French nationality law

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French nationality law is historically based on the principles of jus soli (Latin for "right of soil"), according to Ernest Renan's definition, in opposition to the German definition of nationality, Jus sanguinis (Latin for "right of blood"), formalized by Johann Gottlieb Fichte.

The 1993 Méhaignerie Law required children born in France of foreign parents to request French nationality at adulthood, rather than being automatically accorded citizenship. This "manifestation of will" requirement was subsequently abrogated by the Guigou Law of 1998,[1] but children born in France of foreign parents remain foreign until obtaining legal majority.

Children born in France to tourists or short-term visitors do not acquire French citizenship by virtue of birth in France: residency must be proven. Since immigration became increasingly a political theme in the 1980s, albeit accompanied by a lower immigration rate (see Demographics in France), both left-wing and right-wing governments have issued several laws restricting the possibilities of being naturalized.[citation needed]


French nationality and citizenship were concepts that existed even before the French Revolution.

Attribution of French nationality


Plenary adoption is the only act of filiation which carries direct effects on nationality. Unlike the process of simple adoption, a child adopted according to the procedure of plenary adoption breaks any bond with his family of origin.[2]

Filiation must be established while the child is a minor to take effect. Consequently, the recognition of a child older than the age of majority has no effect on his or her nationality.

Birth in France

Children born in France (including overseas territories) to at least one parent who is also born in France automatically acquire French citizenship at birth (double jus soli).

A child born in France to foreign parents may acquire French citizenship:[3]

  • at birth, if stateless.
  • at 18, if resident in France with at least 5 years' residence since age 11.
  • between 16 and 18 upon request by the child and if resident in France with at least 5 years' residence since age 11.
  • between 13 and 16 upon request by the child's parents and if resident in France continuously since age 8.
  • if born in France of parents born before independence in a colony/territory in the past under French sovereignty.
    • at birth, if born in France before January 1, 1994.
    • at age 18, if born in France on or after January 1, 1994.

A child who was born abroad and who has only one French parent can repudiate his French nationality during the six months prior to his or her reaching the age of majority, or in the year which follows it (article 19-4 of the Civil Code).

Acquisition of French nationality


A person aged 18 or above may apply for French citizenship by naturalization after five years' habitual and continuous residence in France (if married and with children, then the applicant must be living in France with his/her family).[4] In addition, it is required that the applicant has his/her primary source of income in France during the five-year period. Those applying who are not European Union, European Economic Area or Swiss nationals are required to be in possession of a "titre de séjour" (a residence permit).

  • The residence period may be completely waived for those who have served in the French military, for refugees, or in other exceptional cases.[5]
  • The residence period can be reduced to two years for a person who has completed two years of post-graduate education in France or who has rendered exceptional service to France through their talents and abilities.[5]

Naturalization will only be successful for those who are judged to have integrated into French society (i.e. by virtue of language skills and understanding of rights and responsibilities of a French citizen, to be demonstrated during an interview at the local prefecture), and who show loyalty to French institutions.

Naturalization through residency is accorded by publication of a decree in the Journal Officiel by decision of the Home Ministry and the prefecture of the region where the applicant has submitted his/her application. There is an obligatory delay of 12 months from the date of submission before the applicant is notified of the result of his/her naturalisation application.

Attribution of French nationality

Through parentage (right of blood)

The child (legitimate or natural) is French if at least one parent is French.

In the case of an adoption, the child has French nationality only under the “full adoption” regime.

Parentage to the parent from whom the French nationality is claimed, must be established while the child is still a minor (under 18).

Through birth in France (law of place of birth)

The child (legitimate or natural) is French if born in France to at least one parent also born in France.

Simply being born in France does not confer French nationality except in the case of a child born to unknown or stateless parents, or to aliens whose nationality is not transmitted to the child.

A child born in France before January 1, 1994, to a parent born in a former French overseas territory prior to its acquisition of independence, is automatically French. The same is true for a child born after 1 January 1963, to a parent born in Algeria before July 3, 1962.

Through marriage

The spouse of a French national can apply for nationality, and must be able to prove that they have been married for five years and live together, (four years if the French spouse has been registered for at least four years at the Consulate General of France in New York.(article 79 of law 2006-911 published in the JO of 25/07/2006).) The applicant must also have a good knowledge of the French language, spoken and written, and the couple must appear in person together to sign documents.[6]

Through military service

Foreign nationals may apply for naturalization after three years of service in the French Foreign Legion, a wing of the French Army that is open to men of any nationality. Furthermore, a soldier wounded in battle during Legion service may immediately apply for naturalization under the principle of "Français par le sang versé" ("French by spilled blood").[7]

French Citizenship and identity

According to the French Republic, the French people are those who are in possession of French nationality. According to the French Constitution, "France shall be an indivisible, secular, democratic and social Republic. It shall ensure the equality of all citizens before the law, without distinction of origin, race or religion. It shall respect all beliefs. It shall be organised on a decentralised basis." Article 1

Since the middle of the 19th century, France has exhibited a very high rate of immigration, mainly from Southern Europe, Eastern Europe, the Maghreb, Africa and Asia. According to a 2004 report by INED researcher Michèle Tribalat France has approximately 14 million persons (out of nearly 63 million) (see demographics of France) of foreign ascendancy (immigrants or with at least one parent or grandparent immigrant).

The absence of official statistics on French citizens of foreign origin is not coincidental. Under French law passed after the Vichy regime, it is forbidden to categorize people according to their ethnic origins. In France, as in many European countries, censuses do not collect information on supposed ancestry. Moreover, all French statistics are forbidden to have any references concerning ethnic membership. Thus, the French government's assimilationist stance towards immigration as well as towards regional identities and cultures, together with the political heritage of the French revolution has led to the development of a French identity which is based more on the notion of citizenship than on cultural, historical or ethnic ties.

