Since the UK first voted to leave the EU four years ago, there has been much uncertainty for British people living in France – or those planning to move here – about their status.
And an announcement on Friday that online residency applications for Brits would be postponed due to the Covid-19 pandemic has caused further confusion and worry – but what does this delay actually mean and what do we know about the process?
The French government previously announced that all carte de séjour (residency permit) applications for British people would be made via a special online portal. This is still the case, but instead of opening up in July as planned, the portal will now not go live until October.
The goverment says this is because authorities are still dealing with a backlog of residency permit applications from people of other nationalities which built up during the lockdown when government offices were closed. They say delaying the opening of the site until October will give them time to clear this backlog and ensure that British applicants don't wait too long.
How does this delay affect the deadline?
It doesn't. There are in effect two 'deadlines' for British residents and neither are affected by the site delay.
The first deadline is December 31st, 2020 and this is the date by which you must be legally resident in France to be covered by the Withdrawal Agreement. So anyone planning a move to France needs to do so by this date in order to benefit from the more generous residency provisions of the Withdrawal Agreement. This date marks the end of the transition period, assuming it is not extended.
By that date you need to be legally resident in France – this is not quite the same as simply being on French soil, check out the qualifications for legal residency here.
The second deadline is June 30th, 2021 and by this date all British people living in France need to have made their application for a carte de séjour.
Crucially this deadline is for you to have made your application, not for you to have received the card.
So if you do get stuck in an administrative backlog (and we all know that French bureaucracy is not always the fastest) there is no need to panic if your card does not arrive before July 2021, as long as you have got your application in then you are covered.
How does the delay affect the process?
Again, the actual process of applying for the card does not change, it just means that you can't now start until October.
Every British person in France needs to use the online portal to get a new residency card, although if you already have a carte de séjour permenant the process is more straightforward and is largely just a swap of the old card for a new one.
Everyone else needs to make a new application and you can find out more about how to do that here.
Everyone makes their application on the site, and applications are then passed to the préfecture where you live for processing.
Anyone who successfully made their application on the no-deal website that was briefly live in October last year should have received an email earlier this year informing them that their application will be transferred to the new system – so those people do not need to make a fresh application.
How long will it take to get the card?
This is a good question, but unfortunately not one that we can answer at this stage. Many people who applied for residency cards shortly after the initial Brexit vote experienced long delays, which is the reason a lot of people were concerned about a delay in opening the website.
Although we have not seen the new site yet, it is modelled on the online application process for a no-deal Brexit that was briefly online in October last year. People who used that site noticed that it was considerably more straightforward than the local procedures and asked for a lot less in the way of supporting paperwork – meaning that in theory it should be quicker to process.
However the actual application will be processed by individual préfectures, so there may well be wide variations in processing times depending on the workload of the préfectures involved. Some préfectures – including Dordogne – that have a high number of British residents have received funding for extra staff to process applications but many others have not, so officials will be processing these applications in addition to their normal workload.
But as outlined above, the July 2021 deadline is the deadline to have submitted the application, not to have received the card. So if you find yourself caught in a administrative backlog you will not be penalised for this.
Should you be worried?
The uncertainty surrounding the process has made this a stressful past four years for British residents in France, and of course another delay is not ideal.
However citizens' rights expert Kalba Meadows of the group France Rights says there is no need to panic.
“We completely understand that people are worried by the delay,” she told The Local.
“But just to put things into context: less than a handful of countries have so far begun implementing the citizens' rights part of the Withdrawal Agreement. Some don't intend to begin until January 2021 while others still haven't set a date. So even with a start date of October 1st France will still be one of the earliest to begin implementation, and we will have nine months to make our applications.
“There is no reason why even 200,000 people – which we believe is the upper end guesstimate of the British population figure in France – should not be able to apply within a nine month period.
“The other thing to note is that three months has been taken off the application time, NOT the time available for processing. There is no deadline within which préfectures must process applications – the date of June 30th 2021 is the date by which you must apply, NOT the period during which applications must be decided. We will be deemed to have the right of residence until our applications are processed – whenever that is, and we will have a certificate of application which will prove this.”
For more information on residency, citizenship, healthcare and driving after Brexit, head to our Preparing for Brexit section.