Our history

Immigration before the creation of the ONI (National Office of Immigration)

During the nineteenth century, immigration controls were almost non-existent.

During the first World War, France needed to fulfil the needs in terms of work force in the textile industry. In order to reach these objectives, agreements to recruit foreigners’ workers were signed with other European States and ministerial services were created in France.

  • The agricultural work force Service
  • The foreign work force Service
  • Colonies workers Service

After the war ended, these services were only tasked with controlling this workforce. Foreign worker’s recruitment and travels were directly managed by companies. Towards the 1920s, the Social Support Service for Migrants (SSAE) helped migrants in social and humanitarian emergency situation. In 1924, alongside this association, the General Company for Industrial and Agricultural Immigration (SGI) was created by employer’s organisations. This institution helped make France the first European country for immigration during the inter-war period.

The 1930s crisis was then the right time for establishing an immigration policy in France. It is only in 1938 that the first Under Secretary for Immigration was created.

The initiative to establish a migration policy was suspended during the Vichy regime because of the racist and anti-Jewish measures then. It was not until the Liberation that reflections on the matter resumed.

1945 – 1950s: the ONI plays a major role in the reconstruction of France

After the war, general de Gaulle must lead France to recovery. Therefore, he signs the ordinance of 2 November, 1945 thereby creating the National Office for Immigration, the ONI (Chapter 5). The Office is the first State institution to hold a monopoly on the recruitment of foreign workers. This public establishment with an administrative character is under the authority of:

  • The Ministry of Labour and Social Security for the recruitment of foreigners
  • The Ministry of Public Health and Population for the medical exams of foreigners.

The ONI plays a major role in the French reconstruction, mainly when it comes to workforce recruitment. At that time, the ONI was very interested in the Italian population in fulfilling the lack of resources in mines and construction work. That is when a first centre was opened in Turin and then transferred to Milan for selecting workers. At the same time, centres in France were regularising the situation of illegal Italian inmigrants and integrating them in the corresponding activity sectors. Moreover, sick workers were sent to their home countries.

From 1948 to 1950, the ONI’s activities are less and less frequent. This slowdown in activities is caused by the decreased economic forecast as well as the decrease in action resources and means.  It is not before 1951 that the Office found new resources thanks to a unique tax that has to be paid upon the renewal of work permits. 

The 1960s: Europe starts taking interest in the ONI’s activities

In the 1960s, the ONI’s missions extended to reach Spain, Tunisia, Yugoslavia, Morocco and Turkey. Recruitments were focused on:

  • Seasonal workers
  • Permanent immigration
  • Illegal migrants regularisation

The Office was tasked with appropriately receiving foreigners as to fight against illegal immigration. There were nearly 6 million foreigners who were processed by the ONI from 1945 to 1975.

What were the ONI’s activities?

The ONI was tasked with the recruitment of foreign workers as well as controlling the migratory flow. Therefore, it carried out many tasks related to professional immigration:

  • Recruiting foreign workers
  • Selecting profiles depending on physical and intellectual aptitudes
  • Carrying out a medical check-up

The 1970 – 1980s: the ONI reviews its objectives in the midst of an economic crisis

At the beginning of the 1970s, the migration policy in France was based upon the integration of foreigners and their equality of their rights with those of the French people. However, the French economy is hit by the oil crisis. Immigration of permanent workers is consequently suspended in 1974 and mission activities abroad slowed down.

This situation does not impede the ONI’s activities. In fact, the Office even reviews its objectives.

  • First objective: participation in the National Reception Network. It aims at integrating and informing foreigners in France. The ONI agents have the task of the reception of workers and their families as well as referring them to the essential services.
  •  Second objectif : family immigration. This matter became a major challenge for the first time in France. The Office had to check if the worker who wishes to bring their family has sufficient resources as well as a convenient house to receive them.
  •  Third objective: assistance with return. The assistance with return was first implemented in 1977. The idea was to avoid letting workers return to their countries in precarious conditions. However, this process was still thoroughly discussed then. Eventually, the assistance with return process was replaced in 1981 by reintegration assistance in the country of origin, which showed better results.

1990 – 2000: The ONI becomes the OMI

In 1988, the ONI becomes the Office for International Migrations (OMI). This new name opens up new objectives and new perspectives.


The OMI looked at what was until then underexploited: expatriation or the placement and support of French nationals in job positions abroad.

The implementation of individual interview

From the 1990s onwards, the OMI started focusing on social matters and integration of migrants. Besides the reception of foreigners and the medical exams, the Office put into practice a personalised interview with the foreigner as to assess his needs on the territory (employment, house, language training). In 1998, the reception platforms (PFA) were created. These platforms are exclusively process application for family reunions.

The implementation of civic and language trainings

La politique d’intégration de l’époque fut fortement critiquée par un rapport du Haut Conseil à l’intégration en 2001. Cette entité estime que la

The integration policy of that era was heavily criticised in a report from the High Council for Integration in 2001. This institution considered that the policy concerned only 10% of migrants on French territory. It recommended the implementation of a “individual integration contract” which took the form of the Reception and Integration Contract (CAI).

This contract which was generally applied in 2005 made it possible to offer foreigners with a professional training (civic and language) or employment services.

Revision of the resettling and assistance with return process

The resettling and assistance with return is a process that was already discussed and managed by the ONI. However, the OMI organised a new process in 1998 and mobilised various associations. The programmes that were put in place yielded a better reinsertion of migrants into their countries of origin.


In 2003, the OMI becomes responsible of the medical follow-up of asylum seekers. The following year, it is tasked with the reception of asylum seekers in France and handles the flows by referring them to asylum seekers reception centres which are gathered under the national reception process (DNA). This is the first time such a task was entrusted to a public operator instead of an association.

Since 2000: OMI, SSAE, ANAEM and finally the OFII

The institution charged with the handling of migratory flows has continually changed names. The SSAE replaced the OMI. In 2005, the National Agency for Foreigners and Migrants Reception (ANAEM) was created. Eventually, the Sarkozy government decided to put in place a unique operator which is the French Office for Immigration and Integration (OFII) in 2009.

The OFII is today the first interlocutor when it comes to foreigner’s reception, support and integration. It operates under the supervision of the General Directorate of Foreigners in France from the Ministry of Interior since 2010.

The OFII missions are the following:

  • Reception and integration of migrants
  • Support with return and reinsertion
  • Support for asylum seekers;
  • The implementation of the “sick foreigners” reform.