France

There are positive aspects to law and policy in France. Its statelessness determination procedure (SDP) is accessible, there is a right to appeal, and a residence permit with the right to a travel document is granted to those recognised as stateless. The law requires that detention is a last resort and that a country of removal is identified prior to detaining. There are provisions in law to prevent statelessness including among children born on the territory or to nationals abroad.

However, there are also key gaps. France is not party to three of the four core statelessness conventions and although some disaggregated data on the SDP and stateless refugees is published, it does not capture statelessness in its census. Applicants for stateless status under the SDP have no legal right to stay, nor right to social assistance, and there is no simplified route to naturalisation. People released from detention are not protected from re-detention. Although there is a safeguard in law for children born stateless in France, its implementation is problematic with some children being required to go through the SDP to prove their statelessness. Late birth registration is only possible through the courts and there is no evidence of state action to address the risk of marginalised groups remaining unregistered.

Last updated: 
Dec 2017
Next scheduled update: 
Dec 2018
Country expert(s): 

Barbara Joannon, Forum Refugies - Cosi

ASSESSMENT KEY

++POSITIVE
+ SOMEWHAT POSITIVE
+-POSITIVE and NEGATIVE
- SOMEWHAT NEGATIVE
--NEGATIVE

ADDITIONAL INFO

-NORMS & GOOD PRACTICE

 

International and Regional Instruments

Assesses whether countries are state party to the relevant international and regional instruments, including whether reservations have an impact on statelessness, and whether instruments are incorporated into domestic law. The four core statelessness treaties (1954 Convention relating to the Status of Stateless Persons; 1961 Convention on the Reduction of Statelessness; European Convention on Nationality; Council of Europe Convention on the Avoidance of Statelessness in Relation to State Succession) carry more weight than other relevant human rights instruments in the assessment.

France has signed and ratified the 1954 Convention but is not party to three of the core statelessness instruments: the 1961 Convention, the European Convention on Nationality, and the Convention on the Avoidance of Statelessness in Relation to State Succession. It is state party to most other relevant instruments but retains reservations, including some which impact on statelessness and stateless people in the territory.

  • France has signed and ratified the 1954 Convention and it has direct effect. Its reservation to Art. 10(2) is time limited and no longer has a significant impact.
  • France has signed but not acceded to the 1961 Convention. Reservations were indicated at the time of signature.
  • France has signed but never acceded to the European Convention on Nationality (no reservations declared at time of signature), and it has neither signed nor acceded to the Convention on the Avoidance of Statelessness in Relation to State Succession.
  • It is state party to the European Convention on Human Rights but retains two reservations relating to the right to liberty and free trial for military personnel, and derogations in times of emergency.
  • France is bound by the European Union (EU) Returns Directive and has transposed it fully into domestic legislation.
  • France is state party to all other relevant international treaties, but retains reservations and/or declarations to all of them, including:
    • A reservation to the Convention on the Rights of the Child relating to the recognition of national minorities;
    • Reservations to the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights like those under ECHR;
    • A reservation to the Convention on the Elimination of all Forms of Discrimination Against Women Article 9 reserving the right to deprive a third country national of their French nationality if they have another;
    • A reservation to Convention against Torture relating to the settlement of disputes and role of International Court of Justice; and,
    • A declaration to the Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Racial Discrimination relating to the obligation to enact anti-discrimination legislation which is incompatible with freedom of opinion, expression, assembly and association.

Statelessness Population Data

Examines the availability and sources of disaggregated population data on statelessness. Provides recent figures and assesses reliability of measures countries have in place to count stateless persons, including in the census, population registries and migration databases. Notes whether statelessness has been mapped in the country and whether there are sufficient measures in place to count stateless persons in detention.

France collects and publishes disaggregated data on the statelessness determination procedure and stateless refugees, and some limited data on the acquisition of nationality and residence permits by stateless people. However, it does not capture statelessness in the census, and in some cases, officials attribute a nationality to people who leave this question unanswered. There is no official data on stateless people in detention.

