France was a popular destination for Persian (Iranian) international students in the early 20th century. The first government-sponsored Persian students, a group of 20, all went to France in 1926. In 1932, the Pahlavi government drew up a competitive examination to determine the distribution of government scholarships to aspiring international students; 110 out of the 125 students who passed the examination went to France, making them the overwhelming majority of all Persian students abroad. Another 66 chose France as their destination the following year. Aside from government-sponsored students, there were also 537 privately financed Persian students living in France in 1934, nearly half of the total 1,165 privately financed international students. However, in 1938, a governmental decree prohibited students from going abroad on private funds to pursue degrees. The Iranian students in France lived in dormitories on their school campuses, unlike Iranian students in Germany who rented private accommodations by themselves; this meant that they were often subject to surveillance by officials from the Iranian embassy, and prevented the growth of anti-Pahlavi activism among them. Germany, rather than France, would thus become the major European centre of Iranian dissent in the 1930s.
Today, Iranians in France consist primarily of "political emigrants", who left Iran immediately after the revolution, because their association with communists, monarchists, or other opposition groups put them in danger, and "socio-cultural emigrants"—especially women and youths—who had little political affiliation but left Iran more slowly in the years following the revolution due to despair over the future of Iranian society. France expelled some of the political migrants, including Massoud Rajavi and his People's Mujahedin of Iran, in an effort to improve relations with Iran and secure the release of French hostages held by pro-Iranian forces in Lebanon.