CAIRN-INT.INFO : International Edition
“‘Ideally’, immigration should generate only ‘profits’, and at the very least, no ‘cost’. Immigration and the immigrant have meaning and a justified existence only if they bring in more than they ‘cost’, only on the condition that the ‘profit’ and ‘loss’ account shows a positive balance.” (Sayad, 1986: 80) [1]

1 In an article published in 1986, the sociologist Abdelmalak Sayad analysed the emergence at European level of a public discussion on the “social balance sheet of immigration”. This debate, initiated in the 1970s, spread across academic research, the political sphere and the media, and was focused on determining how much immigration “cost” or “brought into” a national economy in relation to the “burden” it might impose on the welfare state. The monetary view of immigration and social security that began to develop at this time formed part of the broader spread of a neoliberal conception of public action, according to which the state should be organised on the model of the corporation, and should promote competition among its members to increase the profitability of its economy. [2] Sayad’s argument implies that foreigners were now welcomed or rejected less in a moral register of justification (encouraging the settlement of “deserving”, “hard-working” individuals, discouraging “idlers”) or on ethnocultural grounds (encouraging settlement by individuals close to “us”, discouraging those assumed to be different from “us”), and increasingly more on the technical economic basis of “costs” versus “benefits”, the apparent objectivity of this criterion making it more acceptable (Sayad, 1986: 79 and 82). In other words, “ethical”-type arguments [3] that were used to assess the legitimacy or illegitimacy of immigration until the mid-twentieth century were now relegated to the background.

2 In a context where the imperative to “integrate” has been impressed on foreigners for the last twenty or even thirty years, the relegation of these arguments to the background calls for examination. Since the 1990s, and especially during the 2000s, a number of mainly European and North American states have incorporated a series of measures into their immigration policies under which demonstrating “successful” integration becomes a condition of access to a residence permit and nationality. Various provisions have been introduced to this end, such as courses in the language of the new society, and education programmes focused on the institutions and/or “values” of that society. [4] Mouritsen (2008), Joppke (2007) and others describe this point when integration programmes and/or conditions began to permeate European and North American immigration policies as a “civic turn”. Mouritsen et al. (2019: 601) identify four main characteristics of the “civic turn”: 1) the state’s expectations in terms of integration constitute the viewpoint from which immigrants’ “desirability” is assessed; 2) the responsibility for “good” or “poor” integration rests with immigrants and not with the states where they settle; 3) the state must nevertheless work to foster certain moral qualities in immigrants, conducive to “good” integration; 4) personal adherence to what are termed the “shared values” of the society of settlement is a central criterion in the evaluation of integration. The identification of these various characteristics, particularly the latter two, has led some researchers to argue that through the introduction or revision of measures such as language and citizenship tests, states set themselves up as defenders of the moral and indeed the ethnocultural foundations of the national community, which are perceived to be threatened by immigration (Kostakopoulou, 2010; Orgad, 2015; Larin, 2019). In the view of these authors, the “civic turn” corresponds to a “thickening” [5] of the meaning attributed to integration, and more specifically to the assertion of a republican or communitarian conception of it. It should be remembered that from a republican point of view (in contrast to a liberal conception committed to axiological neutrality [6]), the aim of integration is to develop not only a political-legal solidarity among citizens based on the respect of procedural/legal norms, but also a moral solidarity based on the sharing of essential and particularist values. [7] From a communitarian viewpoint, the national community also has a moral foundation, but in contrast to the republican conception, this is presented as a cultural heritage (of which the national language and history are part) that sets it apart from other groups (other nations, or even other “civilisations” — see especially MacIntyre, 1997; Etzioni, 2009) and in fact relates to properties of the majority ethnic group. The Nation is thus founded on ethnocultural, rather than purely moral cohesion. [8]

3 But not all researchers agree that the “civic turn” derives from the assertion of a republican or communitarian vision of integration. Some studies point out that when integration conditions are introduced or revised in immigration policies, the emphasis is not only the need to adhere to the values of the society of settlement, but also on the responsibility of each individual to play an active part in the market economy (Schinkel and van Houdt, 2010; Merolli, 2015; Suvarierol, 2015; Farris, 2017). According to these authors, the promotion of a “thick” view of integration is articulated with the pursuit of a neoliberal project of forming society into an economic “performance machine” (Joppke, 2007: 17), and with a representation of immigration in terms of “costs” and “benefits” that, Sayad (1986) suggests, has become increasingly prominent since the 1970s. Schinkel and van Houdt (2010) argue that a communitarian and neoliberal “double helix” emerges within the “civic turn”, interlacing an understanding of integration as the formation of essential (moral or ethnocultural) solidarities with a view that incorporates it into the project of constructing a society of individuals competing with one another in the market economy. In this article I expand on these discussions, examining the views of integration that are asserted in the context of the “civic turn”, and how they are articulated or rearticulated with one another. More specifically, I consider this question through an analysis of how “labour market integration” is implemented as a condition for naturalisation in France. France is an interesting case study for how different views of integration can intersect. Since the late 1980s public discourse on integration has centred on defence and reinforcement of the “values of the Republic”, conceived as essential and particularist attachments that form the foundations of the national community (Pélabay, 2014, 2017a and 2017b). This is a relatively “thick” view of integration, conceived more on an “ethical” level, as the sharing of certain beliefs deemed common to all nationals. But various studies have noted that in French immigration policy in the contemporary period, the requirement imposed on foreigners to integrate also takes on a material, and specifically economic, dimension. Studies by Farris (2017) and Gourdeau (2018), for example, focusing on help-to-work programmes for people who have signed a Welcome and Integration Contract (Contrat d’accueil et d’intégration, CAI), highlight the emphasis the administration places on foreigners becoming economically “active” by taking a job. Thus under the CAI, integration is understood not only as a republican or communitarian injunction to “adhere to values” (Hachimi-Alaoui, 2014; Hachimi-Alaoui and Pélabay 2018), but also in a neoliberal spirit, as the requirement to take one’s place in the market economy.

