Meet the UN team helping British people in France after Brexit

A team from the UN are now on the ground in France and helping British residents deal with the complexities of life after Brexit. We spoke to them about their work here.

Meet the UN team helping British people in France after Brexit
Photo: AFP

The two-person team from IOM, the UN Migration Agency, has been established to help British residents in France, particularly those who are vulnerable or who are not confident with online processes, to navigate the formalities needed to live in France after Brexit.

For many Brits the idea of having to register for residency plus health and social care and other official processes is a deeply daunting one, especially those who don't speak much French, have complicated living situations that don't fit into easy categories and those who either don't have internet access or who aren't confident using online forms.

These at-risk populations are the reason that the UN's Migration Agency bid for one of the grants that the UK government is offering to organisations which help British citizens with Brexit.

There are now four organisations who have received grants to provide help and support to British nationals with the process, which must be done online. The UN team covers northern France while the Franco-British network offers the same service to those living in Dordogne and the Church of Ebgland's Diocese in Europe helps those living in Nouvelle Aquitaine. The armed forces charity SSAFA France can also help out.

For a complete guide on how the online system works – click here.

Case worker Elizabeth Kelsey is one of two people in the UN Migration Agency team. She said: “We have two main objectives – raising awareness among UK nationals about what their obligations will be in terms of registering for residency and then offering direct practical support through casework.

“People can email or call us or we will visit them if necessary.”

The team is based in Saint-Brieuc in Brittany and although Covid-19 has delayed the set-up of their office, they will have an office that people can visit by appointment, and will also be undertaking outreach events around Brittany, Normandy and Paris.

British people living in France must all apply for a carte de séjour residency card, using the online portal that is now live.

The team are based in the town of Saint-Brieuc in Brittany, an area that is home to a large British population. Photo: AFP

British people have until June 30th to make their application, but many have already done so and the team in Brittany have been receiving a steady stream of queries.

Elizabeth said: “We've had quite a wide range of queries, some people just need a bit of support and a general overview of the system while others are genuinely very nervous about meeting the requirements for residency.

“They might be worried about income, or have been very poorly so had a long gap in their work history or they might have adult dependent children who they worry won't fit the criteria.

“We get quite a lot of calls from people who are not yet resident but plan to move before the end of the transition period and they want to know what they have to do when they get here.

READ ALSO Brexit: What are the differences for people who move to France before and after December 31st?

“And one big question is what makes you a resident? People want to know if there is an official way to become a resident, which is a question that doesn't have a very clear-cut answer. We generally say it's when you register within a system such as the health system but there's not one way to become an official resident.

READ ALSO How to prove you are a resident in France 

“We can give people guidance on the kind of documents we expect will be required, and also reassure people on that subject. When people can't find information they tend to worry but we can tell them the latest information from both the French and British governments and also tell them what is still uncertain.”

Elizabeth said: “We can offer advice but we can also help people to actually make their application if they need it. The process is online and requires scanning and uploading documents, which not everyone is confident with.

“People can come to our office by appointment and we will help them complete the application, or we can visit at-risk people – individuals who face specific challenges, such as people living with disabilities, those grappling with chronic illness, language and literacy barriers, or barriers in accessing technology.”

They will also, if necessary, help people who are rejected for residency and want to launch an appeal, an area that legal adviser Loïca will be focusing on.

The exact documentation that will be required for an application is still unclear. Photo: AFP

The team is one of three projects in France that won money from the UK government's fund – the others are the Franco-British network, which is based in Dordogne, the armed forces charity SSAFA and the Church of England Diocese in Europe

The IOM also runs a similar project in the UK helping EU nationals with post-Brexit residency requirements and projects helping British people in Spain, Poland, Slovakia, Germany, Italy and Portugal.

The UN might be more associated with missions in war zones but in fact the organisation does a lot of work on migration issues.

Elizabeth said “The situation itself [Brexit] has no precedent, and so this is a novel situation in the EU.

“However, this kind of work is by no means out of the ordinary for IOM globally or historically, since our global work complements government services and provides assistance to migrants with information on their rights and access to procedures to regularise their migratory status in the host country or seek alternative mobility options to other countries.

“Furthermore, this builds on an existing programme that we have been carrying out in the UK for the last year to assist EU Nationals and their families in the UK who may struggle with their applications to regularise their situation through the UK’s EU Settlement Scheme”.  

They chose Brittany as a base because of the high number of British people living there – 12,000 registered residents although the true figure is likely to be higher since British people have not previously been required to register. They are targeting people in Brittany, Normandy and Paris while the Franco-British Network covers the south west of the country, although Elizabeth and her colleague will help any British resident who gets in touch by referring them to the most appropriate services according to their situation.

In the coming months they will also be doing outreach events and working with voluntary groups, social clubs and local mairies to reach out to British people who are not online and who may still be unaware of their responsibilities to register for residency.

The team consists of Elizabeth, who works as the case worker and previously worked at the British Embassy in Paris, and her colleague Loïca Fauchard the legal adviser who has a masters in European and International law with a specialism in Human Rights and has worked for many years in supporting asylum seekers in France.

You can contact them on email at [email protected] or by phone 0 809 549 832 Monday and Tuesday 2pm to 4pm or Wednesday and Thursday between 10.30am and 12.30pm. Calls are charged at the local rate.

For more information on residency, healthcare, travel, driving and pets after Brexit, head to our Preparing for Brexit section.


