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.