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French nationality claims by UK persons with a French parent, post-Brexit

Le 21 avril 2021

Since the UK's decision to leave the EU, and in particular since its application as of January 2021, many UK citizens with French parents have a real interest in securing their rights to French nationality. As their requests are generally made considerably after their reaching majority, recovery of their French nationality rights requires legal action. It is not sufficient to request a French passport at the Consulate of France in London, since the Consulate will require a demonstration of French nationality, that can not be demonstrated merely by a French birth certificate or the documents of the French parent. Instead, a French nationality certificate (certificat de nationalité française) or other juridicial determination of French nationality will be required.

Such a juridicial recognition of French nationality can generally be obtained by one of two methods. Either a petition for a French nationality certificate (certificat de nationalité française or CNF)  is submitted to the French nationality office of the Tribunal Judiciaire (Paris, for UK citizens residing abroad), or a declaratory action is brought before the same court.

The procedure that should generally be followed is to submit the CNF request to the Pôle de la nationalité française.

Unfortunately, these petitions may take up to 36 months to be issued, and often are complex as regards the document production requirements. Our office is familiar with these procedures and we would be very happy to assist.

Alternatively, a juridicial action may be brought before the Court. This procedure will be much faster than the CNF procedure with the Pôle de la nationalité française, but in the event of an unfavorable judgment, it is not possible to return to the Pôle de la nationalité. For this reason we strongly recommend exhausting this initial CNF procedure before pursuing the declaratory, juridicial action.

There are any number of potential barriers to French nationality claims, even when the French parent has held a French passport for their entire lives.

For instance, under the former French nationality law in force between 1945 and 1973, French women would lose their French nationality as a consequence of naturalization to another nationality by virtue of marriage. Even though such individuals may have lost their French nationality by operation of law, they may have recent French passports, and the issue will only arise when a request is made for their children.

Although the prior law originally applicable in 1945 was determined to be unconstitutional by the French Constitutional Court in 2014, the Constitutional Court placed the burden on the individual concerned to reintegrate their French nationality in a legal action. This action can not be taken by the descendants, it must be made by the individual concerned by the loss of nationality. However, once reintegrated in their French nationality, French nationality can then be passed on to their children.

French nationality claims are not as straightforward as they may seem. We strongly recommend that you pursue the advice of a French avocat to determine whether a claim to French nationality can be sustained.