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French residency card u-turn - you can apply in person at préfecture

A legal challenge has overturned the online-only ‘carte de sejour’ application process - rights expert says one in five applicants do not have computer at home

Make an appointment at your préfecture if you struggle with online forms or do not have a computer Pic: RVillalon / Shutterstock

Anyone applying for a French residency card (carte de séjour) must now be able to do so in person, as well as online.

Since May 1, 2021, all French administration has been exclusively managed online, including residency card applications.

One in four young people struggle with online forms

However, following protests from French lawyers and immigration groups, the policy has been reversed and people unable to apply online can now make an appointment at a préfecture instead.

Read more: French court rules residence permit applications cannot be online only

Non-French residents, particularly those with irregular paperwork, have sometimes found applying online difficult, and in some cases impossible.

Rights expert Claire Hédon says one in five people applying do not have a computer or tablet at home, and one in four young people have significant difficulty completing forms online. 

She notes that vulnerable groups include those with physical and/or mental disabilities, those in detention, and foreign nationals.

Joined forces to fight digital discrimination

Several associations and unions also challenged the online-only rule, including La Cimade (Comité Inter-Mouvements Auprès des Evacués, which was originally formed in 1939 to protect the rights of evacuees during World War Two), La Ligue des Droits de l’Homme (League for Human Rights) and the Syndicat des Avocats de France (Union of French Lawyers). 

Together, they mounted a case at France’s top administrative authority and forced the government to reverse its decision in early June.

Diverse and complex situations

The Conseil d’Etat said: “Regarding the characteristics of the public concerned, the diversity and complexity of their situations, and the consequences for foreigners of their administrative situation, notably on their right to remain in France and, in some cases, to work, it is incumbent on the administration, when they impose online services to obtain certain residency papers, to provide accompaniment for those people.

“If a foreigner cannot submit their application online, the administration is required, as an exception, to allow people to submit requests for residence papers in another way.”

British applications up tenfold

Provisional new immigration statistics from the interior ministry show that 99,644 titres de séjour were delivered to British citizens in France in 2021, compared to just 7,686 in 2020. 

Since October 1, 2021, Britons have been required to obtain a card to be granted permission to legally live and work in France, due to Brexit.

Related articles

Do UK-based (adult) children of French residents still need a visa?

Brexit cards in France: Timing rules to swap five-year cards confirmed

Almost 100,000 cartes de séjour granted to Britons in France in 2021

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