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.
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.
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.
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