How did post-colonial migration change the definition of being French?

Post-colonial migration was, without a doubt, a turning point for the history of French belonging and nationality.

An activist holds a placard reading « Freedom guides all people » during a gathering in Paris, Sunday, Feb. 14, 2021. AP News. Image courtesy of AP Photo/Thibault Camus.

At first, it was relatively easy for migrants of former colonies to become French citizens—and inherently members of the French nation. The 1962 Evian Accords allowed people living in former colonies to automatically become French if they lived in France and were over eighteen years old (Bertossi 6). Furthermore, if a child of immigrants from former colonies or overseas territories was born on French soil, they would immediately become French citizens (Lagarde 1997). In turn, these nationality laws changed the composition of the French population. With the new settling migrant population came an economic crisis and rising unemployment and as a result, an increasing support for the far-right political party the National Front (Bertossi 8).

By the early 1980s, immigration, nationality law reform, and the concept of French belonging became a major political issue (Bertossi 8).  As a response to the increasing discontent towards flexible nationality laws for immigrant, the Méhaignerie Law was enacted in 1993. This law required children born in France from foreign parents to request citizenship at adulthood rather than automatically receiving it at birth (Lagarde 1993). The law, enacted and supported by the political Right, changed the trajectory of French belonging to a more conservative approach that has subsisted until today. For instance, a quick search at the website of the French administration will say, about French citizenship, that the French nationality of a child “mainly depends on the nationality of his/her parents” (

Therefore, an approach to French belonging that is more in tune with that of français de souche excludes immigrants—and their descendants—from the French narrative.

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