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FRENCH CITIZENSHIP

Reader question: Will a criminal record stop you getting French citizenship?

Among the many documents required in your application for French citizenship may be one confirming that you have a clean criminal record - but who is required to show this? And will any type of offence bar you from citizenship?

Reader question: Will a criminal record stop you getting French citizenship?
Having a criminal record may not stop you getting French citizenship. (Photo by Valery HACHE / AFP)

Question: I hear that during the citizenship process you need to provide proof of a clean criminal record – how do you do that? And does that mean that any offences – even parking tickets – would disqualify you?

During the citizenship application process, people who are applying through residency must, as well as passing language and integration tests, provide proof that they have no criminal record over the past 10 years.

READ ALSO The 6 steps to becoming French 

You can use the French government citizenship simulator HERE to determine whether you need to provide proof of your clean criminal record. 

How to prove you have a clean criminal record

First you need to prove that you have not been convicted of a crime in France, by providing your extrait de casier judiciaire. You can do that online, here

Depending on your criteria for citizenship, you may also need to demonstrate a clean record going back a maximum of 10 years.

That means contacting authorities in any other countries you have lived in during the specified period. 

People who were living in the UK, including Northern Ireland, need to apply for a Police Certificate from the Criminal Records Office at a cost of between £55 and £95, depending on how quickly you want the document. 

Anyone living in Ireland should apply for a Gardaí-issued Police Certificate. The form – available here – should be submitted to the Superintendent and/or Assistant Principal Officer in the Division where the applicant resides, or formerly resided. There is no charge for this document, which usually takes about three weeks to process.

In the US, contact the police department where you live or last lived, and request a clean criminal record document. Different states have different rules, but some require you to attend in person.

To apply for an Australian police certificate you must submit an National Police Check application form – available online here. A basic document costs AU$42.

The process for police certificates from New Zealand authorities is available here

What offences disqualify you from citizenship?

Citizenship applications are decided on an individual basis, but the good news is that getting a few points on your driving licence is unlikely to disqualify you.

Applicants must not have been convicted of a crime resulting in a jail term of more than six months, any offences that attracted a lesser penalty are decided on an individual basis.

However, anyone who has been convicted of a crime or offence that “breaches or attacks the interests of the French state” is likely to be refused.

Furthermore, those who apply for citizenship through residency – rather than ascendancy or marriage – also need to demonstrate “good moral conduct”, so this could disqualify people who have a long record of minor offences. 

What does that mean in practice?

Citizenship is highly likely to be refused to anyone who has;

  • Conviction(s) for acts against the fundamental interests of the nation, or conviction for serious and / or violent offences;
  • Conviction(s) for crimes against the public administration (crimes committed by persons holding a public office);
  • Conviction(s) for acts of insubordination in relation to performance of national service;
  • Engaginged for the benefit of a foreign state, in acts incompatible with the quality of French national and commission of acts that are prejudicial to the interests of France.

Citizenship revoked

It’s not a carte blanche to start committing crimes once you become French – anyone who meets any of the four above criteria can be stripped of their French citizenship, although French nationality may only be revoked if the following conditions are met:

  • You have acquired French nationality by naturalisation, ascendancy, or marriage. Anyone of French nationality by birth cannot be stripped of it;
  • You have another nationality. It is not possible to make a person stateless.

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For members

SCHOOLS

Are packed lunches really banned in French schools?

School children in France are entitled to a lunchtime meal of three, or even four courses – but what if you prefer to provide meals yourself? 

Are packed lunches really banned in French schools?

French school meals are, famously, pretty good – children get a three or even four-course meal of properly prepared dishes and the menu (including cheese course) is usually published in the local town newsletter so everyone can see the types of meals being served.

The concept of a proper meal at lunchtime is an important one. “The diet of a school-age child is essential for their growth, mental development and learning abilities,” the French Education Ministry says in a preamble about school meals on its website. “It must be balanced, varied and distributed throughout the day: for example 20 percent of total energy in the morning, 40 percent at midday, 10 percent at four o’clock and 30 percent in the evening.”

And it’s not all about nutrition, the social aspect of sitting together and eating a meal is also important – the ministry continues: “Mealtime is an opportunity for students to relax and communicate. It should also be a time for discovery and enjoyment.”

All schools provide meals in a canteen and most pupils take up the opportunity – however it’s also possible for pupils to go home at lunchtime so that they can eat lunch with their parents.

