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Students, workers and retirees: How many people moved to France in 2023

The Local France
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Students, workers and retirees: How many people moved to France in 2023
People queue for residency permits in Lille. (Photo by PHILIPPE HUGUEN / AFP)

More than 320,000 people moved to France in 2023, according to the latest data from the country's Interior Ministry, which shows a slight increase on previous years.

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France remains an attractive country for people seeking to come here to study, work, reunite with loved ones or retire, the data shows.

The Direction générale des étrangers en France (DGEF) revealed immigration figures for the previous five years - the 2023 data is an initial estimate that will be updated and finalised in June.

According to DGEF figures, the number of first-time residence permits issued to foreign nationals had “slowed down, but remains high”. 

A total of 323,260 first-time residence permits were issued in 2023, the figures show, an increase of 1.4 percent on the previous year.

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Of that, 103,520 permits were issued to students; 91,020 allowed families to be reunited; 54,630 were for people coming to France to work and 13,073 were for people on the 'visiteur' status, which is the one most commonly used by people retiring to France.

The data does not distinguish between nationalities, so it's not possible to say where all these people came from, with a single exception . . .

Brits

For the first time, the annual immigration numbers include a separate category for Brits, who have only been required to apply for residency permits since Brexit.

As expected, the numbers show a huge spike in 2021 when the first of the post-Brexit cartes de séjour began being issued to Brits who had lived in France prior to Brexit. In total 130,126 residency permits were issued to Brits between 2019 (when the application portal first opened) and 2021 (the deadline to register for post-Brexit residency).

These represent most of the cohort of Brits who had moved to France before the end of the Brexit residency period, excluding those who have dual nationality with an EU country and therefore do not require a French residency permit.

The numbers have since stabilised to 11,116 in 2022 and 8,700 in 2023. This is likely to represent mostly new arrivals dealt with under the standard non-EU immigration track, although it may include some family members of Brexit-card holders.

Tourists

More than 2 million short-stay visas were issued in 2023, of which the vast majority - 1.5 million - were for tourists.

While visitors from countries covered by the 90-day rule (eg UK, USA, Canada, Australia) don't need a visa for short visits, tourists from countries including China and India need a visa for any visit.

The number of tourist visas issued to visitors from these countries have yet to fully return to pre-Covid levels, the DGEF reported.

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Visas

Meanwhile, close to 300,000 long-stay visas were issued to people intending to make France their home.

By far the largest single group was student visas - 111,689, a five percent rise on the previous year. France works hard to market itself as a destination for foreign students and has set a target to increase the number of overseas students coming to study in its universities, although some of the increase could be accounted for by the fact that UK students now require visas.

READ ALSO What type of French visa do I need

The next largest group is family visas - 24,326 people came to join a French spouse or family member while 44,352 people came to join a non-French spouse or family member who was living in France.

In total 56,368 people came to France to work on the various different visa tracks for working people - the largest single group being salaried employees on 28,691 followed by 19,276 people coming for seasonal work (often agricultural workers who travel for the harvest).

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Just 2,945 people came on the visa track intended for people working on a freelance basis or setting up a business, while 1,083 came on the 'artists' visa.

In total out of 2.9 million visas requested (including tourist visas) 506,880 were refused.

Citizenship

Meanwhile, 61,640 people were granted French nationality in 2023, the most common route being people who had applied through residency - 40,064. France has one of the most generous residency routes for citizenship in Europe, with foreigners being eligible after five years of continuous residency, falling to two years for people who have completed higher education in France.

The country's new immigration law does not change the residency qualification, but raises the language level required from B1 to B2 level French.

In 2023 19,445 people were granted French citizenship through marriage and 2,121 through the less common track of applying through ancestry

The number of people granted French citizenship fell compared to the previous year, although the Interior Ministry noted that was probably due to technical reasons - technical problems with the move to online application combined with the fact that in 2022 some préfectures were still dealing with a backlog of applications made during the pandemic - rather than fewer people applying.  

Asylum seekers 

Asylum applications rose again in 2023, reaching 167,423 requests, including 145,522 first applications, a year-on-year increase of 7.6 percent. In comparison, Germany recorded more than 350,000 asylum applications, an increase of more than 51 percent on the previous year and the highest level since 2016, when over 720,000 applications were registered.

But more than 22,000 people were removed from France - including 17,000 under an obligation de quitter le territoire (OQTF). This issue has become something of a political hot potato after it was revealed that although thousands of people were served with notices to quit the country, only a tiny fraction are actually removed. Several recent high-profile crimes have been committed by people who had been served with an OQTF but had never left.

READ ALSO OQTF - What happens when someone is given an 'order to leave France'?

In 2023, only Germany removed more people from its territory than France.

DGEF welcomed the average 127-day turnaround of asylum applications as “one of the fastest in Europe”. But in early January, French refugee NGO Cimade and the Ligue des droits de l’homme has called on the French Office for the Protection of Refugees and Stateless Persons to take steps to reduce the waiting time to two months. 

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