For this reason, French identity must not necessarily be associated with the "ethnic French people", but can be associated with either a nationality and citizenship, or a culture and language-based group. The latter forms the basis for La Francophonie, a group of French-speaking countries, or countries with historical and cultural association to France. The concept of "French ethnicity" exists outside France's borders, in particular in Quebec where some people claim membership to a "French ethnic group", but here again many view it as not so much ethnicity-based as language-based, and would also include immigrants from, for example, Haiti. France's particular self-perception means that French identity may include a naturalized, French-speaking ethnic Portuguese or Algerian. Nonetheless, like in other European countries, some level of discrimination does occur, and there are higher unemployment rates among job-seekers with foreign-sounding names.

Rights and obligations of French citizens

In modern France in general the rights are fundamentally the same as those in other EU countries.

Despite this official discourse of universality, French nationality has not meant automatic citizenship. Some categories of French people have been excluded, throughout the years, from full citizenship:

Furthermore, some authors who have insisted on the "crisis of the nation-state" allege that nationality and citizenship are becoming separate concepts. They show as examples "international", "supranational citizenship" or "world citizenship" (membership in transnational organizations, such as Amnesty International or Greenpeace NGOs). These authors suggest a path toward "postnational citizenship".[9]

Modern citizenship is linked to civic participation (also called positive freedom), which includes voting, demonstrations, petitions, activism, etc.

Visa requirements

Visa requirements for French citizens are administrative entry restrictions by the authorities of other states placed on citizens of France. In 2014, French citizens had visa-free or visa on arrival access to 172 countries and territories, ranking the French passport 3rd in the world according to the Visa Restrictions Index.

Dual citizenship

Dual citizenship was not permitted between 1973 and 2009, during which time possession of more than one nationality affected French nationality. France later denounced Chapter I of the Council of Europe Convention on the Reduction of Cases of Multiple Nationality and on Military Obligations in Cases of Multiple Nationality of May 6, 1963. The denunciation took effect March 5, 2009 and dual nationality is now permitted. [10]

Citizenship of the European Union

French citizens are also citizens of the European Union and thus enjoy rights of free movement and have the right to vote in elections for the European Parliament.


According to philosopher Giorgio Agamben, France was one of the first European countries to pass denaturalization laws, in 1915, with regard to naturalized citizens of "enemy" origins. Its example was followed by most European countries.

As early as July 1940, Vichy France set up a special Commission charged with reviewing the naturalizations granted since the 1927 reform of the nationality law. Between June 1940 and August 1944, 15,000 persons, mostly Jews, were denaturalized.[11] This bureaucratic designation was instrumental in their subsequent internment.

Previous law: Article 21-19(5º)

As Bill Clinton finished his second term as President of the U.S. (the legal limit of terms under the U.S. Constitution), a theory was published by CNN that he could claim citizenship of France and run for leadership there.[12] The open-letter by historian Patrick Weil held that a little known “law, passed in 1961 [article 21-19(5º)], enables people from former French territories to apply for immediate naturalisation, bypassing the normal five-year residency requirement for would-be French citizens.”[12] As Clinton was born in Arkansas which had been part of French Louisiana before it was sold to the US, it was held that he would qualify under this law. And as a naturalised French citizen, he could run in the French presidential election.

Clinton himself later repeated this claim in 2012 as an amusing thought when speaking to an interviewer.[13] Clinton had always dismissed the idea, and at the time of his retelling of the story in 2012, unknown to him, the possibility had already ended. This was because article 21-19(5º) of the Code civil was repealed (by article 82 of law 2006-911) on July 25, 2006 under the direction of Nicolas Sarkozy, who was then Minister of the Interior. Since "Weil's article made this provision of the French nationality law notorious, the French parliament abolished it".[14][15]

See also


  1. French Embassy (French)
  2. Civil Code of France, Article 343
  3. Vink, Maarten P.; de Groot, Gerard René (November 2010). "Birthright Citizenship: Trends and Regulation in Europe" (PDF). EUDO Citizenship Obvservatory.<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  4. Le code civil des Français, Article 21-17
  5. 5.0 5.1 Naturalisation : conditions à remplir -
  6. Consulate-General of France in New York: Nationality
  7. "The French Foreign Legion – the last option for those desperate to escape the UK." The Daily Telegraph. 3 December 2008. Retrieved on 28 June 2013.
  8. Loi no 2000-493 du 6 juin 2000 tendant à favoriser l'égal accès des femmes et des hommes aux mandats électoraux et fonctions électives (in French)
  9. 9.0 9.1 B. Villalba. "Chapitre 2 - Les incertitudes de la citoyenneté" (in français). Catholic University of Lille, Law Department. Retrieved 2006-05-03.<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  10. France-Diplomatie Nationalité française
  11. François Masure, "Etat et identité nationale. Un rapport ambigu à propos des naturalisés, in Journal des anthropologues, hors-série 2007, pp.39-49 (see p.48) (French)
  12. 12.0 12.1 "Goodbye White House...bonjour Paris?". CNN. January 17, 2001.<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  13. Grace Wyler (September 26, 2012). "Bill Clinton Has Figured Out How He Could Be President Again".<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  14. Joshua Keating Wednesday (September 26, 2012). "Sorry, Bill Clinton. You can't be president of France or Ireland".<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  15. "No, Bill Clinton Can't Run for the French Presidency". March 11, 2013.<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>

External links