  • There is no possibility in the population census to select anything other than a nationality – all other responses are considered 'non-answers'. If the nationality question is not answered, the respondent is either assigned by the authorities the nationality of their country of birth, or the nationality of another respondent sharing similar characteristics.
  • Official statistics on statelessness relate to the statelessness determination procedure. In 2016, 286 new claims were lodged (1.8% increase on 2015); and 346 decisions were issued - 53 positive and 293 negative (15.32% recognition rate down from 30% on average in 2005-2010). Data is disaggregated by country of birth and gender but does not include accompanying minors. Eight claims were lodged by people born in France, two of whom were recognised.
  • As of 31 December 2016, 1370 stateless persons/persons with undetermined nationality were protected by OFPRA (34% women). In 2016, OFPRA recognised 91 ‘stateless-refugees’ whose situation is linked to the conflict in Syria (slightly less than in 2015 (96) and 2014 (97)).
  • Data on acquisition of French nationality is available from 1998 onwards disaggregated by country of origin and includes the category: ‘not disaggregated or stateless’ (2347 people in 2016).
  • Ministry of Interior data on the number of residence permits issued contains a category ‘stateless’. In 2016 and 2014 (no detailed table found for 2015) there were between zero and five persons recorded.
  • No comprehensive mapping study of statelessness in France has been published.
  • UNHCR uses OFPRA figures.
  • There is no official data available on stateless people in detention in France. Some data is published on the number of people released from detention due to expiry of the maximum time limit for detention: 3.7% of total persons detained in 2016 (786 people).

Statelessness Determination and Status

Identifies whether countries have a dedicated statelessness determination (SDP) procedure; or, if not, whether there are other procedures or mechanisms by which statelessness can be identified and status determined. Countries are subdivided in four groups to enable comparison between those with an SDP in place (Group 1), those with other administrative procedures (Group 2), those with a status but no clear mechanism (Group 3), and those without any status or mechanism (Group 4). Where a procedure exists, this is assessed against good practice, and the rights granted to recognised stateless people are examined.

France has a clear and detailed statelessness determination procedure (SDP) established in law, and therefore falls within Group 1. The procedure contains some provisions to facilitate access, including no fee nor residence requirement, a duty to examine all claims, and UNHCR provides training for decision makers. However, an interview is not mandatory, the application must be made in writing in French, and it cannot be made ex officio. The burden of proof is shared but the standard of proof is higher than in asylum procedures. Legal aid is limited, and applicants are not granted residence rights, so may be subject to removal procedures. There is no quality audit of decision-making nor timeframe within which decisions must be made. There is a right of appeal, but appeals do not have suspensive effect. Positively, recognised stateless people are granted a residence permit and can access a range of rights including a travel document, family reunion, and a route to naturalisation, though this is not accelerated (unlike for refugees).  

  • France has a dedicated SDP established in law.
  • The centralised Office for the Protection of Refugees and Stateless Persons (OFPRA) is responsible.
  • The application must be made on a specific OFPRA form that must be requested by the applicant. It must be in writing, in French and signed, and include two recent photographs and any relevant documentation. A certificate of registration (not a residency permit) is issued on receipt of the application.

  • An interview is not mandatory, though additional information may be provided orally if an interview takes place.

  • Applications must be made to OFPRA by the applicant and cannot be initiated ex officio.

  • The authorities have an obligation in law to consider any application.

  • There is no application fee, time limit or lawful stay requirement.

  • The examination is conducted by a centralised competent authority with expertise on statelessness.

  • UNHCR provides an annual refugee law training course that includes a module on statelessness, which is attended by OFPRA, but it is not clear whether statelessness forms part of standard training for OFPRA staff.

  • There is cooperation between OFPRA and Prefectures, Ministry of Interior and UNHCR, all of whom may refer people to the SDP.

