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Explained: France's new rules on language tests for foreigners

The Local France
The Local France - [email protected]
Explained: France's new rules on language tests for foreigners
France has tightened up its language requirements for foreigners. Photo by PATRICK BAZ / AFP

France's new immigration law brings in extra language test requirements for certain residency permits and for French citizenship. Here are the details.

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The full name of the law is Loi contrôler l’immigration, améliorer l’intégration - the law to control immigration and improve integration - and the section on improving integration contains new provisions on the level of French language required in order to secure certain types of residency cards, or French citizenship.

There will also be a requirement for people seeking residency cards to agree to respect "the values of the French republic".

Only non-EU nationals require residency cards to live and work in France - citizens of EU countries do not need a residency card, and this will not change. The language requirement for residency cards therefore applies only to non-EU citizens, but the requirements in order to secure French citizenship apply to everyone.

READ MORE: Your questions answered: New French language requirements for foreigners

Here's how the new law will work;

Applying for first residency card (carte de séjour) or visa

New arrivals in France generally get a visa and then move onto a carte de séjour (residency card). The first carte de séjour issued is usually a short-term card (one year), although those who arrive on the Passeport Talent visa have a different system.

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The usual path is for people to have several years of renewing one-year cards before they have the option to move onto a long-term card.

At present there is no requirement for a language test in order to secure a short-term residency card - for people with no or very little French, the Office français de l'immigration et de l'intégration (OFII) can order people to attend French classes, but there is no requirement to pass a language test (although some people have to take a test on French culture and values).

This system will not change and under the new law there is no language test required for short-term cards.

Applying for first carte de séjour pluriannuelle

After several years in France - usually between three and five depending on personal circumstances - most people then have the opportunity to move onto the multi-year card known as the carte de séjour pluriannuelle, which avoids the yearly task of applying for a new card.

The new law states that anyone making their first request for a carte de séjour pluriannelle will have to demonstrate French language skills of A2 or above on the international DELF scale (see bottom of article for a definition of what these language levels mean).

This will not affect anyone who already has a carte de séjour pluriannuelle, nor does it affect Brits in France who are covered by the Withdrawal Agreement and have either the 5-year or 10-year Brexit residency cards (known as WARP or Article 50 TUE).

READ MORE: How are Brits in France affected by new language test requirements?

Proof - The Local has asked the Interior Ministry to clarify what proof will be accepted for language level. At present when proof of language skills are required the candidate must present either a certificate of completion of the free OFII language course, or a language diploma from an accredited centre certifying competence in French at A2 level or above. The certificate is included in the dossier of documents presented when making your application.

Exceptions - there are some groups who are exempt from this rule including people on the Passeport Talent programme (and their family members) and students. Those who are on the "visiteur" carte de séjour - which includes most retirees - are not eligible for a carte de séjour pluriannuelle, but can apply for a carte de résident (more on that below).

Applying for first Carte de résident

Longer term residents in France can also apply for the Carte de résident (résident longue durée UE), usually after five years of residency. This is a 10-year card used by many long-terms residents who either can't or don't want to apply for French citizenship.

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This card already has a language requirement - as present candidates must prove French language skills or level A2 or above. The new law, however, raises this requirement to B1 level.

Proof - at present, candidates must present either proof of completion of the free OFII course, or a language diploma from an accredited centre certifying competence in French. The certificate is included in the dossier of documents presented when making your application. It seems likely that this will also be the system under the new law, but The Local has asked the Interior Ministry to clarify this.

Exceptions - the current language rules for the Carte de résident include an exemption for over 65s. The new law does not mention any change to this, but The Local has asked the Interior Ministry for clarification on this point.

READ MORE: Are pensioners exempt from France's new language test rules?

Limits on renewals

The new law also introduced a limit on the amount of times the short-term card can be renewed - essentially in order to stop people side-stepping the language requirement by remaining on yearly card renewals.

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It states that no more than three renewals of a short-term card can be made before people must request either a carte de séjour pluriannuelle or a carte de résident. Including the first card, this rule would kick in after five years of residency for most people.

