Fewer foreigners gain French citizenship

While more and more foreigners are being naturalized across the EU, the same cannot be said in France where for the first time since 2002 the number of people granted French citizenship has fallen under the 100,000 mark.

Fewer foreigners gain French citizenship
Less than 100,000 people became French citizens in 2012. Photo: Shutterstock

The number of foreigners gaining citizenship in France is falling and stands below the EU average, new data has revealed.

In 2012 only 96,088 people obtained a French passport, figures from Eurostat showed, compared to some 114,600 the year before.  

It was the first time in ten years the number fell below the 100,000 mark.

That drop in France contrasts with a rise across the 28-nation EU block where the number of naturalized citizens increased by four percent in 2012 to 818,000.

However despite the significant decrease, France is still among the countries with the highest number of naturalized citizens, sitting in third place behind the UK with 193,000 people and Germany with 114,600. Spain (94,100) and Italy (65,400) also make up the top five.

Number of people granted French citizenship

However, when compared to France's total population of 66 million, the number of new citizens is actually below EU average.

In France, only 1.5 people per 1,000 inhabitants are acquired citizens, putting the country below the EU average of 1.6.

For comparison, Luxemburg with a population of 543,300 people tops the ranking with 8.7 people per 1,000, followed by Ireland with 5.5 and Sweden with 5.3.

When it comes to the origins of France's new citizens some 78 percent of them come from non-European countries. The top three is made up of Morocco, Algeria and Tunisia.

From countries within the EU, the Portuguese are the ones that most frequently become French citizens, followed by Romanians and Italians.

SEE ALSO: Ten reasons why you should think about becoming French

The news that France has accepted fewer citizenship requests may be received well by some after a poll in 2013 revealed that the majority of the French believed there were too many foreigners in France.

However it won't please France's Spanish-born PM Manuel Valls who last year announced plans to make it easier for foreigners to become French, and also to increase the number of naturalized citizens.

At the time Valls said: "French nationality should not be sold off or reserved for the elite.”

Valls scrapped a multiple-choice history and culture test for applicants and also a rule that they had to have a permanent job (CDD) before they would be considered.

Although the rules state that applicants must have a certain level of French language ability, over-60s and graduates from Francophone universities were exempted from taking the obligatory French language test.

However, the final decision for citizenship still rests on the discretion of the French official, who is entitled to give a refusal even if all of the conditions are met.

The government's plan was not greeted warmly by the right-wing opposition.

“Valls wants to increase the number of naturalizations in order to facilitate the integration of immigrants, but to become French must be the result of an assimilation to the national community,” said UMP deputy Guillaume Larrivé.

“On June 17th I attended a naturalization ceremony in Auxerre of a woman who wore the Islamic veil. Was she really 'assimilated to the French community' according to the meaning in the civil code?” Larrivé said last year.

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Can driving offences prevent you getting French citizenship or residency?

One of the requirements for fulfilling criteria for French citizenship through naturalisation is a clean criminal record. Does this mean fines for traffic offences disqualify you?

Can driving offences prevent you getting French citizenship or residency?

It’s fairly common in France for all drivers, including foreign motorists perhaps not used to the rules or changing speed limits, to commit driving offences.

Whether being caught on a radar for driving too fast, not stopping at a stop sign – not always as obvious as it sounds,  or perhaps not giving way for someone arriving from the right – the driving offences can add up as the points on your license dwindle.

But could these driving offences thwart your bid to become French or even just gain residency?

The short answer is probably not.

Citizenship is not usually denied for relatively minor law-breaking, such as speeding fines. And that’s despite a case in July 2019 in which a nurse was initially refused citizenship on the grounds that she worked too hard and failed to “comply with the law” on working hours.

During the citizenship application process, as well as language and integration tests, you have to provide proof that you have no criminal record over the past 10 years – including, if necessary, evidence of a clean record from other counties in which you were resident.

Applicants must not have been convicted of a crime resulting in a jail term of more than 6 months, or have been convicted of a crime or offence that breaches or attacks the interests of the French state. Moreover, those who apply for citizenship through naturalisation – rather than by ascendancy or marriage – also need to demonstrate ‘good moral conduct’.

On the whole, that rules out most – but certainly not all – driving offences.

What if you already have citizenship

If you have acquired French nationality, it can be contested within two years if it is found that the legal conditions for obtaining it were not met, or were obtained fraudulently. 

Furthermore, nationality may be withdrawn if the holder’s conduct is contrary to the interests of France.

Finally, citizenship may be refused or revoked in the event of a particularly serious crime, such as:.

  • Conviction for acts against the fundamental interests of the nation, or conviction for serious offences such as  acts of terrorism;
  • Conviction for crimes considered to be crimes against the public administration (crimes committed by persons holding a public office);
  • Conviction for acts of insubordination in relation to performance of national service;
  • Engaging, for the benefit of a foreign state, in acts that are incompatible with the quality of French national and commission of acts that are prejudicial to the interests of France. No prior conviction is necessary.

Importantly, revocation of French nationality may be decided only if the following conditions are met:

  • You have acquired French nationality by naturalisation, ascendancy, or marriage. Anyone of French nationality by birth cannot lose it;
  • You have another nationality. It is not possible to make a person stateless.

France already can and does deport foreigners found guilty of serious crimes, while being convicted of a crime in France can also prevent you from being able to renew your visa or residency card.

If you are convicted of a crime and imprisoned in France, you can be served with an interdiction du territoire français – a ban from French territory. This is not automatic for all jailed foreigners, and is usually reserved for offences such as drug-trafficking, violent crime or terror offences.

What about residency rights?

Foreigners who have residency rights in France will periodically need to renew their visa or carte de séjour – and having a criminal conviction could mean that your renewal request is turned down. This is usually only the case if you have been convicted of a serious crime, but it’s not exclusively the most serious offences.

Between October 2020 and June 2021 8,031 carte de séjour renewals were refused on the grounds of criminality. Of these, 27 percent were for serious offences including assault, attempted murder, organised fraud and threatening a public official.

However, 5.9 percent were for driving offences – the official data does not specify the type of offence, but it seems safe to assume they were at the heavier end of the offence spectrum – 6.3 percent were following a domestic violence conviction, and 7 percent were for offences of begging or soliciting.