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‘Unsure where I belong after French nationality interview’

Teenager who has lived in France since a baby tells of harsh prefecture meeting. In theory applying for nationality should be a simple declarative process for her as she has a sibling who was born in France and is French

Amber* has always felt French and was keen to apply for French nationality on turning 18.

The move would also help her maintain some of the rights lost by British citizens after Brexit – the university she hopes to go to, for example, charges non-EU citizens thousands more each year.

In theory it should be a simple ‘declarative’ process if, as is her case, you have a sibling who was born here and is French, and you have lived and been schooled here since age six.

However the obligatory interview, which according to an official site is to check you are integrated and not ‘unworthy’, was anything but a simple declarative process, says Amber.

“A couple of months after I was born in Brighton, England, my parents decided to move to France for a new adventure. This was only supposed to last a few years. 

“However, they completely fell in love with the French people and their country, as seemingly did I. I had bad colic during my first couple of months and my parents spent every evening pushing me around in a pram in Brighton, but as soon as I came to France, my nightly screams disappeared and I was apparently the happiest baby ever. My parents have always told me this was when they realised they had a French daughter. This move was meant to be. 

“I grew up in the town of Vence on the French Riviera with my younger brother who was born two years after me, in Nice. 

“He is now French as well as British. He was able to get his French nationality three years ago when he turned 13 and is proud of his French passport and identity card. 

“He has lived less time in France than I have, yet he is French because he was born here. Had I been born three months later, I too would be French. Both of us have been educated all our lives in France, we’ve both passed the Brevet and I’ve passed the Bac, but as he was born here, he has what I want.

“The last year has now proved I cannot get it as easily as he did.  

“I sent my dossier to the Prefecture of Nice on my 18th birthday. I was applying by declaration for the right to become French through my French brother. 

“Two months later, there was a knock at the door and it was the police, checking to see if I was who I said I was, that I did indeed live in France and spoke French. I felt upbeat when they left, the dossier was now in process.

“I then waited months for a letter with a date for my interview. The wait was long but I was grateful and excited when it finally came.

“I certainly did not feel that way when I walked out of the interview at the Préfecture de Nice. All I felt was humiliation, shame, disappointment and sadness. 

“In fact, when I left the room I didn’t know if I even wanted to be French any more. It was a strange feeling, as if the only place that I call home no longer wanted me, and for no clear reason. The prefecture interview was a total disaster. 

“I had prepped up on my French history and read the Livret du Citoyen [document with pointers about key aspects of French culture and history applicants may be asked about]. I answered the questions on Liberty, Equality and Fraternity and the French Revolution.

“I did hesitate when the interviewer asked me a question about the constitution, but I was just considering my answer when he jumped in and told me that every adolescent in France should know the answer. From then all went downhill fast. 

“Why do you want to be French?” he kept asking, and then insisted that my carte de séjour was enough for a person like me to carry on living legally in France. I repeatedly said I didn’t agree.

“I said that I was so proud of my French life, that my boyfriend was French, all of my friends were French, my entire schooling had been in the French system, and that I had the right to ask to become French as my brother was French.

“Over and over again, he repeated that I didn’t need to become French, that the carte de séjour would be sufficient for “someone like me”. 

“I love France and the Côte d’Azur; it’s the only home I have ever known. I haven’t been in England since 2019 and over my life have probably spent no longer than six months there. 

“I have loved being brought up here and would one day like my children to have the same opportunities that I have had in this beautiful country. Yet now I am not sure that this country wants me.

"As I left the interview room, the man brusquely told me I would have an answer in up to a year, and not to call or email. I left the prefecture feeling battered and unsure of where I belong after 18 years of living here.

*Name changed at request of writer

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