Foreigners looking to stay in France long-term must take integration classes

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Foreigners who are looking to settle down or stay in France long term must sign an “integration contract”, online news media the Washington Post reported on Friday.

This “integration contract” also includes a requirement for foreigners to enroll in civic education for four days, essentially a government crash course for foreigners to learn how to be French.

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France 101 covers cultural topics such as how to visit museums alongside more practical ones like how to navigate the country’s national healthcare system. There are also discussions about the country’s classical culinary dishes and Marianne, the French Republic’s symbolic embodiment, in an effort to ensure that newcomers uphold French values.

“We ask them to commit to respecting the values of the Republic,” director at the Office for Immigration and Integration, the agency that issues the contract, Samia Khelifi.

The classes, which could include language lessons for those whose fluency in the language doesn’t measure up, help the agency determine whether the applicant will get a multiyear visa or not.

An average of 100,000 people take the courses across the country each year.

Other European nations such as Germany and the Netherlands have similar integration requirements for people to qualify for residency but the principle has been in the French culture for centuries since French philosopher Jean-Jacques Rousseau’s treatise from 1762: ‘The Social Contract’.

Once the applicant signs the document, the French language test is administered and classes amounting to 24 hours are scheduled.

Receiving an extended residency visa is conditional on abiding by the terms of the agreement, the Washington Post reported.

Nationals from the European Union and a couple of student and workers categories are exempt from these requirements.

In reference to the integration system, Graziela Mbelani, 19, from Angola who has been living in France for over 11 years told the Washington Post, “They go through the customs that are forbidden in France. They place importance on equality between men and women and the right to homosexuality, saying that France is a free country, saying that discrimination is bad.”

The idea of such an integration system arose around 2003, when the government proposed it as a requirement for long-term residency. The political climate, namely pertaining to immigration, erupted two years later after two teenage boys, originally Mauritanian and Tunisian, were killed in a police chase in a Parisian suburb.

“This led to massive protests across the country and civil unrest,” sociologist at the State University of New York Elizabeth Onasch, who studied the program extensively, told the Washington Post.

“A lot of people in the media and the government… painted [the protests] as a failure of integration… This fit with this general characterization of a crisis of integration being based on the cultural difference of immigrants,” she explained.

Then-Interior Minister Nicolas Sarkozy pushed a bill that made the contract mandate become the law in 2005 and has since become more rigorous.

The current contract has now doubled the number of civic training days and provides up to 600 hours of language instruction, Khelifi said.

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