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Residency and travel: Confusion over French rules for non-EU under-18s

Families still report issues over residency cards and DCEM travel documents

Being born in France to foreign parents can give the right to claim French nationality, but only under certain conditions Pic: Rawpixel / Shutterstock

Several cases have been reported to The Connexion of confusion over the rules relating to residency cards and young people from foreign families.

Problems flagged up include uncertainty over whether or not special travel documents are required and at what age young people can obtain their own residency cards.

First, unless a young person is confirmed as having French or another EU nationality, they are likely at some stage to require a residency card. 

Being born in France to foreign parents can give the right to claim French nationality, but only at certain ages and on condition of having spent a certain amount of time living here.

Which residency card for under-18s?

Generally speaking, children living with parents or guardians in France do not have a right to their own card until they reach 18, but they can apply for one from 16 if they want to work, follow professional training or sign on as a jobseeker. 

This will usually be either a temporary carte de séjour vie privée ou familiale or a carte de résident.

Note that, apart from where parents are on a passport talent visa or the children came separately as part of regroupement familial, young people who come after age 13 might not have an automatic right to a card. 

However, the La Cimade association for immigrants said they will usually be issued with one on the basis of an established family life in France. 

“Intense, old and stable” links are referred to on one official French site as grounds for being issued with a card.

How to apply

Applications are, depending on circumstances, either at your prefecture or online

We recommend checking the rules well in advance of your child turning 18. You can check the rules here or contact your prefecture.

In the case of UK families with Withdrawal Agree­ment (WA) cards, young people must apply to the prefecture for a free WA card within a year of turning 18. The process and eligibility is explained here in English.

Confusion at local prefecture

One reader from a British family living in Ain queried the age rules, saying: “Our prefecture told me they can’t issue a carte de séjour to a 16-year-old, which is completely conflicting information compared to official sites that say dependent 16-year-olds should ask for a carte if they wish to work.”

Our reader is correct, as confirmed to The Connexion by the French Interior Ministry and clarified in article 8 of a 2020 decree regarding Britons’ rights in France. 

The latter says: “[Foreigners benefiting from the WA] can apply for a card between their 16th and 18th birthdays, if they declare they want to carry out a work-related activity.”

A ministry expert said: “It’s enough to submit a simple written declaration indicating the wish to work without having to supply other supporting documents.” 

As such, we advise including this specific document when applying.

What about foreign travel?

In the case of travel into and out of the EU, such as between France and the UK or US, issues arise over passport stamping and whether or not young people without residency cards need a document de circulation pour étranger mineur (DCEM).

We have heard claims of border guards being heavy-handed over this at certain smaller airports where the border is manned by the Douanes, not the border police. 

One British mother who holds a WA card, said: “My 16-year-old daughter was in tears after the Douanes shouted at her, saying she has to get a DCEM or he will fine her €200 next time.”

The woman said her daughter had a document, for which they had paid €50 at the prefecture, but the Douanes officer said it was not in the correct format. 

The mother later said they might have shown a DCEM receipt, not an actual DCEM.

Another Briton reported that their 18-year-old, whose card application was being processed, recently returned to France from a trip and was told they needed a card or they would have to leave in three months. 

The Interior Ministry has previously confirmed to us that there is nothing stopping young people with nationalities including British or American – with the right to visit France for up to three months – coming and going on their passport. 

In addition, the statement in the second case above is incorrect in view of the decree on Britons’ WA rights, which says young WA Britons’ only obligation is to apply for a card in the course of their 18th year. 

Could avoid potential stress to obtain a DCEM for under-18s

A potential problem does arise as to whether or not a child’s passport is stamped. 

The ministry previously told us that obtaining a DCEM will avoid this happening. 

We have queried if there is any hard-and-fast rule and if it makes any difference if the child is accompanied or not (we will report further on this in due course).

Anecdotally, we understand it might be less likely when the child is with ‘WA’ parents, as it is accepted by border authorities that passports of WA-holders should not be stamped.

However, the border police previously told us they stamp passports of other non-EU foreigners, including those with residency cards. 

In the absence of proof of residency, there might later be issues with stamp dates and whether a young person is suspected of having overstayed legal visiting rights. 

On leaving, a fine can, if officers decide to impose it, be levied on ‘overstayers’, equal to twice the cost of a visa, ie. €198. 

It could, therefore, avoid potential stress to obtain a DCEM where an under-18 will be travelling out of the EU. This should be free for WA families. The following link explains more about a DCEM, how to apply and what documents are needed.

What is France’s DCEM form for young foreigners?

Bear in mind also that any under-18 non-EU national travelling away and back to France on their own should also carry a free autorisation de sortie du territoire signed by one of their parents. You can find the travel rules for unaccompanied children leaving France here.

In case of issues

Refusals of cards on incorrect grounds should be appealed against in writing, saying why the refusal is wrong. 

Avenues for further help include consular services for your nationality, an immigration avocat (lawyer) or the Défenseur des Droits.

The Douanes told us that if you believe an officer acted inappropriately, you can apply to a mediator or write to: 

Direction générale des douanes et droits indirects

11 rue des deux communes

93558 MONTREUIL CEDEX 

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