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EXPATS

Brits living in France tell UK parliament: ‘You must act now to protect us’

British nationals living in France and other European countries have urged UK Prime Minister Theresa May to make a speedy and "magnanimous gesture" to help secure their futures.

Brits living in France tell UK parliament: 'You must act now to protect us'
Photo: AFP

A group of British nationals, including Christopher Chantrey, who is head of the British Community Committee of France, told a parliamentary select committee in Westminster that the UK should make the first move when it comes to the increasingly thorny issue of the rights of EU citizens in Britain and those of Brits living around Europe.

In her landmark Brexit speech on Tuesday, British Prime Minister Theresa May admitted she was reluctant to guarantee the rights of French, Spanish and other EU nationals living in the UK, until she was given similar guarantees about Brits living in France and Spain.

In other words the five million people affected – two million Brits and three million EU nationals living in the UK – are being used as a pawn in negotiations, that will only begin once the British government triggers the famous Article 50.

Christopher Chantrey and Sue Wilson, a British national living in Spain, told the parliament select committee, led by Labour MP Hilary Benn, that Theresa May must make the first move.

“We want something to be done immediately,” said Chantrey. “It is the UK triggering this process. It would be a magnanimous gesture and a good way to open the negotiations, by saying ‘this is what we are going to do for EU nationals in the UK’.

Sue Wilson added: “People are suffering now and people have been suffering since [the referendum on] June 23rd because of fear and anxiety about what is going to happen in the future.

“Whatever needs to be decided needs to be decided soon because these people can’t wait two and half years for the solution,” said Wilson.

“Theresa May needs to act now and that would encourage other countries to reciprocate and would improve relations at the start of negotiations.”

She told the committee that Brits abroad were still British citizens and should be looked after as such by the British government. 

Their wish was echoed by Frenchman Nicolas Hatton head of the group “3million” which campaigns for the rights of EU citizens living in the UK.

“We want the British government to make the first move, because it’s the UK which is leaving the EU and not the other way round,” said Hatton.

The select committee also heard about the real concerns and worries that have blighted Brits living in the EU since the referendum result, namely around healthcare, future pensions and the right to remain in the countries where they have made their home.

“Pensioners are already suffering from the falling exchange rates. They are worried about what will happen to their pensions and their healthcare cover,” said Spain-based Sue Wilson.

“We need to get away from this perception that expats in Spain are all on holiday and have a good income and good standard of living. Many people are struggling financially.

(AFP)

“They are concerned about whether they can stay in the country or whether they will be forced to come back to the UK.”

Chantrey warned the committee that there would be a significant impact on the UK if tens of thousands of British pensioners living throughout the EU were forced to return “homeless, without health cover and with diminishing pensions.”

In October a French parliamentary committee heard similar concerns about the rights of British expats in France post referendum.

In that meeting the British Community Committee of France's Christopher Chantrey told of how some local authorities in France were already acting as though Brexit had happened.

He told the meeting how some prefectures were not cooperative about the rights of Britons trying to obtain a “carte de sejour” residency card. The rules seemed to be different depending on which department people were in.
 
He spoke of one British citizen being told they couldn't have French nationality because it was “too late”. “Britain was no longer in the EU”, they had been told.
 
A specialist in EU law Myriam Benlolo-Carabot told the round-table meeting in the National Assembly, that unless reciprocal agreements are made the impact on the rights of Britons would be “cataclysmic”.

“When Britain leaves the EU then Britons in France will formally and legally no longer be EU citizens,” said Benlolo-Carabot.

“They would be foreigners like all the others. Of course you can imagine the cataclysm that would provoke.”

Speaking to The Local on Wednesday Benlolo-Carabot said: “Of course everything depends on the upcoming negotiations, but the two sides are being very firm and hard in their stances, but they need to find a compromise.

“I completely understand the fears of British citizens living in the EU. A solution needs to be found.”

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VISAS

‘Be ready to wait’: Your tips for getting a French visa post-Brexit

Now that Britain is out of the EU, just how much harder is the process of moving to France from the UK after Brexit? British readers share their experiences of applying for visas as 'third country nationals’.

