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LIVING IN FRANCE

Brits seeking permanent residency in France told ‘come back after Brexit’

Worried British nationals in some parts of France are seeing their attempts to secure their futures scuppered by French authorities who are effectively telling them to wait until after Brexit. Which is exactly what they wanted to avoid.

Brits seeking permanent residency in France told 'come back after Brexit'
Photo: AFP
Since Britain's shock vote to leave the EU in June 2016 many worried British citizens in France have been taking steps to secure their status in their adopted country.
 
While some have gone down the route of seeking French citizenship, others have applied for permanent residency permits, known as a carte de séjour, which can be obtained if you have lived in France for five years continuously.
 
While the residency permits are not necessary for EU citizens, which until the UK's official Brexit still includes British nationals, they are considered useful given the ongoing uncertainty around the rights of Brits living in the EU, not least because the permit certifies that a person has been living in France on a “stable and legal basis”.
 
Essentially if talks fail then those with a carte de séjour will have secured permanent residency before the expected rush.
 
British nationals have the right to apply for a carte de séjour but ever since the referendum Brits have been reporting problems obtaining one.
 
While many have no problems some departments, notably the Gironde in south west France, have been effectively telling applicants to come back once Brexit has happened. 
 
Phillip Mold, 60, who lives in Gironde, is one of those who had his application rejected. He was sent a letter reminding him that the the referendum result hasn't yet changed the legal situation for Brits in France.
 
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In other words until Brexit is signed, sealed and delivered Brits have no need of a residency permit, so come back later. But it was the uncertainty further down the line that Brits in France were hoping to avoid by gaining a carte de séjour.
 
“I have no faith in the UK government and if they anger the French government during the negotiations then each side could end up refusing to look after each other's citizens or guarantee our right to remain,” Mold told The Local.
 
“There will be almighty queues at the prefectures, but if you already have a carte de séjour then you have already jumped over most of the hurdles.
 
“I don't really have any legal redress. They have the right to say no. I thought about going to court but I don't want to kick up a fuss and cause problems because I might need them further down the line.”
 
However those turned down are encouraged to go back to the prefecture and point out their legal entitlements.
 
A spokeswoman for the department of Gironde confirmed to The Local on Monday that British citizens are being sent letters asking them to delay their applications.
 
“The referendum hasn't changed anything for the moment. British citizens are still citizens of the EU and can still stay in France. We invite them to apply when they are no longer EU citizens and therefore need a carte de séjour.
 
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“It could still be a long time before the UK leaves the EU, when we have a date then it will be time to look at the applications.
 
“This is not a refusal. We are just telling them there's no urgency. There is a big demand for residency permits so we are telling British citizens it's not necessary yet. There is still a lot of time.”
 
The spokesperson added that applications from Brits had risen since Brexit and just like British nationals lamented the lack of certainty with regards to future rights of EU and British citizens.
 
Back in May the EU promised to investigate the problem around British nationals seeking permanent residency permits and even though France's Interior Ministry agrees it is their right to obtain one, prefectures in different departments seem to have different approaches.
 
Earlier this month the British embassy in Paris also asked citizens who had been refused a residency permit to come forward as they try to gather evidence of where the problems are.
 
“We are just trying to gather evidence of where people are encountering local difficulties which would allow us to build up a picture of any particular problems,” a source at the embassy told The Local.
 
British citizens in France are divided about what to do as a result of the referendum with many thinking there's no need to go down the route of seeking residency permits just yet because they are confident negotiations will eventually succeed and their right to remain in France will be guaranteed.
 
Nevertheless community groups that have formed out of the referendum recommend applying as “good practice”.
 
The Remain in France Together (RIFT) group writes: We recommend applying for a carte de séjour as good practice. Because as British citizens settling in France we are not required to register our arrival with our mairie or elsewhere, it isn't always evident how long each of us has been a resident.
 
“Going through the (relatively simple) procedure now of applying for a carte de séjour as an EU citizen will make sure that your date of arrival is formally registered, so that once Brexit has happened you can easily demonstrate that you are already resident and hence can benefit from the citizens' rights agreement.”
 
