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AMERICANS IN FRANCE

Reader question: How long can I stay out of France and keep my residency rights?

Getting residency in France comes with conditions, and in some cases limits on how long you can be out of the country.

Reader question: How long can I stay out of France and keep my residency rights?
Photo by Thomas Coex / AFP

Question: I have my residency card and the right to live and work in France – but how long can I stay out of France and still keep my residency status?

The short answer to this is that it depends on the type of residency card you have.

Long-term residency

Starting with the easy one, assuming you have lived in France for more than five continuous years, you probably have a carte de séjour permanent.

Here the ‘permanent’ refers to the right of residency, the card itself lasts for 10 years and then needs to be renewed. However the renewal is a simple administrative process and you do not need to provide further proof of your work, study or financial status.

But you can lose your right to permanent residence if you leave France for more than two consecutive years, which means you would have to go through the process of building up your right to a carte de sejour permanent all over again.

Short-term residency

The standard model for any non-EU citizen who wants to stay in France for more than three months is to first apply for a visa, then move to France, then apply for a residency card at your local préfecture.

When you apply for their card varies depending on the type of visa you have, but it’s usually within one year.

The type of residency card also varies according to your reason for wanting to stay in France and all come with fees. Some even demand an ‘integration contract’ demonstrating your willingness to take language lessons if your French is poor.

The validity period for these cards varies, but the basic model is that you get a temporary card first and then after five years of residency apply for the permanent card.

However, be aware that you should not spend more than 10 months outside France during your initial five-year period, otherwise your right to a ‘permanent’ card may be held-up.

READ ALSO How to apply for a French visa

Brits

Any UK national who moves to France after January 1st 2021 is subject to the same visa and residency requirements as other non-EU nationals including Americans and Canadians.

For those who moved here before December 31st 2020, however, the situation is slightly different.

Anyone who moved to France before December 31st 2020 needs to apply for a Withdrawal Agreement carte de séjour – and must do it before September 30th 2021.

Those who have been here more than five years, or who are married to a French national, get a carte de séjour permenant, those here less than five years get a five-year card. The rules on being absent from France are the same as other types of cards mentioned above.

EU nationals

Good news for anyone with the passport of an EU country – freedom of movement means that you can enter and leave France as you wish, with no limits on how long you have to stay.

Applying for citizenship

After you have been in France for five years (or two years if you completed higher education at a French university), you may wish to apply for French citizenship.

READ ALSO Am I eligible for French citizenship?

However if you are applying through residency (as opposed to through marriage or through family) then the 10-month rule also applies.

You need five years of continuous residency before you can start your citizenship application, and more than 10 months of absence means your residency is not counted as continuous’

Exemptions

There are some exemptions to the absence rule and they include serious illness, maternity, military service, study or research.

What about dual residency?

This concept does not exist, so anyone with a second home in France who wants to stay longer than three months will either have to apply for a visa or make their French home their primary residence.

Otherwise they will be limited to a maximum stay of 90 days in 180.

READ ALSO How second-home owners can properly plan for their 90-day limit in France

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VISAS

What is the EU’s ‘single permit’ for third-country nationals and can I get one?

In 2020, 2.7 million non-EU citizens were issued a so-called "single permit" to both reside and work in the EU. But what is the single permit, how does it work and what could change in the future?

What is the EU's 'single permit' for third-country nationals and can I get one?

Among the recent proposals made by the European Commission to simplify the procedures for the entry and residence of non-EU nationals in the European Union, there is the reform of the ‘single permit’.

In 2020, 2.7 million non-EU citizens were issued a ‘single permit’ to both reside and work in the EU, according to the European statistics agency Eurostat. Five countries together issued 75% of the total, with France topping the list (940,000 permits issued), followed by Italy (345,000), Germany (302,000), Spain (275,000) and Portugal (170,000).

Seven in 10 single permits were granted for family and employment reasons (34 and 36 percent respectively) and just less than 10 percent for education purposes.

But what is this permit and how does it work?

What is the EU single permit?

The EU single permit is an administrative act that grants non-EU citizens both a work and residence permit for an EU member state with a single application.