4 In the context of the naturalisation procedure, the administration’s interest in applicants’ employment status may be justified in diverse ways, which can schematically be aligned with different theoretical orientations. In a liberal spirit, the administration may see the employment status of foreigners applying for nationality as one element (among others) that demonstrate that they are durably resident in the country and respect certain legal obligations (particularly that of paying taxes). In a more republican spirit, the state may expect applicants for naturalisation to work or have worked regularly because it demonstrates certain moral qualities (dependability, perseverance, a concern for independence etc.) that it wishes to encourage future citizens to adopt. In a communitarian spirit, having a job is seen through an ethnocultural, not purely a moral lens: it demonstrates that foreigners are assimilating to a way of life supposedly “shared” by all nationals. Finally, in a neoliberal spirit, confirmation of employment can be understood as forming part of a determination to subject individuals’ lasting residence in the country to a cost/benefit calculation that must show a positive balance. The distinction between these theoretical perspectives is to be understood as essentially heuristic. As with any typology, there is no question of claiming that the justifications social actors give for the labour market integration condition correspond precisely with one or other of these theoretical perspectives. However, they offer a useful analytical framework for analysing how these justifications have evolved over time.

5 In order to explore the new articulations between these different views of integration that arise in the contemporary period, I take a diachronic approach to the labour market integration condition, retracing the development of its administrative usage by examining ministerial directives and case law from the early twentieth century to the present. For the period before the 1990s, my analysis is based primarily on secondary sources that contain valuable information on these directives and precedents. For the subsequent period, I draw on the personal archives of a former officer at the Subdirectorate for Access to French Nationality (SDANF), [9] who I shall call Mr X to preserve his anonymity, on databases of case law, and on a field study conducted between November 2015 and July 2017 as part of my doctoral research in political science (Fargues, 2019). This study focused mainly on the bureaucracies where applications for naturalisation are assessed, both central (SDANF [10]) and local (prefectures [11]), but also engaged with lawyers and court adjudicators dealing with legal disputes in naturalisation cases. [12] The interviews I conducted with these actors involved in the operation of naturalisation procedure enabled me to explore how their understanding of the role played by the labour market integration condition in selecting applicants was expressed in their routine practices, and to assess how far the interpretative framing of this condition, as manifested in administrative directives and case law, was reflected in their discourse.

6 In the first section of this article, I consider the interest the administration showed in the employment status of foreigners applying for naturalisation before the labour market integration condition was introduced. Through the emergence of a “social utility” criterion during the first half of the twentieth century, I show that standards of economic profitability were even then being introduced into the assessment of applications for naturalisation. In the second section, I show how during the 1970s the social utility criterion was transformed into the requirement for “labour market integration”. This shift marked the appearance of a neoliberal “workfare” (“work for welfare”) imperative in naturalisation policy but was not matched by the appearance of fundamentally new norms in the assessment of applications. In the third section, I analyse how labour market integration has been interpreted in the contemporary period, from the 1990s to the present. One of the most remarkable changes during this period has been the dual shift to a stricter neoliberal thinking in the selection of applicants for naturalisation, and the establishment of a communitarian interpretation of labour market integration as a condition of assimilation. In its current application, the labour market integration condition is not only understood as a way of disqualifying individuals who would live at the state’s expense, but also as a way of testing whether foreigners — specifically foreigners ascribed a Muslim identity — have freed themselves from their “culture of origin” by adhering to the “values of the Republic”.

The Emergence of a “Social Utility” Criterion for Naturalisation

7 As early as the first half of the nineteenth century the French state was taking an interest in the employment status of people applying for nationality. [13] Consideration of the jobs they held was justified both from the point of view of the resources they earned from their labour and as a guarantee of “good” or “bad” morality. [14] In 1890, in a commentary on the “great law” on nationality passed the year before, Louis Le Sueur and Eugène Dreyfus, two legal specialists attached to the Ministry of Justice, which was then responsible for naturalisation policy, argued that by reducing the stamp duty — a tax applicants were required to pay — the administration could prioritise a moral interpretation of employment status (confirming that “the foreigner is deserving and hard-working”) that went beyond the financial resources individuals earned from their work:


“Another consideration has some value: under the earlier thinking that saw naturalisation as a favour that had to be dispensed sparingly, the government preferred not to naturalise foreigners whose situation would not allow them to pay the stamp duty. The present point of view is different: provided that the foreigner is deserving and hard-working, why should he be refused the title he seeks?” (Le Sueur and Dreyfus 1890: 69)

