Brexit: Why Brits in France should apply for a carte de séjour right now

Although there is no legal obligation for Brits in France to get a carte de séjour residency permit, campaigners are urging them to obtain one with Brexit looming on the horizon. Here's why.

Brexit: Why Brits in France should apply for a carte de séjour right now
Photo: AFP

While there are an estimated 150,000 British citizens living in France, it is believed only around 15,000 have applied for a French residency permit called a carte de séjour.

One of the reasons why only 10 percent of Brits in France have obtained one is that there hasn't been and currently isn't any legal obligation for them to do so. As EU citizens they are perfectly entitled to be a permanent resident in France without having to obtain an official permit.

But Brexit has obviously complicated things and the campaign group Remain in France Together (RIFT), France's Ministry of Interior and the UK Embassy are all urging British nationals to get a carte de séjour as soon as possible.

'Why shouldn't I just wait until after Brexit' you might ask, well for one by applying now it should save potential problems, paperwork and time once Britain's divorce from the EU officially goes through at the end of the transition period in December 2020.

“If the draft withdrawal agreement is eventually ratified, it includes the agreement that holders of a carte de séjour will be able to swap them for whatever new special residency card may be required for Britons in future with only production of ID and a criminality check,” Debra Archer from RIFT tells The Local.

“There will be no fee involved. There are at least 150,000 British people living in France, probably more, so there could be long delays in dealing with applications for cards in future.

“Applying now will spread the load and ensure a smooth transition to whatever new system is introduced to document our rights to stay in France.”

And the same goes for anyone who hasn't been resident in France for five years. The card will show you were legally resident in France before Britain left the EU and under the terms of the withdrawal agreement you will be able to build up the required five years after Brexit, says Archer

And just in case Britain crashes out of the EU with no agreement, which some Brexit-backing politicians in the UK are still arguing for, then having a carte de séjour will only be a benefit “because it proves that you have been legally resident under the rules that applied to your stay,” says Archer.

Brexit Q&A: Embassy responds to questions from anxious Brits in France

“Some people say that the carte de séjour will no longer be valid because it is issued to us as EU Citizens, which we will no longer be if the UK leaves the EU. I don't believe this to be true because it proves that we have an existing residence right and that can't simply be removed from us because our country left the EU.”

“If there is no withdrawal agreement I believe that those with a carte de séjour will be able to swap it for an equivalent “third country national” card, which we no doubt would have to apply for.”

But it's not just Brexit that makes getting a carte de séjour worthwhile, says Archer.

“Even if the UK doesn't end up leaving the EU a carte de séjour is useful anyway,” said Archer. “Once you have become a permanent resident you just never know when your circumstances might change and you might need to prove your right to stay in France.

“I certainly feel more secure having proof of my legal status in France, ” says Archer.

And it helps you avoid having to gather a lot of paperwork if you are required to prove you have the right to stay.

“The carte de séjour is a useful document to have to prove to the various official bodies that you have mostly the same rights as a French national” says Archer.

While some Brits in France have moved to ease any Brexit nerves and secure their future by applying for French nationality, the process of obtaining a carte de séjour is a lot simpler and quicker.

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“Applying for a carte de sejour is just applying for a proof of a right we already have automatically which is why it's different to applying for French nationality,” says Archer.

Essentially the carte de séjour permanent is a right for all EU citizens who have been continually resident for five years in France.

You will have to prove that with the right paperwork and documents and if you are not working you will have to show you have adequate health care cover and income to basically show you won't be a burden to the state. Note that as long as you had adequate income for a five year period you still qualify even though your income may have dropped by the time you apply.

There is much more in depth advice on the rules and regulations of the carte de séjour on the RIFT website.

Notably for those working or self employed there are no minimum income limits defined by the rules, “but the work has to be genuine and effective and not marginal and ancillary”.

Different prefectures have different lists of the documents you might need to provide. And bear in mind there is no set application process to go through, the best thing to do is contact your local prefecture to find out how to start the process, which could take anything from a few weeks to several months.

There is much more in depth advice on the rules and regulations of the carte de séjour on the RIFT website.

But it's not just RIFT who are advising Brits to get a carte de séjour in France.

After meeting with campaigners representatives of France's Ministry of Interior have encouraged the word to be spread that now is a good time for Brits to get a carte de séjour.

And representatives of the British Embassy in Paris have also suggested it would be a good idea.

“It does make sense to get your paperwork in order to speed things up in due course,” an embassy official said in response to a question from a British national about whether they should get a carte de séjour.

Problems with certain prefectures

There has been confusion and even opposition at certain prefectures around France when faced with an application from a British national, mainly because they haven't had to deal with many, if any, in recent years given there has been no legal need to apply.