The idea of taking in a packed lunch (panier-repas) is much less common in France – but is it actually banned?

The rules on lunch

At écoles (up to age 11), the local authority or établissement public de coopération intercommunale (EPCI) is responsible for providing quality school meals. This generally involves meals being provided via a central kitchen, and then delivered to the school’s kitchen, where it can be kept warm, or reheated as necessary.

The system is slightly different in collèges and lycées (attended by children aged 11 and up). In those establishments, catering falls into the purview of the wider département or region – and is routinely managed directly by individual establishments, which will have catering staff on site to prepare meals. Often, meal services are outsourced to private businesses, which operate the kitchens.

There are various rules and regulations in place regarding what food is offered, and how long a child has to eat – which is, in part, why the school lunch period is so long. Children must be allowed a 30-minute period to eat their meal, from the moment they sit down with it at the table. 

Then, they’re given time to play and relax before afternoon classes start.

READ ALSO What you need to know if your child is starting school in France

At a minimum lunch must include a main course with a side dish, a dairy-based product, as well as a starter and/or a dessert. Meals must also, the government says, be composed of 50 percent sustainable quality products (including 20 percent organic).

Some local authorities go further and serve only or mostly food that is organic, locally sourced or both.

Water and bread must be freely available, but salt and condiments can only be added in preparation – no sauce bottles or salt and pepper on the tables. 

Daily menus are generally available to view on school websites and many town newspapers or newsletters also publish them.

Parents pay a fee for the school lunch, which is calculated according to income and can be free in the case of low-income families.

Packed lunch

But what if your child doesn’t like the school lunches and you don’t have time to pick them up, cook a full lunch and take them back in the afternoon everyday? The obvious solution would seem to be to send them in with a packed lunch, as is common in the UK and USA.

In theory this is possible, but only in certain circumstances and with very strict rules and caveats. 

The Ministry, in a written response to a Senator’s question in 2019, said: “The use of packed lunches [home-supplied meals] by primary school students can provide an alternative to school meals. This method of catering is authorised in particular for children with a medically established food allergy or intolerance, requiring an adapted diet.”

READ ALSO How to enrol a non-French speaking child in school in France

It added: “the preparation and use of packed lunches in schools must follow certain rules. First of all, it is important to respect the cold chain”.

The cold chain is a term applied to food handling and distribution – it’s usually used by food-preparation businesses, but in the context of a packed lunch it means that food prepared at home must be kept in appropriately cool conditions until it is ready to eat. It would be the responsibility of parents to ensure that the food is delivered to school in containers appropriate for the job (ie an insulated cool bag).

Once at the school, it is up to whoever manages the kitchen to ensure that food is properly reheated. This becomes the sticking point at which many parents’ requests to send their children to school with a packed lunch, rather than go to the canteen, or eat back at home, are refused.

The reheating concern suggests that schools are also expecting parents to prepare a proper meal – rather than just throwing some sandwiches and a cereal bar into a bag.

Unless there’s a genuine and proven health reason for your child to eat a home-prepared meal, most parents will probably find the school won’t budge on this – even in cases of a strike by kitchen staff or lunch monitors.

READ ALSO Just how much do private schools in France cost?

The Ministry’s written response explains: “[A]s this is an optional public service, the municipality can justify its refusal to admit the children concerned by objective material and financial constraints, such as the need to equip itself with additional refrigerators, or for additional supervisory staff to supervise them during lunch.”

As well as the practicalities, for some schools this is an equality issue – because of the varied fee structure for school lunches what happens in effect is that richer parents are subsidising a good quality lunchtime meal for poorer students in the class; if everyone brought in a packed lunch and therefore stopped paying the fee, the lower-income kids would miss out. 

What about allergies or other health issues?

Children with allergies or other health issues that require a particular diet must be accommodated. An individual meal plan – known as a projet d’accueil individualisé (PAI) can be set up. More details (in French) are available here, on the government’s website.

It also becomes easier for parents to provide home-produced meals in such instances. As ever, it is up to the parents to ensure any meals are appropriately packaged and transported to school.

Not all schools

Some individual schools in France do permit pupils to bring in meals from home. They must be taken to school in an appropriate cold-storage container, and they will be stored in the kitchen area until they are needed, when meals will – if necessary – be reheated.

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