9 Although the administration’s perspective on applicants’ employment status did not, at the beginning of the twentieth century, translate into a demand that they possess a certain level of wealth in order to secure naturalisation, it was nevertheless embedded in a “labour force logic” (Spire, 2005: 111 and ff.) that required foreigners to provide a labour power deemed “useful” to the economy. [15] The concern with employment was thus not limited to demonstrating certain moral qualities that work would help to cultivate and that the state, with its project of republican integration, would like to see future citizens sharing. It expressed a neoliberal reasoning in the naturalisation procedure, subordinating the granting of nationality to the objective of ensuring that immigrants’ long-term residence in France was profitable. [16] The expression of this neoliberal reasoning can be observed particularly through the emergence of a “social utility” criterion during the 1930s. For the first time, in 1931 a section dedicated entirely to this criterion appeared in the schedule of information that civil servants working in town halls or prefectures had to elicit during their interviews with applicants. Containing eighteen questions in all — the longest section in the schedule [17] — it required officers to confirm the “applicant’s professional value”, and more specifically, to determine whether s/he could make a “useful contribution to the community”. This principle of selecting foreigners on the basis of their “utility” was maintained after the Second World War. The aim was to reserve favourable reception for “elements […] that can make a stable and useful contribution” (Ministère de la Santé publique et de la Population, 1952: 2). This implies that applications from individuals who did not show that they could provide their labour power or children to the national economy were unfavourably assessed. This was particularly the case with sick or disabled foreigners, who were disqualified in post-war circulars on the grounds of both utility (avoiding accepting individuals who would constitute a “burden” on the economy) and health (avoiding supporting the presence of individuals who posed a risk of “contagion”, in the words of the circular of April 1952). These ministerial guidelines show that the legitimate presence of immigrants was seen in relation to the “costs” and/or “benefits” that confirmation of their permanent settlement in a society might bring. With the emergence of a “social utility” criterion during the first half of the twentieth century, naturalisation policy was already incorporating concerns derived from a neoliberal view of integration.

From Prognosis to Diagnosis of Labour Market Integration: Naturalisation in the Service of a “Workfare” Regime

10 During the 1970s the approach to labour power became more restrictive. It was no longer really concerned with ensuring that applicants would be able to take up an occupation that satisfied the country’s need for labour, but rather with confirming that they were already in a financially stable position. As Spire (2005: 349) notes, labour market integration had become a matter of meeting a “‘financial stability’ requirement”: it operated not in the mode of prognosis, as in the preceding period, but rather represented the diagnostic conclusion that officers had to arrive at when they assessed an application. This shift, which is evident in the general principles deriving from the 1980s Council of State case law on the residence requirement — the legal condition for French naturalisation that incorporates labour market integration [18] — does not mark the advent of a fundamentally new reasoning in the assessment of naturalisation applications. The requirement for “financial self-sufficiency”, with which labour market integration was associated at the time, in fact reinforced a neoliberal logic of selection based on the economic “costs” or “benefits” entailed in granting nationality, a logic that was already present in the preceding period. However, from the 1970s onward this calculation of “costs” versus “benefits” essentially became a way of ensuring that the “social balance sheet” of immigration showed a positive balance (Sayad, 1986). The aim was above all to avoid naturalising individuals who would create an additional “burden” on the welfare state system that had been partially opened to foreigners after the Second World War, and which was now being reformed into a “workfare” regime where access to social services was conditional on resources and/or work. [19] Rather than heralding a new thinking in the selection of applicants, the “workfare” perspective on labour market integration marked a recoding of pre-existing administrative expectations — ensuring that naturalisation brought revenue, or at least cost nothing — linked to a new political agenda that also emphasised the duty to be active in the market economy.

11 This new interpretation of labour market integration from a “workfare” perspective is evident in the treatment reserved for applications from older or disabled people, for whom entitlement to certain social services was still dependent on nationality. The development of the welfare state regime following the Second World War only partially called into question the principle whereby social rights were granted on the basis of a “national universal” (Noiriel, 2001: 445) that excluded foreigners. The creation of Social Security in 1945 did to be sure open a large number of contributory social benefits (unemployment benefit, pension) and non-contributory benefits (family allowances) to foreigners. However, social benefits such as the adult disability allowance (allocation adulte handicapé, AAH), introduced in 1975, remained restricted to French nationals and citizens of states that had concluded bilateral agreements with France. [20] Administrative guidelines for naturalisation conveyed the suspicion that disabled foreigners were applying for nationality in order to obtain this support, [21] and provisions for sanctioning them were introduced on the grounds that they were trying to instrumentalise nationality. [22] An internal directive from the Subdirectorate for Naturalisation (SDN) dating from 1992 testifies to the treatment reserved for disabled applicants. In assessing applications, officers are required to follow the general principle of “granting French nationality […] without discrimination”, but they are also urged to bear in mind that “it is not expedient to systematically accept applicants whose naturalisation would entail an increase in financial costs” (SDN, 1992: 11). Applications from disabled people could be assessed favourably, but this would depend on the “effort” (in bold in the text) they had made to “integrate into the labour market” (SDN, 1992: 37). In other words, nationality — and the access to social benefits such as AAH that was dependent on it — might be granted to disabled applicants, provided they had shown themselves willing to play an active part in the market economy, in line with a neoliberal logic of “workfare”.

12 However, for over thirty years, administrative directives took a “nuanced approach” to labour market integration, taking into account the structural difficulties of access to employment and weighing considerations other than those directly related to demonstrating financial self-sufficiency (such as length of applicants’ residence in France or their family ties). The expression “nuanced approach” appears in an SDN internal directive from 1986, which stipulates, for example, that a “degree of goodwill” should be shown to young people who have been socialised in France, and that periods of temporary unemployment should not necessarily prompt an unfavourable decision (SDN, 1986). Ten years later, another directive also recognised that exceptionally, a “total absence of activity and seeking work” may be tolerated provided that the period of residence is long enough and the spouse has sufficient stable resources — a provision relating to women not employed outside the home (SDN, 1996). In general, until the end of the 2000s, the administration considered that individuals who had been present in France for a number of years, and their families, intended to stay and that access to nationality should therefore be facilitated for them. Principles deriving from a liberal view of integration — the judgment that having been resident in a society for a long time confers rights (even political rights) on individuals [23] — counterbalanced the more recent neoliberal approach to employment status.

