or her interest;3
Strong knowledge of History of France and its institutions, culture, and place in the world, as well as strong knowledge of the exercise of the French citizenship;4
The candidate must not be subjected during his or her stay in France to a sentence of 6 months or more of imprisonment;5
Entire subscription to the values and symbols of French Republic.6
A leaflet is issued to any candidate to citizenship. This document describes the criteria the candidates have to meet to be deemed eligible for citizenship. The law establishes integration in the French society as a compulsory condition. This leaflet is then not distributed in other languages. Along with the leaflet, the candidates are issued the list of documents they have to produce.7 Beneficiaries of refugee status are not bound by the five years of residence requirement. They are legally authorised to candidate for naturalisation from the moment they are granted asylum.8 The difficulty they encounter is linked to their knowledge of the language.
Beneficiaries of subsidiary protection fall under the general rules. They have to wait for 5 years before being authorised to lodge their citizenship claim. This period can be shortened to 2 years if they graduate after 2 years spent in a French college, if they render an exceptional service to France or if they can demonstrate they are particularly well-integrated.9
The citizenship application has to be lodged at the Prefecture. The prefecture has 6 month to process the claim,10 during which an interview is conducted to assess the level of integration of the candidate, regarding especially his or her knowledge of the language and of the French “culture”.11 If the Prefecture takes a positive decision, it is transmitted to the Ministry of Interior in charge of adopting a decree relating to the acquisition of citizenship by the candidate.12 The Ministry has to make its decision within 18 months following the transfer of the notice by the prefecture.13 These deadlines can be extended once for three months on the basis of a written and motivated decision.14
In practice, refugees encounter many difficulties beyond the mere ones linked to their knowledge of the language. The interview conducted aims also to determine the level of integration on the French society of the candidates. This assessment is very wide since, according to lawyers supporting refugees in this process, economic and cultural aspects are taken into account, as well as their ties with their original community. The Prefecture will particularly scrutinise the relationship claimants have with French people. In that sense, claimants are used to submitting more documents than those required by law. For example, they will produce testimonies from teachers if they have children, proof of their economic situation or testimonies of French friends.
A total 68,067 persons were granted French citizenship by decree in 2016, though this number is not limited to beneficiaries of international protection.15
- 1. Decree n°93-1962 relating to citizenship declarations, naturalisation, reintegration, loss, forfeit and withdrawal of the French citizenship decisions, 13 December 1993, available in French at: http://bit.ly/2j89AmO.
- 2. Article 21-17 Civil Code.
- 3. Article 37(1) Decree n. 93-1362, as amended by Decree n. 2015-108 of 2 February 2015.
- 4. Article 37(2) Decree n. 93-1362.
- 5. Article 21-23 Civil Code.
- 6. Article 21-24 Civil Code.
- 7. Article 37-1 Decree n. 93-1362 as amended by Decree n. 2013-794 of 30 August 2013.
- 8. Article 21-19 Civil Code.
- 9. Article 21-18 Civil Code.
- 10. Article 41 Decree n. 93-1362 as amended by Decree n. 2015-316 of 19 March 2015.
- 11. Article 46 Decree n. 93-1362 as amended by Decree n. 2015-316 of 19 March 2015.
- 12. Ibid.
- 13. Article 21-25-1 Civil Code.
- 14. Ibid.
- 15. Ministry of Interior, L’accès à la nationalité, 16 January 2017, available in French at: http://bit.ly/2lmtGHC.