Once an individual has entered the French territory in order to seek asylum in France, he or she must be registered as asylum seeker by the French authority responsible for the right of residence, namely the Prefecture. Then, he or she can lodge an asylum application with OFPRA, the only administration competent to examine asylum applications. However, there is a specific procedure for people who seek asylum from an administrative detention centre, in case they are already detained for the purpose of removal.
Making and registering an application
French law does not lay down strict time limits for asylum seekers to make an application after entering the country.
However, the law specifies that one reason why OFPRA shall process an asylum claim in Accelerated Procedure is that “without legitimate reason, the applicant who irregularly entered the French territory or remained there irregularly did not introduce his or her asylum claim in a period of 90 days as from the date he or she has entered the French territory.” Prior to the 2018 reform, this time limit was 120 days. In Guiana, the time limit is 60 days.
The registration of asylum claims in France is conducted by “single desks” (guichet uniques de demande d’asile, GUDA) introduced in order to register both the asylum claim and the need for material reception conditions. There are 34 GUDA across France.
In order to obtain an appointment at the GUDA, asylum seekers must present themselves to orientation platforms (Plateformes d’accueil de demandeurs d’asile, PADA). Local organisations are responsible for this pre-registration phase and make appointments at the Prefecture for the asylum seekers. According to the law, the appointment has to take place within 3 working days after asylum seekers have expressed their intention to lodge an asylum claim. This deadline can be extended to 10 working days when a large number of foreign nationals wishing to introduce an asylum claim arrive at the same time.
While the introduction of the “single desk” system in 2015 aimed at reducing delays relating to registration and avoid long lines of people presenting themselves in front of Prefectures, this additional step has led to more complexity and delays in accessing the procedure in practice. To restore the 3-day time limit, the Minister of Interior published a Circular on 12 January 2018 which increased the staff in Prefectures and in the French Office for Immigration and Integration (OFII) to reorganise services. This plan ensures fully operational GUDA every day of the week, as well as overbooking to compensate for ‘no show’ appointments.
The average waiting time for appointments at the GUDA from the PADA has decreased since 2018. In 2019, the average time at national level was 5,8 working days. In July 2019, the Council of State has recognised that the waiting time for appointment remained a current issue and urged the authorities to take appropriate measures to comply with the legal time foreseen before January 2020. In February 2020, the average time was around 3,5 working days but exceeded 10 days in Lyon. In a report published in May 2020, the Court of Auditors (Cour des comptes) recalled however the existence of “hidden delays” preceding the access to the SPADAs and stressed that “making people wait several weeks or even several months before the deposit of their request and the assessment of their vulnerability is unsatisfactory not only with regard to their rights but also for the effectiveness of the asylum system”. 
Indeed, asylum seekers have faced difficulties in accessing the PADA, especially in the Ile-de-France region (Paris and surroundings). Since May 2018, the French Office of Immigration and Integration (OFII) operates a telephone appointment system in this region, whereby applicants obtain an SMS appointment to appear before a PADA, which in turn books them an appointment with the GUDA to register their application. The telephone appointment system therefore constitutes an additional administrative layer in the registration process. In 2018 (from the launch on 2 May 2018 until 31 December 2018), the telephone platform answered 61,957 calls and granted 46,139 appointments for registration. In 2019, the platform answered 82,339 calls and granted 64,328 appointments. OFII described this system as “very positive”. In December 2020, OFII reported that 200,682 calls were answered and 151,478 appointments were granted during the first 600 days operation. However, figures (“chiffres noirs”) made available by the Prefecture of Ile-de-France reveal much higher numbers of calls made to the platform. According to the NGO La Cimade, these figures indicate that nearly 90% of calls made to the OFII telephone service until the end of 2018 were unsuccessful. The NGO also reported that the number of appointments available throughout 2019 was reduced from 300 to 255 per day at the end of October 2019. A further decrease of appointments was observed in 2020, inter alia due to COVID-19, reaching only 198 appointments per day in September, 200 in October and 235 since November 2020.
NGOs have criticised the telephone platform as inefficient, referring to people unsuccessfully attempting to call several times, or waiting for over half an hour on the phone before speaking to OFII. According to La Cimade, the telephone platform is only operative a couple of hours per day and after 12:00 pm, individuals are asked to call again on the next day as all the appointments have already been booked. As a result, the access to the asylum procedure reaches 1 month on average. In addition, despite initial announcements of free-of-charge access, calls to the telephone platform are charged 0,15 to 0,19 € per minute by phone operators. The cost can be exorbitant for asylum seekers given that they have no access to reception conditions before their claim is registered and are often destitute.
In February 2019, following an urgent action (référé-liberté) brought by several civil society organisations, the Administrative Court of Paris ordered OFII to deploy at least two more full-time staff members until the end of February 2019 so as to reinforce the capacity of its telephone platform. For the asylum seekers directly concerned by the action, the Court ordered OFII to grant appointments within 48 hours. The Court acknowledged the efforts of OFII to overcome delays and avoid physical queues before the different PADA in Paris. However, it held that the technical and practical obstacles to access to the telephone platform have resulted in “virtual queues” of asylum seekers who do not manage to receive a response despite repeated attempts during several days.