13 During the contemporary period, from the 1990s to today, the use of the labour market integration condition has evolved in two directions. On the one hand the neoliberal view of integration with which this condition has been associated since the first half of the twentieth century has justified a much more stringent selection of applicants. On the other, the contemporary period has also seen a “culturalisation” of the way employment status is assessed, relating specifically to “Muslim” applicants (or those assumed to be Muslim). For these applicants, showing evidence of financial self-sufficiency is a matter not only of an economic and moral imperative (demonstrating, through efforts to remain economically active, that their presence in the country does not represent a “burden” on welfare state expenditure), but also of a demand that they prove their emancipation from an “original culture” deemed to be conservative, by adhering to the presumed progressive values of French society.

The Labour Market Integration Condition in Contemporary Practice: Toward a Communitarian and Neoliberal “Double Helix”

The End of the “Nuanced Approach” and a Stricter Neoliberal Logic of Selection

14 Nicolas Sarkozy’s election as President of France in 2007 was marked by a major institutional reorganisation of French nationality procedure. The SDN became the SDANF, a subsection of the Directorate of Welcome, Integration and Citizenship (Direction de l’accueil, de l’intégration et de la citoyenneté, DAIC) at the Ministry of Immigration, Integration, National Identity and International Development; the power to reject applications for naturalisation was delegated to prefectures from 2009. Against the background of this institutional reorganisation the labour market integration condition was tightened, following a neoliberal logic of selecting applicants on the basis of an assessment of their financial self-sufficiency. This stricter selection was accomplished by targeting the categories who had previously been subject to the “nuanced approach” and/or relative goodwill: young people under twenty-five, lone mothers (widowed or divorced), mothers who had chosen not to work outside the home, and disabled foreigners. In other words, the adjustments that had been introduced through administrative directives, to take into account length of residence or family ties, and which could be understood as the expression of a liberal view of integration that still held weight in the French naturalisation procedure (encouraging the acceptance of foreign families socialised in France), were unravelled by the instructions officers received in 2010-2011.

15 The situation of disabled applicants is particularly illuminating with regard to this more stringent selection. With the introduction of the law of 11 May 1998, AAH ceased to be dependent on nationality, as did other non-contributory social benefits (including the minimum old-age allowance). As a result, ministerial directives ceased stigmatising disabled people (and older people) for taking an instrumental approach to naturalisation. The concern to ensure equal treatment of disabled people, taking their condition into account, also emerges in the case law from this period. [24] As Fassin (2001) argues, the 1990s and the early 2000s in France were a period where the “regime of suspicion” that was applied to the sick foreigner shifted to a “regime of compassion”, and where growing institutional concern about discrimination [25] made it difficult to maintain certain grounds for decisions. However, in the subsequent years civil servants continued to be urged to assess the level of labour market integration of disabled applicants, and from 2010, the guidelines that allowed these applicants to obtain nationality on the basis of long residence, family ties in France, or having undertaken training, were re-examined. Administrative case law also reveals some particularly harsh decisions during this period, even in situations where the Committees for the Rights and Autonomy of Disabled Persons (Commissions des droits et de l’autonomie des personnes handicapées, CDAPH) had assessed the applicants as more than 80% disabled. [26] The requirement for financial self-sufficiency now took precedence over any other consideration, including the drive for more egalitarian treatment of applications that appeared to have emerged in the late 1990s. Even at a time when nationality no longer granted entitlement to social benefits, the administration continued to remind certain applicants for naturalisation that it was not right for them to receive these if they were not making the effort to work. The labour market integration condition was still being interpreted in the spirit of principles derived from neoliberal “workfare” standards.

16 In 2010-2011, a more restrictive interpretation of this condition was also developed, to take into account the type of employment contract applicants held, periods of unemployment, or the source of their income. [27] The dissemination of these directives to central and local administrations led to a huge rise in the number of rejected applications, as was noted in a parliamentary report on naturalisation policy following the election of a new, socialist government:


“Rejections or deferments on grounds of [failure to integrate into the labour market] have risen by 150%, from 8,515 in 2010 to 21,456 in 2011. The rise in negative decisions on these grounds is thus alone responsible for more than three quarters (78%) of the rise in the number of unfavourable decisions in 2011. Compared with 2009 (4,648), negative decisions on these grounds have more than quadrupled (x 4.6).” (Assemblée nationale, 2012: 25)

18 The change in government led to the relaxation of various aspects of how labour market integration was assessed. The first circular written by then Interior Minister Manuel Valls, for example, asked investigating officers to be less strict in their assessment of applicants’ employment contracts, and to support access to nationality for young people under twenty-five (Ministère de l’Intérieur, 2012). Other conditions were eased in ways that are not necessarily evident in circulars: for example, the level of income required was reduced to €10,000 annually declared in tax returns over two or three consecutive years (a threshold below the minimum wage), when an income at least equal to the minimum wage had been required under the previous government. [28] Thanks to these relaxations, the rate of unfavourable decisions on grounds of failure to integrate into the labour market was reduced, and the number of naturalisations returned to close to what it had been before Nicolas Sarkozy’s presidency, although the number of rejections remained relatively high. Figures reported by the SDANF show that between 2012 and 2015, the number of two-year deferrals (a substantial proportion of which were on grounds of “failure to integrate into the labour market”) was still high, but was decreasing steadily. [29] Thanks to the fall in the number of unfavourable decisions, which had risen substantially in 2010-2011, by 2015 the ratio of favourable to unfavourable decisions was close to what it had been previously. [30]