  • The definition of a stateless person is in line with the 1954 Convention.
  • The burden of proof is shared between the applicant and the authority. There is an obligation on the applicant to evidence their inability to access another nationality, but officials must investigate if the applicant has made genuine efforts to get information and been unable to do so.
  • OFPRA guidance states that the evidence shall be 'sufficiently precise and serious', which in practice is a slightly higher standard of proof than in asylum cases.
  • No information was available about any measures to ensure equal access to the procedure for women, nor any measures in place to address gender discriminatory laws or practices. The provision for a third party to accompany an applicant in asylum procedures is not applicable to the statelessness procedure.
  • The Guide of Procedures explains the procedures applied by OFPRA, but it does not provide decision makers with guidance on how to determine statelessness.
  • Applicants for stateless status are not entitled to free legal aid as this right applies only to lawfully and habitually resident third country nationals. No exception is made for applicants for stateless status (unlike for asylum-seekers). Free legal aid can exceptionally be granted to those who don’t meet the criteria when their situation ‘appears worthy of special attention’.
  • An interview is not compulsory though OFPRA may invite the applicant to an interview.
  • Free interpreters are available if required.
  • Quality assurance audits of OFPRA’s work are carried out by UNHCR, but the SDP is not covered by these audits.
  • The law stipulates that decisions are given with reasons and in writing and notification must be made by recorded postal delivery. In practice, applications are often refused due to 'journey not established' and/or 'vague statements from the applicant'.
  • The asylum procedure takes priority over the SDP. If an asylum claim is refused, the SDP is not automatically activated even if there are indications that the person could be stateless.
  • Applicants have no right to legally stay nor work and expulsion and detention for removal are possible during the process. Prefectures may admit applicants for temporary stay, but this is a discretionary power. There have been cases of people being issued with an obligation to leave France while still being in the SDP, but no information on actual expulsions.
  • As Prefectures are not obliged to admit applicants for temporary stay, access to assistance varies. In cases where a temporary stay permit is granted, the applicant can access Universal Healthcare Protection (Protection universelle maladie – PUMA) and be accommodated in an emergency shelter for up to 21 days or in accommodation and rehabilitation centres (centres d’hébergement et de réinsertion sociale – CHRS) for several months. If not granted temporary stay, applicants are considered irregular foreigners and can only access State Medical Aid (AME) if they can prove they have lived in France for three months (otherwise only urgent healthcare needs will be met) and be accommodated through the emergency schemes.
  • There is no timeframe for the SDP defined in law or policy. In practice, verification with consular authorities generates long delays with reports of cases taking two to three years to be decided.
  • If refused stateless status, the applicant can appeal the decision before the local administrative court (tribunal administratif) of their place of residence within two months. Further appeal is possible before the relevant court of appeal (cour administrative d’appel) and then before the Council of State.
  • Appeals do not have suspensive effect.
  • The rules for appeals in an administrative procedure stipulate that legal aid is not available ipso jure (de plein droit) though it is possible to lodge a claim for legal aid. A legally and regularly staying foreign national is eligible to legal aid and in practice, legal aid is usually granted for appeals.
  • There is no fee for the appeal.
  • There is no evidence of significant errors in decision making.
  • In 2016, there was a 25% rise in the number of cases before the Administrative Courts (from 48 cases in 2015 to 60 in 2016). 46 decisions were taken by Administrative Tribunals and 16 by Administrative Courts of Appeal. Only one court decision overturned a negative OFPRA decision.
  • Recognised stateless people, their spouse and children, are granted a 'private and family life' permit (19€). Permission to stay is granted as a right unless there is a threat to public order.
  • There are no additional requirements, but prefectures have discretion to refuse a permit on grounds of threat to public order.
  • The initial permit is valid for one year, renewable twice. After three years' legal stay, a ten-year residence permit is issued (9€).
  • Recognised stateless people may request a travel document (document de voyage pour apatride), valid for one year (15€) for those with one-year permit, and two years (20€) for those with a ten-year permit.
  • Family reunion rights are the same as refugees for all recognised stateless people.
  • Status revocation clauses are in line with UNHCR guidance.
  • Recognised stateless people have the right to primary, secondary and higher education, and to work under the same conditions as legally staying third country nationals. They have access to universal healthcare coverage (protection maladie universelle - PUMA), covering basic medical expenses, if residing in France for at least three months. They also have access to social assistance depending on their level of income, and can benefit from the Active Solidarity Income (Revenu de Solidarité Active). However, unlike refugees, they cannot access integration programmes (programme d’insertion par la mobilité géographique).
  • Stateless people can naturalise after five years of legal stay, shortened to two years if they have obtained a Master's degree in France. Naturalisation costs 55€.
  • There is no accelerated naturalisation procedure for stateless people unlike for refugees (two years).
  • Recognised stateless people applying for French nationality do not have to produce any official record of criminal convictions, but criminal records in France and abroad are checked, and someone may be considered ineligible if they have been convicted of terrorism or other crimes ‘threatening the interests of the nation’. The prefecture also conducts an inquiry to check the applicant’s civic conduct (for example, of their tax records).
  • A citizenship and language test (B1 spoken) in the form of an interview applies to all applicants for French nationality, including stateless people, and there are no exemptions.

Detention

Analyses law, policy and practice relating to immigration detention generally, but focusing on protections in place to prevent the arbitrary detention of stateless people during removal and deportation procedures. Subthemes examine areas such as detention decision-making, how alternatives to detention are legislated for and implemented, procedural safeguards such as time limits, judicial oversight and effective remedies, as well as protections on release.

