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RESIDENCY PERMITS

French language tests for residency: What we know so far about proposal

The French government has revised its proposal to make language tests compulsory for certain types of carte de séjour residency card - here's what we know so far about the proposal.

French language tests for residency: What we know so far about proposal
Photo by Ben Mullins on Unsplash

What’s happened?

France’s Interior Minister Gérald Darmanin has given an interview to Le Monde about a new Immigration bill which the government intends to bring before parliament, saying that he wants to: “make multi-annual residence permits (titre de séjour pluriannel) conditional on passing a French exam”.

“This will change many things, he added. “Today, a quarter of foreigners who have residence permits understand and speak French extremely badly.”

The immigration bill contains several other proposals, including tightening up the expulsion procedures for foreigners refused permission to stay.

This is actually a revival of an idea that Darmanin proposed, again through the medium of a newspaper interview, in July 2020, when he said he wanted to make “mastery of the French language” compulsory in order to get certain types of carte de séjour residency permit.

In that instance the bill he was proposing was cancelled by president Emmanuel Macron in favour of a ‘conversation’ about immigration, but now it seems that a new immigration bill will be presented to parliament at the beginning of 2023. 

The Local has requested clarification from the Interior Ministry on the language exam, but here’s what we know so far.

Who?

This affects non-EU citizens. Those who have the passport of an EU country, including dual nationals, are not covered by the announcement.

Which permits?

Darmanin said that the test would be required for the carte de séjour plurianuelle, this is the permit for long-term residents, typically given after spending time in France on either a long-stay visa or a short-term or temporary carte de séjour.

There are certain groups, including temporary workers and au pairs, who are not eligible for the plurianuelle card, it is a multi-year card intended for people who are staying in France in the long term. You cannot go directly onto the general plurianelle without having first had another type of permit, so this doesn’t affect new arrivals in France.  

It also does not affect visa applications, and does not change the requirements for French citizenship, which already has a language test as part of the application process.

From what Darmanin has said, it appears that this would not affect new arrivals, people applying for the temporary 1-year or 5-year cards, or those who already have a 10-year or permanent card.

What level?

This is of course the million-euro question – how hard is the test likely to be?

Unfortunately, it is one we cannot answer at this stage, although we have requested clarification on this important point.

At present there is no formal language requirement for residency cards, although the OFII (Office français de l’immigration et de l’intégration) can order people to attend language classes if their French is very basic. There is no requirement to pass an exam, however.

If you want French citizenship you will have to prove your language capabilities.

The level required for citizenship is B1 on the DELF scale, defined as “able to handle day-to-day matters that arise in school, work or leisure”. 

A B1 candidate “should be able to get by while travelling in an area where only French is spoken, and should be able to describe events and justify things like opinions, plans, or even ambitions”.

You are not required to be able to speak perfect, error-free French, only to be able to make yourself understood and understand any replies you are given.  

You can test yourself on the below quiz.

TEST Is your French good enough for citizenship and residency?

It seems unlikely that the language requirement for residency would be higher than that needed to become a French citizen.

The EU countries that do have a language requirement for residency purposes generally ask for either A1 or A2 on the DELF scale – roughly equivalent having taken a language course to high school or secondary school level.

Qualification type

The other thing that we don’t know is what type of qualifications would be accepted and whether you would have to take a specific exam.

When it comes to citizenship, you need to have passed writing, reading, listening and oral sections of the exam, and the certificates you present cannot be more than two years old.

There are exemptions for anyone who has a degree or equivalent from a French university, but an exemption previously in place for over 60s was scrapped in 2020.

Looking around other EU countries, those who require a language test generally accept certificates from a variety of courses, so you don’t need to do a test specifically for the residency permit. In Norway, those who struggle with exams have the option or either taking the test or doing 250 hours of Norwegian classes at the state provider.

When?

This is only a proposal at this stage, so if you are applying for residency now then it does not concern you.

Darmanin says he intends to put forward the bill before parliament “at the beginning of 2023” at which point we should know more about what is being proposed.

However, any bill would need to be debated extensively in parliament, since it is likely to include a wide range of measures on immigration, not just language tests.

The Macron government has also lost its outright majority in parliament, which will make getting any bill passed more difficult, and may mean that it is relying on votes from the centre-right Les Républicains and far-right Rassemblement National in order to get the bill passed, possibly with amendments. 

