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BREXIT

16 days until Brexit: Here’s the latest advice for Britons living in France

There are just 24 days left until Brexit and it's still not clear what the future holds for Britons in France, no matter how long they have been here. In her latest column Kalba Meadows from Remain in France Together tries to calm worries and spell out what you need to know.

16 days until Brexit: Here's the latest advice for Britons living in France
Photo: AFP / Depositphotos

With just 24 days left until 29 March and Brexit day, and no clear sense where things are heading and whether there will be an extension or an agreed deal, it's not surprising that everyone is getting a bit tense.

And not just us, but the French administration system too. The centre in Nantes has, we know, stopped processing applications to exchange British driving licences for the moment and is returning dossiers. An increasing number of préfectures are effectively closing their doors to carte de séjour applications from British residents too.

For nearly two years now we at Remain in France Together have been strongly recommending that everyone applies for their carte de séjour as soon as possible, and many people have done that. We know from the Ministry of the Interior though that only around 16-18% of the total number of British in France have so far got their cartes. That means that the authorities have one gigantic job ahead – and they know it.

Our understanding is that there will be a more streamlined system put into place after Brexit, when everyone will have to reapply for their cards and for a new status whether there is a deal or no deal. We don't yet know what this is as understandably the French government is holding back until it too knows whether it has to deal with implementing the Withdrawal Agreement, or implementing its own ordonnance.

Many of the current posts and questions in our Facebook group are flagging up difficulties in applying for a carte de séjour in particular préfectures, and some people are beginning to panic. So we've been reviewing the advice that we're giving people in view of the extreme uncertainty that we're living through currently and as we approach the Brexit cliff-edge.

Understanding the préfectures' position

Frustrating though things might be on a personal level, it's important for all of us to try and understand why some préfectures are having to close their doors to British applications. They all know that after Brexit ALL British citizens – up to 200,000 of us – are going to have to apply or reapply for a carte de séjour under the new rules, deal or no deal. With time now so tight, and resources so stretched, some of them simply aren't able to offer appointments for many months to come … by which time a completely different system will be operational.

There's no official policy coming down from Ministry level on this, and each préfecture is responsible for organising its own admin services. But you can see that it makes perfect sense for those who are overwhelmed to suspend operations now until we all know more about where things are at – and they've been allocated the resources to deal with it – otherwise they'll just find themselves duplicating work.

How does it affect you if you can't apply before Brexit?

We know that you all want to have your carte de séjour in your hand and that it will make you feel more secure – which is completely understandable.

However, we also know that whether there is a deal or not, there will be a transition or grace period during which a new application will need to be made. You won't be required to hold a residence card until the end of that period.

If there is a deal, you'll have up to July 2021 to apply under the Withdrawal Agreement.

If there is no deal, the ordonnance provides for a grace period of between 3 and 12 months for you to apply. In practice we think this would have to be for the full 12 months and we've made representations that even that may need to be extended.

So as you can see, you will still retain your current right to stay even if you don't have a residence card, right up until whichever of these dates apply.

Those who've just arrived and have lived here for less than 3 months

We know that many préfectures are now not accepting applications from people who've been in France for less than 3 months. An EU citizen can stay in another EU country for 3 months without having to exercise treaty rights, but it's generally been the case that those who arrive to live permanently can, if they can prove their intention to settle permanently, apply for a carte de séjour before the 3 months is up.

It's understandable though that with time so tight, préfectures want to be absolutely certain that those arriving now are genuine and bona fide residents, here to stay, and not just applying for a carte de séjour as a kind of 'just in case' insurance policy against Brexit.

If you have less than 3 months residence, what we suggest is that you start organising things and putting together your dossier ready for your first application, but delay your application until you've been resident for over 3 months and until after Brexit (unless there is a long extension period). It's really important for you to keep and present an evidence trail of when you arrived in France and that you've been here continuously since then: travel tickets, spending in France since your arrival (for example, utility bills with consumption figures, bank statements showing transactions in France, and so on).

Those with between 3 months and 5 years' residence

If you fall into this category, you'll be applying for a temporary residence card, whether as an EU citizen as now, under the Withdrawal Agreement or under the ordonnance. You'll need to show that you fall into one of the four categories for legal residence.

After Brexit you will, as far as we can see from everything published so far, have to reapply for a new card showing your new status – there is no provision in either the Withdrawal Agreement or in the ordonnance for you to exchange a current carte de séjour as there is for those with permanent residence cards.

This will, we understand, be done in an organised and streamlined manner, although we don't yet have details as obviously all depends on whether there is a deal or not.

Don't be too downhearted by this: firstly, things may yet change, and secondly, remember that if you currently hold a carte de séjour it's certainly not redundant or useless – it evidences the fact that that you're in the system, gives you your 'numéro d'étranger, and provides the start date for the building up of your rights to that all important 5 years.

Once again we suggest that if you fall into this category and don't yet have your carte de séjour, you now hold fire on trying to obtain one before Brexit and concentrate your efforts on putting together your dossier and keeping it up to date, so that as soon as applications open you're ready to roll. That way you avoid duplication of effort, and so does your préfecture.

Those with over 5 years' residence

If you fall into this category, you'll be applying for some form of permanent residence card under the Withdrawal Agreement, or for a carte de résident longue durée if there is no deal and under the ordonnance.

If you already hold a carte de séjour permanent, you'll be able to exchange this card for the relevant new card, whether or not there is a deal. This means that you won't have to start at the beginning to prove that you've met the treaty right conditions for 5 years, as you've already done that when you applied for your carte de séjour permanent.

If you have lived in France for 5 years or more but don't have a carte de séjour permanent, you'll have to make a new application for the relevant card, whether there's a deal or not. This means producing the same kind of dossier as you have to now, to prove that you've met the appropriate conditions for 5 years. If there is a Withdrawal Agreement, these conditions will be the same as they are now. If there is no deal, we await a decree from the French government outlining precisely what the conditions will be.

As you can see, if you have the right to permanent residence, having a current carte de séjour would make your life easier after Brexit, although even without it you still have your permanent/long term residence rights (as long as you can prove your entitlement to them, as now).

If you have lived in France for over 5 years, and your préfecture is still accepting applications, and you can make your application before Brexit day, we suggest that you make or continue with your application if possible. If on the other hand you can't make an application because you can't get an appointment before Brexit day or because your préfecture isn't accepting applications, please don't worry – just take a deep breath and accept the situation. As long as you've been legally resident for 5 years you should be at no great disadvantage as it would be discriminatory to apply different rules to those with and those without current cartes de séjour permanent.

The short version ..

Don't panic! Seriously, just stay informed, keep up with the information on our website and in the Facebook group, and do your best to take a step back and see the bigger picture.
 
You're not alone, and you'll always get the most up to date information if you stay in touch. If it all gets too much, just put a shout out for some help and support – there's usually someone around who can listen.
 
 
 

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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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