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French nationality law

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French nationality law
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French citizenship has historically been based on the principle of jus soli (“right of soil”), in contrast to the German definition of nationality through jus sanguinis (“right of blood”). Thus, for decades, France, needing cheap labour, attracted migrants from Algeria, Morocco and Tunisia, relying on liberal migration laws and the principle of jus soli. But then, as the influx of migrants from Africa, Asia and Eastern Europe became massive, there was a U-turn from the jus soli to the jus sanguinis and, consequently, a tightening of the immigration agenda.

Jus soli or jus sanguinis?

Jus soli means that people born on a country's territory, regardless of the nationality of their parents, can acquire its citizenship. Jus sanguinis, on the other hand, refers to the transfer of citizenship by blood, regardless of the place of birth.

The jus soli principle was part of English common law, whereas jus sanguinis stems from Roman law. Historically, “right of soil” was applied in multi-ethnic states and immigrant countries (USA, Canada, France), whereas “right of blood” was used in the mono-national countries of continental Europe (Germany). Nowadays, most countries in the world apply both principles to a greater or lesser extent, but usually, one of them prevails depending on immigration policies.

Many countries have specific laws on nationality. Yet in France, provisions on nationality are included in the French Civil Code (FCC), Title 1, French Nationality, Articles 17-33-2. The Code is amended and supplemented from time to time on the basis of adopted laws. 

The Pasqua Act of 1993 sought to limit access to French nationality and strengthened the jus sanguinis principle. Thus, children born in France to foreign parents had to apply for French nationality when they came of age instead of receiving it automatically.

The 1998 Act of Guigou abrogated the requirement of “manifestation of will”. However, children born in France to foreign parents are still foreigners until the age of 18 (rarely 13–17). However, they are required to prove that they have been residents in the country for 5 years.

However, if at least one parent is French, the child automatically acquires French nationality regardless of the country of birth – this is how the principle of jus sanguinis or “right of blood” takes effect.

Symbolically, soldiers of the Foreign Legion, who by definition have foreign nationality, can become French by the blood they have shed when wounded in battle.

At the same time, the old legal principle of double jus soli is still in force in France: a child born in the country is considered French if at least one of his parents was also born in France, even if he did not obtain citizenship.

Naturalisation: how to become French

An adult applicant for a French passport usually undergoes a naturalisation procedure. Being neither by blood nor born in French territory, he or she first has to earn the right to obtain French nationality. This requires permanent residence in France for 5 years.

The minimum residence period may be reduced to 2 years for foreigners who have successfully completed two years of higher education in a French university or for special merits in science, sports or culture. However, in the case of marriage to a French national, the spouse has to apply for citizenship after 4 years of residence in France or after 5 years of residence abroad.

An important condition for naturalisation is that the foreigner must prove their integration into French society. In order to do this, many criteria have to be fulfilled.

How to prove integration:

  • to live legally in France for at least 5 years on a residence permit or a permanent residence permit;
  • pass the French language exam (at least a B1 level of French language proficiency);
  • work legally in France and/or study at a French school or university in the French language;
  • pass a test of French history, culture and society; 
  • recognise the basic principles and values of the Republic;
  • abide by French law and have no criminal record with more than 6 months’ imprisonment;
  • the immigrant’s spouse and minor children (if any) must reside with them in France;
  • have no arrears in the payment of taxes and fees.

The immigrant signs a charter of the rights and duties of a French citizen. This charter, approved by a decree of the Council of State, recalls the basic principles, values and symbols of the French Republic.

Applicants for a French passport submit an application to the prefecture at their place of residence. Processing of an application for French nationality by naturalisation takes no more than 18 months upon submission of all the documents.

Refusal of nationality is always justified. The main reasons for refusing French nationality are insufficient French language skills and lack of integration into French society.

Code de l'indigénat

Indigénat is a legal term that describes the civil status, namely the citizenship (nationality) of a country. As a rule, civil servants of different countries, including Russia, may only hold the indigénat of their own country, i.e. they are not allowed to acquire a second citizenship.

France recognises dual citizenship. A Russian does not have to renounce Russian citizenship in order to obtain a French passport. But there is no agreement about double indigénat between the countries, therefore it would be more correct to speak about second citizenship in this case. This means that in Russia a person will be considered only a Russian citizen, and only a French subject in France.

However, if a Russian lives in France more than 183 days per year, they become a French tax resident. In this case, they will pay Russian taxes as a non-resident, and the tax rate will be 30% instead of 13%.

