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‘I’m on €410 a month’: Anxious Britons in France reveal why they won’t apply for residency permits

As Brexit inches closer, Britons in France are being urged to apply for their carte de séjour but many are simply reluctant to do so. Here, our readers reveal what is holding them back.

'I'm on €410 a month': Anxious Britons in France reveal why they won't apply for residency permits
Photo: AFP
With only a few weeks to go until Brexit, Britons in France are being urged to apply for their residency permits to secure their status and to avoid a bureaucratic bottle-neck later down the line. 
 
The French authorities and the British Embassy have been pressing UK residents living in the country to gather the paperwork and send in their applications to their local prefectures.
 
And in recent weeks, the growing prospect of a no-deal has created an even greater sense of emergency: if Britain stumbles out the EU without a deal, Britons in France will only have one year in which to obtain their residence permits. 
 
 
The law said that the required level of minimum resources Britons would need to meet in order to qualify for residency permit in France will be set in an upcoming decree. That has sparked yet more concern.
 
But although time is running short, it appears many Britons, some of whom have been in France for many years, are simply too worried to apply in case they are rejected and even asked to leave the country, which has happened in at least one reported case so far.
 
“I'm worried in case it is refused. What would I do then?” one 66-year-old reader, who has been in France for over 16 years told The Local. 
 
Low income
 
Unsurprisingly one of the top reasons respondents gave was that they worried their income would be too low for the French authorities.
 
Some of these Britons are retired and they said they thought their pensions just wouldn't be enough. 
 
“I have my British state pension and a small private pension,” 80-year-old Michael Strange told The Local. 
 
Strange, who lives in the village of Saint-Christophe-La-Couperie near Nantes and has been in France for 14 years, said: “I have my own house and I manage but I'm worried that my income is too low”. 
 
Other retiree Roderick Darby, who lives in a small town in the Tarn, is in the same boat. He's lived in France for 13 years and believes his combined pensions still won't get him through. 
 
“I'm retired with small pensions totaling €410 per month,” he told The Local. “I'm worried that's insufficient”.
 
But it's not just pensioners who are worried they won't meet the minimum income requirements. Many working British nationals in France live off slender and unpredictable incomes as self-employed workers that they fear will not be enough.
 
One 49-year-old Briton who lives in the Vaucluse has just left his job so won't apply until he finds work.
 
One 64 year-old who lives in Cannes but asked not to be named said: “I'm retired in France on a small French pension of €80 a month. I have no savings and little income. I manage by getting work where I can.”
 
For others the problem was that their British pension had not yet kicked in so they believed they would not meet the requirements.
 
And sometimes their fears are proved right.
 
A 51-year-old Briton who is currently unemployed and living in the Indre department in central France told The Local she went to the préfecture with her application and was advised not to proceed with it any further because her income was too low.
 
 
READ ALSO:
Emotion and relief: How Brits in France feel to have secured their futures amid Brexit anxiety
 
Other reasons Britons in France gave for not having applied included the fact they had only just arrived in France or that their income was from the UK.
 
Falling through the cracks
 
One of the issues that many Britons in France face, especially those living outside big cities, is that they fall through the cracks in the eyes of the French administration when it comes to income. 
 
Complicated family setups can also complicate matters.
 
“I gave up work when we moved to France and I have been renovating houses which we bought in France to rent out for an income,” an anonymous respondent who lives in the Lot with her two children said.
 
But her life took a different turn when she divorced her husband and the houses are still unfinished.
 
“I have no income and my husband refuses to pay maintenance for the children. Therefore I cannot pass the income test,” she said. 
 
Brexit: Why Brits in France should apply for a carte de séjour right now
 
 
Emma Roberts, who's in the Lot et Garonne, moved to France 5 years ago. She has also split up with her husband since and is still waiting for their separation to become legal. Until that happens, she's worried she doesn't have a chance. 
 
“I've got three children and an estranged husband who refuses to agree on a legal separation hence I am without proof of income,” she told The Local. “I don't think mine will be sufficient especially as I am a micro-entrepreneur.”
 
The French administration
 
In this climate of uncertainty, tackling the French administration and getting the right forms ready or even understanding what is required seems to be adding a strain on people, putting them off from applying. 
 
“I am supposed to compile a dossier in support of the application but I do not know what needs to go in it,” one anonymous reader, who has been in France for nearly five years and lives in Noyant near Angers, told The Local. “Each prefecture has its own system and requirements and there is no universal application form.” 
 
Photo: Isaac Bowen/ Flickr
 
Although the majority of respondents to our questionnaire were very worried, not all of them had had a bad experience.
 
One anonymous respondent reported that although he was initially worried about applying for his carte de sejour, his French wife had pressed him to send it in and he received it without any problem.
 
But if Brexit does indeed happen on March 29th whether there's a deal or no-deal those Britons will be forced to go through the process of applying.

