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Ask the expert: What are the French immigration laws for 'pacsé' couples?

The Local France
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Ask the expert: What are the French immigration laws for 'pacsé' couples?
There are several important differences between being married and Pacsé in France, including when it comes to a visa or residency permit. Photo by JEAN-PIERRE MULLER / AFP

The French civil partnership known as Pacs is an alternative to marriage - but the situation is complicated if you're hoping to get a French visa or residency permit through being pacsé with a French or other EU national, as immigration lawyer Paul Nicolaÿ explains.

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In a 2018 judgement, the Conseil d’Etat, France’s highest administrative Court, put an end to a long-running controversy as to whether or not an individual, signatory of a civil partnership under French law (Pacs) with a European citizen could be considered as a family member of the latter and therefore benefit from favourable EU regulations on immigration.

One of the core principles of the European Union has always been to facilitate the movement of European citizens within the territories of the Member States. And obviously, expatriation is a much more attractive option if family members are allowed to remain united without time limit and with rights equivalent to those of local citizens.

These assumptions form the basis of the European directive 2004/38/EC of 29 April 2004 on the right of citizens of the Union and their family members to move and reside freely within the territory of the Member States.

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This regulation gives a precise definition of a "family member" that includes the spouse, the descendant, the ascendant in a state of dependance, and also "the partner with whom the Union citizen has contracted a registered partnership, on the basis of the legislation of a Member State, if the legislation of the host Member State treats registered partnerships as equivalent to marriage and in accordance with the conditions laid down in the relevant legislation of the host Member State".

In other words, if a civil partnership, implemented by an EU Member State such as France, confers on its signatories the same status and the same rights and obligations as a marriage contracted in the same country, then civil partners must be considered as spouses under the EU aforementioned directive, and therefore benefit from the right to move and reside freely within the EU.

Quite logically, the issue was raised concerning the French civil partnership implemented in 1999 and called Partenariat civil de solidarité (Pacs).

After all, Pacs and marriage have in common the same obligation of common life, a commitment to mutual material support and the same consequences on taxes. In the meantime, unlike marriage, Pacs contracts have little to no effect on parentage, nationality, property, and inheritance and are much easier to rescind.

READ ALSO What are the differences between Pacs and marriage?

The first answer given to that question by the French legislative power in 2006 was that Pacs and marriage were not equivalent.

In the following years however, several administrative Courts have ruled otherwise, in contradiction with French national law, and considered that the most important aspects of a Pacs contract make it roughly similar to a civil marriage.

The final word belonged to the Conseil d’Etat, France’s highest administrative Court, which in 2018 overturned this position and definitely ruled that, due to the essential differences between Pacs and marriage, only married spouses are considered family members under EU law.

In practical terms, the main outcome of this legal controversy is that non European nationals cannot apply for a French visa or residence card as family members of an EU citizen, simply due to the fact that they signed a Pacs contract with an EU national.

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Of course, other solutions exist for them but, undoubtedly, they do not benefit from EU law and remain under a much less favourable status than spouses of EU citizens residing in France.

READ ALSO What type of French visa do I need?

Their main option is to apply for a residence card under the status vie privée et familiale (private and family life), but in this case préfectures require the proof of a stable and continuous common life of at least one year.

From our experience, we know that some préfectures agree to issue 5-year residence cards to third country citizens pacsé with a European citizen living in France, as family members of an EU citizen. Such applications are processed via ANEF now. However this cannot be considered a general rule and we strongly advise you to contact your local prefecture as soon as possible in order to know what you can and cannot do.

Paul Nicolaÿ is a French lawyer based near Paris and specialising in French immigration and nationality law - find his website here.

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