It was designed to simplify access for people moving to the EU for work. It also aims to ensure that permit holders are treated equally to the citizens of the country where they live when it comes to working conditions, education and training, recognition of qualifications, freedom of association, tax benefits, access to goods and services, including housing and advice services.

Equal conditions also concern social security, including the portability of pension benefits. This means that non-EU citizens or their survivors who reside in a non-EU country and derive rights from single permit holders are entitled to receive pensions for old age, invalidity and death in the same way as EU citizens.

The single permit directive applies in 25 of the 27 EU countries, as Ireland and Denmark have opted out of all EU laws affecting ‘third country nationals’.

Who can apply for a single permit?

The directive covers non-EU nationals who apply to reside in an EU country for work or who are already resident in the EU for other purposes but have the right to access the labour market (for instance, students or family members of a citizen of the country of application).

As a general rule, these rules do not apply to long-term residents or non-EU family members of EU citizens who exercise the free movement rights or have free movement rights in the EU under separate laws, as their rights are already covered by separate laws.

It also does not apply to posted workers, seasonal workers, intra-corporate transferees, beneficiaries of temporary protection, refugees, self-employed workers and seafarers or people working on board of EU ships, as they are not considered part of the labour market of the EU country where they are based.

Each country can determine whether the application should be made by the non-EU national or the employer or either of them.

Applications from the individual are required for the Czech Republic, Estonia, Finland, Germany, Hungary, Luxembourg, Malta, Poland, Romania, Slovakia, Sweden. For Bulgaria and Italy it is the employer who has to apply, while applications are accepted from either the recipient or the employer for Austria, Croatia, Cyprus, France, Lithuania, the Netherlands, Portugal, Slovenia and Spain.

How long does it take to process the application?

The EU directive says the competent authority must decide on the application within 4 months from the date it was lodged. Only in exceptional circumstances the deadline can be longer.

Where no decision is taken within the time limit, national law determines the outcome. In some EU countries (including France, Italy and Spain) this is a tacit rejection while in others it is a tacit approval.

If the application is incomplete, the authority should notify the applicant in writing specifying which additional information is needed, and the time count should be suspended until these are received.

In case of rejection, the authority must provide the reasons and there is a possibility to appeal.

How does it work in practice?

Although the intention of the directive was to simplify the procedure and guarantee more rights, things always get complicated when it’s 25 countries turning rules into reality.

A 2019 report of the European Commission on how this law was working in practice showed that the directive “failed to address some of the issues it proposed to solve”.

The Commission had received several complaints and launched legal action against some member states.

Complaints concerned in particular excessive processing times by the relevant authorities, too high fees, problems with the recognition of qualifications and the lack of equal treatment in several areas, especially social security.

Only 13 countries allowed the transfer of pensions to non-EU countries. In France, invalidity and death pensions are not exportable to non-EU states. Problems were identified also in Bulgaria, the Netherlands and Slovenia.

In Italy single permit holders were excluded from certain types of family benefits and it was the EU Court of Justice that ruled, in September 2021, that single permit holders are entitled to a childbirth and maternity allowances as provided by Italian laws. The EU Court also rules that Italy and the Netherlands were charging too high fees.

Sweden restricts social security benefits for people living in the country for less than one year and takes too long to process single permit applications, according to the report.

Generally the report found that authorities were not providing sufficient information to the pubic about the permit and associated rights.

What will change?

As part of a package of measures to make working and moving in the EU country easier for non-EU nationals announced at the end of April, the European Commission has proposed some changes to improve the situation.

The Commission has suggested shortening the deadline for member states to issue a decision ensuring that the 4 month limit covers the issuing of visas and the labour market test (to prove there are no suitable candidates in the local market).

Under the proposal, fees should be proportionate and candidates should be able to submit the application both in the member state of destination and from a third country.

In addition, permit holders should be able to change employer during the permit’s validity, and the permit should not be withdrawn in case of unemployment for at least 3 months. These measures should reduce vulnerability to labour exploitation, the Commission says.

The Commission also suggests member states should introduce penalties against employers who do no respect equality principles especially with regard to working conditions, freedom of association and affiliation and access to social security benefits.

These proposals have to be approved by the European Parliament and Council and can be modified before becoming law.

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