19 However, despite these relaxations, the principle whereby the administration had to diagnose applicants’ financial self-sufficiency without taking into account their personal circumstances had not altogether been dropped, as is evident from the situation of disabled applicants. After 2012 their applications continued to be rejected, including when their level of disability was very high. [31] Even as late as 2016, two magistrates at the Nantes Administrative Court of Appeal, asked about a decision in their court that upheld a two-year deferral on grounds of failure to integrate into the labour market for an applicant who had been certified by a CDAPH as 95% incapable of working, [32] justified such decisions:


Even so there are many cases where the person can still work despite their disability, so then it’s really a question of percentage. This was a case of 95% disability, you say? [I confirm this.] That’s very weak. But then at 80%, for a person who is paraplegic, paralysed, their brain can still work. People with multiple sclerosis, that might also be the case. They might also be able to work as long as they have a fixed workstation and they have assistance, for example. That’s an example that comes to mind, but it’s real. It all depends on the disability.” (Interview with magistrates from the Nantes Administrative Court of Appeal, 1 April 2016)

21 However, a few months after this interview, the Council of State overturned the precedents. In two decisions, the court declared that applications from disabled applicants whose entire income came from the AAH could not be rejected on grounds of “failure to integrate into the workforce”. [33] Still recently, however, this does not prevent applications from disabled applicants being rejected on grounds of “failure to integrate into the workforce”, even in cases where they are recognised as having “substantially restricted access to employment”. [34]

22 It is thus clear that the stricter logic of neoliberal selection introduced under Sarkozy’s presidency was only partially eased under the socialist government that came to power in 2012. Examination of the ministerial directives circulated to officers responsible for implementing naturalisation procedure from the 1990s to today, together with interviews I conducted with some of these officers in 2016 and 2017, reveals that not only was labour market integration assigned an economic and moral dimension, with the requirement for “financial self-sufficiency”; in the case of Muslim applicants, it also acquired an ethnocultural dimension.

Employment History as a Guarantee of “Assimilation” into French Society

23 From the 1990s onward, the administrative directives from the SDN are marked by an insistence on the “duty” to contribute to developing the national economy, understood as one aspect of the requirement to “integrate”. In 1992, in a context where integration and access to nationality were at the centre of public debate, [35] a connection was made for the first time between work and the “desire to integrate into the national community” (SDN, 1992). This discourse on the “duty to integrate” through work has been maintained under successive governments of different stripes, up to the present day. It reminds officers at the SDANF and in prefectures that they must determine whether applicants’ employment history reflects certain moral qualities deemed essential to merit the privilege of naturalisation. An October 2012 circular from Manuel Valls for example invited civil servants to ensure that applicants’ labour market integration demonstrated qualities of “consistency” or “perseverance” (Ministère de l’Intérieur, 2012).

24 This reformulation of labour market integration in a discourse promoting integration, or even assimilation (Valls’ 2012 circular presented labour market integration as an “essential condition of assimilation”) preserved the state’s traditional moral evaluation of the jobs occupied by foreigners in the naturalisation procedure. [36] Interviews with prefecture officers on the subject of labour market integration show that the two registers of economic and moral appraisal were closely linked with one another. [37] Explaining their understanding of how this criterion was to be implemented in day-to-day procedure, these actors emphasised that it was not a question simply of a dry confirmation of income: it was also the effort to integrate into the national community that was in question. Asked about how she took “IP” (this was officers’ term for “insertion professionelle”, or labour market integration) into account, the deputy head of the office for naturalisation in PR2, for example, explained:


Efforts, we try to assess efforts to integrate. To see if the person is not just waiting or happy to live on social benefits.” (Interview with head of PR3 naturalisation service and her deputy, 17 July 2017)

26 Some officers, including the deputy head of the office for foreigners in PR1, suggested that “IP” could even go “beyond the person’s financial contribution”, given the importance ascribed to assessing the “effort to integrate”. [38] This idea that labour market integration might go “beyond resources” does not, however, mean in this officer’s discourse that applications where the level of income was high (a rare circumstance in PR1) would not be considered favourably. Indeed, she happily asserted the position, arguing that it was the country’s interest to retain individuals who “bring benefit to the French economy”. [39] Her discourse chimes with some of the guidance in the Manuel Valls’ circular of 2013, which asked officers to “take more account of potential”, particularly of “young graduates” and “high-level students and professionals” (Ministère de l’Intérieur, 2013).

