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19th Aug 2020

France reopens borders to international students; universities will reopen in September

Short on time? Here are the highlights:
  • The French government will reopen the country’s higher education institutions in September with detailed public health protocols in place
  • Students from the European Union and from outside the EU are now also permitted to enter France, with some requirements and restrictions still in place

University campuses across France closed on 16 March as the COVID-19 pandemic surged across Europe. In what will mark an end to a roughly six-month closure, the Ministère de l'Enseignement supérieur, de la Recherche et de l'Innovation (MESRI) announced earlier this month that the country's higher education institutions would be permitted to reopen as of September.

The reopening is accompanied by detailed public health protocols that all institutions are expected to observe, including the maintaining physical distance of at least one meter "or one seat" between students in classes and all other "physical learning spaces", and a recommendation that masks be worn at all times.

The guidelines also call for "mechanical or manual ventilation of spaces with at least 10 to 15 minutes aeration twice a day", daily cleaning of all facilities, and a reorganisation of traffic flows within buildings and campuses.

"We are working hand in hand with establishments to put in place measures that protect against the virus at the start of the school year," said Minister of Higher Education Frédérique Vidal. "While allowing teachers, staff, and students  to meet by privileging as much as possible face-to-face [instruction]."

Back to campus online

For those students who are unprepared or unable to attend classes in person in September, Campus France has also produced a special catalogue of more than 600 online degree programmes for the coming academic year. The “Back to Campus Online” directory lists both fully online programmes as well as hybrid options (combining in-person and remote instruction) for the 2020/21 academic year.

The Campus France announcement clearly anticipates that students may choose to begin their studies online and then transition to in-person study in France. It explains: "An online degree programme from a French higher education institution is currently the best way to get to know the campus of the institution that will welcome you as early as possible in France, if you cannot come because of the health situation in your country or if you prefer to kick off your training course online."

International students welcome

On 12 June, the French government announced a phased reopening of the country's borders.

As of 15 June, travellers from other European Union states could enter France. (Some restrictions remained in place at that point, notably a continuing requirement for 14-day quarantines for travellers from Spain and the UK.)

As of 1 July, travellers from outside the EU could also enter the country. Foreign Minister Jean-Yves Le Drian said at the time that, "International students will be allowed to travel to France, regardless of their countries of origin...Visa and resident permit applications will be processed as a priority. International students will be able to come regardless of their country of origin or residence permit, and also for short stays provided they can prove their status (registration in an institution before arrival)."

With its most recent update, on 18 August, France has elaborated on its border policies for the coming academic year. Current policy differentiates between "green zone" countries, from which students may enter without restriction, and "red zone" countries, where more restrictions and requirements will apply.

Following the opening of the French border, the government has also gradually resumed visa processing services within France and at posts abroad, with some variability for local conditions and public health guidance. In addition, Campus France has prepared a detailed FAQ outlining current visa processes and services for visiting students.

The government has also extended the following accommodations for current and incoming international students:

  • All visas that expired between 16 March and 15 June have been automatically extended for six months.
  • The right to work has been extended so that students who were in France as of 16 March may work up to 80% of their annual work limits until such time as university classes resume.
  • A new online service for the collection and processing of applications for student residence permits will launch in September 2020.

As of the 2018/19 academic year, France welcomed 358,000 foreign students from around the world. This represents a 21% increase over five years and a 4.4% year-over-year increase.

France has been tracking at that same 4-5% year-over-year growth rate for the last three years, an improvement over what had been a flatter growth pattern in the years prior. In 2018, the French government announced a new strategy,  Bienvenue en France, designed to increase the country's foreign enrolment to 500,000 by 2027.

For additional background, please see:

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