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France rewards hundreds of frontline immigrant workers with citizenship

The French government is fast-tracking almost 700 citizenship applications from foreign frontline workers who have distinguished themselves in the battle against COVID-19.

"Health care workers, cleaning professionals, childcare workers and store clerks ... They have proved their commitment to the nation. It is now up to the Republic to take a step toward them," said a statement released on Tuesday by French Junior Minister for Citizenship Marlene Schiappa's office.

As of Wednesday, France has nearly 2.5 million confirmed cases of coronavirus and 61,702 people had died, according to the French government

French citizenship applications can take years to complete, and the global pandemic has caused further delays in paperwork processing. In September, as France was bracing for a second wave of the pandemic, the government requested regional officials "facilitate" and "accelerate" the naturalization process for foreign workers who actively participated in the fight against the COVID-19 pandemic. 

In three months, more than 70 applicants have gained citizenship through their service and nearly 700 are in the final stages of receiving it, Schiappa's office said. A total of 2,890 people have applied so far. 

"They actively participated in the national effort, with dedication and courage," Schiappa wrote in a letter to regional authorities at the time.

Demonstration against the 'Global Security Bill' in Paris
Nurses gesture from a window as a demonstration against the "Global Security Bill," marches in front of a hospital in Paris. GONZALO FUENTES / REUTERS

In 2019, more than 112,000 people acquired French citizenship, including more than 48,000 through naturalization, which is 18% less than in 2015.

This initiative "is a long tradition that can be traced back to the French Revolution, which is to grant citizenship to the benefactors of the country," Didier Leschi, the director of the French Office of Immigration and Integration told Le Figaro. 

This isn't the first time that France has recognized contributions to the nation with citizenship.

In 2018, a young man from Mali was offered French citizenship and a job as a firefighter after he scaled an apartment building to save a child dangling from a balcony. The three Americans who thwarted a 2015 terror attack on a Paris-bound train were also awarded French citizenship in 2019.

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