“I have a friend who was turned away at the prefecture at Tulle, in Correze after being told they were not being issued to Brits until after Brexit. However the next day another British national was able to obtain one after insisting it was their legal right,” said Archer.

Brits have reported various issues at prefectures in Nice and in Paris, mainly to do with queuing times, but Archer believes French authorities are now getting up to speed.

“The Ministry of Interior has sent out a memo to all prefectures to tell them that Brits have the right to the cards as EU citizens,” said Archer.

“The problems we heard about are being resolved and it seems like prefectures are getting quicker at doing the procedures and it's getting a lot more efficient.

“We have still had problems with the bigger prefectures in Paris and Nice mainly because they are very busy which means it's often hard to get the right information.”

For any applicants who do experience difficulties there are various options available. One is to get on the RIFT Facebook page and find out if anyone else in your area has suffered problems and find out how and if they were resolved.

Another option is to alert the British Embassy who have pledged to contact France's Ministry of Interior who will be in touch with each prefecture to remind them of the rights of Britons to be issued a carte de séjour.

The other option is to contact Solvit, the official EU organisation which helps citizens and businesses overcome obstacles when national authorities are not observing EU rules.

It might also be worth printing off and taking with you the appropriate text from French law (see below) to show any fonctionnaire who might be resistant.

Brexit is looming with the withdrawal agreement set to be ratified by October.

“We are getting short of time,” says Archer.

So the official advice is get the ball rolling and contact your prefecture to get an appointment.

If you are a member of RIFT and a regular reader of The Local France you can sign up for membership at half price (€2.49/month). Email [email protected] for a special discount code.

The French law you might need when applying for a carte de séjour.

Article L122-1

Créé par Loi n°2006-911 du 24 juillet 2006 – art. 23 JORF 25 juillet rectificatif JORF 16 septembre 2006

Sauf si sa présence constitue une menace pour l'ordre public, le ressortissant visé à l'article L. 121-1 qui a résidé de manière légale et ininterrompue en France pendant les cinq années précédentes acquiert un droit au séjour permanent sur l'ensemble du territoire français.

Sauf si sa présence constitue une menace pour l'ordre public, le membre de sa famille mentionné à l'article L. 121-3 acquiert également un droit au séjour permanent sur l'ensemble du territoire français à condition qu'il ait résidé en France de manière légale et ininterrompue avec le ressortissant visé à l'article L. 121-1 pendant les cinq années précédentes. Une carte de séjour d'une durée de validité de dix ans renouvelable de plein droit lui est délivrée.

Article L121-1

Modifié par Loi n°2006-911 du 24 juillet 2006 – art. 23 JORF 25 juillet rectificatif JORF 16 septembre 2006

Sauf si sa présence constitue une menace pour l'ordre public, tout citoyen de l'Union européenne, tout ressortissant d'un autre Etat partie à l'accord sur l'Espace économique européen ou de la Confédération suisse a le droit de séjourner en France pour une durée supérieure à trois mois s'il satisfait à l'une des conditions suivantes :

1° S'il exerce une activité professionnelle en France ;

2° S'il dispose pour lui et pour les membres de sa famille tels que visés au 4° de ressources suffisantes afin de ne pas devenir une charge pour le système d'assistance sociale, ainsi que d'une assurance maladie ;

3° S'il est inscrit dans un établissement fonctionnant conformément aux dispositions législatives et réglementaires en vigueur pour y suivre à titre principal des études ou, dans ce cadre, une formation professionnelle, et garantit disposer d'une assurance maladie ainsi que de ressources suffisantes pour lui et pour les membres de sa famille tels que visés au 5° afin de ne pas devenir une charge pour le système d'assistance sociale ;

4° S'il est un descendant direct âgé de moins de vingt et un ans ou à charge, ascendant direct à charge, conjoint, ascendant ou descendant direct à charge du conjoint, accompagnant ou rejoignant un ressortissant qui satisfait aux conditions énoncées aux 1° ou 2° ;

5° S'il est le conjoint ou un enfant à charge accompagnant ou rejoignant un ressortissant qui satisfait aux conditions énoncées au 3°.








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Is new court ruling the end for Britons fighting to remain EU citizens?

The Court of Justice of the European Union confirmed on Thursday that Brexit really does mean that Britons are no longer EU citizens. Claudia Delpero looks at whether there's any other way they can keep their rights.

Is new court ruling the end for Britons fighting to remain EU citizens?

The Court of Justice of the European Union confirmed on Thursday that Britons lost EU citizenship when the UK left the EU, on 1st February 2020. 

