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Language tests and deportation for the unemployed – what a Marine Le Pen victory could mean for foreigners in France

If far-right party leader Marine Le Pen wins the 2022 French presidential elections, toughening up the rules on immigration will be one of her top priorities - which is likely to have big consequences for foreigners already in France and those planning a move here.

Language tests and deportation for the unemployed - what a Marine Le Pen victory could mean for foreigners in France
Marine Le Pen has been trying to shake off the label of "extreme". March 9th. Alain JOCARD / AFP

Marine Le Pen is preparing for a re-match with President Emmanuel Macron in the spring of 2022.

Early polls – and the election is still a year away – have designated the Rassemblement National (National Rally, formerly known as National Front) leader as the front-runner to face Macron in the second and final round of voting, as was the case in 2017.

The Local, attending an event organised by the Anglo American Press Association, asked her about her policies for foreign nationals in France.

“During the first six months of my presidency, I’d propose a referendum on immigration legislation with a series of measures that would radically change our approach,” she said, adding: “In principle, I am more or less in favour of not modifying the rules regarding those already present, as there is a principle in French law that laws do not apply for previous situations.”

Here’s what she said:

Language tests

Current rules – there are no formal language tests for those who want residency in France, although administrative processes are naturally in French. Only if you apply for French citizenship will you face a formal language test, you need a certificate that your French is B1 level or above.

All foreigners in France who come from countries outside the EU/Schengen-area need to get a visa or a carte de séjour (residency card) for stays that exceed a period of 90 days. Since the end of the Brexit transition period on January 1st, this also includes British citizens

Le Pen proposal –  When asked whether foreigners should be required to pass a language test before getting a residency card (carte de séjour), she said: “Of course.”

“If you wish to settle in France, you obviously have to master the language. Except when you’re a student, as you by definition will be studying the language.”


Current rules – Deporting foreigners today is a tricky process in France, especially if the person does not have their papers. The country of origin must first recognise the person in question and agree to take them back. It’s generally only used in extreme circumstances such as when a person has committed a serious crime or a terror offence, although people who commit immigration offences such as overstaying a visa or the 90-day rule can be blocked from re-entering the country.

Le Pen proposal –  Under a Le Pen presidency, foreigners in France who have proved unable to get a job or committed any kind of crime or minor offence (un délit) could face deportation. Only gaining French nationality would give people the right to stay if they are out of work.

“Those who come to France to work and don’t get a job will, after a certain amount of time, have to return to their country of origin,” she said.

“Our social security system cannot indefinitely take care of people who don’t have French nationality.”

She added: “If you commit a minor offence or a crime, you have to go back to your country of origin, probably without hope of being authorised to return to France.”

She added that this would include those who had arrived in France before the age of 13, who currently are protected by French law in a quasi absolue manner.

Le Pen used the example of the 18-year-old Islamist terrorist who beheaded a history teacher in a Paris suburb in October 2020. Because he arrived in France before turning 13, he would have been allowed to remain in France, she said, “had he not been killed by the police.”



Current rule –  you can gain French citizenship if you are born in France, have a French parent, are married to a French person or have lived in France for five years or more. If you go through the naturalisation route you face a complicated process involving a mountain of paperwork, a language test and an interview in which you are tested on French history and culture and required to demonstrate your understanding of, and support for, French values.

READ ALSO Am I eligible for French citizenship?

Le Pen proposal – She wants to tighten the rules on gaining citizenship, getting rid of the droit du sol (birthright) which gives children born on French soil to foreign parents the right to citizenship. 

Her overarching principle would be that “French nationality is inherited, or merited,” she said.

“You will be able to become French either because one of your parents, or both, are French, or by naturalisation,” she said, adding that she intended to toughen up the naturalisation criteria to be more selective “as to whom we accord the immense opportunity of becoming French.”

She did not provide details on how the residency route to citizenship would change.


Current rule – in common with most European countries, France decides asylum applications on their merits, once the person has claimed asylum on arrival in France. If the application fails, the person faces being deported.

Le Pen proposal – She said: “I will modify the rules regarding rights to asylum . . . by changing one of the rules that in my opinion poses a real problem, which consists of arriving, asking for asylum, in the immense majority of cases not receiving it, and remaining illegally in the country.

“This then becomes a real source for clandestine asylum, so a request for asylum should be done in a French consulate, whichever country in the world – not necessarily in the country for which the asylum is requested – and we will treat the request in embassies and consulates, and those who get the right to come, can thereafter come.”

She also added that the would end the right for successful asylum seekers to be joined by their families in France, saying it is: “One of the elements that has transformed the nature of immigration to France from a work-based to a settlement-based one.”

Member comments

  1. I don’t remember a language test being part of residency qualification in the Withdrawal Agreement.

    1. Regardless of any notion of residing somewhere without being able to communicate, the Withdrawal Agreement covers applications for those who qualify (ie in France legally) up til June 30th only.

      1. Un peu de Français est sûrement primordial et puis on y habite et on apprends – un tas de choses et la langue

    2. A language test was/is not required if you were ‘legally’ resident in France before 31st December and have applied for a Carte de séjour; this is for residency NOT citizenship. Citizenship which you can apply for after 5 years of residency , is an onerous process now. The language element and interviews mean you need to have a good degree of fluency. That exists now. That’s my understanding. If you are going to work in France I can’t see how you can avoid having a good degree of French fluency. I guess the big question is would you have to have that fluency BEFORE you apply for the residency, with the maximum visa length being 12 months you would need to get fluent pretty quickly. Many people gain residency by entering on a long term or student or working visa and then apply for residency when in France. It would be interesting if they close that. I have some sympathy for a system that is relatively slack- social services can only cope with so much. That said, an ageing and diminishing population means many countries actively use immigration and their taxation to pay more that going forward. What other options are their? Huge financial bonuses for babies perhaps…

  2. Withdrawal Agreement ? If you already have a carte de séjour, you would not be required to pass a language test according to the proposed changes as described in this article. Why you would feel justified to reside in France without at least a remedial (B1) command of the language is «  Neanderthal thinking ».

