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From Le Monde: 254 percent surge in Britons seeking French citizenship as Brexit looms

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In 2016, 1,363 British nationals applied for French citizenship, compared to 385 in 2015, according to figures obtained by Le Monde.


Some British nationals did not wait for the start of Brexit negotiations on Monday to prepare themselves for the United Kingdom’s exit from the European Union. Worried about their future in France, a record number of the Queen’s subjects decided to apply for French citizenship in 2016, according to numbers obtained by Le Monde. A total of 1,363 British nationals submitted a completed dossier last year, a figure that compares with 385 applications in 2015, according to the Interior Ministry, a 254 percent rise from one year to the next.

The trend remains marginal relative to the estimated 150,000 to 400,000 British nationals who live on French soil, but one that demonstrates a genuine fear within that population, faced with the blur of uncertainty surrounding Brexit. Although the French Interior Ministry could release no figure for 2017, estimates obtained from several prefectures speak to a new increase since January. The Ille-et-Vilaine prefecture, which concentrates naturalisation requests for Brittany’s four administrative departments, noted a “very strong increase in applications to start this year”. “In five months, 110 dossiers were received (85 applications for naturalisation by decree, 25 by marriage)”, the prefecture specified, compared to only 50 between July and December 2016. It also noted that “before 2016, 10 to 20 dossiers, on average, were handled with each year”.

The prefecture of the Deux-Sèvres signalled a similar trend. That prefecture centralises requests for the former Poitou-Charentes region (a reform that took effect in 2016 redrew France’s regions to reduce their number from 22 to 13). “Since early 2017, we have received 62 completed dossiers, compared to 16 during the first half of 2016,” the prefecture said.

>> Read more: A guide to becoming a French citizen in a post-Brexit world

In the former Picardy region, 27 dossiers were submitted in 2017, compared to none in 2016. “They are often British nationals who have been settled for a long time in France, often married to French nationals,” explains the prefecture of the Oise, which centralises all of the applications in the former Picardy region.

Applicants were “older, in their vast majority”, the Ille-et-Vilaine prefecture confirms. “In interviews, they say that it is Brexit that is driving them to apply for French citizenship, given their serious concerns about the possibility of remaining resident in France after the negotiations.”

Brexit negotiations are due to continue until 2019, but one must also take into account the approximate year-and-a-half it takes to obtain citizenship. As such, the number of effective naturalisations of British nationals has grown very little between 2015 and 2016, rising from 320 to 439. “The applications will be subject to analysis by the naturalisation services; not all candidates are certain to obtain French citizenship,” the Interior Ministry insists. One must be able, for a start, to prove residency in France for the past five years and provide a large number of documents: birth certificates, marriage certificates, even for an applicants’ parents, a criminal record check, a diploma for applicants under 60 granted by a training organisation for “French as an integration language”, etc.

All documents must be translated into French by a certified translator. After that first step, an individual interview is conducted by an agent of the prefecture to confirm the naturalisation candidate’s “assimilation to the French community”. The person must express himself to a satisfactory degree in French and demonstrate “sufficient knowledge of French history, culture and society”. The interview can prove tricky for those who speak French poorly.

The French figures are lower than those published by Germany on June 13, which showed a 361 percent explosion of naturalisations of British nationals in the country between 2015 and 2016. In total, 2,865 British nationals acquired German citizenship last year. On the other hand, in the UK, the number of citizenship applications by European citizens jumped by a third between 2015 and 2016 to 13,070, according to data obtained by the Financial Times in early May. France is the top country of origin with 2,369 applications, 28 percent more than in 2015.

This article has been translated from the original French-language article, which appeared in Le Monde.

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