December 25 (BBC) – Hundreds of immigrants in France working on the coronavirus frontline have had their service to the country recognised with fast-track citizenship.
The interior ministry invited residents helping with efforts against Covid-19 to apply for accelerated naturalisation.
More than 700 have already been granted citizenship or are in the final stages of receiving it.
They include healthcare professionals, cleaners and shop workers.
Frontline workers around the world have been exposed to Covid-19 at a high rate with many dying from the disease including doctors and nurses.
France is in the top 10 countries worst hit by coronavirus infections, with more than 2.5 million confirmed cases and close to 62,000 deaths.
The expediated citizenship initiative was first announced in September. Seventy-four people have already been granted a French passport and another 693 are in the final stages. A total of 2,890 people have applied so far.
“Health professionals, cleaning ladies, childcare workers, checkout staff: They all proved their commitment to the nation, and it is now the turn of the republic to take a step towards them,” the office of Marlene Schiappa, junior minister for citizenship, said on Tuesday.
Normally a successful applicant must have been resident in France for five years with a stable income and demonstrated integration into French society.
But the government has said frontline Covid workers must only live in France for two years to be eligible for citizenship in recognition of their “great services rendered”.
In 2017 France’s immigrant population was 6.4 million, including a significant number from former colonies including in north and west Africa, but becoming a citizen can be a fraught and slow process. The number of people granted naturalisation is decreasing, with 10% fewer in 2019 than in 2018.
It isn’t the first time that France has recognised bravery and contributions to the nation with citizenship.
In 2018, Malian man Mamoudou Gassama was awarded French citizenship after he was dubbed “spiderman” for rescuing a small boy dangling from a Paris balcony.