Then, even if the bill is passed, it will also need to come before the Senate for debate before it can become law. Generally the process of bills becoming law and being brought into effect takes many months, or years.

READ ALSO How to find affordable language classes in France

Member comments

  1. I recently went through the OFII process, and part of the integration process was a French language test. I have the VLS-TS visa, and was advised that the minimum level is A2. OFII also offered 100h of free French lessons for those testing A2 and B1.

  2. A1/2 is a far cry from a British A level! It is elementary….please don’t put fear into people! That would be around C1! C2 is the highest.

  3. My poor parents have been living in France where they bought a house in 1999, not socialising much over the past years because people in their mid 80s advised not to during the pandemic.

  4. Vous allez voir que je trouve l’ecriture beaucoup plus difficile que les autres sujets. Avec le masculin, la feminine , l’accordance , les verbs irreguliers , les faux amis et beaucoup plus il sera difficile de reussir. J’ai oublie tous les tenses pluparfait, imparfait, passe simple
    Passe parfait. Les tenses on peut parler, les tenses on ne peut parler mais seulement ecrire . En plus , il y a les accents aigues et graves, circonflex Quel vrai horreur !! Ai-je reussi ? Alexandra x

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BRITS IN EUROPE

Brits in Europe won right to vote for life in UK but questions remain

After years of campaigns and promises British citizens living abroad finally won the lifelong right to vote in UK general elections in April 2022. But campaigners say more needs to be done to allow all those Britons abroad to be able cast their votes easily.

Brits in Europe won right to vote for life in UK but questions remain

What’s in the law?

The Elections Act 2022 introduced several changes to the current legislation on electoral participation. Among these, it removed the rule by which British citizens lose their voting rights in the UK if they have lived abroad for more than 15 years

The new rules also abolished the requirement to have been previously registered in the UK electoral roll to become an overseas voter. In addition, the registration in the electoral roll will now last up to three years instead of only one year.

It is estimated that these changes could increase the number of overseas voter registrations by some 3 million. But the way new measures will be applied in practice is still to be defined.

READ ALSO: ‘Mixed feelings’ – British citizens in Europe finally get right to vote for life

Defining the practicalities

Under the new law, Britons living abroad will have to register to vote in the last place they were registered in the UK. This means that people who have never lived in the UK will be ineligible to vote, regardless of how long they have been overseas, while those who left when they were children will be able to use a parent or guardian’s address.

But given that the UK does not require residents to register with local councils, how to prove previous UK residence? “Typical documents accepted as a proof of residence are Council tax or utilities bills, but not everyone will have them or will have kept them in an international move,” says Fiona Godfrey, co-founder of the British in Europe coalition.

Ballot papers are pictured in stacks in a count centre as part of the 2019 UK general election. (Photo by ANDY BUCHANAN / AFP)

Other questions concern how people will effectively cast their ballot. UK citizens overseas will be able to vote by post or by proxy or in person at their polling station if they are in the UK at the time of the election. However, few people are likely to travel to the UK for an election and in the past there have problems and delays with postal voting.

The Electoral Commission has recommended that overseas electors appoint a proxy to vote on their behalf. But who could that be for people who have been away from their constituency for a long time?

New secondary legislation will have to answer these questions, defining how to be included in the electoral roll and how to exercise the voting right in practice.

According to British in Europe, the government should present draft legislation in the first half of the year so that the parliament can adopt it before summer and registrations of overseas voters can start in the autumn.

British in Europe survey

British in Europe are currently running a survey to understand the difficulties UK citizens abroad may face in the registration and voting process, as well as their intention to participate in elections.

The survey asks for instance which documents people can access to prove their previous residence in the UK, what problems they had voting in the past, and if and how they plan to vote in the future.

“We need to get an up-to-date picture of British citizens living around the world and have information to make recommendations to the government, as it prepares secondary legislation,” Godfrey said. “If millions of people will exercise their voting rights, there will be consequences for council registration offices, post office and authorities that will manage the process, among other things” she argued.

The right to vote concerns only UK parliamentary elections and national referendums, not elections in the devolved administrations of Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland, or at local level.

The survey is open to UK citizens living anywhere in the world and is available at this link.

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