29th July 2022
The French government has announced mandatory language competence for a residence permit, despite it already being a legal requirement!
Earlier this month Gérald Darmanin, the Minister of the Interior announced to the French parliament that: “At the request of the prime minister, we are going to double the funds linked to integration and we will condition the titre de séjour pluriannuel – for a foreigner spending several years in the country – on their knowledge of the French language.” The Minister gave no details of the proposal.
Pierre Lebriquir an avocat specialising in immigration law stated to us that:“There is already a legal requirement for language competence as part of the process of applying for a residence permit.”
Under French law, if you are proposing to live in France, within three months of entry into France you are obliged to validate your visa through the Office français de l’immigration et de l’intégration (OFII). Until you undertake do so you do not have a residence permit.
Validation of your visa involves an integration process, called a Contrat d’Intégration Républicaine (CIR), comprising civics training and a language course.
The requirement arises from Article L. 413-2. Code de l'entrée et du séjour des étrangers et du droit d'asile, which states:
"L'étranger admis pour la première fois au séjour en France ou qui entre régulièrement en France entre l'âge de seize ans et l'âge de dix-huit ans révolus, et qui souhaite s'y maintenir durablement s'engage dans un parcours personnalisé d'intégration républicaine. Ce parcours a pour objectifs la compréhension par l'étranger primo-arrivant des valeurs et principes de la République, l'apprentissage de la langue française, l'intégration sociale et professionnelle et l'accès à l'autonomie."
In their guidance the OFII states that if you do not meet the required language standard you need to attend a language course: 'Si votre niveau de langue est inférieur au niveau A1 du cadre européen commun de référence pour les langues (CECRL), vous devrez suivre une formation linguistique pour progresser vers ce niveau. Vous disposerez ainsi de connaissances en langue française vous permettant de communiquer dans la vie de tous les jours'.
The Ministry of the Interior are similarly clear in their guidance: ‘Une fois prescrite, cette formation est obligatoire. En la suivant avec assiduité et sérieux, et en progressant entre le test initial, le test intermédiaire et le test final, l’étranger respecte l’une des conditions requises pour l’obtention d’une carte de séjour pluriannuelle....
If you do not undertake the training it could well have a bearing on the decision of the prefecture to grant renewal of your residence permit. Thus, the OFII states: ‘Si vous respectez ces conditions, une carte de séjour pluriannuelle pourra vous être délivrée.’
As is frequently the case, however, there is often a difference between the theory and the practice, as many of those who obtain a multi-year residence card do so without having obtained the necessary language standard. Local offices of OFII do not always insist on it, private agencies who undertake the training are not always as stringent in their certification procedures as they should be, and the prefectures themselves either unable or unwilling to deal with the consequences of non-compliance.
UPDATE: In subsequent announcements the government made it clear that they were going to make more explicit the requirement for language competence, by the requirement to sit a test, either at the stage of the application if already competent, or at the end of the training course. The law will be changed to this effect.
A language test is already a formal requirement for a 10-year 'carte de resident', with the need to obtain A2 European standard of competence (see below).
So what should happen under current rules?
You need to start the process of validation within 3 months of your arrival in France, which you need to do on-line at Validation en ligne du Visa Long Séjour valant Titre de Séjour, supplying information on your visa, address and credit card details to pay the taxe de séjour, which is €200 for VLS-TS holders.
Those who need to undertake the CIR process are:
Those who are exempt from the need to sign-up to a CIR are:
European citizens are also exempt as no residence permit is required.
You will be invited to a welcome meeting (visite d’accueil) at your nearest OFII regional office, where you will be asked to sign the CRI committing you to language training if necessary and to a mandatory civic training course. The civic training lasts 4-days delivered on-line over several months, in English or with a translator present. The courses are run by accredited private agencies.
Separately from the language course, the OFII will organise for you to have a medical x-ray (lungs) and for a medical examination to take place following from the results of the x-ray. If you have already had your medical results, then you need to bring them with you to the interview.
You will also need to bring with you your invitation letter to the interview, your passport and proof of residence, eg utility bill.
Once you have signed the contract your passport will be stamped to provide you with the equivalent of a residence permit. You can see the CIR at Contrat d’intégration républicaine.
This welcome meeting lasts about half a day and includes a one-on-one interview and a written and oral French test designed to determine whether you meet the minimum French language requirements. There is a common misconception that those aged 65+ are exempt from the language training, but this is not the case; such an exemption only applies for the carte de résident. If you get exempted because of your age, then it will be a case of the local office making up their own rules. You may, however, be exempt if you can provide a valid medical certificate stating your inability to take the test due to a disability or chronic health condition.
The standard required is at least A1 on the 'Common European Framework of References for Languages (CEFR)', the entry level scale. If you do not meet the standard, you will be provided with free on-line lessons to reach it.
Since 1st January 2022, if the results of this welcome day test suggest that your level is already A1 the state will pay for training and testing to get you to the next level A2. Or, if you already seem to have the level you need, they will pay for an official test to provide you with the necessary proof of language level. This is not mandatory as part of the signature of the CIR. It is, however, useful for those who are hoping to apply for nationality or a carte de résidence within the next few years.
The requirements of the CEFR for A1 level are as follows:
If you are applying for a carte de résident you will need to prove that your level of French is equivalent to at least an A2 level, although over 65s are exempt.
If you have studied in the French education system or have previously taken any kind of officially recognised French exam with both a written and oral component (such as the DELF/DALF), these qualifications may act as sufficient proof so bring them with you.
As we state above, if you do not pass it, you will be assigned French lessons, paid for by the government, to help you attain this level. These French courses are mandatory but can be discontinued as soon as you can prove that A1 has been achieved. Depending on your existing standard, courses from 100 to 600 hours duration will be organised, although you need not attend the complete course if you obtain the required standard.
In general, the language and civics courses should be completed within one year, although this deadline can be exceptionally extended in some cases.
You can also prove your French level by privately booking into one of the two main tests created for this purpose, namely the Test de Connaissance du Français (TCF) or the Test d’évaluation de français (TEF). Both tests are very similar in format and can be taken regularly throughout the year in accredited test centres all over the country. There are multiple versions of the TCF and the TEF available, although those applying for nationality or the carte de résident need to take the IRN (Intégration, Résidence and Nationalité) version.
Each test centre sets their own prices, but in general you can expect to pay at least €150.