• France's news in English

What rights do refugees in France actually have?

Ben McPartland · 14 Sep 2015, 19:07

Published: 14 Sep 2015 19:07 GMT+02:00
Updated: 14 Sep 2015 19:07 GMT+02:00

Facebook Twitter Google+ reddit

The refugee crisis continues to dominate hearts and minds in France with the political class and the public torn over how to best react to the influx.

President François Hollande has already announced that France will officially welcome 24,000 refugees over the next two years, with around 1,000 already having arrived. The vast majority of those chosen are expected to be granted asylum.

But with the crisis only worsening and tens of thousands leaving the Middle East looking for sanctuary, the likelihood is that France will have to accept many more.

But what rights do those asylum seekers who make it to France actually have?

Here’s a look at the main issues, with the help of Christopher Harrison from France Terre d'Asile, a charity that works with refugees and asylum seekers.

How long can they stay for:

The status of a refugee in France leads to the automatic granting of a residence permit that is valid for 10 years. This is also given to the refugee's partner and children. However France could also hand out “subsidiary protection”, which would only allow a one-year stay. Many who receive this subsequently appeal and in the hope of being granted full refugee status.

(Photo: AFP)


In theory asylum seekers have the right to demand lodging in various emergency centres, but in reality a shortage of options and high demand means many are left without a place. Those unlucky ones are forced to either live with friends or on the streets. France is trying to resolve the problem however and has vowed to build more places than the 50,000 or so available.

The government announced at the weekend that any local authority which finds lodgings for refugees in their town or commune will receive €1,000 per refugee.

Language classes

Despite language being a major barrier to integration and employment, asylum seekers currently have no automatic access to language classes paid for by the state. However several charities and even charitable individuals offer lessons on a voluntary basis.

Right to apply for French Nationality

Anyone who is granted refugee status in France can in theory apply for French nationality, without having to wait a minimum number of years, as is the case for EU nationals for example.

But there are obstacles to gaining nationality that make it hard for refugees to obtain it unless they have been here a number of years. To gain French nationality you have to prove you are integrated and have a certain command of the language as well as a job, criteria that many new arrivals do not fulfill.


Children of refugees and asylum seekers have the right and indeed even the obligation to attend schools in France. So we can expect those children photographed arriving from Germany last week to be in French schools within a matter of weeks or months, Harrison says.

(Photo: AFP)


Anyone who is granted refugee status can have access to the basic RSA (Revenue solidarité active) benefits and family allowances if a demand is made within two years of arriving in the country. Payment is given retroactively. The amount of money received depends on the family situation on the applicant but the minimum amount paid out to one adult is €524 a month. Asylum seekers who don’t have refugee status receive around €320 a month through the ATA (Allocation temporaire d’attente). Although if they are lodged in specialist asylum centres then they can receive between €90 and €720 a month.

Story continues below…


The migrants are granted health cover, which is paid for under the AME (Aide Medical d’Etat) scheme, which is reserved for those foreigners effectively living illegally in the country. Once they have officially obtained asylum they benefit from universal cover (CMU) which basically means they can visit doctors and hospitals without being forced to pay up front.

Right to work

Asylum seekers are not allowed to work in France until they have been given the right to stay. However there is a rule that states those seeking asylum who have been in France for one year can work, but they must apply for special authorisation.

France Terre d’Asile’s Harrison says that while in theory asylum seekers can work after being here a year, the reality is that it's very hard to get the authorisation.

“A lot depends on where you live in, because it is the departmental authorities that will rule over your application. Much will also depend on the competencies of the asylum seeker,” he said.

Those who are successfully granted refugee status can look for a job right away, though in reality language problems may act as a barrier to many.

Ben McPartland (ben.mcpartland@thelocal.com)

Facebook Twitter Google+ reddit

Your comments about this article

Today's headlines
French cheer police, reviving Charlie spirit
French police officers on Saturday demonstrated for the fifth night in a row to protest mounting attacks on officers. Photo: Thomas Samson / AFP

Angry French police have taken to the streets for five nights in a row -- and Parisians have started to cheer them on, reviving scenes last seen following the Charlie Hebdo attacks in 2015.

Scarlett Johansson turns popcorn girl in Paris
US actress Scarlett Johansson greets customers at the Yummy Pop gourmet popcorn shop in the Marais district of Paris. Photo: Benjamin Cremel / AFP

Hollywood superstar Scarlett Johansson swapped the red carpet for a turn behind the counter at her new popcorn shop in Paris on Saturday.

US couple donates huge art collection to Paris
Marlene (centre) and Spencer (right) are donating their collection ‘for the benefit of art lovers’. Photo: Thomas Samson / AFP

A Texan couple who discovered their love for art during a trip to Paris in the 1970s are to donate the multi-million dollar collection they have amassed since to the French capital.

France to clear 'Jungle' migrant camp Monday
Migrants will be bussed from the camp to some 300 temporary accommodation centres around France. Photo: Denis Charlet/ AFP

The "Jungle" migrant camp on France's northern coast will be cleared of its residents on Monday before being demolished, authorities said Friday.

How life for expats in France has changed over the years
A market in Eymet, southwestern France. Photo: AFP

Foreigners in France explain how life has changed over the years.

London calling for Calais youths, but only a chosen few
Photo: AFP

Dozens of Calais minors are still hanging their hopes on help from the UK, but not all will be so lucky.

17 different ways to talk about sex in French
Photo: Helga Weber/Flickr

Fancy a quick run with the one-legged man?

Yikes! This is what a rat-infested French jail looks like
Photo: YouTube/France Bleu TV.

This video is not for sufferers of ratophobia (or musophobia as the condition is officially called).

France to allow Baby Jesus in Town Halls this Christmas
Photo: AFP

Mary, Joseph, and baby Jesus are safe to go on display again this year, it seems.

National Front posts locations of migrants in French town
The National Front courts controversy. Photo: AFP

"Local tax payers have a right to know," says local far-right party chief.

Sponsored Article
How to vote absentee from abroad in the US elections
Why Toulouse is THE place to be in France right now
Sponsored Article
Last chance to vote absentee in the US elections
Video: New homage to Paris shows the 'real side' of city
The 'most dangerous' animals you can find in France
Sponsored Article
How to vote absentee from abroad in the US elections
Swap London fogs for Paris frogs: France woos the Brits
Anger after presenter kisses woman's breasts on live TV
Is France finally set for a cold winter this year?
IN PICS: The story of the 'ghost Metro stations' of Paris
How to make France's 'most-loved' dish: Magret de Canard
Welcome to the flipside: 'I'm not living the dream in France'
Do the French really still eat frogs' legs?
French 'delicacies' foreigners really find hard to stomach
French are the 'world's most pessimistic' about the future
Why the French should not be gloomy about the future
This is the most useful French lesson you will ever have. How to get angry
Why is there a giant clitoris in a field in southern France?
French pastry wars: Pain au chocolat versus chocolatine
Countdown: The ten dishes the French love the most
Expats or immigrants in France: Is there a difference?
How the French reinvented dozens of English words
The ups and downs of being both French and English
How Brexit vote has changed life for expats in France
Twelve French insults we'd love to have in English
What's on in France: Ten of the best events in October
jobs available