Does it Take a French Ph.D to Become French?


Requests for French nationality mainly are now being met with stricter requirements from French government.

I have been addressing the question of the issuance of the carte de séjour, which grants the right to a foreigner to stay and often to work in France. My experience is that all current requests are reviewed with more stringent requirements and therefore files submitted must be excellent to have a chance to be accepted without discussions and a second appointment. I do not help many people with requests for French nationality mainly because there are a lot fewer of them.


Through the speeches given by former President Sarkozy as well as the former Minister of the Interior, Mr. Claude Guéant, it is clear the conditions are going to become a lot harsher. He recently stated: “Ceux qui sont autorisés à s’installer durablement dans notre pays, jusqu’à demander la naturalisation doivent viser l’assimilation. Ce mot n’en n’ayons pas peur.” I would translate this statement this way: “Those who are entitled to a permanent stay in our country to the point that they ask to naturalized must aspire to be assimilated. We must not be afraid of this word.”

A drastic change in the current law (documented by statutory regulations called “décrets”) includes the requirement of a much higher level of French than that required in the past. Applicants now must be as fluent in French as those entering French high school; they must additionally have an equivalent level of knowledge of French history. These last requirements have been implemented in January 2012 and exist now for both procedures, that of naturalization by request and that of naturalization through marriage.

Adding this kind of requirement to the latter procedure is very surprising since the underlying philosophy was that the foreign spouse would sooner or later be integrated through the marriage and be exposed to the “real France” through the French spouse. It was assumed that the foreigner would in this way be quickly immersed in the French language as well as the culture. There was no need to verify their degree of integration.

I admit that the title of this section is quite provocative, but the “décret” states that the applicant will ideally be able to present a high school, university, or similar diploma. I admit that a Ph.D. is not required but in reality the vast majority of foreigners who ask for French nationality have not gone to school in France. It is one thing to take courses at the Alliance Française or an equivalent school, but it is another thing to have a diploma that will favorably impress the civil servant and give the foreigner the level needed to answer with assurance the questions about French heritage. Keep in mind that this evaluation of the level of French has existed for a long time. So it is clear that the government wants the requirement to be much higher, otherwise, it would have been easy just to be more demanding with the existing set-up.

French missing piece

The bottom line is that this is going to be a significant hurdle since the government controls both the curriculum and the evaluation; it clearly has a political agenda here.

The official text states: “ces derniers doivent justifier de leur niveau de langue par la production d’un diplôme ou d’une attestation délivrée par un organisme reconnu par l’Etat ou par un prestataire agrée.”
I would translate this statement this way: “The applicants must prove their level in French by showing a diploma issued from the public education system or from an approved private school.”

A CFDT union representative working in the Parisian office of the division of naturalization said: “Avant, sur 70 000 demandes, nous en acceptions 70 %. Désormais, nous en rejetons 60 %.”
I would translate this statement this way: “Before, there were 70,000 applications and 70% of them were approved. Now we refuse 60%.”

The general message is that applicants must have a perfect record in all aspects of their life. Having been an illegal immigrant in France, even for a little while, would be reason enough for the application to be denied. The same thing could be true for people who have been late paying any kind of taxes or have been ticketed for speeding or parking offenses. Since the French administration is looking for proof of a stable life, changing jobs or moving house too often may also be considered good reasons for denying the request. Furthermore, as there are no written rules on such matters, there is no way to measure how many tickets or job changes are too many. Such decisions will be made case by case, so it will be very hard to develop guidelines.

When I have had clients who want to be naturalized, I have always explained to them that while the USA just asks for a pledge of allegiance, France wants proof of complete allegiance, even though there is nothing to this effect on the list of documents one has to submit. But the new regulations have changed that, and make it very clear: as of January 1st 2012, applicants will have to sign a charter called the Charte des Droits et Devoirs (charter of rights and duties), which says of French citizenship: “c’est une décision qui vous engage et, au-delà de vous, engage vos descendants”
I would translate this statement this way: “this decision is a commitment by you and, beyond you, your descendants”.


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    I really have to make a correction to your last statement : “I have always explained to them that while the USA just asks for a pledge of allegiance”. I have tried so many years to get a green card and let me tell you I graduated as well as my daughter from an American university, we are both fluent in English, I have always paid my taxes etc… but never got that green card that would have unabled us to stay in this beautiful country that is yours. Maybe you could help me find the solution.

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      Charles Lenin

      Why do you wish to come here? Use is more Communist than you could ever imagine.

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        I guess that would entirely depend on how you define communist, Charles! But I have to say that I don’t agree with your comment.

        In any case, Pascale is right that it’s very difficult to obtain U.S. Citizenship or a Green Card, particularly when you don’t already have family in the United States.


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