French law contains some safeguards against arbitrary detention that are pertinent to stateless people. For example, a country of removal must be set prior to detention and can be appealed separately from the decision to detain. However, people who may be stateless or at risk of statelessness are reportedly detained. Procedural safeguards are set in law including a maximum time limit, free legal aid, judicial oversight, effective remedies and written reasons and information on rights provided to all detainees. Identification and stay rights are not issued automatically to people released from detention, but if released due to cancellation of removal, temporary residence and some basic rights are granted. Cumulative time spent in detention does not count towards the maximum time limit.

  • Immigration detention powers are set in law and restricted to the purposes provided for in ECHR 5(1)(f).
  • The law states that a decision issued requiring someone to leave the French territory (obligation de quitter le territoire) must set the country of removal in a separate decision that can be appealed. In practice, this is based on information provided by the person (such as declared nationality and/or country of origin or documents shared).
  • No information is available about a referral mechanism from detention to the SDP.
  • No official data is available on stateless people held in detention. According to the 2016 joint annual report on detention of NGOs authorised to provide legal advice in detention, people of nationalities where a risk of statelessness may exist were reported in different detention centres.
  • French law does require all alternative measures to have been exhausted before detaining someone. If the person can present guarantees of representation, house arrest should be given priority but a necessity and proportionally test is not really implemented in practice.
  • No individual vulnerability assessment is carried out prior to detention, but detainees are informed of their rights on arrival, including the right to seek asylum. A vulnerability assessment is carried out by the French Office of Immigration and Integration at the beginning of the asylum procedure, but statelessness is not considered a vulnerability factor. Ill health is the only ground for early release after 48 hours.
  • There are no specific measures to protect stateless people with a criminal record from arbitrary detention, but judicial review of the legality of detention prevents unlimited arbitrary detention.
  • Alternatives to detention exist in law, including house arrest and electronic monitoring for parents of minor children (not yet implemented). If the person can present guarantees of representation, house arrest should be given priority, but a necessity and proportionally test is not really implemented.
  • An instruction of the Interior Ministry of July 2016 recommends Prefectures to largely resort to house arrest for Dublin procedures.
  • In theory, unaccompanied children cannot be returned and therefore detained; but in practice NGOs working in detention centres report cases of children being detained. On 12 July 2016, the ECHR found against France in five cases concerning children detained with their families.
  • A 2014 report stated that alternatives to detention are weak and not routinely considered. There have been cases of Saharawis being systematically detained under the Dublin Regulations without any alternatives being examined.
  • There is a maximum time limit set in law (45 days including extensions). 
  • The decision to detain is given in writing and takes effect once received by the person concerned.
  • French law provides that a person is informed on arrival in a language they understand of their right to: request an interpreter, counsel, and a doctor; communicate with their consulate or any person of their choice; seek asylum and benefit from legal and linguistic assistance. In mainland France five NGOs are authorised to access detention centres. Each of the 24 administrative detention centres and 19 administrative detention places are allocated a specific NGO.
  • The initial decision to detain for 48 hours is taken by the Prefect. If the person is not expelled during that time, their detention can be extended initially for 28 days by the Judge who can either: order the extension of detention; decide to place the person under house arrest; or refuse the extension of detention. The detainee can put forward new evidence to the judge that their detention should be ceased at any time. In practice requests must be solidly argued and are not often considered admissible.  
  • A person may apply to the administrative court to challenge the legality of the decisions taken by the Prefect within 48 hours. The administrative court must take a decision within 72 hours.  If an asylum claim is submitted during detention, it is possible to challenge the detention within 48 hours and the court must make a decision within 72 hours.
  • It is unclear whether there are rules governing the process of documentation and/or ascertaining nationality.
  • Detainees can access free legal assistance from a lawyer or NGOs providing support in detention centres, and can be assisted by a lawyer for administrative court appeals.
  • The state does not automatically issue identification or stay rights to people released from detention, but the person's online dossier is updated to reflect the reason for release.   
  • People released from detention because their removal has been cancelled by the judge are issued with a temporary stay permit that grants access to: social services; healthcare (PUMA); emergency accommodation; and, if not otherwise specified, the right to work.
  • Cumulative time spent in detention does not count towards the maximum time limit.

