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'It must be made simpler': The huge challenge France faces to register Britons after Brexit

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'It must be made simpler': The huge challenge France faces to register Britons after Brexit
Photo: AFP
17:47 CET+01:00
The French parliament has backed a bill that will allow the government to better protect the status of Britons in France in the event of a no-deal, but the lawmaker behind the bill told The Local there are major challenges ahead, not least the fact no one quite knows how many Britons there are in France.

The message has been clear from French lawmakers for quite some time: "we want Britons in France to stay here to live, work or retire after Brexit".

And that's the case even in the event of a no-deal Brexit which the French are hurriedly preparing for, as British PM Theresa May struggles to win enough support in parliament for her deal and time is fast running out.

Last week French lawmakers in the National Assembly voted through a bill that will allow the French government to pass emergency laws to prevent or at least limit the chaos resulting from Britain crashing out of the EU without a deal.

Part of the bill is designed to allow France to act quickly to protect the rights of Britons living in the country and give them time to apply for the appropriate residency permit.

But that doesn't mean it will be easy. Indeed the report by MP Alexandre Holroyd highlights the challenges ahead for French administration.

"It's very clear in our minds that we want to preserve the rights of Britons living here," the MP told The Local. "They all contribute to the economy and play a crucial role in their communities and should be protected."

He added that there were two challenges: getting the bill into law and secondly making sure France has the resources to implement it at a bureaucratic level.

One of the initial problems is that because Brits have never been required to register here French authorities don't actually know for sure how many there are.

Sandrine Gaudin, the Prime Minister's Europe adviser told the special parliamentary commission on Brexit that "In order for us to know the number of files from British citizens that we will have to deal with, we will have to know with some certainty how many British nationals live in France.

"Between 150,000 and 200,000 British nationals live in France, but it is very difficult to arrive at a more accurate figure," she said.

While Brits are being encouraged to apply for a Carte de Séjour (CdS) even in the event of a Brexit deal being ratified it is estimated by French officials that only 20,000 out of an estimated 150,000 Brits living in France have applied for one.

French parliament notes there is also a rise in the number of British people taking French nationality but it's hardly enough to reduce the bureaucratic burden that is mounting: 500 Brits were given French nationality in 2016, 1,500 in 2017 and 1,300 applied in the first half of 2018.

One of the challenges facing the French government is that Brits are not evenly spread out throughout the country with some prefectures inundated with CdS applications while others have had very few.

Most British live in three region of France: Nouvelle-Acquitaine (26 percent), Occitanie (17 percent) and Île-de-France (13 percent).

French lawmakers pin point 17 prefectures that are under more pressure than others, including seven that are struggling to meet the demands including Dordogne, Charente, Alpes-Maritimes and Haute-Vienne.

MP Alexander Holroyd is concerned that the correct information is just not getting out to Britons around France.

"There's a real risk that many British nationals do not have the necessary information and cannot, therefore, anticipate the consequences of Brexit on their personal status," writes Holroyd.

But Holroyd says the problems are not just due to a lack of awareness among British nationals and has been made aware by the UK embassy in Paris of the difficulty Britons have had getting hold of the right information from prefectures around the country.

Holroyd "considers that it is urgently necessary to coordinate information among the prefectures, so that they can best guide the British nationals who come to their counter."

He believes all prefectures could follow the lead of Vienne and publish information on their website about Carte de Sejours in English.

Holroyd told The Local there was also an urgent need to simplify procedures.

"It's very clear in my mind we want to protect citizens rights as much as possible, for them and for the state. We need to find a way to simplify procedures as much as possible," he said; "If not then prefectures will be overrun for years to come.

"It will be mutually beneficial to find a solution to improve procedure," he added.

His report reads: "The current procedures which often involve up to five consecutive visits to the prefecture to obtain a residence permit are not compatible with the number of British nationals potentially concerned."

Many Britons in France are avoiding applying for a Carte de Sejour for fear they will be rejected if they can't prove they are self-sustainable.

Holroyd told The Local that to avoid Britons in France who have been here for years being denied residency and even asked to leave he believes some of the rules around the criteria to qualify for a CdS should be wavered, particularly around levels of income.

"But that's my view, not necessarily the view of the government," he said adding that he would encourage all Britons to apply for a CdS.

For her part the French PM's Europe advisor Sandrine Gaudin said the government still envisaged a decentralized approach with prefectures around the country handling applications rather than a central body in Paris.

And time will be given.

"We will of course give some time to the British nationals to carry out their steps, they will not be obliged the morning of March 30 to report to the prefecture, in the "foreigners" queue," she told the parliamentary commission.

She said the interior ministry will "mobilise extra means" for as long as is necessary to deal with all the demands from British CdS applicants.

 

 

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