Once an individual has entered the French territory in order to seek asylum in France, they must be registered as asylum seeker by the French authority responsible for the right of residence, namely the Prefecture. Then, they 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 for OFPRA to process an asylum claim in Accelerated Procedure is that “without legitimate reason, the applicant who irregularly entered French territory or remained there irregularly did not introduce their asylum claim in a period of 90 days as from the date they 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 33 GUDA across France (mainland).
In order to obtain an appointment at the GUDA, asylum seekers must present themselves to orientation services (SPADA). In practice, these are manned by local organisations who are thus responsible for this pre-registration phase and deliver the 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.
In 2019, the average time at national level was 5,8 working days. In July 2019, the Council of State recognised that the waiting time for an 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. According to the authorities, the average time was 4 days in 2020, 2,6 days in 2021 and 3,7 days in 2022. In a report published in May 2020, the Court of Auditors (Cour des comptes) highlighted however the existence of “hidden delays” before accessing a SPADA 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 SPADAs, 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 SPADA, 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. In the context of a legal dispute (described further below – relating to Council of State decision 447339), OFII reported 57,000 eligible calls from 11,679 different numbers each month during the first semester of 2021: 8,335 were processed by OFII and 4,800 resulted in an appointment. No more recent data are available.
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 in a 2021 publication, 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 SPADA 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 order to provide an alternative way to obtain an appointment in this region.
In December 2020, 16 migrants supported by 12 NGOs again asked the court to note that the telephone platform is, for many, inaccessible and constitutes an obstacle to access asylum applications. In July 2021, the Council of State conceded legal deadlines were not met in Ile-de-France due to the telephone platform and ordered the State to respect it within 4 months.
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 Health Protection Scheme (Protection Universelle MAladie – 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 their own means, their address.
The asylum claim certificate
It is only once the asylum claim certificate (attestation de demande d’asile) has been granted that a form to formally lodge the asylum application is handed to the applicant, unless he is under a Dublin procedure. Specific documentation is also handed to the asylum seeker in order to provide him or her information on:
- The asylum procedure;
- Their rights and obligations throughout the procedure;
- The consequences that violations of these obligations might have;
- Their rights and obligations in relation to reception conditions; and
- Organisations supporting asylum seekers.
The asylum claim certificate 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 certificate is valid for an initial period of time of 1 month, renewed first for 9 months and then 6 months for subsequent renewals (as many as necessary);
- Under the accelerated procedure, the asylum claim certificate is valid for an initial period of time of 1 month, renewed first for 6 months and then 3 months for subsequent renewals (as many times as necessary);
- Under the Dublin procedure, the asylum claim certificate is valid for an initial period of time of 1 month, renewable for periods of 4 months (as many times as necessary).
The Prefecture may refuse to grant an asylum claim certificate for 2 reasons:
- The foreign national introduced a subsequent application after the final rejection of their 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.
By being refused an asylum claim certificate, foreign nationals are refused the right to stay on French territory. As they have no right to stay, they might be placed in an administrative detention centre in view of their removal.
In addition, the renewal of an asylum claim certificate can be refused, or the asylum claim certificate 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 their 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 themselves 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 their first subsequent application; or
- The foreign national is subject to a final decision of extradition towards another country than his country of origin, or 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 certificate, 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 out and signed application form has to be accompanied by a copy of the asylum claim certificate, 2 ID photos and, if applicable, a travel document and a 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 be 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 is asked to provide the necessary missing elements or information within 8 additional days from when he receives such request; 3 days in Guiana, Martinique and Guadeloupe in special circumstances and for subsequent applications. 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 (which the asylum seeker must request), 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. Most of asylum seekers are not housed during this period: they are supported by SPADA (social workers, interpreters…) for this step but SPADA are overworked so the time is limited to write the asylum claim.
Since 2018, the law provide that an asylum application made by adults whose minor children are present in France is also considered to have been made in the name of the children: a rejection therefore concerns all the members of the family (if the children want to apply for asylum later it will be a subsequent application) and when two parents are protected for different reasons the children benefit from the most extensive protection. When the child is born during the asylum procedure, the same legal framework applies. When the child is born after the final rejection of the parents’ request, his request is considered as a first request.
Applications lodged in detention
In administrative detention centres for migrants in irregular situation (centres de retention administrative), the notification of the individual’s rights read out upon arrival indicates that they 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, Hover, asylum seekers who are nationals of a Safe Country of Origin do not benefit from this exception. They may only apply within 5 days.
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.
In criminal detention centres, it is very difficult to ask for asylum in practice whereas this fundamental right should be able to be exercised there. An administrative court recalled in 2019 that it is up to the prefectural services as well as the prison administration to put in place procedures allowing the implementation of the right of asylum. Subsequently, a circular specified the conditions for requesting asylum in detention, while a decision of the Council of State in 2021 recalled that the asylum request could be addressed to any authority.
 Article L. 531-27 3° Ceseda.
 Art. L.767-1 Ceseda.
 Article L. 521-4 Ceseda.
 Ministry of Interior, Circulaire NOR INTV1800126N du 12 janvier 2018 Réduction des délais d’enregistrement des demandes d’asile aux guichets uniques, 12 January 2018, 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.
 Op. cit. P.23
 OFII on Twitter, no longer available.
 La Cimade, ‘Enregistrement des demandes d’asile : le Conseil d’État enjoint au ministre de l’intérieur de respecter le délai en ile de France’, January 2022, available in French at: https://bit.ly/3Lx4Wsi.
 Article R. 521-5 Ceseda.
 Article L. 521-7 Ceseda.
 Article L. 542-3 Ceseda.
 Article L. 531-38 Ceseda.
 Article R. 531-2 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.
 Articles R.591-3, 591-6, 591-10 Ceseda.
 Article L. 521-3 Ceseda.
 Article L. 531-23 Ceseda.
 CE, 27 January 2021, No. 444958.
 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. 744-6 Ceseda.
 CNDA, Decision No 16037938, 25 July 2017.
 CGLPL, Avis du Contrôleur général des lieux de privation de liberté du 9 mai 2014 relatif à la situation des personnes étrangères détenues, published 3 June 2014, available in French at: https://bit.ly/41v1Iwu.
 Ministry of Justice and others, Amélioration de la coordination du suivi des étrangers incarcérés faisant l’objet d’une mesure d’éloignement, 16 August 2019, available in French at: https://bit.ly/3FUqoWQ, 13.