But while Gironde and other departments may be asking applicants to come back later many Brits in France report obtaining a carte de séjour without a problem.
 
A spokeswoman for the Indre-et-Loire department told The Local: “Nothing has changed but if British citizens really insist of on obtaining a carte de séjour then we will deal with the application.”
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READER QUESTIONS

Reader question: Why does secular France have Catholic holidays?

You might not have thought about it too much as you enjoyed an extra day off work, but it is perhaps unexpected that France - proudly secular since 1905 - has so many public holidays based around Catholic festivals.

Reader question: Why does secular France have Catholic holidays?

Reader question: Why does France have Catholic holidays like Ascension, Assumption and Toussaints? I thought it was supposed to be a secular republic?

The French Republic is very proud of its secular principles but yet as some readers observed, many public holidays are linked to Catholic celebrations, a reminder of its religious history.

Roughly half of the public holidays in France represent Catholic events: Easter, Ascension (May 26th), Assumption (August 15th), Pentecost (for some people), All Saints’ day (November 1st) and of course Christmas.

If you live in Alsace-Moselle (formerly Alsace-Lorraine) you get two extra holidays, both religious ones – Good Friday (the Friday before Easter) and St Stephen’s Day (December 26th) – more on why that is later.

France’s secular stance takes its roots in the Declaration of the Rights of Man and of the Citizen of 1789 but was formally codified into law in 1905. 

France does not recognise, pay or subsidise any religion. So French local and national governments are not allowed to finance churches, mosques, synagogues or temples, and religious symbolism is not allowed in State buildings or for representatives of the State.

It is these rules that mean that, for example, French primary schools don’t perform nativity plays at Christmas and French female police officers are not permitted to wear the Muslim headscarf while on duty.

EXPLAINED What does France’s secularism really mean?

The flip side of this is that freedom of worship is also protected in the 1905 law, and everyone is allowed to practice whatever religion they choose in their private life.

The only exception to the secular rules are the three departments of Alsace-Moselle. When the 1905 law was passed the region was part of Germany and only became French again at the end of World War I. As part of the compromise agreed, today bishops, priests, rabbis and pastors have the status of civil servants and the state pays for the maintenance of religious buildings. Religious education in public schools is also preserved.

So all that seems to pretty strongly suggest that Catholic festivals should play no part in France’s holiday calendar and only the secular events – such as the Fête nationale on July 14th or VE Day on May 8th – should remain.

However, by the time secularism was formally codified into law in 1905 there was already a fairly fixed calendar of holidays and festivals – although this had already been slimmed down under the Napoleonic government in 1802 – and suddenly axing popular festivals was likely to go down pretty badly with the population at large.

Essentially then, this was a pragmatic compromise between tradition and secularism and over the years politicians have been understandably reluctant to tell the French they must lose their holidays.

But it’s noticeable that all the religious festivals in the calendar are Christian ones, and while this may reflect France’s history it’s not so representative of the current demographics, where an estimated 10 percent of the population either practice the Muslim faith or have a Muslim family background.

So could we see a scenario when we knock Ascension on the head but make Eid a public holiday?

It’s theoretically possible – in 2015 the French parliament voted through an amendment that would allow the départments of France’s Overseas Territories (Martinique, Gaudeloupe, Mayotte, Réunion and French Guiana) to switch a Catholic bank holiday for another religious celebration to suit different faiths in the local population.

However none of the overseas départements has yet made that move. 

A fresh amendment would be required to make the same move in mainland France, and there appears to be little political appetite for that at present.

What are France’s public holidays? 

  • January 1st: New Year’s Day
  • Good Friday (the Friday before Easter Monday, only a holiday in Alsace-Lorraine)
  • Easter Monday (movable date)
  • May 1st: May Day
  • May 8th: VE Day
  • May 26th: Ascension Day
  • Pentecost (movable date and no longer an official holiday)
  • July 14th – Bastille Day
  • August 15th – Assumption
  • November 1st – All Saints
  • November 11th – Armistice Day
  • December 25th – Christmas
  • December 26th – St Stephen’s Day (only a holiday in Alsace-Lorraine)
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