Is there a French ethnicity

Country Profiles Migration: Data - History - Politics

Dr. Marcus Engler

Marcus Engler is a social scientist and migration researcher. He has been following developments in French migration and integration policy for a long time. He did a voluntary service in a counseling center for migrants in Marseille. He then studied social and economic sciences at the Humboldt University in Berlin and at the Institut d’Etudes Politiques in Paris. He is currently working as a freelance author, speaker and consultant and is a member of the Refugee Research Network and the Migration in Europe Network.
Email: [email protected]

Immigration to France has grown steadily in recent years. It has had a lasting impact on the composition of the population. Today around 13.1 million people with a history of immigration live in France. That is around 20 percent of the total population.

Fans of FC Porto cheer on May 26, 2004 on the Champs Elysees in Paris for their soccer team's Champions League victory on May 26, 2004 against AS Monace in Gelsenkirchen. (& copy picture-alliance, epa / Olivier Hoslet)

Immigration to France has risen steadily over the past ten years, but at a moderate level even in international comparison. This can be seen from the issuing of first-time residence permits to third-country nationals, although the significant immigration from other EU member states is not taken into account. While around 172,000 residence permits were issued to new immigrants from third countries in 2007, the figure was 217,533 in 2015 and 227,550 in 2016 according to preliminary data (see Figure 1). The predominant form of new immigration is still family reunification (2016: approx. 88,000 residence permits in this category issued), followed by educational migration (2016: approx. 70,250 residence permits for foreign students), the influx of refugees (2016: approx. 32,300) and Labor migration (2016: around 22,600 economic residence permits issued).

Figure 1: Residence permits issued to third-country nationals according to motives for immigration 2007-2016 ( Graphic for download) License: cc by-nc-nd / 3.0 / de / (bpb)
With regard to third-country nationals, Algeria and Morocco were the most important countries of origin between 2008 and 2015. During this period, around 25,000 new immigrants came to France each year from each of the two countries. China (around 15,000 per year) and Tunisia (around 13,000) followed in third and fourth place. [1]

Overall, the migration balance (net immigration) has been consistently positive in recent years and has increased slightly. In France, the balance is calculated retrospectively, as emigration is not immediately recorded statistically. The figures are therefore always available after a certain delay. In 2013 it was around 107,000 people. Migration thus contributed to the growth of the French population. In contrast to other European countries such as Germany, France also has a significant birth surplus, but this has been falling for some years and, according to preliminary figures, fell below the 200,000 threshold for the first time in 2016. The average birth rate in France in 2016 was 1.93 children per woman, lower than in 2010 (2.01 children per woman), but still above the European average. [2] The birth rate of immigrant women is slightly higher on average, the birth rate of descendants of immigrants is almost identical to that of French women without a migration background. [3]

The immigrant population

Figure 2: Development of the total population of France (metropolis) and the proportion of immigrants and foreigners according to the results of the censuses since 1911 Graphic for download) License: cc by-nc-nd / 3.0 / de / (bpb)
In the French statistics, immigrants (immigrés) and foreigners (étrangers) are recorded separately. Immigrants are people who were born abroad with non-French citizenship and they will remain recorded as such even if they acquire French citizenship. According to the last available census, there were 5.84 million immigrants in France in 2013, 5.72 million of them in the metropolitan area (France métropolitaine, excluding overseas territories). Compared to the 2008 census (5.34 million), the number has increased by half a million. [4] 2.36 million immigrants took French citizenship in 2013. Overall, both the absolute number of immigrants and the proportion of immigrants in the French population have increased somewhat since the mid-1970s. At that time it was 7.4 percent and remained at this level until the turn of the millennium. By 2008 it had risen to 8.4 percent. In 2013 it was 8.9 percent (see Figure 2).

The statistical category of foreigners includes people with non-French citizenship, even if they were born in France. A total of 4.08 million foreigners lived in France in 2013, 3.96 of them in the metropolitan area. 3.48 million of them were born abroad; around 600,000 in France. The proportion of foreigners was 6.2 percent. Both the absolute number of foreigners and the proportion of foreigners have therefore increased since the end of the 1990s.

Figure 3: Immigrants and foreigners in the official statistics

Figure 3: Immigrants and foreigners in the official statistics license: cc by-nc-nd / 3.0 / de / (National Institute for Statistics and Economic Studies (INSEE), 2013 census, own illustration.)