'Be ready to wait': Your tips for getting a French visa post-Brexit

Whether you’re moving to France to live, or you’re a second-home owner wanting to spend more than 90 days out of every 180 in France, if you’re British you will now need a visa.

You can find more on how to apply for a visa, and how to understand what type of visa you need, in our visa section HERE.

But how these systems work in practice is not always the same as the theory.

To learn more about the process of getting a visa as a UK national, The Local asked British readers for their experiences of going through the system.

The consensus among respondents was that the whole thing was bureaucratic, though there were notable differences in experiences that ranged from the “easy” to the “complicated” and “time-consuming”, while the advice for future applicants was, routinely, have all your paperwork ready – and be prepared for a lengthy wait at one of the UK’s TLS centres

Appointments

Like most visas, French visas for UK nationals must be applied for before you leave home. You can find a full explanation of the process here, but the basic outline is that you apply for the visa online, and then have an in-person appointment in the UK in order to present your paperwork. 

Sue Clarke told us: “As long as you get all your paperwork together correctly and in the right order, the time it takes to receive your passport back with the visa in it once TLS has sent it off is only a few days.

“TLS – the centre which works on behalf of the French Embassy to collate your application – is so very busy,” she added. “That part of the process took hours even when you have an appointment.”

READ ALSO EXPLAINED: What type of French visa do you need?

“The visa process itself was fairly well run, and a decision for the initial visa was quick,” wrote Ian Sheppard, who successfully applied for a visa in July 2022. 

“Although getting the follow up residence permit was a pain, [and] took longer than expected, and there was little to no communication with severely limited ways to get in touch about the application.”

Sheppard thought that, biometrics apart, the process could have taken place online, and wondered whether the follow-up residence permit application could be more closely linked to the initial visa application, “rather than effectively submitting the same application twice”.

Georgina Ann Jolliffe described the process as “stressful”. 

“A lot of the initial stage was unclear and I needed a lot of reassurance about the visa trumping the Schengen 90 days. (The Local helped on that one),” she wrote. 

“[The] lack of ready communication was very stressful. It could be slicker, however staff at Manchester TLS were excellent.”

Jacqueline Maudslay, meanwhile, described the process as “complicated”, saying: “The waiting times for the appointment with the handling agent (TLS in the UK) are long and difficult to book online. We applied for a long-stay visa and were given a short-stay visa, with no reasoning and no option of talking to anyone.  

“We had met every criteria for the long-stay visa. There needs to be a contact link with the French Consular website directly for discussing visa applications.”

Handling agent TLS’s website – the first port of call for applicants from the UK – was a target for criticism.

“The TLS system is probably the most user unfriendly system I have ever used,” wrote Susan Kirby. “It throws up errors for no legitimate reason and even changes data you have keyed in. Dates are in American format so you have to be very careful and it can be very difficult to edit.”

Bea Addison, who applied for a visa in September 2021 with a view to retiring in France, agreed that it was complicated and believes the French system is chaotic and badly organised compared to other countries. “Even staff in the French Embassy in London were not knowledgeable of the process and documentation,” she wrote.

“The renewal in France was applied for in July 2022 … we have received an attestation that we will be granted renewal visas, which expired in October 2022, but we have not yet received a date to attend the préfecture due to a backlog.

Second-home owners

Many of our survey respondents were not moving to France, but were instead second-home owners who did not want to be constrained by the 90-day rule.

They have the option of remaining residents of the UK and applying for a short-stay French visitor visa – which must be renewed every year.

Second-home owner Peter Green told us: “Our appointment with TLS was delayed by two and a half hours and the whole experience was chaotic.

“We now have to go through exactly the same process again to get a visa for 2023. With second-home owners there should be a fast track that just involves proving financial viability, nothing else has changed. The system needs to be fully computerised.”

Second-home owner Alan Cranston told us his application met with no problems, but came with “unwanted cost and effort”. 

“Our six-month visa was for our first stint at our house in France in the spring, and that then overlapped our second visit in the autumn which was under Schengen. How that is handled seems to be a muddle (we did not leave the country for a day at the end of the six months, as some advise),” he said. 

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