27 But the slippage of the labour market integration condition toward assimilation enables more than just an economic and moral imperative. It also introduces an ethnocultural perspective into the administration’s evaluation of applicants’ employment status. In the case of Muslim applicants, labour market integration is seen not only as an intention not to live “at the state’s expense”, to “get by”, but also as a proof of emancipation from an original culture or religion (the two generally being conflated) that are assumed to be essentially patriarchal and therefore hostile to women working. This idea of a “cultural” hostility to women’s employment among Muslims (with the men as actors and the women as more or less complicit subjects) has become more prevalent in administrative circulars sent to officers responsible for investigating applications for naturalisation since the early 1990s. It was evident in the encouragement to interpret the wearing of hijab as a potential sign of submission to male dominance and failure to subscribe to equality between women and men, held up as a “value of the Republic”. [40] During the 2000s the administration developed various provisions for ensuring on the one hand that female applicants ascribed a Muslim identity were working or wished to work, and were therefore not subjected to the authority of the men in their family, and on the other that male applicants were not oppressing their wife or sister(s) by preventing them from working. “Supplementary in-depth interviews” on top of the mandatory “assimilation interview” in cases where “failure to assimilate culturally” was suspected, were introduced to this end, and were still being carried out in the prefectures where I conducted my research. These interviews followed protocols drawn up by the SDANF, and included questions such as: “Do you need your husband’s permission to work? Who does the household accounts? Do you need your husband’s permission to open a bank account?” The intersection of an economic/moral interpretation and an ethnocultural interpretation of labour market integration was evident in the interviews I conducted with some prefecture officers. An investigating officer in PR3, for example, felt that naturalisation should not be granted to an Algerian couple where the husband had applied for AAH and the wife had stated that she “did not work and did not want to work” when they were called for interview, on the grounds that it would encourage other people to live “off welfare”. [41] In other words, the rejection was justified on the grounds that granting nationality would mean legitimising a behaviour that ran contrary to the neoliberal logic of “workfare”. But when he added that the husband was also suspected of being a “radical Muslim” and of not allowing his wife to work, this officer added an ethnocultural element to his unfavourable assessment of the couple’s application. Their application for naturalisation was rejected as a way of marking their attachment to values deemed contradictory to those of the national community, particularly equality between women and men.


28 Examining how the labour market integration condition has evolved in French naturalisation procedure since the 1990s thus reveals an intersection between an economic/moral register in the assessment of applications, which had been present at least since the first half of the twentieth century, and an ethnocultural register, currently becoming stronger as the state reaffirms the importance of “integration” and even “assimilation” for naturalisation. In the first register, labour market integration mainly involves being able to demonstrate one’s capacity to meet one’s needs independently — without recourse to social assistance — while in the second, it confirms that certain applicants (those who are or are assumed to be Muslim) share a certain number of qualities seen as constitutive of the identity of the majority group — primary among them “shared values” such as gender equality. Although these two registers are now interwoven in the case of these applicants, it should be noted that the ethnocultural dimension of labour market integration is not as significant as the economic/moral dimension, which remains predominant since it is applied to all applications. The communitarian and neoliberal “double helix” (Schinkel and van Houdt, 2010) established through the implementation of this condition for naturalisation is in fact closer to an intersection between two views of integration that remain relatively independent of one another, rather than an imbrication in which they become inseparable. Nevertheless, as studies of other immigration procedures (Farris, 2017; Goudeau, 2018) or national contexts other than France (Merolli, 2015) point out, the contemporary requirement for foreigners to integrate demands that they conform both to neoliberal standards of performance and to communitarian expectations with regard to assimilation.

29 The findings discussed above suggest that all of the characteristics of the “civic turn” as identified by Mouritsen et al. (2019) apply to the contemporary evolution of naturalisation policy in France. The concept of “integration” becomes established as a criterion for evaluating the desirability of applicants — leading to a reformulation of labour market integration as a condition of “integration” — and is understood as an imperative that forms part of the responsibilities incumbent on them. Through this imperative the state encourages the development of certain moral qualities, and also demands adherence to the “values” of the national community. However, although the four characteristics of the “civic turn” listed in the introduction to this article are present in the French case, the use of the concept remains problematic. First, it does not fully take into account the specific character of the contemporary moment, with the emergence of a communitarian and neoliberal “double helix”. Second, the very notion of a “turn” is inappropriate to the current evolution of French naturalisation policy, since it is not fundamentally a matter of the introduction of new norms, but rather a readjustment of old norms in new configurations. Thus the diachronic perspective taken in this article shows that the neoliberal dimension of the French state’s expectations with regard to integration pre-existed the contemporary period. But it should be added that the desire to ensure that foreigners adopt a behaviour compliant with the “custom and practice” of the national community is also not new. It is found in the earliest usage of the condition of assimilation, in the early twentieth century (Hajjat, 2012). These results therefore invite further discussion of the relevance of the concept of the “civic turn” itself, in the light of new research into the evolution of contemporary immigration and integration policy in other national contexts.