At the same time as the relative and absolute increase in the immigrant population, their composition according to regions of origin has changed. After the Second World War, the vast majority of immigrants came from Europe (1962: 79 percent). This proportion has continuously decreased. In 2013 it was 36.5 percent. In 2005, for the first time, more immigrants from African countries [5] lived in France (1962: 15.3 percent; 2005: 42.2 percent) than from Europe.

In 2013, migrants from Africa formed the largest group of foreigners in France (43.5 percent). Mainly represented are immigrants from the former French colonies in the north of the African continent - Algeria, Morocco and Tunisia. Immigration from Asia has also increased significantly (1962: 2.4 percent; 2005: 13.9 percent; 2013: 14.4 percent). Turkey is the most important country of origin in Asia. [6]

The most important countries of origin of the foreign population living in France in 2013 were Portugal (519,500), Algeria (476,470), Morocco (443,379), Turkey (216,423), Italy (177,171), Tunisia (161,451), Great Britain (153,608) and Spain (138,672).
In addition to the composition of the countries of origin, the gender ratio among immigrants has also changed over the years. After the Second World War, mainly men traveling alone came to work in France. Since 1974, with family reunification, female immigration has predominated. Since the turn of the millennium, the proportion of female and male immigrants has been almost balanced. [7]

Descendants of immigrants

Descendants of immigrants (descendants d’immigrés) are people born in France, of whom at least one parent with foreign nationality was born abroad. This way of recording therefore mainly takes into account the second generation. Estimates for 2015 assume that around 7.3 million people living in France belong to this group. This corresponds to a share of 11 percent of the total population. The composition of the group of descendants of immigrants reflects the migration history of France. Around 3.3 million people (or 45 percent) with a history of immigration had at least one parent who had immigrated to France from a European country, mainly from Italy, Spain and Portugal, i.e. countries that had been in the early stages of labor migration since the 19th century Most of the foreign workforce in France was made up in the 19th century. Another 2.3 million people (or 31 percent) were descendants of immigrants from the Maghreb, i.e. from former French colonies in North Africa. The remaining 1.3 million people (or 24 percent) with a history of immigration had their roots in other regions of Africa and in Asia, i.e. in regions of origin from which the younger immigrants to France are fed. The descendants of immigrants are a young population. Almost half are under 25 years of age (47 percent). In the group without migrant parents, it was 30 percent. [8]

In total, around 13.1 million people with an immigrant history live in France (7.3 million descendants of immigrants and 5.8 million immigrants). Together, this corresponds to around 20 percent of the total population. This means that around every fifth inhabitant of France has a direct or indirect history of migration that was not very long ago. The immigrant population is slightly larger if you also include the third generation. Due to the so-called double land law (see chapter Citizenship and Acquisition of Citizenship), these are exclusively French citizens. An estimate based on data from 2011 comes to around 4.7 million people for the third generation. [9]

Living situation of the immigrant population

With regard to the integration of immigrants into the labor market, there is a clear disadvantage compared to the French population as a whole. This applies primarily to third-country nationals. They are more likely to be unemployed and precarious and have lower activity rates.

In 2015, the employment rate for the immigrant population was 54.8 percent compared to 56.3 percent for the non-immigrant French population. The lower employment rate resulted primarily from the low employment rate of immigrant women (47.8 percent) compared to non-immigrant women (52.2 percent), although there are significant differences specific to the country of origin. The employment rate for women from non-EU countries was particularly low.

In 2015, immigrants from third countries were more than twice as likely to be unemployed as non-immigrants - their unemployment rate was 20.8 percent compared to 9.1 percent. The higher unemployment, especially among third-country nationals, as well as their employment in often precarious employment relationships are among the causes of an increased risk of poverty within this population group. [10]

The level of education of immigrants has increased significantly over the long term and the non-immigrant population is catching up. However, there is still an educational disadvantage, which is particularly evident with regard to the number of school leavers without a qualification. Studies show that the relationship between social background and school performance is stronger in France than in most other industrialized countries. [11] This mainly affects children from immigrant families, who therefore have little chance of social advancement.

Regionally, immigrants in France are concentrated in the large metropolitan areas, and in particular in the suburbs. According to 2012 data, around eight out of ten immigrants lived in metropolitan areas. This concentration is particularly pronounced among immigrants from African and Asian countries. The region with the highest proportion of immigrants is the Île-de-France region (greater Paris), where almost 40 percent of immigrants or around 2.2 million people live. Around 15 percent of immigrants or 842,000 people live in the six largest cities in France - after Paris (Lyon, Marseille, Toulouse, Lille, Bordeaux and Nice). The geographical distribution of the second generation is very similar to that of immigrants, although the concentration on Paris is somewhat weaker.

This text is part of the France migration profile.