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Jus Sanguinis: Applying for French Citizenship by Descent

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Do you have a grandparent or great grandparent who was born in an EU country? 

If the answer is “yes”, you may very well have a right to apply for citizenship of that prospective country and thus become an EU citizen and passport holder. If you are American, you will be able to retain your American citizenship and have dual citizenship (and rights) of both countries!

What can you do with EU citizenship? Unsurprisingly, it opens up a lot of doors – the opportunity to live and work legally anywhere in the EU (27 countries to choose from), the right to buy property in the EU, and the ability to avail of EU fees for education (cutting your college or grad school tuition by more than half as an American). Having EU citizenship is a privilege few can hold, but your ancestry can provide you with jus sanguinis (or ‘right of blood’) and this is the easiest/fastest way to hold two strong passports.

For the purposes of this blog, I will specifically be discussing the steps and documentation necessary for an American with French descent to apply for citizenship. I am currently in the process myself and found it very difficult to locate accurate information online for my specific case, so my hope is to provide others in my situation with some helpful insight into what is needed.

For some background on my family history – I have a grandmother who was born in France, and migrated to Venezuela with her parents as WWII refugees in the 1940s. My mother was born in Venezuela in the 1960s, and at the time, was automatically granted French citizenship at birth. My mother has continuously maintained a French passport since birth, which through this process I have learned is an absolute prerequisite for my own French citizenship qualification. I can’t speak for other countries’ processes, but in order to qualify for citizenship when the French parent in question was born abroad (as in the case of my mother), that parent would have needed to maintain a connection with France (passport, voter rights, etc) for the past 50 years or so. Because there is no break in my family ties to France (i.e. parent, grandparent, great parent, etc are all citizens), this allows me to apply. If my mother had not maintained a French passport or any such connection to France over the years, then I would have not qualified.

Why did I all of a sudden decide to apply now? 

Well, the answer to this is even more reason to inform others. For many years, my mother was under the impression that in order to apply for French citizenship, one would need to pass a French language exam at the intermediate level. In almost every case, this is true, except for the case of descent. In every other situation – naturalization, marriage, etc – taking a French language and culture test at the B1 level is a requirement. And for many, many years this small misunderstanding caused me to give up on the possibility of applying. It was my mom’s biggest regret in life, seeing as all of my cousins were granted French citizenship as children. She believed she waited too long and that this new law would inevitably apply to her children, as well.

Luckily, as I am now living in Ireland and EU citizenship would greatly benefit me, I decided to consult a couple immigration lawyers based in France. Both assured me that I would not need a language test and that applying would be a matter of gathering some vital records, submitting my application to the French court, and waiting 9-10 months for a response. I decided to choose a French-American lawyer living in Paris who specializes in immigration and family law, trusts and estates, and doing business in France for Americans. If interested, please contact me directly for her information.

The lawyer’s fees cost me €4,200 (around $4,482), and this included the following services:

  • Preparation and submission to the Paris Court of my primary CNF applications;
  • Follow up with the court on a monthly basis to request a status update on my applications;
  • Substantive response to any and all additional request for documents or information sent to the lawyers by the court;
  • Retrieval of records regarding Consular registration of French parent in question;
  • Upon approval of my application, preparation of my application for a French birth certificate and application to register my birth abroad with France;
  • Application to receive a French passport and French carte d’identité;
  • Application to register me as a French citizen residing abroad with my local French Consulate.
  • Retrieval of all French vital records for me (and if there are any from other European countries, they do so as well).

On my end, I was responsible for obtaining U.S. and other foreign records, as well as paying to obtain translations and certifications of these documents. The lawyers did assist and facilitate this for me, as they have partners that they work with regularly. However, this was not included in their fee.

Now – which vital records did I need for my application?

The lawyers requested that I provide copies of as many of the following documents as possible:

  • My current passport
  • My birth certificate
  • A proof of address in my name (ex. gas/electricity/water bill)
  • Both of my parents’ birth certificate
  • My parents’ marriage certificate
  • My mother’s proof of French nationality (expired French passport, any official French documents proving her ties with France)
  • My French grandparents’ proof of French nationality 
  • 2 passport photos (for France, this requires a light gray background)

Included in their fee was the ability for the lawyers to obtain any vital records in France or the rest of the EU, so if you have a parent born in the EU, this makes things cheaper and easier on your end. In my case, they were able to obtain my grandmother’s birth certificate, my great grandparent’s birth certificates, and my great grandparent’s marriage certificate. But since my mother was born in Venezuela, I needed to obtain her birth certificate myself.

How long does this whole process take and what did it cost me?

Once I ordered and received my own birth certificate, my dad’s birth certificate, and my parents’ marriage certificate, I needed to send these three American vital records to someone in New York to be apostilled, which cost me an extra $450. I then needed to pay about $300 to get most of my documents translated to French. The whole process, including the lawyer fees, apostilled and translated documents, and ordering of vital records, totaled around $5,500. This is what I ended up paying, but it could be a little more or less depending on your specific situation.

If you are efficient with ordering the records on your end and staying on top of the requirements, it should take the lawyers 2-3 months to gather all your documents and prepare your application. They will then submit your CNF application to the Paris Court and the estimated wait time for a response is 9-10 months. Once the court decides to approve your application, you can go ahead and apply for a passport through your local consulate. This whole process is estimated to take about a year from start to finish – voilà!

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