  3. Well the election is in 2022… still time to improve your French if you’ve not already secured a carte de séjour.

  4. By these rules, I would not have been able to enter the country. Since my arrival my language skills have improved and I am working diligently, but I still do not meet B1 standards. It seems Le Pen believes I should not have been allowed in.

    Additionally, I come from a country where immigrants fear the police, both legal and illegal. The smallest infraction or even just misunderstanding results in deportation. I still get nervous around police, even though I have done nothing wrong. Just because of where I come from, I believe I always have something to be afraid of as an immigrant.

    When I received my carte de sejour I admired how well I am protected. Even if something tragic happens with my employment, I can still stay within France and look for a new job. I am not chained to my employer. Again, this is not the case in my country of origin.

    I imagine you have likely guessed that I am American. You are correct. I come from a country where immigrants are automatically treated with suspicion. Not treated like people who are trying to build a new life in a new place.

    Final Comment: It is my understanding that many readers here are English and their situation is likely different from mine. I do not wish to speak to their feelings on this topic. I can only speak for myself.

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OPINION: Don’t believe the French PM, Macron won’t abandon pension reform quietly

The pensions battle in France is only just beginning and President Emmanuel Macron will risk anger on the streets rather than abandon his flagship reform quietly, writes John Lichfield.

OPINION: Don't believe the French PM, Macron won't abandon pension reform quietly

The massed ranks of opponents of pension reform were not so massed or so dense on the third day of nationwide protest yesterday. Only 757,000 people turned out, compared to 1,270,000 last Tuesday.

Rail, Metro, school and energy strikes were also less powerful – attracting, for instance only one in four rail workers, compared to one in two on the first day of action on 19 January.

Is the government winning? Are the protests fading now that the legislation has started its noisy journey through the National Assembly?

Not really. Not yet.

There is another big day of marches and some scattered strikes on Saturday. The eight trades union federations have chosen – unusually – to demonstrate at the weekend in the hope that private sector workers, unwilling to lose wages on a weekday, will turn out en masse.

The numbers game is crucial. Beneath their front of unity, the eight union federations are divided.  The gamble on weekend protests is the strategy proposed by the moderate unions, led by the Confédération Française Démocratique du Travail (CFDT).

READ ALSO: 5 minutes to understand . . . French pension reform

If the Saturday demos flop, the militant unions will want to move to open-ended strikes in key sectors like the railways, power plants, docks and oil refineries. That could bring the country – or at least the government – to its knees, they say.

Au contraire, say the moderate unions. Endless strikes would help President Emmanuel Macron and Prime Minister Elisabeth Borne by angering public opinion which is now 70 percent against the reform.

The first few days of debate in the National Assembly this week have been just as noisy as the street protests. Left wing deputies have shouted and waved their arms a great deal in support of their 18,000 wrecking amendments.

The minority Borne government has won a series of modest victories. Its chances of completing the first reading by its self-imposed deadline of next Friday (17th Feb) remain uncertain.

All depends on the 61 centre-right Les Républicains (LR) deputies, who are supposedly committed to a modest pension reform long demanded by their own party. Modest? Macron and Borne want to move the official retirement age from 62 to 64 by 2030. Most European countries already retire officially at 65 or later.

A dozen or so of the LR deputies are playing a cat and mouse game. Whenever Prime Minister Borne answers them, they change their question.

At the weekend, she conceded that early retirement for people with “long careers” should be extended to those who start work between 20 and 21. No good, the Républicains rebels said. We want the exception to apply to anyone who worked in their teens – even during a summer holiday. That would make the reform meaningless, as even senior Républicains admit.

The leader of the centre-right awkward squad is a young man called Aurélien Pradié, aged 36, deputy for the Lot in the south west. Mark the name. He is a coming man in French politics – or so he believes at least.

Pradie says that he is a new kind of socially minded, centre-right politician, who can revive the near-defunct Les Républicains or Gaullist brand. So far, he appears to be a kind of “Jacques Chirac revisited”, a man with a sensitive ear for public opinion but few principles and no coherent ideas.

He might go far. But he will not take France very far. He represents a return to the muddle-along politics of the 1990s.   

The parliamentary arithmetic is tight. Macron and Borne need around 40 of the 61 centre-right deputies to vote with them. Pradié has between 12 and 20 followers.

The numbers on the street will influence the numbers in parliament. The stronger the public opposition, the more courageous or self-promoting Pradié and his supporters will become.

The size of Saturday’s demos will determine future union strategy. It may also decide whether Macron and Borne can steer the reform through a first reading in the National Assembly by the next Friday’s deadline.

Borne may have some more concessions to make on long careers but nothing much. She has already abandoned most of the financial savings expected from the reform this year and next. She cannot afford to give much more away or the whole reform will become pointless.

READ MORE: What is Article 49.3 and how often do French politicians use it?

If she cannot assemble the votes, she can use her nuclear weapon  – the government’s emergency power under Article 49.3 of the constitution to impose legislation without a vote. She has said several times that she has no plan to do so on such a sensitive subject.

Do not believe it. Macron has too much riding on pension reform to abandon it quietly. He will take the risk of conflagration on the streets and use 49.3 if he has to.

Is the battle won and lost? I fear it has only just begun.