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25 May 2005

Active Civic Participation of Immigrants in France

One out of five residents in France have at least one foreign grandparent. In 1993, young people born in France have obtained the possibility to choose French citizenship by a declaration before the mayor, abandoned in 1998, so that at their majority young immigrants born in France can now obtain French nationality without a formal procedure. The access to French nationality has been opened to everybody who has spent five years in the country. Thus more and more immigrants born in France have obtained at their majority the French nationality.

Compared to other countries of the European Union, there was a hiatus in France between the rights of foreigners in the enterprises and the rights to represent and to participate in public life. Foreigners do not have civic rights, such as voting, before their naturalisation. In France, local migrant councils have been introduced in the 1980s, which have received an only consultative role and their competencies have been limited to municipal interests. Nevertheless, these councils have the advantage to associate migrants to political decision processes in the country of immigration and to familiarise the national population with the idea of the participation of foreigners in political life. But there have been other forms of expression open to immigrants in France: consultative local rights, the expression in enterprises, and the participation in associations, wild strikes, qualified by some as "an extraparliamentary opposition". Obtaining the right to vote for immigrants is blocked in France due to reasons linking citizenship, nationality and territory. Because of the fact that immigrants have not the right to vote in local elections (except recently EU-nationals), and do not constitute a political influent group, immigration has been used as a challenge in the local political discourse.

In 1981, immigrants received the right to associate under the same terms than French nationals, as it was expressed in the law of 1901. These laws went in the direction of a greater equality between foreigners and French nationals. The associative movement gave immigrants the possibility to exercise the political right to associate. However, the French law does not exclude every possibility for foreigners to exercise certain public activities, such as the participation in the constitution of public elective organism. They are voters and can be elected by parent associations in schools, at social security schemes and they can be electors for the constitution of certain courts, such as the tribunals of rural leases and they can be members of industrial tribunals, but they cannot be elected. Moreover, foreign students have the right to vote in universities.

According to our overview, immigrants often engage in cultural associations in France. Some group members from Arab and Asian origins are also engaged in religious associations. Those from Arab origin who have become naturalised French citizens are rather active in political parties, that consider these people as a guarantee for a France without problems caused by Muslim fundamentalists. Political elites of African and Asian origins are rather seldom, even if one hears from time to time from a mayor of African origin in some small French villages.

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Politis project - Ulrike Schuerkens
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Alexandre Kirchberger

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