  • [1]
    All translations of primary and secondary sources have been done by the author.
  • [2]
    On the importance attributed to the corporate model and to competition among individuals in neoliberalism as thought and policy, see especially Dardot and Laval (2013).
  • [3]
    Here I draw on Habermas’s distinction (2014: 319 and 324-325) between “ethical integration” and “political integration”. Ethical integration is based on shared “values”, defined by their moral or ethnocultural basis, while political integration is based on respect of “norms” and the exercise of rights that form the foundation of the bond of citizenship.
  • [4]
    For a comparative perspective, see van Œrs et al. (2010).
  • [5]
    Walzer’s (1994: XI) definition of “thick” arguments is based on their resonance in a specific “symbolic system”, an “us” that in some sense speaks to itself and does not open these arguments to others to judge whether they are acceptable to them.
  • [6]
    Some liberal thinkers criticise this principle of neutrality and support perfectionist positions. For a general presentation, see Escudier and Pélabay (2016).
  • [7]
    In political philosophy, this republican position inspired by civic humanism is promoted by Pocock (1998). Other thinkers who support republicanism, such as Pettit (1997), do not share the idea that integration necessarily requires adherence to a particular vision of the good life. The promotion of certain values among citizens by the state can only be justified instrumentally (consolidating “non-domination” as the basic freedom) and must above all remain compatible with plural conceptions of the good. In this article, I conceive republicanism in the “classic” sense exemplified by thinkers like Pocock rather than its “critical” form as developed by Pettit in particular.
  • [8]
    This ethnocultural view of the nation is found in Gellner (1983), Smith (1991) and Ignatieff (1993) among others.
  • [9]
    Sous-direction de l’accès à la nationalité française, a department of the French Interior Ministry [trans.]
  • [10]
    I interviewed around a dozen representatives of the SDANF in 2016 and 2017. They gave me access to statistics on rejection of naturalisation applications at the national level from the mid-2000s to 2018.
  • [11]
    The study was conducted principally in a prefecture in the Paris region that I shall call PR1. I spent a number of sessions observing procedure in March and May 2016, and in January, June and July 2017, making a total of fifteen full days. I also conducted nine semi-directed interviews with officers assessing applications for nationality. I carried out other observations in another Paris region prefecture — hereinafter PR2 — and a third in the south of France — hereinafter PR3 — in June and July 2017, including interviews with eight further officers. In order to preserve their anonymity I have decided not to name the places specifically.
  • [12]
    I interviewed eight lawyers dealing with naturalisation cases in the courts, and also met a number of magistrates working in the three jurisdictions where cases of this type are heard (two at the administrative court in Nantes, two at the Administrative Court of Appeal in Nantes and two at the Council of State, the highest administrative court in France).
  • [13]
    This interest in foreigners’ employment status applied to women as much as to men, but differently. The employment status of married foreign women was not addressed independently (at least until 1927): the administration systematically assimilated it to that of their husband, on the assumption that it was the father who should provide for the needs of his household through his work.
  • [14]
    As early as the first half of the nineteenth century the procedure for naturalisation in France incorporated a morality condition (Weil, 2005: 94-95). Foreigners who presented “idle” behaviour in society were deemed to have “poor moral standards”.
  • [15]
    Gender bias influenced the application of the “social utility” criterion. As Guerry notes (2013: 235), female applicants had to demonstrate that they could fulfil their “duty of motherhood” rather than being employed. It was thus by producing children that women were expected to show themselves “useful”.
  • [16]
    On the idea that the pursuit of neoliberal policies is perfectly compatible with, and even requires, the development of certain moral qualities, see Dardot and Laval (2013: 167 and ff.).
  • [17]
    The full list of questions appears in Gauci (1999: 190). Quotations from the schedule are drawn from this article.
  • [18]
    These principles changed little in the subsequent period: “1) have stable personal income sufficient to meet [his/her] needs; 2) receive income in France […]; 3) have all of [his/her] close family (spouse and minor children) in France or show evidence of divorce proceedings” (Ministère des Affaires sociales de la Santé et de la Ville, 1995: 23).
  • [19]
    On the transition from a universal welfare state system to a “workfare” regime during the 1970s and 1980s in France, see Palier (2008).
  • [20]
    The same is true for the minimum old-age allowance, created in 1956, which replaced the allowance for “old waged workers”. But this allowance should not be confused with pensions, which form part of the social security system to which foreigners also have access.
  • [21]
    Older people were suspected of seeking to obtain the minimum old-age allowance.
  • [22]
    Since the law of 22 December 1961, a “good state of health” is no longer a condition for approving applications for naturalisation. However, the sick foreigner continues to be seen as a potential “burden” on society, as cases involving disabled applicants show.
  • [23]
    On this point, see Carens (2013: 128).
  • [24]
    See Nantes Administrative Court of Appeal no. 97NT00655 of 23/07/1998 and Council of State no. 206486 — Mme Richard of 26/09/2001.
  • [25]
    Particularly following the publication in 1997 of the Council of State report Sur le principe de l’égalité [On the Principle of Equality], which recognised that the reality of discrimination jeopardised the ideal of republican integration (see Bertossi, 2007: 4).
  • [26]
    See Nantes Administrative Court of Appeal no. 13NT01390 of 14/02/2014 and no. 14NT00964 of 30/12/2014. The CDAPH are département-level committees responsible for assessing disabled people’s capacities and support needs.
  • [27]
    On the subject of these three criteria, the “black record of naturalisation” produced by the Immigrant Information and Support Group (Groupe d’information et de soutien aux immigré·es, Gisti) shows respectively that during this period, 1) the administration deemed that short-term or temporary contracts could not be considered sufficiently stable employment status; 2) that it deferred decisions in cases where the applicant was unemployed on the day the application was submitted, even if there had previously been long periods of employment; 3) that it judged “drawing income exclusively from social benefits” unacceptable. See “Dossier noir des naturalisations” (section on “Ressources stables et suffisantes en France”), [online]. URL:
  • [28]
    This reduction in the level of income required was confirmed by all the prefecture officers I met, but not by the SDANF, which indicated that it was a matter of internal policy.
  • [29]
    In fact it halved over this period: 23,832 two-year deferrals were recorded in 2012, 17,935 in 2013, 15, 434 in 2014 and 12,553 in 2015 (personal communication from an SDANF officer, 2016).
  • [30]
    In 2007 the ratio was 70% of applications accepted, 30% rejected. In 2011 only 47% of applications were accepted and 53% rejected. Four years later the proportions had returned to levels close to those in 2007, with 67% of applications accepted and 33% rejected (personal communication from an SDANF officer, 2016).
  • [31]
    See Nantes Administrative Court of Appeal no. 16NT00122 of 18/04/2017, relating to the SDANF’s rejection in 2013 of an application from a person who had been recognised by a CDAPH as more than 80% disabled.
  • [32]
    See Nantes Administrative Court of Appeal no. 14NNT00964 of 30/12/2014.
  • [33]
    Council of State no. 389399 and no. 388836 of 11/05/2016.
  • [34]
    The significant point was that the minister linked lack of self-sufficiency not to the AAH benefit but to other social benefits such as income support allowance (Revenu de solidarité active, RSA). See Nantes Administrative Court of Appeal no. 16NT04098 of 16/02/2018.
  • [35]
    The prospective reform of the nationality code to ensure “good” integration of immigrants and their descendants, launched in the late 1980s, continued to be controversial. The reform was finally enacted with the passing of the Méhaignerie laws in 1993, which included the introduction of a requirement that young people aged between sixteen and twenty-one who had been born in France of foreign parents declare an active desire to be naturalised.
  • [36]
    On this point, I refer to Mazouz (2012: 144-145).
  • [37]
    In the three prefectures where I conducted my research, as at national level, “failure to integrate into the labour market” was the ground for a very large proportion of unfavourable decisions. At the national level it was the principal reason for unfavourable decisions (around 40% of all rejections), at least in the years 2016, 2017 and 2018 for which I was able to obtain data (personal communication from an SDANF officer, 2018). At the local level, in PR1 and PR3 (I was not able to obtain any detailed figures for PR2), this was either the first criterion for rejection (33% in PR3 in 2016) or the second (around 23% in PR1 in 2015 and 2016), just after “failure to assimilate” (personal communications from staff in PR1 and PR3).
  • [38]
    Interview with deputy head of the office for foreigners, PR1, 12 January 2017.
  • [39]
    Field journal, PR1, 3 July 2017.
  • [40]
    For more extensive exploration of this subject, see especially Hajjat (2012) and Mazouz (2017).
  • [41]
    Interview with F., investigating officer at the Office for Naturalisation in PR3, 17 July 2017.

