Carte de séjour: The key questions about French residency permits you need answering

The issue of residency permits is troubling the tens of thousands of Brits living in France who are preparing for the impact of the UK's departure from the EU. Here we answer some common questions about the carte de séjour with the help of Debra Archer from Remain in France Together.

Carte de séjour: The key questions about French residency permits you need answering
Photo: AFP

British nationals in France are being encouraged by both French and British authorities to apply for a carte de séjour residency permit before Brexit.

Although there is no legal requirement to get one given Brits are still EU citizens, the reason UK citizens are being encouraged to apply is that it will save problems and paperwork after Brexit, because once you have the permanent carte de séjour you will have already proved your right to remain in France.

But only a small percentage of Brits in France are going through the process, with the vast majority of the estimated 150,000 living here avoiding the process for various reasons.

Many people are understandably confused about the process and the necessity of it all, while others may be too worried to seek the permit given their personal situation.

We have enlisted the advice of Debra Archer, a member of the citizens' rights team at Remain in France Together (RIFT) to help answer a few of the common questions people ask about residency permits.

1. What can I do if I haven't been in France for five years?

It's not all about getting a carte de séjour permanent, which can be obtained by those who have lived legally in France for five years continuously.

You can apply for a carte de séjour which covers you for the first five years, which can be given a year at a time if your resources are not guaranteed to be stable. It can be issued to you and your family.

Debra Archer from RIFT says: “Apply for the first carte de séjour that proves your legal residence for the first five years while you are building up to permanent residence rights. 

“This will establish that you are legally resident under the rules in place during your stay before the UK exit from the EU. The current draft withdrawal agreement for Brexit says that those who arrive before the cut off date (December 2020) will be able to stay and attain their right to permanent residence.”

In other words, even if you don't have five years of living in France under your belt there's no need to worry. Apply for a temporary carte de séjour and carry on as you were.

2. What if I come to France between now and the Brexit cut-off date, can I get a carte de séjour?

“Yes. According to the draft withdrawal agreement those who arrive before the cut-off date will be covered by that agreement and can continue on to attain permanent residence rights,” says Archer.

So in other words, see the answer above. Those who come to France before cut off date will be allowed to stay and build up their residency rights. They can apply for a carte de séjour temporaire, which would be advisable. If they come to France between now and Brexit day and don't get a carte de séjour then they will likely, although nothing has been decided yet, have to apply for a new kind of residency permit for Brits along the lines of “settled status” that the UK wants to impose on EU residents.

CLICK HERE to join RIFT's Facebook group.

If you are a member of RIFT you can get full access to The Local France articles for half price (from €0.99/month) Please email [email protected] for a special discount code.

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

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3.What if I get one and then after Brexit the French make us go through the whole thing again?

Anyone who has a carte de séjour should be able to just swap it, relatively trouble free, for whatever new residency card the French introduce. If they do introduce one.

“The draft withdrawal agreement states that anyone with a permanent residence card will be able to swap it free of charge for any new card which may become necessary, with production of ID and possibly a criminality check,” says Archer. 

“It's not yet sure that we will need to swap to a new card or if we do need to, whether this will be necessary straight away or will be left until the card needs renewing. Once you have applied for the current card, all your information is held on file so it would not be necessary to go through the whole thing again. Change or renewal would be more simple.”

So whatever way you look at it, it makes sense to go through the process now rather than later when the paperwork and time needed to get a new card may be much greater.

4. Do I need to speak French to a certain level to get a carte de séjour?

Not legally but practically you may need need French, given that you will likely have to attend an interview with the prefecture.

“Unlike if you are applying for French nationality, there are no requirements to have a specific language level to be given an EU Citizen carte de séjour,” says Archer. 

“It proves a right you already have via correctly exercising treaty rights (in other words taking advantage of freedom of movement to work or study in France or be self-employed or self-sufficient with adequate health cover). You do need to attend a meeting and answer questions so if you think you will have difficulties with that you could take a friend who speaks fluent French to help you,” Archer says.

5.How much does it cost?

“Nothing,” says Archer. “It's free for a first application. For subsequent renewals there can be a charge of €25 if you are late with applying for a renewal.”

6. What if I have a problem with my prefecture?

Each prefecture has its own process. There have been reports from some applicants of being turned away from prefectures after being told they don't need one until Brexit or that prefectures are not not issuing them to Britons until after Brexit.

But recently the French Ministry of Interior and the British Embassy in Paris have been working to remind all prefectures that they should issue cartes to British applicants, so there should be fewer problems in future.

But anyone who does have a problem is encouraged to raise it through various avenues.

“It's important that people ask for help if they have any concerns,” says Archer.

“If they have a straightforward problem with a prefecture being awkward and not issuing them with a card when they are entitled to one then we can advise people to let the Embassy know and to use the proper service to ensure that your EU Citizenship rights are recognised: SOLVIT.

