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Summary

Under French law, individuals who have been in France since the age of thirteen or younger may generally not be deported, and they can qualify for a type of residency permit that would allow them to live and work in France, and would make them eligible to apply for naturalization.

I.  Protection Against Deportation

There are four principal ways in which a non-European foreigner may be deported from France.  One is through an order to “be taken back to the border” (arrêté de reconduite à la frontière), which only applies to persons who have been in France for three months at most, and is therefore not relevant to the present discussion.[1]  The three others are the obligation to leave France (obligation de quitter la France), which principally applies to persons who reside in France illegally;[2] expulsion, which applies to individuals who present a threat to public order;[3] and “prohibition from being on French territory” (interdiction du territoire français), which applies to individuals who have committed certain criminal offenses.[4]  There are some other procedures, such as the deportation of a non-European foreigner to another European Union country,[5] but they do not appear to be as common as the four main ones cited above, and are not relevant to the present discussion.

A.  Protection Against the Obligation to Leave France

The general rule in France is that a person who does not have the documentation to show that he/she is in France legally will be ordered to leave the country.[6]  A few exceptions to that rule exist, however, including exceptions based on the subject’s age or length of residency in France. 

No one under the age of eighteen may be ordered to leave the country.[7]  This protection does not extend to a minor’s parents, however, so children may be indirectly forced to leave France as a consequence of their parents being ordered to leave.[8] 

Another exception is that a person—even an adult—who can show by any means that he/she has habitually lived in France since the age of thirteen or younger cannot be ordered to leave France.[9] 

B.  Protection Against Administrative and Judicial Expulsion

A foreigner can be expelled from France if his/her presence “constitutes a serious threat to public order.”[10]  Certain categories of persons are protected against this type of measure, however, in the sense that they may only expelled if their behavior would threaten “the fundamental interests of the State;” if they are involved in terrorist activities; or if they acted in such a way as to deliberately and explicitly provoke discrimination, hate, or violence against a specific person or group of persons.[11]  Among the categories of persons who can only be expelled under this heightened standard are individuals who can show that they have resided habitually in France since the age of thirteen or younger.[12]  Individuals under the age of eighteen cannot be expelled at all, even under the abovementioned heightened standard.[13]

The decision to expel an individual is an administrative one, generally taken by the prefect who has jurisdiction over that individual’s place of residence.[14]  A similar decision can be taken by a judge as part of the sentence for certain criminal offenses.[15]  Such a measure is called a “prohibition from being on French territory,” and while it is technically distinct from an expulsion, it appears in practice to be very similar.[16]  A prohibition from being on French territory may not be issued against a foreigner who can show that he/she has habitually resided in France since the age of thirteen or younger.[17]

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II.  Residency and Citizenship

Unless his/her presence in France constitutes a menace to public order, an undocumented immigrant who arrived in France as a child is eligible for a residency permit.[18]  To qualify, an individual must apply in the year following his/her eighteenth birthday and be able to show, by any means, that he/she has resided in France with at least one parent since the age of thirteen.[19]  This residency permit authorizes its recipient to work legally in France,[20] and it is initially valid for one year.[21]  After that first year, the applicant is eligible for another type of residency permit, which is valid for four years and is renewable indefinitely.[22]

Any child whose parents are foreign but who was born in France can claim French citizenship upon reaching the age of eighteen, provided that (a) he/she has lived in France for at least five years (continuously or not) after the age of eleven, and (b) he/she resides in France at the time he/she turns eighteen.[23]  There does not appear to be any path to French citizenship that would apply specifically to individuals who came to France as children.  However, there does not appear to be any legal barrier to such individuals acquiring French citizenship through normal means of naturalization, so long as they have a legal residency status when they apply.[24]

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Prepared by Nicolas Boring
Foreign Law Specialist
September 2017


[1] Arrêté préfectoral de reconduite à la frontière (APRF) [Prefectoral Order to Be Taken Back to the Border (APRF)], Service-public.fr [Website of the French administrative services] (Apr. 21, 2016), https://www.service-public.fr/particuliers/vosdroits/F11954, archived at https://perma.cc/8434-JJ4G.

[2] Obligation de quitter la France (OQTF) [Obligation to Leave France (OQTF)], Service-public.fr (Feb. 15, 2017), https://www.service-public.fr/particuliers/vosdroits/F18362, archived at https://perma.cc/6MWG-XPQ6.

[3] Expulsion d’un étranger: décision et exécution [Expulsion of a Foreigner: Decision and Execution], Service-public.fr (Feb. 16, 2017), https://www.service-public.fr/particuliers/vosdroits/F11891, archived at https://perma.cc/4WTK-8NWD.

[4] Interdiction du territoire français (ITF) [Prohibition from Being on French Territory (ITF)], Service-public.fr (Aug. 3, 2016), https://www.service-public.fr/particuliers/vosdroits/F2784, archived at https://perma.cc/M4K4-DNQ5.

[5] Éloignement des étrangers [Deportation of Foreigners], Service-public.fr, https://www.service-public.fr/particuliers/vosdroits/N109 (last visited Sept. 15, 2017), archived at https://perma.cc/QEG5-ZF89.

[6] Code de l’entrée et du séjour des étrangers et du droit d’asile [C.E.S.E.D.A.] [Code of the Entry and Stay of Foreigners and of the Right of Asylum] art. L511-1, https://www.legifrance.gouv.fr/affichCode Article.do;jsessionid=8B48E7DD919AADF699C28381591D16E9.tpdila08v_3?idArticle=LEGIARTI000032171754&cidTexte=LEGITEXT000006070158&dateTexte=20170914, archived at https://perma.cc/2JK2-TQYX.

[8] Fabienne Jault-Seseke et al., Droit de la nationalité et des étrangers [Law of Nationality and Foreigners] 528 (2015).

[9] C.E.S.E.D.A. art. L511-4(2°).

[12] Id. art. L521-3(1°).

[14] Expulsion d’un étranger : décision et exécution [Expulsion of a Foreigner : Decision and Execution], supra note 3.

[16] Interdiction du territoire français (ITF) [Prohibition from Being on French Territory (ITF)], Service-public.fr (Aug. 3, 2016), https://www.service-public.fr/particuliers/vosdroits/F2784, archived at https://perma.cc/M4K4-DNQ5.

[19] Id.

[24] Naturalisation: conditions à remplir [Naturalization: Requirements], Service-public.fr (Mar. 17, 2017), https://www.service-public.fr/particuliers/vosdroits/F2213, archived at https://perma.cc/B32Z-CAA2.