Living rough in a tunnel in the north of Paris, 2021: Photo: InfoMigrants
Living rough in a tunnel in the north of Paris, 2021: Photo: InfoMigrants

French bureaucracy is notoriously complex, especially if the information is only available in French. This can make things difficult for migrants who have to learn what a lot of acronyms mean when they arrive. Here are a few of the most important terms to know.

➡️ This explainer is part of a series on acronyms for asylum seekers in different countries in Europe. Click here for an overview.

  • OFII: French Office for Immigration and Integration

OFII is a public body which looks after asylum seekers. In particular, it is responsible for reception, payment of the asylum seekers's allowance (ADA) and finding accommodation in 'CADA' (Reception Centers for Asylum Seekers).

  • OFPRA: French Office for the Protection of Refugees and Stateless Persons

OFPRA is the public body responsible for processing asylum claims and ensuring administrative protection of refugees. In 2021, OFPRA was responsible for more than 35,000 applications for protection (refugee status and subsidiary protection).

  • CNDA: National Court for the Right of Asylum

Located in Montreuil-sous-Bois, the CNDA is the administrative court of final appeal for asylum seekers who have had negative decisions from OFPRA.

  • ADA: Allowance for Asylum Seekers

ADA is financial support paid to asylum seekers. In order to be eligible, certain rules have to be respected: in particular, you must accept the Material Reception Conditions ('CMA'; housing and allowance) offered by OFII. The amount paid depends on the family situation of the applicant.

  • AME: State Medical Aid

State medical aid (AME) allows foreigners living in France in an irregular and insecure situation to benefit from access to a certain amount of care free of charge.

AME benefits everyone: migrants arriving irregularly in France often have health problems. AME allows them to receive treatment, but also protects the whole population by reducing the risk of the spread of disease.

  • PUMA: Universal Health Protection

Replacing the basic CMU (Universal Health Cover) since January 1, 2016, PUMA provides access to free medical care as soon as an asylum application is registered.

Applicants do not have to have to be legally residing in France to benefit from PUMA. But you must be able to provide one of the following:

  1. Proof that you have an appointment with, or summons from, the prefecture, or;
  2. an asylum application document equivalent to a temporary residence permit (APS), or;
  3. a receipt from OFPRA and proof of address in France. 

An application for PUMA should be submitted to the social security office, CPAM.

  • SPADA: Asylum Seekers’ First Reception Facility

The SPADA (first reception center for asylum seekers, formerly 'PADA') is the first port of call for asylum seekers. Run by associations such as Terre d'Asile in Paris, this is where you register a pre-application for asylum.

As soon as a migrant arrives in France, he or she must try to get an appointment at a SPADA as soon as possible. But queues are often very long and it can take up to three months to get a first appointment. During this time a migrant is not yet considered an asylum seeker and is at risk of being deported. 

PLEASE NOTE: In Paris and Île-de-France, the system is different: you must call the following number to make an appointment at SPADA: 01 42 500 900 

You can call Monday to Friday from 10am to 3:30pm. Languages spoken include French, English, Arabic, Tamil, Spanish, Mandarin, Pashto, Dari, Urdu, Turkish, and Farsi.

At the end of the telephone conversation, you will receive a text message (or an email) with a date and an appointment time at a SPADA in île-de-France. You will need to present this SMS (or email) during your appointment.

In Paris, it is pointless to go to a SPADA or to the prefecture without having obtained an appointment via this number beforehand, as you will be turned away. (Click here for the list of SPADA in île-de-France).

At your first appointment with a social worker at the SPADA, you will be given an appointment to attend the GUDA.

  • GUDA: One-stop-shop for Asylum Seekers

The GUDAs are where officers from the prefecture and the OFII are both located. You must go there after having obtained an appointment via a SPADA (see above).

At the GUDA, the officer from the prefecture will take your fingerprints to see if you are 'Dublin case'; that is, if your asylum application is the responsibility of France or another European country.

OFII prepares your file at GUDA before sending it to OFPRA. GUDA is also also where OFII grants you the right to an allowance (ADA).

>> For the list of GUDAs in France, click here

  • PRAHDA: Reception and Housing Program for Asylum Seekers

PRAHDA is an accommodation system created in February 2017 following a call for tenders by the Ministry of the Interior in Autumn, 2016.

This is a type of emergency accommodation with a capacity of approximately 5,000 places which houses asylum seekers or those wishing to apply for asylum, with priority given to single women and families (50% of places). Asylum seekers who are under a Dublin procedure can be sent to PRAHDA housing pending their transfer to the country responsible for examining their asylum application. 

  • CADA: Reception Center for Asylum Seekers

CADAs are reserved for migrants who have applied for asylum. Asylum seekers under a Dublin procedure are excluded. These centers provide accommodation, administrative and social follow-up (health cover, schooling, etc.). CADAs are usually managed by associations or NGOs.

According to the French Interior Ministry, there were around 46,600 CADA places in France as of December 2021.

>> List of Cadas in France and their contact details

  • CAES: Reception and Administrative Situation Examination Centers

The CAES were created in August 2017. They offer temporary accommodation and examine the administrative situation of migrants (in particular checking their fingerprints).

There are several CAES: Boulevard Ney (18th arrondissement of Paris), Ris-Orangis (Essonne), Cergy (Val d'Oise), Nanterre (Hauts-de-Seine), Vaux-le-Pénil (Seine-et -Marne), Troisvaux (Pas-de-Calais), Bailleul (North).

There is also the reception center of Ivry-sur-Seine, which is exclusively for women and families.

The NGO France Terre d'Asile (FTDA) is responsible for identifying and directing migrants to the various reception centers.

  • CAO: Reception and Orientation Center / CHUM: Emergency Accommodation Center for Migrants

Created in October 2015 in response to congestion in the CADAs, the CAOs were intended as temporary accommodation facilities. But they filled up after the dismantling of the 'Jungle' of Calais (in 2016) and are still being used. Funded by the State and managed by associations, there are nearly 400 CAOs spread throughout French territory (excluding Île-de-France and Corsica).

CHUMs are emergency accommodation centers for migrants in Paris and île-de-France. They come under the Ministry of Housing and the île de France prefecture (and not the OFII like the CAOs). Their function is similar to the CAOs.

  • CRA: Administrative Detention Center

A CRA is a place where those who are not permitted to remain on French territory are detained prior to removal. The maximum period of administrative detention is 90 days. To date, there are 25 administrative detention centers on French territory.

  • OQTF: Obligation to Leave French Territory

The OQTF is the main expulsion measure for foreigners who are refused a residence permit in France. Almost systematically applied to rejected asylum seekers, it obliges them to leave French territory within 30 days or, in some situations, immediately.

A person who is subject to removal can also apply for assisted voluntary return (ARV) from OFII. Plane tickets are then paid for by the French State.

Other acronyms or vocabulary to know

MNA: mineur non accompagné: Unaccompanied minor (also MIE in French)

EURODAC: European database for recording and storing fingerprints of asylum seekers: used to implement the Dublin Regulation

DÉBOUTÉ (DISMISSED): Person who has been refused asylum. The rejected person becomes, de facto, an undocumented person.

DUBLIN REGULATION: European Union law determining which country is responsible for examining an asylum application – normally the country where the asylum seeker first entered Europe.

Adapted from the French original article updated in May 2022 


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