“If people's rights aren't clear or they have had their right to stay challenged and it's not due to insufficient proof but because of a perception that they have abused treaty rights or a more serious reason, then that does not mean they are beyond help. If their case is beyond our expertise we can advise them to use the ECAS Your Europe Advice service who provide legal advice.”

7. What if I want to apply but I don't have a job at the moment?

Basically if you have already been here legally for a continuous period of five years then it shouldn't matter because that period when you were working will qualify you for a carte de sèjour permanent.

Prefectures might want to study the most recent five years but you just need to show you were legally in France continuously for any five year period. So if you worked between 2011 and 2016 but have been in and out of work since you will be fine as long as you have the right paperwork for 2011 to 1016.

“If you've already qualified for permanent residence rights after legally being in France over a five year period then there are no conditions to your stay in France once that period has elapsed,” says Archer.

“You are already entitled to a permanent residency card as you have attained the right to permanent residence automatically. You only lose that right if you leave the country for more than two years.”

“If you have been here for less then five years and are unemployed then you should be properly registered as looking for work in order to retain your residence rights as a worker. Normally a period of six months of unemployment is allowed but that can be extended if you can prove that you are genuinely seeking work.”

8. I am worried about applying in case I do not qualify for it and the consequences that might have. What should I do?

There may be many people out there who might be put off applying because they don't want to alert French authorities to their situation. Archer says there is help available and it may just be knowing your rights and proving them.

Firstly, join RIFT and ask about your specific circumstances,” she says. “We are here to help.”

“People often think they won't qualify but in reality they will but may need advice on how to present their proof of their rights.

“If you have already automatically attained the permanent residence right your stay is no longer subject to conditions about having to work or be self sufficient, so it is irrelevant if you have claimed benefits. People think if they have claimed housing benefits or RSA to top up a low income that they may be refused but it's valid to claim local benefits as a worker. People can't be refused the right to stay simply because they needed to claim benefits while seeking work or because of a change in their situation.

“The law says EU Citizens can't be an unreasonable burden on the social security system of the member state – not that they can't claim benefits at all.

“There are special circumstances which give permanent residence rights before five years that people may not be aware of. Even if those don't apply and someone has claimed benefits in their first five years here and not been working or self sufficient, it's considered as against the spirit of the free movement directive to ask people to leave for that reason alone. There has to be more serious reasons than that to ask people to leave. There are reasons in French law that people can't be removed from France, over and above the EU law, as well as protection via the ECHR. So if you are concerned, or if you do get a refusal or a letter from an official body which questions your right to stay, please raise your issue in RIFT so we can try to help you

For many more Frequently Asked Questions about the process of getting a carte de séjour you can visit the RIFT website by clicking HERE.

If you are a member of RIFT you can get full access to The Local France articles for half price (from €0.99/month) Please email [email protected] for a special discount code.

Member comments

  1. In your article, you advise people to apply for a Carte de Sejour now, but when I went to the Prefecture in Auch, they said that they had been told not to accept any more applications until May. Can one still insist on them receiving one’s application?

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Amber alert: Travellers to France warned of another busy weekend at UK ports

A week after chaotic scenes and 6-hour queues at the port of Dover, the British motoring organisation the AA has issued an amber traffic warning, and says it expects cross-Channel ports to be very busy once again this weekend as holidaymakers head to France.

Amber alert: Travellers to France warned of another busy weekend at UK ports

The AA issued the amber warning on Thursday for the whole of the UK, the first time that it has issued this type of warning in advance.

Roads across the UK are predicted to be extremely busy due to a combination of holiday getaways, several large sporting events and a rail strike – but the organisation said that it expected traffic to once again be very heavy around the port of Dover and the Channel Tunnel terminal at Folkestone.

Last weekend there was gridlock in southern England and passengers heading to France enduring waits of more than six hours at Dover, and four hours at Folkestone.

The AA said that while it doesn’t expect quite this level of chaos to be repeated, congestion was still expected around Dover and Folkestone.

On Thursday ferry operator DFDS was advising passengers to allow two hours to get through check-in and border controls, while at Folkestone, the Channel Tunnel operators only said there was a “slightly longer than usual” wait for border controls.

In both cases, passengers who miss their booked train or ferry while in the queue will be accommodated on the next available crossing with no extra charge.

Last weekend was the big holiday ‘getaway’ weekend as schools broke up, and a technical fault meant that some of the French border control team were an hour late to work, adding to the chaos. 

But the underlying problems remain – including extra checks needed in the aftermath of Brexit, limited space for French passport control officers at Dover and long lorry queues on the motorway heading to Folkestone.

OPINION UK-France travel crisis will only be solved when the British get real about Brexit

The port of Dover expects 140,000 passengers, 45,000 cars and 18,000 freight vehicles between Thursday and Sunday, and queues were already starting to build on Thursday morning.