Member comments

  1. We have a second house in France (47) , unable to visit this year for obvious reasons but usually have 3 visits of about 5 weeks each. As we pay tax d’habitation for 12 months of the year and tax fonciere are we entitled to any health care?

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Is new court ruling the end for Britons fighting to remain EU citizens?

The Court of Justice of the European Union confirmed on Thursday that Brexit really does mean that Britons are no longer EU citizens. Claudia Delpero looks at whether there's any other way they can keep their rights.

Is new court ruling the end for Britons fighting to remain EU citizens?

The Court of Justice of the European Union confirmed on Thursday that Britons lost EU citizenship when the UK left the EU, on 1st February 2020. 

It is the first time the EU’s top court has rules on the matter, after a number of legal cases challenged this specific Brexit outcome. The decision also sets a precedent should other countries decide to leave the bloc in the future. 

What has the EU Court decided?

The Court of Justice decided on a case brought by a British woman living in France.

Before Brexit, she could vote and stand as a candidate in her town of residence, Thoux. But after the UK withdrawal from the EU, she was removed from the electoral roll and excluded from the municipal elections that took place in March 2020, during the transition period.  

As the mayor refused her appeal to restore the registration, she took the case to the regional court in Auch, which agreed to request an interpretation of the rules to the EU top court. 

Julien Fouchet, the barrister supporting her and several other cases on the EU citizenship of British nationals, argued that the loss of EU citizenship and voting rights was disproportionate. It would also be contrary to the EU Charter of Fundamental Rights, given that the woman also lost her voting rights in the UK, having lived abroad for more than 15 years.

Alice Bouillez, who has lived in France since 1984 and is married to a French national, could have applied for French citizenship, but did not do so because she said “this was not necessary” before Brexit and, as a former UK official, she had taken an oath of allegiance to the Queen.

On Thursday the Court of Justice announced the decision about her case. The court ruled that the “possession of the nationality of a member state is an essential condition for a person to be able to acquire and retain the status of citizen of the Union and to benefit fully from the rights attaching to that status.”

The court therefore confirmed that British nationals automatically lost their EU citizenship as a result of Brexit and, as a consequence, Britons also lost their voting and electoral rights in municipal elections in the EU (unless the country where they live set different rules). 

What is EU citizenship?

EU citizenship was introduced by the Treaty of Maastricht of 1992, when borders were opening and the bloc was integrating economically after the end of the Cold War. 

Under the treaty, every person holding the nationality of an EU member state is a citizen of the Union. EU citizenship is additional and does not replace nationality, the treaty specifies. But this creates the first form of a transnational citizenship that grants rights across borders.

EU citizens have the right to access each other’s territory, job market and services under the principle of non-discrimination. If they are economically active, they have the right to reside in other EU states and be joined by family members, access healthcare at the same conditions of nationals (for emergency treatment also when travelling temporarily), obtain social security benefits and see their professional qualifications recognised.

Beyond free movement, at the core of EU citizenship there are also political rights, such as participating in the European Parliament election, voting and standing as candidates in municipal elections when living in other EU countries, receiving consular protection from other EU states outside the EU, and taking part in European Citizens’ Initiatives asking to the EU to legislate on certain matters. 

Which EU citizenship rights have Britons lost with Brexit? 

For British citizens who were living in the EU before Brexit, the Withdrawal Agreement protects some of these rights. Britons covered by deal have their residence, access to work and education, healthcare, social security and qualifications secured, but only in the country where they were living before Brexit.

But the right to free movement in other EU states, consular protection in third countries, and the political rights attached to EU citizenship were lost, the Court confirmed. 

For British citizens in the UK, the trade and cooperation agreement has preserved some social security rights and, in theory, the possibility to have professional qualifications recognized when moving to an EU country. These provisions however lack details and may take a long time before they work in practice. 

As the “European Union” no longer features on British passports, the possibility to access EU lanes at airports to skip passport control queues has also vanished. 

“The loss of those treasured rights has been clear to those of us living in the EU from the early days of Brexit. But for Brits in the UK, the realities of life outside the EU, and the consequences of Brexit, are only just dawning. Long queues at the borders, roaming charges, obstacles to working abroad, etc. are the new reality,” said Sue Wilson, Chair of the group Remain in Spain. 

While she said the court’s decision was “no real surprise,” she argued that “this is not the Brexit the public were promised, or that the majority voted for.”

Can British citizens get some of these rights back?

Julien Fouchet was disappointed at the Court decision and promised to continue the legal fight, bringing the case at the European Court of Human Rights (which is not an EU institution). 

Other two cases on the matter of EU citizenship for British nationals are still pending at the Court of Justice of the EU. One of them aims to determine whether EU citizenship is a “fundamental status” that cannot be removed but Thursday’s decision could have already provided the answer.

Another option to reconsider some of the rights is the renegotiation of EU-UK trade agreement, when it will be reviewed in 2025. 

Meanwhile, the EU is revising the rules for non-EU citizens living in EU countries on a long-term basis, making it easier to move across borders. 

Applying for citizenship is so far the only option to regain voting rights, although not all EU countries allow dual nationality. 

Sue Wilson, who has long campaigned for the UK to stay in the EU, said: “There is only one way to restore the loss of our rights, and that’s to rejoin the single market, rejoin the customs union, and eventually, rejoin the European Union… Until that day, we will continue to be second class citizens whose rights have been diminished for the sake of an ideology.”