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Language tests and migrant quotas: What the immigration bill means for foreigners in France

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Language tests and migrant quotas: What the immigration bill means for foreigners in France
Far-right Rassemblement National MPs Sebastien Chenu and Marine Le Pen debating the immigration bill in the French parliament. Photo by Ludovic MARIN / AFP

It has provided plenty of political drama with late-night negotiations in parliament and ministerial resignations, but France's proposed immigration bill has several sections that would affect foreigners living in France, those hoping to move here some day and second-home owners - so what does the political drama mean for them?


Commenting on the final form of the immigration bill that has been passed by French MPs, far-right leader Marine Le Pen said: "We can rejoice in ideological progress, an ideological victory even for the Rassemblement National party, since this is now enshrined into law as a national priority."


Communist leader Fabien Roussel said: "With this text directly inspired by RN pamphlets against immigration, we are facing a shift in the history of the republic and its fundamental values."

Meanwhile, a joint statement from around 50 charities including the French Human Rights league described it as "the most regressive bill of the past 40 years for the rights and living conditions of foreigners, including those who have long been in France".

The final wording of the bill is radically different to the original, with around 60 amendments added by senators. Some of these might be revised at a later stage (more on that below).

So what's actually in the bill? 

Migration quotas - the original bill contained nothing about migration quotas, but a section on this was added in the Senate. It is vague, setting out the principle that parliament can set migration quotas - the wording of the text talks about 'economic migration' suggesting that these quotas would apply only to people coming to France to work, not students or retirees. The quotas would not affect asylum seekers or people arriving on a family reunification visa. 

The agreed text obliges parliament to have an annual debate on migration, with the 'objective' of setting quotas or numbers.

Several experts have said that this section of the bill could be struck down by the Constitutional Council.

Benefit limits - another addition from the Senate, this restricts the right of foreigners in France to claim certain benefits including family benefits, housing allowance or top-up benefits for the over-60s.

Foreigners will need to have been resident in France for five years before they can claim, although this drops to 30 months for people who are working. Students can still benefit from housing benefits on production of a student visa. This does not affect unemployment benefits.

A total of 32 local authorities, including Paris, have said that they will refuse to apply the new rules.

Citizenship limits - the bill limits the 'droit du sol' or right of those born in France to foreign parents to claim French citizenship. At present it is an automatic right (although you still need to apply in order to get a passport or ID card), but now children will have to make an application for French citizenship once they reach the age of 16. A person who has been convicted of a crime can be refused. This, too, was a senate addition and did not appear in the original bill.

This does not affect foreigners applying for citizenship through residency, marriage or ancestry. 

Language tests - this is from the original bill and adds a language test requirement for certain types of long-term residency card. Find the full details of the exam and the level required HERE.

Family reunification - foreigners living in France who want to bring a spouse or family member to join them via the vie privée visa will have to have lived in France for 24 months before they can apply. They will also need to show that they have "stable, regular and sufficient" resources and access to health insurance (which can be via registration in the French public health system). An unmarried partner must be at least 21 years old, rather than 18 at present. 


This does not affect EU citizens being joined by a spouse or family member, or Brits who are covered by the Brexit Withdrawal Agreement. Another addition from the Senate that was not in the original bill.

Foreign students deposit - non-EU students coming to France to study will have to lodge a deposit with the State when applying for their visa, in order to cover "unexpected costs" during their stay in France. This will be refundable, but the exact amount has not been specified.

Student visas will also become conditional on "seriousness of studies".

This has sparked outrage from universities and French business schools, which have been working hard to attract more overseas students. It was also strongly opposed by the centrist MoDem party, and members of Macron's party. It was not in the original text.

Full details on the proposal HERE

Medical care for undocumented foreigners - a huge point of contention for the left was another Senate addition, the scrapping of the Aide médicale d'État, which is available to undocumented foreigners or people in an 'irregular' situation to cover medical costs. The compromise reached was that it will not be scrapped, but Prime Minister Elisabeth Borne will present a separate bill on changing AME provision "at the start of 2024".

Proposals to limit the right of foreigners to come to France for medical treatment were also rejected.


Undocumented worker amnesty - one of the biggest flashpoints of the original bill was a proposal to offer residency cards to undocumented workers working in sectors with a skills shortage, such as construction and hospitality. This was a red line for the right, and in the end a compromised version remained in the text: people who have been working without the correct paperwork for three years in a sector with a skills shortage can be 'regularised' and get a residency permit. However, the regularisation will be left to the discretion of the local préfecture. 

Immigration offence - the Senate had been keen to introduce a specific criminal offence of being in France without the correct immigration paperwork. In the end this was introduced but was made a délit (the lowest level of offence) punishable only by a €3,750 fine with no risk of jail time or other sanctions.

Stripping of nationality - Dual nationals who are convicted of the murder of a gendarme or police officer in France can be stripped of their French nationality.


Visa exemption for British second-home owners - another Senate amendment was the idea of exemption entirely from visa rules UK nationals who own property in France - full details HERE.

What next?

There are still several stages to pass through before this bill can become law, including a reading at the Constitutional Council.

Political experts say that several of the new additions could be either amended or junked entirely if the all-powerful 'sages' of the Council judge that they are not in accordance with the French constitution. Macron himself referred the bill to the Constitutional Council for review, and political insiders say that the government knows full well that many of the new amendments will be scrapped later and only allowed them for the sake of getting the bill passed.

Several of the amendments are also very vague, adding "details to be clarified by the Conseil d'Etat". Speaking the day after the bill passed, government spokesman Olivier Véran said that every article of the bill would now be subject to scrutiny and revision to clarify details. 

The bill has provoked a split in Macron's own party, and it's understood that behind the scenes several ministers have been persuaded to stay in post with the assurances that the bill in its final form will change.

It's therefore likely that work will continue in the early part of 2024, and we may see further revisions. 


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Zack 2023/12/21 13:01
I noticed that The Local did not mention the limitation of 3 renewals for temporary CDS. I wonder if this is because of all the exemptions mentioned in the details of the latest bill and if that requirement will end of being scrapped?
Tom 2023/12/20 20:28
This summary does not mention the “3 renewal limit” for one year cards. From feedback I have received, that has received many exemptions to the point where it may not be valid anymore. Feedback in this item? Thanks!

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