The French MP Alexandre Holroyd, who helped draw up France's no-deal law told The Local previously that he believes some of the rules around the criteria to qualify for a CdS should be waived, particularly around levels of income, to avoid Britons being forced to leave the country if they do not qualify for permits.

“But that's my view, not necessarily the view of the government,” he said.

Thousands of hard-up Britons in France will be hoping the French government is sympathetic to their plight and they are not, as is their fear, forced to leave the country they call home.

by Emilie King

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VISAS

‘Be ready to wait’: Your tips for getting a French visa post-Brexit

Now that Britain is out of the EU, just how much harder is the process of moving to France from the UK after Brexit? British readers share their experiences of applying for visas as 'third country nationals’.

'Be ready to wait': Your tips for getting a French visa post-Brexit

Whether you’re moving to France to live, or you’re a second-home owner wanting to spend more than 90 days out of every 180 in France, if you’re British you will now need a visa.

You can find more on how to apply for a visa, and how to understand what type of visa you need, in our visa section HERE.

But how these systems work in practice is not always the same as the theory.

To learn more about the process of getting a visa as a UK national, The Local asked British readers for their experiences of going through the system.

The consensus among respondents was that the whole thing was bureaucratic, though there were notable differences in experiences that ranged from the “easy” to the “complicated” and “time-consuming”, while the advice for future applicants was, routinely, have all your paperwork ready – and be prepared for a lengthy wait at one of the UK’s TLS centres

Appointments

Like most visas, French visas for UK nationals must be applied for before you leave home. You can find a full explanation of the process here, but the basic outline is that you apply for the visa online, and then have an in-person appointment in the UK in order to present your paperwork. 

Sue Clarke told us: “As long as you get all your paperwork together correctly and in the right order, the time it takes to receive your passport back with the visa in it once TLS has sent it off is only a few days.

“TLS – the centre which works on behalf of the French Embassy to collate your application – is so very busy,” she added. “That part of the process took hours even when you have an appointment.”

READ ALSO EXPLAINED: What type of French visa do you need?

“The visa process itself was fairly well run, and a decision for the initial visa was quick,” wrote Ian Sheppard, who successfully applied for a visa in July 2022. 

“Although getting the follow up residence permit was a pain, [and] took longer than expected, and there was little to no communication with severely limited ways to get in touch about the application.”

Sheppard thought that, biometrics apart, the process could have taken place online, and wondered whether the follow-up residence permit application could be more closely linked to the initial visa application, “rather than effectively submitting the same application twice”.

Georgina Ann Jolliffe described the process as “stressful”. 

“A lot of the initial stage was unclear and I needed a lot of reassurance about the visa trumping the Schengen 90 days. (The Local helped on that one),” she wrote. 

“[The] lack of ready communication was very stressful. It could be slicker, however staff at Manchester TLS were excellent.”

Jacqueline Maudslay, meanwhile, described the process as “complicated”, saying: “The waiting times for the appointment with the handling agent (TLS in the UK) are long and difficult to book online. We applied for a long-stay visa and were given a short-stay visa, with no reasoning and no option of talking to anyone.  

“We had met every criteria for the long-stay visa. There needs to be a contact link with the French Consular website directly for discussing visa applications.”

Handling agent TLS’s website – the first port of call for applicants from the UK – was a target for criticism.

“The TLS system is probably the most user unfriendly system I have ever used,” wrote Susan Kirby. “It throws up errors for no legitimate reason and even changes data you have keyed in. Dates are in American format so you have to be very careful and it can be very difficult to edit.”

Bea Addison, who applied for a visa in September 2021 with a view to retiring in France, agreed that it was complicated and believes the French system is chaotic and badly organised compared to other countries. “Even staff in the French Embassy in London were not knowledgeable of the process and documentation,” she wrote.

“The renewal in France was applied for in July 2022 … we have received an attestation that we will be granted renewal visas, which expired in October 2022, but we have not yet received a date to attend the préfecture due to a backlog.

Second-home owners

Many of our survey respondents were not moving to France, but were instead second-home owners who did not want to be constrained by the 90-day rule.

They have the option of remaining residents of the UK and applying for a short-stay French visitor visa – which must be renewed every year.

Second-home owner Peter Green told us: “Our appointment with TLS was delayed by two and a half hours and the whole experience was chaotic.

“We now have to go through exactly the same process again to get a visa for 2023. With second-home owners there should be a fast track that just involves proving financial viability, nothing else has changed. The system needs to be fully computerised.”

Second-home owner Alan Cranston told us his application met with no problems, but came with “unwanted cost and effort”. 

“Our six-month visa was for our first stint at our house in France in the spring, and that then overlapped our second visit in the autumn which was under Schengen. How that is handled seems to be a muddle (we did not leave the country for a day at the end of the six months, as some advise),” he said. 

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