New tougher French language rules for immigration: who is affected?

The rules for residency cards and nationality are changing but there are exemptions

Minimum language requirements have increased
Published Last updated

New stricter language requirements are set to come in soon under rules introduced by France’s new immigration law.

We look at how this will affect applicants and how you can prove your level of French.

France’s new immigration law has passed the final stage of scrutiny, following approval by the Conseil constitutionnel last week.

Despite the constitutional watchdog cutting out around a third of the content of the bill, many proposed changes will soon be introduced.

One that will affect many Connexion readers is a toughening of language requirements for many kinds of residency card and for people wanting to become French.

Stricter language scores for some residency cards

Two kinds of residency card are affected by the changes: cartes de séjour pluriannuelles (multi-year residency cards) and cartes de résident (resident’s cards).

Cartes de séjour pluriannuelles are issued for more than one year (up to four in total) before they need to be renewed and they may be issued when a person applies to prolong their stay in France after holding a first one-year residency card or a one-year visa de long-séjour valant titre de séjour (VLS-TS). The latter is technically equivalent to a residency card.

These cards are for several categories of immigrants, including people coming to France as employed or self-employed workers as well as people coming to join their partners under the system of regroupement familial (family regroupment).

All of these people are required, shortly after coming to France, to sign a contrat d'intégration républicaine (CIR - republican integration contract) and to take a French test.

At present, if they do not pass this test at the most basic European language level (A1) they must agree to take free language lessons with a local provider. When applying for a multi-year card, they must demonstrate that, if this was required, they have been attending the classes.

Under the new rules, they will instead have to actually pass a test in order to obtain a multi-year card and the level for this has been set at A2 (still ‘basic’ but requiring slightly more advanced skills, including understanding simple phrases and communicating regarding everyday tasks).

A further new rule states that for cards involving signing a CIR it will not be possible to renew them as one-year ‘temporary’ cards more than three times, meaning people will be obliged within a few years to know at least A2 French to stay in France.

These language level codes are in reference to the Common European Framework of Reference for Languages (CEFR) scale.

Residency card applications that do not require a language test, such as a Brexit Withdrawal Agreement Card, or temporary Schengen visas, are not concerned, nor are the ‘visitor’ cards typically issued to non-EU retirees moving to France.

Some people are dispensed from these requirements, notably those who attended a French secondary school for at least three consecutive years or who did at least one year of French higher education.

Cartes de résident - a carte de résident is a 10-year card, offering a high level of security to the holder and it allows different kinds of work.

Applicants for these, unless aged over 65, are already required to show a certain language level which can be done in several ways (see below).

They will now need level B1 (lower intermediate) instead of A2 as now.

Read more: A1, C2: What is the CEFR language rating in France?

What is changing for French nationality?

Applicants for French nationality currently need to provide evidence of having at least level B1, whereas now they will need to show level B2 (upper intermediate, involving the ability to understand the key points from complex texts and communicate with spontaneity).

You may be exempt from having to prove your language level for French nationality if you have a disability or illness that prevents you from taking a test.

How do I prove my level of French?

For multi-year cards, the new process has yet to be clarified, but it may involve sitting a new test at the offices of Ofii.

For 10-year cartes de résident there is no specific test or exam. Instead, you must prove your skill in French by an officially recognised certificate that shows you have reached the level required .

This proof can be from:

  • Obtaining a certificate through taking the test de connaissance du français (TCF) exams offered by France Éducation International, or the test d'évaluation du français (TEF) offered by the Paris chamber of commerce. In this case, the certificate you use as proof should be less than two years old.
  • A French university (a diplôme universitaire d'études françaises, or a Diplôme de langue française)
  • Institutions offering DELF (diplôme d’études en langue française) courses, DELF-pro, or DALF courses, approved by France Éducation International
  • Some local chambers of commerce (Diplôme de français professionnel (DFP)
  • A number of privately offered French-language exams approved by the Interior Ministry

In addition, you can also use:

  • A French school diploma (Diplôme national du brevet), in particular for people who moved to France at a young age
  • A French diploma, with a grade of at least level 3 in ‘la nomenclature nationale des niveaux de formation

Note that some certificates from foreign institutions (including some universities) may not be accepted, even if they are from Francophone countries.

The rules are much the same regarding acceptable proof for nationality. You can find a full list of the possible certificates here for a carte de résident, or here for French nationality.

Currently, official government advice websites are still updating their information in relation to the new law and so may display outdated minimum language requirements. However, the links to find official test centres are still valid.

You should always check, before taking an exam, that it is approved for use to confirm your French level.

Related articles

How to get free help with French admin problems

‘Unlike English there is a right and wrong way to speak French’