AbstractThe long tradition of immigration to France notwithstanding, the composition of the country’s foreign-origin population did not become known in any detail until the end of the twentieth century. Three attempts to produce an overall estimate of the foreign-origin population were made in the last century (1927, 1942 and 1986) but none could distribute it by precise origin. This is now possible thanks to the new questions included in the 1999 EHF survey (parental country of origin and language use), even though the method of estimation is extremely complex and includes some uncertainties related notably to the difficulty of separating the descendants of immigrants from those of repatriates born in the former colonies. The historical depth supplied by the EHF survey provides a degree of distancing from topical concerns and highlights the large demographic contribution of the migration streams that tend to be forgotten because they are older (or have comprised several waves). Of nearly 14 million persons of foreign origin (immigrants or persons with at least one immigrant parent or grandparent), 5.2 million are of southern European origin, while only 3 million are of Maghrebin origin.