Politique et immigration

How does one become French?

France is the European country that opened nationality up to foreigners the earliest, from the second half of the 19th century. At the time, nationality was governed by jus sanguinis, introduced by the Civil Code civil of 1804 and founded on birth right. For demographic reasons, France extended the right to nationality to jus soli from 1851, followed by the reforms of 1889, 1927, 1945 and 1973.

Plantu, J’suis reçu !!! 1993 © Musée national de l’histoire de l’immigration
Plantu, J’suis reçu !!! 1993.
© Musée national de l’histoire de l’immigration

From 1987, the debate introduced by the Front National on the “Français de papier” (French on paper) – or the “Français malgré eux” (French despite themselves) – led to an attempt at reforming the right to nationality, which never came to anything. In 1993, the Pasqua-Méhaignerie law restricted access to nationality by jus soli, notably for young people of foreign origin and those who had recently become French by marriage. The Guigou law of 1998 returned to a balance between jus soli and jus sanguinis, established in 1973, and put an end to the political controversy on reforming the right to nationality.
In July 2010 (Grenoble speech), President Sarkozy raised the possibility of depriving of French nationality any person of foreign origin who had caused harm to a government official. In 2015, just after the terrorist attacks of November 13th, President François Hollande announced that he wanted to extend the loss of French nationality to dual-nationals born French (the penalty is already provided for by article 25 of the civil code). This project was withdrawn.

The different types of nationality acquisition

Today, new French citizens are:

  • people born in France of foreign parents and who have lived on France territory continuously for the 5 years before reaching the age of 18 (note that these people can apply to become French before that date, between the ages of 13 and 16, at the request of the parents, between 16 and 18 at their own request). People living from the age of 6 in France and who have complied with regulations for school attendance can obtain French nationality when they have a brother or sister who has acquired nationality. Lastly, the children of Algerians born in France of parents born in Algeria (a former French department) before January 1st 1963 acquire nationality the day they are born, based on double jus soli.
  • people who are married to a French national: since the law of July 24th 2006 on immigration and integration, a foreigner married to a French national for four years, and demonstrating a real emotional and material life together, can apply for French nationality by declaration. This extends to five years when the applicant cannot show proof of having lived continuously for at least three years in France after the marriage or, in the case of residence abroad, when his/her French spouse was not registered as a French national living abroad. The applicant must also have sufficient mastery of the French language, "according to his/her situation". He/she must not have been convicted of a crime constituting an attack on the fundamental interests of the Nation or an act of terrorism, nor have been sentenced to a prison term of at least six months without suspension.
  • people who are naturalised French: naturalisation depends on criteria pertaining to how long they have lived in France (5 years) and professional and socio-cultural integration. The decision is made at the discretion of the administration, who can refuse naturalisation even if the applicant meets all the conditions. One way or another, he/she must show proof of his/her "assimilation into the French community" during an individual interview where his/her knowledge of the French language is evaluated, along with French history, society and culture, and the rights and duties that come with French nationality. The applicant must also agree with the essential principles and values of the Republic. At the end of the interview, the individual in question signs the Charter of rights and duties of the French citizen.
  • people who have been reintegrated into nationality: this is notably the case of Algerians descending from people who had French nationality during the colonial period based on criteria pertaining to education or function (soldier or civil servant). The Senegalese and other West African nationals who also benefited from reintegration in certain territories had this option withdrawn in 1993.

Whereas acquisition of French nationality concerned around 140,000 people a year until 2010, the number of people who became French has tended to drop since then. In 2019, 107,979 individuals became French, compared to 108,180 in 2018 and 83,161 in 2020. In 2019, acquisitions by declaration concerned 58,308 people, 30,041 of them through early declaration and 25,262 by marriage. Acquisitions by decree concerned 49,671 people, 48,358 through naturalisation.

Mustapha Harzoune, 2022

Sources: Insee,  Ministry of the Interior; Ministry of Justice.