French tests, more workers: France’s immigration bill begins debate

Ministers want to make it harder to stay in France long-term if you do not speak French – but also to cut down on queuing at prefectures for those who do

Among the measures is a plan to introduce a compulsory language test for anyone applying for a multi-year residency permit
Published Last updated

A new immigration bill – one of many in the last 20 years – is being presented to ministers today (February 1) before being debated by senators and then MPs and looks set to be controversial, so far pleasing neither the Right nor the Left.

Among the measures is a plan to introduce a compulsory language test for anyone applying for a multi-year (usually four years) residency permit.

These cartes de séjour pluriannuelles are usually only granted after a first year spent in France, either on a visa de long séjour valant titre de séjour (VLS-TS) or on a one-year carte de séjour temporaire.

The cards might be issued, for example, to an employee with a permanent (CDI) job, a self-employed person who intends to live in France long-term, or in some cases, to people who have moved to France because of close family links.

The applicants would have to pass the test to have the card.

There is currently no obligation to have a certain level of French for this, although applicants must sign a ‘Contract of republican integration’, which includes having their French tested at the Ofii immigration offices and having to agree to free French lessons if their level is less than the EU’s ‘A1’ (basic) standard.

While the bill would in this respect, make conditions tougher for immigrants, Interior Minister Gérald Darmanin has stated he also wanted to propose ‘automatic’ renewal of multi-year titres de séjour for people who “cause no problems, and who have no criminal record” to avoid making them queue up at the prefecture.

Other proposals in the bill include:

  • Allowing undocumented immigrants working in understaffed sectors to have a new métiers en tension one-year residency card, if they can show they have already been in France for three years and have at least eight pay slips
  • Cutting down the number of reasons people can give to appeal against an OQTF order to leave the French territory. At present only about 10% of these are actually enforced.
  • Creating a new residency card for people working in medicine, nursing, midwifery, pharmacy or dentistry
  • Allowing asylum seekers who appear to have a good case to stay, to work immediately and not wait for a minimum of six months as now
  • Making it easier to expel foreign people who have been convicted of serious crimes, by removing certain protections that currently exist notably where the person has lived in France for at least 10 years

Read more: Suspect in murder of Lola, 12: What is a OQTF order to leave France?

Read more: 55 Britons, 85 US citizens told to leave France: why this happens

Speaking about the language test plan last year, Interior Minister Gérald Darmanin said in a joint interview with Labour Minister Olivier Dussopt for Le Monde: “We want to make multi-year titres de séjour conditional on passing a French language test.

“A quarter of foreigners with titres de séjour speak and understand French very poorly.”

Read more: Is your French good enough to pass nationality language test

Mr Darmanin had raised the possibility of compulsory French exams last year, but this will be the first time it will be put to a vote.

Asked about the language test plan, Nicole Devel-Laigle, president of EuroMayenne, an association that helps foreigners in western France to integrate, told The Connexion: “Integrating means living among people from that country, and interacting with them. This will be more difficult without speaking the language.

“However, if I put myself in the shoes of our members, it is true that it’s not always easy to learn a language, especially as a large majority are retired.”

Not applied to Brexit Withdrawal Agreement cards

The change would not apply to Brexit Withdrawal Agreement cards.

Read more: Lost Brexit residency card in France: how do I replace it?

What level would be required in the new exam?

A1 is the lowest level of the Common European Framework of Reference for Languages (CEFR). It means you can have simple interactions when the other person is prepared to speak slowly and repeat things.

However it is currently unclear whether the proposed language tests will require A1 level or higher.

The next level up, A2, is needed for a 10-year resident’s card, while foreign people applying for French citizenship must demonstrate intermediate (B1) proficiency.

Ms Devel-Laigle said she believes a majority of new arrivals could pass an A1 test “if they use French a bit when going shopping, or speaking to their neighbours, however “if they do nothing, I think they will need a few classes”.

EuroMayenne offers beginner classes with the aim of reaching A1 after 36 two-hour lessons.

Related articles

How to access French language lessons for fun or a CEFR certificate

Learning French is easier when you don’t sweat the small stuff

Measure your French fluency against these five language milestones

What it is like to take TCF French test when applying for nationality