French Citizenship: From jus soli to jus sanguinis

With the new conception of the French Republic came the debate of who will form part of the French nation and thus, who would be considered French. Before the Revolution, jus soli—every man born in French territory is automatically French—was the main criterion for nationality law in France (Sahlins 2004). Nevertheless, the Revolution broke from this tradition because it carried a connotation of pre-revolutionary feudal allegiance. As such, the new Civil Code of 1803 adopted a jus sanguinis nationality law—a person can be granted French citizenship at birth if they are ethnically French/have a French parent (Weil 2002). According to Bertossi (2010), the jus sanguinis approach to French citizenship “was not ethnically motivated but meant that family links transmitted by the paterfamilias had become more important than subjecthood” (pp. 3). Therefore, ever since the French Revolution, the country has adopted a concept of “belonging” based on blood-lineage. While this might have not cause political upheaval in 17th-century France, post-colonial migration presented a challenge to the definition of who belongs to France.

Jus sanguinis and jus soli – in a nutshell

  • Jus sanguinis: Latin for “right of blood”. “A rule that a child’s citizenship is determined by its parents’ citizenship” (Merriam-Webster).
  • Jus soli: Latin for “right of the soil”. “A rule that the citizenship of a child is determined by the place of its birth” (Merriam-Webster).

If a child is born in France, under jus soli the child would automatically become French. However, under jus sanguinis, his parents must be French for the child to be conferred French citizenship.

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