In November 2019, another legal action was filed by several NGOs. The Administrative Court of Paris ordered the Prefecture to increase the number of daily appointments up to 100 for the Ile de France region and urged the OFII to take the necessary steps to set up a free phone number. However, the Court did not ordered to provide another way to obtain appointment in this region.
In December 2020, 16 migrants supported by 12 NGOs have again asked the court to note that the telephone platform is, for many, inaccessible and constitutes an obstacle to access to asylum applications. The court’s response was still pending by the time of publication of this report.
At the GUDA, it is not mandatory to provide an address (domiciliation) to register asylum seekers’ claims. However, as long as administrative notifications are still sent by mail, asylum seekers have to provide an address for the procedure to be smoothly conducted. An address certificate (déclaration de domiciliation) is also necessary to benefit from certain social benefits, in particular the Universal Medical Protection (PUMA). A specific form to declare asylum seekers’ address is available since 20 October 2015.
In order for their claim to be registered by the Prefecture, asylum seekers have to provide the following:
- Information relating to civil status;
- Travel documents, entry visa or any documentation giving information on the conditions of entry on the French territory and travel routes from the country of origin;
- 4 ID photos; and
- In case the asylum seeker is housed on his or her own means, his or her address.
Special measures in the context of Covid-19
Registration activities have been temporarily suspended following the closure of the single desks for asylum seekers (Guichet unique pour demandeur d’asile – GUDA) from mid-March to the beginning of May 2020. Subsequently, access to the asylum procedure and to reception conditions were suspended with no alternative solutions. This measure had no legal basis and mainly resulted from the lack of available civil servants within State agencies. On April 2020, 7 NGOs and 7 asylum seekers asked to the Administrative court to reopen access to asylum application in Paris and its region. The court ruled in favor of the applicants, but the Ministry of Interior and OFII lodged an appeal. On 30 April 2020, the Council of State confirmed the first decision and urged the authorities to reopen access to GUDA in this region.
The asylum claim certification
It is only once the asylum claim certification (attestation de demande d’asile) has been granted that a form to formally lodge the asylum application is handed to the applicant. Specific documentation is also handed to the asylum seeker in order to provide him or her information on:
- The asylum procedure;
- His or her rights and obligations throughout the procedure;
- The consequences that violations of these obligations might have;
- His or her rights and obligations in relation to reception conditions; and
- Organisations supporting asylum seekers.
The asylum claim certification is delivered for a specific period of time, renewable until the end of the procedure. Depending on the procedure, the period of validity varies:
- Under the regular procedure, the asylum claim certification is valid for an initial period of time of 1 month, renewable for 9 months and 6 months afterwards (as many times as necessary);
- Under the accelerated procedure, the asylum claim certification is valid for an initial period of time of 1 month, renewable for 6 months and 3 months (as many times as necessary);
- Under the Dublin procedure, the asylum claim certification is valid for an initial period of time of 1 month, renewable for 4 months (as many times as necessary). However, persons under a Dublin procedure are not given a form to lodge their application with OFPRA.
The Prefecture may refuse to grant an asylum claim certification for 2 reasons:
- The foreign national introduced a subsequent application after the final rejection of his or her first subsequent application; or
- The foreign national is subject to a final decision of extradition towards another country than his country of origin, or if he is subject to a European Arrest Warrant or an arrest warrant issued by the International Criminal Court.
If foreign nationals are refused an asylum claim certification, they are refused the right to stay on the French territory and to introduce an asylum claim. They might be placed in an administrative detention centre in view of their removal.
In addition, the renewal of an asylum claim certification can be refused, or the asylum claim certification can be refused or removed when:
- OFPRA has taken an inadmissibility decision because the asylum seeker has already been granted asylum in another EU Member State or third country, where the protection provided is effective; or the subsequent application is inadmissible;
- The asylum seeker has withdrawn his or her asylum claim;
- OFPRA has closed the asylum claim. OFPRA is entitled to close an asylum claim if it has not been lodged within 21 days; or if the asylum seeker did not present him or herself to the interview; or if the asylum seeker has consciously refused to provide fundamental information; or if the asylum seeker has not provided any address and cannot be contacted;
- A first subsequent application has been introduced by the asylum seeker only to prevent a notified or imminent order of removal;
- The foreign national introduced a subsequent application after the final rejection of his or her first subsequent application; or
- The foreign national is subject to a final decision of extradition towards another country than his country of origin, or if he is subject to a European arrest warrant or an arrest warrant issued by the International Criminal Court. In case of a refusal, or refusal of a renewal, or removal of the asylum claim certification, the asylum seeker is not allowed to remain on the French territory and this decision can be accompanied by an order to leave the French territory (OQTF);
- OFPRA has taken a negative decision on an application lodged by an asylum seeker subject to an expulsion order or entry ban.
In parallel to the registration of the claim at the Prefecture, the file of the asylum seeker is transferred to OFII that is responsible for the management of the national reception scheme.