Rights and duties of a French citizen

Under French law, French citizens are equal, regardless of their origin, ethnicity, race or religion. An immigrant who receives a French passport has the same rights as native-born locals.

A French citizen obtains the following rights:

  • to reside and work in France; 
  • to travel, live and work freely in the European Union and Schengen area;
  • to visit 188 countries of the world without a visa or with a visa on arrival;
  • to have second citizenship; 
  • to reunite with your family: your spouse, children and parents can obtain a residence permit and eventually citizenship;
  • to make use of all social assistance and support provided to the French: health care, education in public schools and universities, social benefits and allowances, legal aid;
  • to participate in political activities: to elect and be elected.

As for the duties, they include complying with French law, paying taxes and levies, and defending the country in the event of hostilities.

How to apply for French nationality

Ways of acquiring French nationality Terms

A reference to the law

Family origin

A child has at least one French parent. It does not matter whether the child was born in France or abroad. Article 18 of FCC
Birthplace in France A child was born in France to unknown parents. Article 19 of FCC
A child was born in France to stateless parents. Article 19-1 of FCC
A child was born in France to foreign parents, provided that the laws of their country do not permit the transfer of nationality to the child. Article 19-1 of FCC
A child was born in France, and at least one of their parents was born in France (except for children of diplomats): a double right of land.
Article 19-3 of FCC
A child that was born in France to foreign parents acquires French nationality upon coming of age if they have been resident in France for at least 5 years from the age of 11 (except for children of diplomats). However, it is possible to obtain French nationality for a child aged between 16 and 18 if they have been resident in France for the last 5 years, and for a child aged between 13 and 16 if they have been resident in France since the age of 8. Article 21-7 of FCC
Naturalisation A foreigner is entitled to French nationality if they have been resident in France for five years prior to submitting the application. Article 21-17 of FCC
This period may be reduced to 2 years for foreigners who have successfully completed two years’ higher education at a French university or for special merit in science, sports, culture or economic activity.
Article 21-18 of FCC
The stay in France must be legal (residence permit, permanent residence). § 3 of Article 21-27 of FCC
An immigrant must prove that they are integrated into French society: they speak French (at least a B1 level), know the history and culture of the country, accept the values and principles of the Republic, are employed and have no criminal record with a prison sentence of over 6 months. The applicant’s spouse and minor children must reside with them in France.
Article 21-24 of FCC

Resolution No. 93-1362 dated 30.12.1993, No. 2012-127 dated 30.01.2012

Law No. 2011-672 dated 16.06.2011

Article 21-27 of FCC
Marriage A foreigner married to a French national may obtain French nationality four years after the marriage, provided that they are still married by that time.
Article 21-2 of FCC
The deadline for applying for citizenship is extended to 5 years in the case of residency abroad, namely if the foreigner has not proved that he or she has been resident in France for at least 3 years from the date of marriage.
Article 21-2 of FCC
Knowledge of the French language – at least a B1 level.
Article 21-24 of FCC, Law No. 2011-672 dated 16.06.2011
Spouses are living together. Circular of the minister of foreign politics dated 29.12.2009
A foreigner stays legally (residence permit, permanent residence).
§ 3 of Article 21-27 of FCC
Adoption A minor child adopted by a French citizen acquires French nationality and must be resident in the country at the time of application.

Article 21-12 of FCC

Direct ascendants of French nationals Direct ascendants of French nationals (parents, grandparents, great grandparents) over 65 years of age who have lived in France for more than 25 years may apply for nationality.

Article 21-13-1 of FCC
Reuniting with siblings A child of foreign parents with a sister or brother who has already acquired French nationality is also entitled to French nationality when he or she comes of age, provided that he or she has been living in the country since the age of 6 and has completed French school. Article 21-13-2 of FCC
Service in the French Foreign Legion A foreigner who has successfully completed military service in the French army may be naturalised without a residency requirement. Article 21-19 of FCC
French nationality is granted to a foreigner who was wounded in a combat operation – “French by spilled blood”. Article 21-14-1 of FCC
Refugees A foreigner who has been granted refugee status can be naturalised without a minimum residency requirement. Article 21-19 of FCC
Citizens of former colonies A citizen of a state in which at least one of the official languages is French. At the same time, French must either be the mother tongue or the language of instruction for a period of five years in an educational institution.

Article 21-20 of FCC
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