France has granted citizenship to more than 12,000 frontline workers whose jobs put them at risk during the Covid pandemic under a special fast-track scheme.
As well as speeding up the application process, which normally takes up to two years, the government also cut the residency requirement from five years to two.
“Frontline workers responded to the call of the nation, so it is right that the nation takes a step towards them,” said the citizenship minister, Marlène Schiappa. “The country pulled through thanks to them.
“I welcome our new compatriots to French nationality and thank them in the name of the republic. The country also thanks them.”
In September 2020, the interior ministry invited those who had “actively contributed” to fighting the Covid health crisis to apply for fast-track naturalisation. On Thursday, Schiappa said 16,381 had applied and 12,012 applications were approved.
Among them were health professionals, security and cleaning staff, those who looked after essential workers’ children, home helps and refuse collectors, the minister announced.
Briton John Spacey was one of those given fast-track nationality as a foreigner who had “proved their commitment to the republic” in the eyes of the ministry.
Spacey lives in the Creuse region in central France and works for an organisation that provides domestic care for elderly people. “It genuinely feels like a great honour to be offered citizenship,” he told the Local earlier this year.
“France has been very good to me since my arrival and has given me opportunities I could never have dreamed of before stepping off the Eurostar in 2016 – a home of my own, a wonderful relationship, a 20-year-old Peugot 106, a 40-year-old Mobilette, the most satisfying job in the world and a very bright future.
“Soon, I’ll be able to vote, will regain my freedom of movement and will finally feel fully European once more, finally feel fully integrated into the nation I’ve already come to love like my own.”
Spacey said he also received a one-off bonus payment from the state “as a kind of merci for services rendered during the crisis … something for which I was very grateful and that I’d not expected, given I’d been paid for my work anyway.”
He added: “Then came another, far more unexpected, thank you – the chance to apply for French nationality six months earlier than would have been possible under the normal rules and to have the process fast-tracked. All for doing a job I love.”
In April 2020, French hospital staff and nursing-home workers were awarded tax-free bonuses of between €1,000 and €1,500 as part of the government thank you for their work during the Covid-19 crisis.
A few months later, in August 2020, France’s 320,000 home-care workers were given Covid-19 bonuses of up to €1,000.