It is the first time the EU’s top court has rules on the matter, after a number of legal cases challenged this specific Brexit outcome. The decision also sets a precedent should other countries decide to leave the bloc in the future. 

What has the EU Court decided?

The Court of Justice decided on a case brought by a British woman living in France.

Before Brexit, she could vote and stand as a candidate in her town of residence, Thoux. But after the UK withdrawal from the EU, she was removed from the electoral roll and excluded from the municipal elections that took place in March 2020, during the transition period.  

As the mayor refused her appeal to restore the registration, she took the case to the regional court in Auch, which agreed to request an interpretation of the rules to the EU top court. 

Julien Fouchet, the barrister supporting her and several other cases on the EU citizenship of British nationals, argued that the loss of EU citizenship and voting rights was disproportionate. It would also be contrary to the EU Charter of Fundamental Rights, given that the woman also lost her voting rights in the UK, having lived abroad for more than 15 years.

Alice Bouillez, who has lived in France since 1984 and is married to a French national, could have applied for French citizenship, but did not do so because she said “this was not necessary” before Brexit and, as a former UK official, she had taken an oath of allegiance to the Queen.

On Thursday the Court of Justice announced the decision about her case. The court ruled that the “possession of the nationality of a member state is an essential condition for a person to be able to acquire and retain the status of citizen of the Union and to benefit fully from the rights attaching to that status.”

The court therefore confirmed that British nationals automatically lost their EU citizenship as a result of Brexit and, as a consequence, Britons also lost their voting and electoral rights in municipal elections in the EU (unless the country where they live set different rules). 

What is EU citizenship?

EU citizenship was introduced by the Treaty of Maastricht of 1992, when borders were opening and the bloc was integrating economically after the end of the Cold War. 

Under the treaty, every person holding the nationality of an EU member state is a citizen of the Union. EU citizenship is additional and does not replace nationality, the treaty specifies. But this creates the first form of a transnational citizenship that grants rights across borders.

EU citizens have the right to access each other’s territory, job market and services under the principle of non-discrimination. If they are economically active, they have the right to reside in other EU states and be joined by family members, access healthcare at the same conditions of nationals (for emergency treatment also when travelling temporarily), obtain social security benefits and see their professional qualifications recognised.

Beyond free movement, at the core of EU citizenship there are also political rights, such as participating in the European Parliament election, voting and standing as candidates in municipal elections when living in other EU countries, receiving consular protection from other EU states outside the EU, and taking part in European Citizens’ Initiatives asking to the EU to legislate on certain matters. 

Which EU citizenship rights have Britons lost with Brexit? 

For British citizens who were living in the EU before Brexit, the Withdrawal Agreement protects some of these rights. Britons covered by deal have their residence, access to work and education, healthcare, social security and qualifications secured, but only in the country where they were living before Brexit.

But the right to free movement in other EU states, consular protection in third countries, and the political rights attached to EU citizenship were lost, the Court confirmed. 

For British citizens in the UK, the trade and cooperation agreement has preserved some social security rights and, in theory, the possibility to have professional qualifications recognized when moving to an EU country. These provisions however lack details and may take a long time before they work in practice. 

As the “European Union” no longer features on British passports, the possibility to access EU lanes at airports to skip passport control queues has also vanished. 

“The loss of those treasured rights has been clear to those of us living in the EU from the early days of Brexit. But for Brits in the UK, the realities of life outside the EU, and the consequences of Brexit, are only just dawning. Long queues at the borders, roaming charges, obstacles to working abroad, etc. are the new reality,” said Sue Wilson, Chair of the group Remain in Spain. 

While she said the court’s decision was “no real surprise,” she argued that “this is not the Brexit the public were promised, or that the majority voted for.”

Can British citizens get some of these rights back?

Julien Fouchet was disappointed at the Court decision and promised to continue the legal fight, bringing the case at the European Court of Human Rights (which is not an EU institution). 

Other two cases on the matter of EU citizenship for British nationals are still pending at the Court of Justice of the EU. One of them aims to determine whether EU citizenship is a “fundamental status” that cannot be removed but Thursday’s decision could have already provided the answer.

Another option to reconsider some of the rights is the renegotiation of EU-UK trade agreement, when it will be reviewed in 2025. 

Meanwhile, the EU is revising the rules for non-EU citizens living in EU countries on a long-term basis, making it easier to move across borders. 

Applying for citizenship is so far the only option to regain voting rights, although not all EU countries allow dual nationality. 

Sue Wilson, who has long campaigned for the UK to stay in the EU, said: “There is only one way to restore the loss of our rights, and that’s to rejoin the single market, rejoin the customs union, and eventually, rejoin the European Union… Until that day, we will continue to be second class citizens whose rights have been diminished for the sake of an ideology.”