Lodging an application
Following registration, if the Dublin Regulation does not apply, the asylum seeker has 21 calendar days to fill in the application form in French and send it by registered mail to OFPRA, the determining authority in France. In order for the claim to be processed by OFPRA, the filled and signed application form as to be accompanied by a copy of the asylum claim certification, 2 ID photos and, if applicable, a travel document and the copy of the residence permit. The file must contain a short explanation of the grounds of the claim in French.
A specific procedure applies in Guiana, Martinique and Guadeloupe: when there is an important increase of applications for international protection during three months in a row, the authorities have the possibility to take special measures during a period of 18 months maximum. This includes the possibility to require that the application for international protection is being lodged with OFPRA in person and within 7 days following registration.
Upon receipt of the claim, OFPRA shall inform the asylum seeker as well as the competent Prefect and the OFII that the claim is complete and ready to be processed. In case the claim is incomplete the asylum seeker has to be asked to provide the necessary missing elements or information within 8 additional days; 3 days in Guiana, Martinique and Guadeloupe in special circumstances. When OFPRA receives a complete application within the required deadlines, it registers it and sends a confirmation letter to the applicant. If the information is not sent or filed in after the deadline, OFPRA refuses to lodge the application and takes a decision discontinuing the processing of the claim. If the case is not reopened within 9 months, a new claim is considered as a Subsequent Application.
Finally, the requirement to write the asylum application in French remains a serious constraint. For asylum seekers who do not benefit from any support through the procedures and who may face daily survival concerns, not least due to lack of accommodation, the imposed period of 21 days is very short.
Applications lodged in detention
In administrative detention centres, the notification of the individual’s rights, read out upon arrival, indicates that he or she has 5 calendar days to claim asylum. This 5-day time limit is strictly applied in practice. That said, the CNDA has shown some flexibility in the specific cases of persons transferred between detention centres. In one case decided in April 2018, the individual had been notified of the right to seek asylum within 5 days upon his arrival in a detention centre. Four days later – before the expiry of the deadline – he was transferred to another facility and was informed again of the right to make an asylum application within 5 days. The Court found that, since the former deadline had not expired upon the second notification of the right to claim asylum, the applicant could rely on the latter notification in good faith.
The 5-day deadline is not applicable if the person calls upon new facts occurring after the 5-day deadline has expired, although this last condition does not apply to asylum seekers coming from a Safe Country of Origin.
Asylum seekers in detention can benefit from legal and linguistic assistance. According to the CNDA, which examines appeals against inadmissible asylum applications in detention centres, the 5-day deadline may not be contested on the ground that the asylum seeker did not benefit from effective legal and linguistic assistance in detention, or on the basis of facts occurring prior to the deadline which the person was not aware of at the time.
 Article L.723-2(III)(3) Ceseda, as amended by Article 6 Law n. 2018-778 of 10 September 2018.
Art. L.767-1 Ceseda.
 Article L.741-1 Ceseda.
6. Circulaire NOR INTV1800126N du 12 janvier 2018 Réduction des délais d’enregistrement des demandes d’asile aux guichets uniques, available in French at: http://bit.ly/2EEPKJQ.
 Figure disseminated by OFII during a meeting with NGOs in January 2020.
 Data collected from NGOs managing platforms
11. OFII, ‘Une plateforme téléphonique pour les demandeurs d’asile en Île-de-France’, 2 May 2018, available in French at: https://goo.gl/LqUc7R.
 Op. cit. P.23
 OFII on Twitter, 14 December 2020, available in French at : https://bit.ly/2YIeJnT
 AIDA, ‘France: nearly 90% of calls to Paris phone registration platform missed’, 19 April 2019, available at: https://bit.ly/3bd9JwL;La Cimade, ‘La loterie de l’accès à la procédure d’asile en Ile-de-France’ ,12 April 2019, available in French at : https://bit.ly/2LDUjcU.
 ACAT and others, ‘Exilés en errance en Ile-de-France, l’impossible enregistrement des demandes d’asile’, Press release. 10 December 2020, available in French at : https://bit.ly/2LbFpdP.
 Article R.741-3 Ceseda.
 Ministerial ruling on application of Article L.741-1 Ceseda, published on 9 October 2015.
 Article L.741-1 Ceseda.
 Article L.743-2 Ceseda, as amended by Article 12 Law n. 2018-778 of 10 September 2018.
 Article L.723-13 Ceseda.
 Article R.723-1 Ceseda.
 Decree 2019-1329 of 9 December 2019 on procedures for processing asylum requests in the Antilles and Guyana and modifying the rules for appealing against OFPRA decisions, available in French at: https://bit.ly/3ajeKDz.
 Article R.768-1 Ceseda.
 Article L.551-3 Ceseda.
 Ibid. If the claim by a national of such a country is made within the 5-day period, however, it cannot be deemed inadmissible: Administrative Court of Versailles, Order No 1800897, 9 February 2018.
Article L.551-3 Ceseda.
 CNDA, Decision No 16037938, 25 July 2017.