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French language tests For Members

Who is exempt from France's new language test rules?

The Local France
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Who is exempt from France's new language test rules?
France's new language test rules include multiple exemptions. Photo: AFP

France's new immigration law brings in tougher language requirements for foreigners seeking residency or citizenship. But, as every student of the French language knows, for every rule there is an exception.

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France in late January finally passed its long-discussed immigration law - part of which includes tougher language requirements for foreigners in France.

You can find a full explanation of exactly how the new law works HERE, but it mainly affects three groups; those making their first request for multi-year residency card the Carte de séjour pluriannuelle, those making their first request for 10-year residency card the Carte de résident and those applying for French citizenship.

It won’t immediately affect new arrivals, who usually have a short-term one-year card to begin with, although it will affect them later on when/if they want to apply for the multi-year card.

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It doesn't affect people who already have a carte de séjour pluriannuelle or a carte de résident - they can renew those cards when the time comes with no language test.

The new levels are;

  • Carte de séjour pluriannuelle requires A2, which is the higher level of beginner French.
  • The 10-year Carte de résident requires B1, the first intermediate level (up from the previous requirement of A2)
  • Citizenship - which used to require B1 level French - now requires B2, the higher intermediate level.

QUIZ: Could you pass France's new language tests?

But, as we've said, there are plenty of exceptions to these requirements. Here's a look at some of the main groups who benefit from exemptions; 

Retirees

There isn't a blanket exemption for people over a certain age, but there are several exemptions that retirees in France can benefit from.

The first is for the carte de résident - which you can apply for after five years of residency in France. It does have an age-related exemption; anyone over the age of 65 is not required to take a language test. This was the rule under the old law, and the new law contains no provision to change this.

The second exemption affects people who are on the 'visiteur' status carte de séjour, the one most commonly used by retirees. The new law contains a limit on the amount of times people can renew short-term residency cards, intended to stop people circumventing the language requirement by staying on the short-term cards which have no language requirements. The new law states that one-year cards can only be renewed three times.

However there are several groups who are exempt from this, including people on the 'visiteur' card - which means that people can simply stick to annual renewals which have no language requirement.

When it comes to citizenship, the exemption for older people was scrapped back in 2020 so now everyone must take the test. There is only one age-related exemption and it is very specific; people who are aged over 70 and who have refugee status and who have lived in France for more than 15 years are exempt.

Find more on the situation for retirees HERE.

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Talent passport 

We mentioned above that most people start off with a one-year card, but there are some exceptions to this including people who arrive in France on the Passeport Talent visa.

This is a special visa for people who meet certain criteria such as being an international expert in their field, a high-earner or a renowned artist. Among the perks of this type of visa is going directly onto a four-year carte de séjour for the visa holder and family members (including spouse).

There is no language requirement to get the first carte de séjour, and this will not change. Talent passport holders are also one of the groups exempt from the renewal limit that we mentioned earlier - so holders can simply keep renewing every four years for the whole of their stay in France without ever having to take a language test.

If, however, they choose to move on to the 10-year carte de résident, they would have to take the test. Likewise there is no language exemption for citizenship for talent passport holders.

More on the situation for talent passport holders HERE.

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Disabilities

While many people will find the idea of taking an exam daunting, for those with disabilities or special needs it can be impossible.

In this case there are two possible paths - language testing centres are required to offer provision for people with disabilities to take the test, for example extra time for people with a learning disability or dyslexia, large-print or braille exam papers for people with sight loss etc. 

You can find more detail on the provisions offered and how to request them here - but essentially it involves making contact with a testing centre in advance, specifying your needs and seeing how they can accommodate them.

If the exam centre cannot accommodate your specific needs and it is therefore impossible for you to take the test, you can request a medical exemption. You will need to visit your médicin traitant and have them write you an attestation detailing why it is impossible for you to take the test.

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This can then be presented instead of the language certificate for either residency or citizenship applications.

Britons 

UK nationals who lived in France prior to 2021 - and are therefore covered by the Brexit Withdrawal Agreement - have a slightly different regime when it comes to the carte de séjour residency card.

Those covered by the Withdrawal Agreement, and their family members, have a special Brexit card known as the WARP or Article 50 TUE. This can be renewed when required without the need for a language test.

Britons who moved to France in 2021 or later are not covered by this provision, and will have to take language tests under the same conditions as other non-EU citizens.

When it comes to applying for citizenship, there is no exemption for Britons covered by the Withdrawal Agreement, so they will have to take the language test.

Find more on this specific situation HERE.

Temporary workers, interns and family members 

We mentioned above that quite a few groups are exempt from the limit on the number of renewals of the one-year card.

People with the following short-term (carte de séjour temporaire) cards are exempt: visitors, temporary workers, students, interns, and some categories of 'family and private life' (including young foreigners born in France and seriously ill people).

This means that these groups can simply keep on renewing their one-year cards indefinitely without ever taking a language test. It's not a perfect solution - annual renewals are time-consuming and expensive (around €200 each time) but it does give an option to people who are worried about taking the language test.

If you have questions about the new language rules you can head to our Language Test FAQs, or if your query is not covered email us at [email protected]

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Comments (1)

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Frank Rachubinski 2024/03/11 09:09
It is not always that easy to become proficient in a new language as you get older. Of course you want to assimilate in your new country , learning customs and the little ins and outs of the French life. Even if you know the proper translation often the tone and presentation may not be correct. We buy French whenever available and all our spending helps the French economy. I feel its in unfair and would have retired to Spain or Italy ,to spend my money, if I would have known.

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