Exemptions - some groups are exempt from the three-renewals limit including students, au pairs, seasonal workers and those on the carte de séjour visiteur - which is the card used by most retirees.

This does not affect anyone who is already on a long-term card, or Brits who have the post-Brexit residency card (WARP or Article 50 TUE). 

Citizenship

After five years of residency in France (or two years in the case of people who completed higher education in France), foreigners can apply for French citizenship. Citizenship can also be requested through marriage, ancestry or after five years of service in the French Foreign legion.

The ultimate guide to getting French citizenship

The application requires a hefty dossier of documents, one of which is proof of competence in French to B1 level or above.

The new law raises this to B2 level - the law itself mentions only naturalisation (people applying through residency), but The Local has asked for clarification on whether this will also apply to people applying through marriage.

There are no changes to the qualifying period for gaining citizenship through residency. 

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Proof - at present candidates must present either a French school certificate (Brévet or Baccalaureat), a diploma delivered by the French education system or Attestation de réussite from a certified language school, delivered within the last two years.

Exemptions - anyone who has completed higher education in a French-speaking country can present their degree certificate, no matter how old it is. There is also an exemption for refugees over the age of 70 and people whose health does not permit them to take an exam. A previous exemption for all over 65s was scrapped in 2020. 

When will the changes come into effect?

The immigration law has passed through the final legislative hurdle and was promulgated by Emmanuel Macron on Saturday.

However it is likely to take several months for the changes to be communicated to préfectures and for them to update their systems - we will update our site as soon as we know more.

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What do those language levels mean?

The A2, B1 and B2 are measured according to the international DELF scale, also known as Cadre européen commun de référence pour les langues (CERL).

They are defined as;

A1 is a basic, introductory level where you should be able to "understand and use familiar, everyday expressions; respond with very basic statements to simple questions; know how to introduce yourself or someone else".

At this level you ought to be able to ask or give directions to a place, and talk about time and weather.

A2 is one step above A1, moving toward every day language capabilities.

At this point, you should be able to "understand single phrases and frequently used expressions that are used in everyday environments, such as when giving personal details or ordering food.

You should be able to communicate about simple, daily tasks that require only an exchange of direct information on familiar subjects.

B1 is the first intermediate level. At B1, you should be able to communicate well in daily situations, particularly when standard language is being used.

You should be "self-sufficient in most travel situations where French is spoken" and be able to engage in "simple and coherent discourse on familiar subjects and in areas of interest". You should also be be able to "recount an event, experience or dream, describe a hope or goal, and briefly explain a project or idea".

Some grammar subjects taught at the B1 level include past-perfect tense, the past and present conditional tenses, and speaking using hypotheses (si - or if).

B2 is the upper intermediate level. You should "be able to understand and read about both concrete and abstract topics; communicate spontaneously and easily with a native speaker; speak clearly and in detail on a wide range of topics, express an opinion on a relevant topic and discuss the pros and cons of a particular subject".

While you may have learned some subjunctive in B1, you should have a wider understanding and ability to use it when at the B2 level.

The scale continues to the advanced levels of C1 and C2, but these are not required for either residency or citizenship.

We have put together a quiz to help you determine you language level - take it HERE

If you have questions on the new rules, feel free to email us at [email protected] and we will do our best to answer them

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Comments (3)

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Jasmin 2024/01/30 01:03
What has been officially declared as b1 requirement for citizenship? If i apply this month will i need b2
Frank Rachubinski 2024/01/27 14:59
Most retirees are over 65 and learning a new language is difficult. I am positive this will just have them go to other EU countries to spend their money. I’m sure Spain or Portugal would welcome a influx of income.
sally 2024/01/27 11:29
Perhaps some provision of lessons from the OFII for retirees then who are stuck in a void of not being eligible for either OFII or Pole Emploi courses and have to source locally which inevitably are lacking, hideously expensive or not up to standard. All very frustrating when you want to learn the language.

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