France’s ‘droit du sol’ rule for nationality: what change is planned?

The government wants to suspend the ‘territorial principle’ on Mayotte in response to the island's illegal immigration crisis

In 2023, France expelled 25,380 illegal immigration from Mayotte, many of whom came from Comoros
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Children born in the overseas department of Mayotte could see their automatic right to French citizenship removed under plans announced by the government, which critics have described as a “betrayal” of Republican values.

Mayotte is an archipelago in the Indian Ocean between Madagascar and the coast of Mozambique, and has been a French department since 2011.

The island has been struggling with illegal immigration from Africa and the neighbouring Comoros for years, with the authorities expelling 25,380 migrants from the island in 2023 alone.

Comoros is one of the poorest places on earth, with an average daily wage of $1.9 a day.

A protest of ‘citizen collectives’ against illegal immigration has paralysed the department since January 22, with roadblocks at petrol stations around the island.

On January 28, the island’s prefect Thierry Suquet ordered gendarmes to clear the roadblocks.

However, the citizen groups reiterated their demands for government action against illegal immigration, in particular the dismantlement of a migrant camp at Cavani, which the authorities say will take “several months”.

Read more: Is time in French overseas territories included in 90/180 rule?

Suspension of the ‘territorial principle’

On a visit to the island on Sunday, February 11, Interior Minister Gérald Darmanin announced a new raft of measures to fight illegal immigration, describing the current situation on the island as “insurrectional”.

“We have to reestablish peace and the rule of law on Mayotte,” said Mr Darmanin, promising the “massive” arrest of illegal immigrants.

"It will no longer be possible to become French if you are not born to a French parent,” he said, adding “this will stop the island being attractive [to migrants]”.

According to the droit du sol or ‘territorial principle’, anyone born in France has an automatic right to citizenship, even if their parents are not French.

However, the legislative path to a suspension of the territorial principle may prove difficult, as the droit du sol is a constitutional right rather than a law.

A change to the constitution would require the approval of three fifths of MPs and senators in a joint session of parliament and the senate.

Human rights groups, including the Ligue des droits de l'Homme (LDH) have called the plans “dangerous”.

“It is discriminatory”, LDH president Patrick Baudouin told BFMTV. “This measure will have to be struck down by the Constitutional Council”.

Mr Darmanin also proposed the creation of an ‘iron curtain’ to prevent the immigrants’ boats from reaching the island, involving “new means of interception” and “new radars”.

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