France sees 254 percent jump in Brits seeking French citizenship since Brexit

There are a lots of Brits who aren't waiting to find out how Britain's plans to leave the EU pan out before getting their French citizenship sorted, with a massive rise of 254 percent in requests.

France sees 254 percent jump in Brits seeking French citizenship since Brexit
Photo: AFP
Formal Brexit discussions have just got underway but there are a lot of British people in France who aren't waiting to see if the politicians come up with a good deal before claiming French citizenship.
Understandably concerned about what the future holds for their status in France as Britain's plans to leave the European Union move forward, the number of British people requesting French citizenship has shot up up from 385 in 2015 to a whopping 1,363 in 2016, French newspaper Le Monde has reported, according to information from France's Interior Ministry.
This represents an overwhelming increase of 254 percent in requests. 
Photo: AFP
Although that figure may be small compared to the total number of Brits living in France – believed to be between 150,000 and 200,000 the figures show that fears about the future are rising among France's British population. 
And this is without taking into account the figures from January 2017, which have not yet been released by the Interior Ministry.
The rise will probably come as no surprise to many given that many Brits had vowed to seek French nationality if Brexit was voted through.
“My kids were all born in France and have lived here all their lives,” reader Nick Wood told The Local previously. “I cannot risk them getting booted out of the only home they know just because they are British citizens and Britain is no longer part of the EU.”
And it seems like this attitude will prevail, with estimates from several French prefectures indicating that the number of requests is still on the rise. 
The prefecture of the department of Ille-et-Vilaine in Brittany in the north west of the country, which takes care of the requests for naturalisation for the four Breton departments, recorded, “a very big increase in the number of requests at the beginning of the year.”
In just five months, the prefecture received 110 ten applications, compared to 50 between July and December in 2016. Before 2016, just 10 to 20 files were handled each year. 
And at the prefecture in the department of Deux-Sèvres, responsible for the citizenship requests in the former region of Poitou-Charentes on the French Atlantic coast, the same trend is evident. 
Since the beginning of 2017, Deux-Sèvres has received 62 files compared to 16 in the first six months of 2016.
The requests are mostly coming from the older population, the Ille-et-Vilaine reported. 
British Secretary of State for Exiting the European Union (Brexit Minister) David Davis (left) with the EU's chief negotiator Michel Barnier (right). Photo: AFP
“In meetings, they say that it's Brexit that has led them to request French nationality, as a result of serious concerns they have over the possibility of staying in France because of the negotiations,” the prefecture told Le Monde
It typically takes a year and a half to  go through the process of gaining French citizenship. As a result, there has not been much of a rise in the number of Brits being naturalised between 2015 and 2016, with the figure increasing from 320 to 439. 
The French ministry of the interior told Le Monde: “The requests will be subject to review from the naturalisation services, not all candidates are certain of receiving French nationality.”
But while the path to French citizenship may be an arduous and red tape-strewn one, we do have some advice from people who have been through it all before.  
It's crucial to source information about the right documents to provide from the right place, and that's from your local prefecture, says Christine Biardeau, a 29-year-old in Toulouse who runs a Facebook group to help local Brits to get French nationality. 
“Ask the prefecture to send you the list and have everything they ask for on the list. I got lists from the government site and the prefecture site and they were different to the one the lady had at the prefecture,” she tells The Local. 
She adds that sometimes it's worth bypassing the websites altogether. 
“I couldn't get a meeting through the site and it was driving me mad, so I sent a lengthy email explaining why I needed French nationality (in French) to which they replied by calling me and getting me an urgent appointment,” she said. 

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Brits in Europe won right to vote for life in UK but questions remain

After years of campaigns and promises British citizens living abroad finally won the lifelong right to vote in UK general elections in April 2022. But campaigners say more needs to be done to allow all those Britons abroad to be able cast their votes easily.

Brits in Europe won right to vote for life in UK but questions remain

What’s in the law?

The Elections Act 2022 introduced several changes to the current legislation on electoral participation. Among these, it removed the rule by which British citizens lose their voting rights in the UK if they have lived abroad for more than 15 years

The new rules also abolished the requirement to have been previously registered in the UK electoral roll to become an overseas voter. In addition, the registration in the electoral roll will now last up to three years instead of only one year.

It is estimated that these changes could increase the number of overseas voter registrations by some 3 million. But the way new measures will be applied in practice is still to be defined.

READ ALSO: ‘Mixed feelings’ – British citizens in Europe finally get right to vote for life

Defining the practicalities

Under the new law, Britons living abroad will have to register to vote in the last place they were registered in the UK. This means that people who have never lived in the UK will be ineligible to vote, regardless of how long they have been overseas, while those who left when they were children will be able to use a parent or guardian’s address.

But given that the UK does not require residents to register with local councils, how to prove previous UK residence? “Typical documents accepted as a proof of residence are Council tax or utilities bills, but not everyone will have them or will have kept them in an international move,” says Fiona Godfrey, co-founder of the British in Europe coalition.

Ballot papers are pictured in stacks in a count centre as part of the 2019 UK general election. (Photo by ANDY BUCHANAN / AFP)

Other questions concern how people will effectively cast their ballot. UK citizens overseas will be able to vote by post or by proxy or in person at their polling station if they are in the UK at the time of the election. However, few people are likely to travel to the UK for an election and in the past there have problems and delays with postal voting.

The Electoral Commission has recommended that overseas electors appoint a proxy to vote on their behalf. But who could that be for people who have been away from their constituency for a long time?

New secondary legislation will have to answer these questions, defining how to be included in the electoral roll and how to exercise the voting right in practice.

According to British in Europe, the government should present draft legislation in the first half of the year so that the parliament can adopt it before summer and registrations of overseas voters can start in the autumn.

British in Europe survey

British in Europe are currently running a survey to understand the difficulties UK citizens abroad may face in the registration and voting process, as well as their intention to participate in elections.

The survey asks for instance which documents people can access to prove their previous residence in the UK, what problems they had voting in the past, and if and how they plan to vote in the future.

“We need to get an up-to-date picture of British citizens living around the world and have information to make recommendations to the government, as it prepares secondary legislation,” Godfrey said. “If millions of people will exercise their voting rights, there will be consequences for council registration offices, post office and authorities that will manage the process, among other things” she argued.

The right to vote concerns only UK parliamentary elections and national referendums, not elections in the devolved administrations of Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland, or at local level.

The survey is open to UK citizens living anywhere in the world and is available at this link.