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EXPLAINED: What is the '2-year rule' for new French citizens?

The Local France
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EXPLAINED: What is the '2-year rule' for new French citizens?
Photo by JULIEN DE ROSA / AFP

If you're applying for French citizenship, you may have heard of the 'two-year' rule that affects the period immediately after you become a French national. Here's what it means.

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Foreigners have the right to apply to become French citizens if they meet certain conditions, and France is relatively generous when it comes to granting citizenship.

The most common grounds for citizenship are through residency (after five years of continuous residency in France, falling to two years if you completed higher education here) or through marriage to a French person.

Less common routes are through ancestry (parents only) or through having a French child or sibling. 

READ ALSO The complete guide on applying for French citizenship

The application process itself is lengthy and requires putting together an extensive dossier of paperwork and undergoing an interview at your local préfecture to test your knowledge and appreciation of France's culture, politics and values.

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Overall around 30 percent of citizenship applications are refused, and the process itself is a long one - the average time between submitting your application and getting citizenship is between 18 months and two years, although there are wide regional variations. 

But once you have your citizenship, the 'two-year rule' applies.

What is the two-year rule?

This rule allows your citizenship to be annulled within two years of it being granted, if certain conditions are met.

This is not the same as being stripped of citizenship (which can happen to dual nationals who are convicted of terror offences), annulment means that the decree granting you citizenship is cancelled, so in effect you were never a French citizen.

However, this can only happen in two circumstances

  • If the legal conditions for French citizenship are not met – such as length of residency, for example. This is usually dealt with before citizenship is granted. But say, for example, the person handling your dossier had made a mistake or missed something in your dossier that makes you ineligible for citizenship, that can be corrected and the citizenship revoked
  • If it is discovered that the recipient lied or committed fraud to gain French citizenship - For example if you fake up a French language test certificate or claim to be employed when you are not. The most common cases of fraud relate to citizenship granted through marriage - if a marriage is dissolved within 12 months of citizenship being granted then fraud may be suspected. This doesn't mean that all people whose marriages break down need to worry, it is simply a possible cause for investigation and the prosecutor would need to prove that your marriage was never a genuine marriage to begin with.

In order to annul citizenship, the prosecutor must prove their case and you have the chance to put forward your defence.

Annulling citizenship does not annul other residency rights, so if you had a valid residency permit before you became a French citizen, you would not lose your right to live in France.

What does the two-year rule not affect?

In all other ways, from the day you are granted French citizenship, you have the same rights as any other French person.

That means that you have the right to vote in all French elections and the right to apply for a French passport.

You also have the right to leave France for as long as you like and then come back - residency cards have a limit on the amount of time you can stay out of France and retain your right of residency, but French citizens have the right to come and go as they please.

It's important to note that you are a citizen from the date that your decree or declaration (depending on the route you have used to apply for citizenship) is published in the Journal Officiel.

READ ALSO The hack to find out early about your French citizenship application

Dual nationals

If you keep citizenship of your home country and therefore become a dual national (or have more than two nationalities) then you can be stripped of your French citizenship under certain circumstances.

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This usually requires you to have done something pretty bad such as being convicted of a terrorist act - find the full list here.

If French is your only nationality then you cannot be stripped of French citizenship (because that would render you stateless, which is banned under international law).

People who have been French citizens from birth cannot be stripped of their French nationality, even if they have citizenship of another country as well. 

READ ALSO Can you be stripped of your French citizenship?

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