Prevention and Reduction

Assesses the adequacy of safeguards in nationality laws to prevent and reduce statelessness, including protections for otherwise stateless children born on the territory or to nationals abroad, foundlings and adopted children. Examines law, policy and practice on birth registration, including access to late birth registration, and measures taken by states to promote birth registration among groups at high risk of remaining unregistered.

French law contains provisions to prevent and reduce statelessness, but there are gaps in implementation. For example, children born stateless on the territory are French by law, but in practice, they must make a request to the authorities and may need to go through the SDP to prove their statelessness. Under other provisions in French nationality law young people acquire French nationality on reaching the age of majority if they have been habitually resident on the territory for at least five years. Foundlings, adopted children and children born to French nationals abroad are fully protected from statelessness in the law. However, there are some barriers to birth registration in that documentation is required to affect the registration, which may be difficult to produce for marginalised groups, and late registration is only possible through the high court.  

  • Otherwise stateless children born on the territory of France are deemed to be French citizens by law, but in practice a request must be made for the certificate to be delivered. In some cases, children may be required to go through the SDP to be recognised as stateless and then apply for naturalisation according to the rules for children born in France to foreign parents.
  • The safeguard for otherwise stateless children born in France does not require that the parents are also stateless, that the child cannot access another nationality, nor is there a residency requirement. However, in practice, parents must prove they are stateless or cannot pass on their nationality, as well as the child's birth in France. If the child is put through the SDP they must meet the same requirements as other applicants for stateless status.
  • If the child's French nationality under Article 19 is not recognised, Article 21 still applies, by which a young person born in and residing in France for more than five years at the age of majority acquires French nationality.
  • All minors may claim French nationality by declaration from 16 years-old, if they are habitually resident in France at the time of declaration and for a continuous or discontinuous period of at least five years, from the age of 11. French nationality may also be claimed by the legal representative on behalf of a minor child born in France to foreign parents from 13 years-old (if residing since eight years-old) with the consent of the minor (except in some cases of mental or physical impairment).
  • A new route to acquisition of French citizenship by declaration at the age of majority came into force in 2016: a person may claim French nationality at the age of majority by a declaration before the administrative authority when they have a brother or sister who has acquired French nationality under Article 21, if they have resided in France since the age of six and followed their compulsory schooling in French state schools.
  • Foundlings are deemed to be born French citizens by law.
  • Article 58 of the Civil code expressly refers to a new-born, which implies an age limit, but Article 19 of the Civil Code does not refer to any age limit.
  • If the filiation is established while the child is still underage, French nationality can be withdrawn but only if this does not lead to statelessness.
  • There are two types of adoption under French law: full or simple, with different effect on the nationality of the adopted person. Full adoption replaces the existing filiation between the adopted person and the family of origin with a new relationship. Simple adoption makes it possible to adopt a person without breaking the links with the family of origin.
  • A child subject to a full adoption as a minor acquires French nationality if adopted by a national. Simple adoption does not affect nationality: the adopted person retains the nationality of the family of origin, unless they claim French citizenship.
  • Children are French if at least one of their parents is French wherever their place of birth.
  • If only one parent is French, and the child is born outside the territory, they can renounce their French nationality during the last six months preceding their 18th birthday and the following 12 months.
  • Under a separate article of the Civil Code, an adult who resides abroad and voluntarily acquires a foreign nationality may renounce their French citizenship.
  • Documents required to register the birth of a child are: birth certificate established by doctor or nurse; declaration of the name to be given to the child; identity documents of the parents; recognition act if this has been done prior to the birth; and family record book if the parents have one. 
  • There is nothing in law that forbids undocumented and irregular residing persons to declare the birth of their child and in principle all children born in France must be registered. 
  • It is not clear whether there are barriers to birth registration in practice.
  • There are no mandatory requirements to report undocumented individuals to the authorities.
  • Children must be registered within five days of birth (excluding the day of birth, weekends and public holidays) or within eight days where the place of birth is particularly far from the place of registration. If the child is born abroad, the deadline is 15 days for the birth to be declared at the consulate or embassy.
  • If the birth is not declared within the deadline, it can only be recognised by the High Court.
  • If the birth is not declared by someone who attended the delivery they can be convicted and sentenced to six months imprisonment and 3750€ fine.
  • It is not clear whether there are barriers in practice to late birth registration.
  • There are no national campaigns or promotion activities on birth registration, but information leaflets are provided in hospitals and maternity services.
  • There is anecdotal evidence from frontline professionals that Roma children born in France and children of irregular migrants may face barriers to birth registration and be at risk of births not being registered.

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