Scholars have often underlined that the “civic turn” promotes a communitarian vision of integration that aims to defend the moral if not ethnocultural foundations of the national community. Although this article does not dismiss that claim, it reflects on the paradoxical combination of that vision with a neoliberal vision of integration in the French context. Through the analysis of the condition of “professional integration” for naturalisation, the article investigates whether economic performance requirements for the granting of French citizenship stand in contradiction with the communitarian dimension of the “civic turn” or whether they support each other. To answer this question, the article draws on administrative archives and on case law from early twentieth century onwards, as well as on interviews with French civil servants and also with lawyers and judges.

  • France
  • civic turn
  • naturalisation
  • neoliberalism
  • communitarianism

Fabriquer des citoyens « autonomes » : « tournant civique » et vision néolibérale de l’intégration dans la procédure de naturalisation française

Les recherches sur le « tournant civique » ont surtout souligné l’affirmation d’une vision communautarienne de l’intégration, consistant à défendre les fondements moraux voire ethnoculturels de la communauté nationale. Sans pour autant invalider cette affirmation, cet article étudie sa coexistence, à première vue paradoxale, avec une vision néolibérale de l’intégration dans le contexte français. À travers le cas de la condition d’« insertion professionnelle » pour la naturalisation, il s’agit de se demander si les standards de performance économique pour l’acquisition de la nationalité doivent être compris plutôt comme complémentaires de la dimension communautarienne du « tournant civique » ou, au contraire, comme en tension avec celle-ci. C’est en explorant des documents d’archives administratives et la jurisprudence depuis le début du XXe siècle jusqu’à aujourd’hui, ainsi que par le biais d’entretiens avec des acteur·rice·s administratifs et judiciaires, que cette interrogation est menée.

  • naturalisation
  • néolibéralisme
  • tournant civique
  • communautarisme

Construir ciudadanos «autosuficientes»: «cambio cívico» y visión neoliberal de integración en el procedimiento de naturalización francés

Los académicos a menudo han subrayado que el «cambio cívico» promueve una visión comunitaria de integración que tiene como objetivo defender los fundamentos morales, si no etnoculturales, de la comunidad nacional. Aunque este artículo no descarta esa afirmación, reflexiona sobre la combinación paradójica de esa visión con una visión neoliberal de integración en el contexto francés. Mediante el análisis de la condición de «integración profesional» para la naturalización, el artículo investiga si los requisitos de desempeño económico para la concesión de la ciudadanía francesa están en contradicción con la dimensión comunitaria del «cambio cívico» o si se apoyan mutuamente. Para responder a esta pregunta, el artículo se basa en archivos administrativos y jurisprudencia desde principios del siglo veinte, así como en entrevistas con funcionarios y con abogados y jueces.

  • Francia
  • naturalización
  • cambio cívico
  • neoliberalismo
  • comunitarismo
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Émilien Fargues
Max Weber Fellow, Robert Schuman Centre for Advanced Studies/European University Institute, Via Giovanni Boccaccio 121, 50133 Florence, Italy;
Rachel Gomme
This is the latest publication of the author on cairn.
This is the latest publication of the author on cairn.
Uploaded on on 28/10/2022
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