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When will we know if France allows new visa rule for British second-home owners?

Genevieve Mansfield
Genevieve Mansfield - [email protected]
When will we know if France allows new visa rule for British second-home owners?
A general view of the Puy Saint Martin village, southeastern France (Photo by JEFF PACHOUD / AFP)

French MPs finally passed an immigration law in December, which includes a clause that could potentially exempt British second-home owners from post-Brexit visa rules. But it's not set in stone so when will we know if it becomes law?

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What's happening with the new law?

As of early January, the new law was being examined by France's Conseil constitutionnel (constitutional council), who are tasked with determining whether it complies with the French constitution.

READ MORE: EXPLAINED: What is France's Constitutional Council and how does it work?

This has left many wondering when - and if - the new rule could actually come into effect.

As far as the timeline goes, the nine members of the council (also known as the 'sages' or 'wise ones') have until January 26th - exactly one month after the bill was referred to them - to render their decision.

However, they announced in mid-January that the decision would be delivered on January 25th.

Political experts expect the sages to scrap at least some of the amendments, potentially including the Article 1er K which includes the automatic visa deal for British second-home owners. 

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What exactly does the amendment say?

The text says: "Long-stay visas are issued automatically to British nationals who own a second home in France. They are therefore exempt from having to apply for a long-stay visa."

It adds, however, "The conditions for the application of this article shall be specified by decree in the Conseil d'Etat".

Why might it be scrapped even though it's passed parliament?

French constitution experts, like Thibaud Mulier, told Franceinfo that there are a few reasons the sages might give when scrapping amendments.

The first is "legislative riders" or articles that have "nothing to do with the purpose of the law", as explained by Mulier. These are technically prohibited by Article 45 of France's constitution.

Amendments to the bill would have to comply with the original reasons French President Emmanuel Macron laid out to the Constitutional Council, which included "controlling immigration and improving integration".

It is worth noting that the original text of the bill proposed by the Macron government did not include mention of visa exemptions for second-home owners - it was an amendment added during Senate debates.

But it is the 'principle of equality' that would most likely be invoked if Article 1er K is scrapped, experts told Franceinfo.

Lawmakers have already invoked this argument - the amendment was originally junked during the first reading with the Commission des lois (law committee) of the Assemblée nationale at the start of December. (It was later brought back, after the bill was re-examined following a motion to reject the bill in the Assemblée.)

The committee members stated that: "The automatic granting of a long-stay visa based solely on property ownership could be perceived as favouring a category of people because of their financial situation, creating inequality in relation to other foreign nationals who have to follow a more rigorous procedure to obtain such a visa."

A second application to cancel the amendment also referenced the principle of equality, adding: "Nothing justifies this exemption, British citizens made a sovereign choice to leave the European Union and renounce the advantages that come with it. The simple fact of owning a second property is not sufficient grounds to justify exemption from visa requirements."

What about the EU?

Another reason this amendment could pose issues has to do the European Union, as the 90-day rule is an EU rule, not a French one - so anything that France does potentially affects other countries in the EU by setting a precedent. 

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The amendment was put forward to specifically address complaints from British second-home owners since Brexit - before the UK left the EU those who had property in France could benefit from unlimited stays, but this has changed since Brits are no longer EU citizens.

The problem is that a deal specifically for British second-home owners could create a precedent for other non-EU nations such as the USA, Canada and Australia to request similar deals for their citizens. 

This issue was laid out by former British ambassador to France, and current member of the House of Lords, Lord Peter Ricketts in a previous interview with The Local.

He said: "The French are walking a bit of a tightrope because they are equally aware that in some areas what they do will set a precedent for other EU countries and they are being careful not to make concessions to the UK, effectively, in areas that could then involve other EU countries having to do the same thing.

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READ MORE: UK lifts Brexit obstacles for French school trips

What if it does go through?

Even if the constitutional council does not strike Article 1er K down, the actual amendment will still need to be clarified by the Conseil d'Etat - which advises the government on implementing new laws.

Article 1er K states that it would be role of the Conseil d'Etat to determine exactly how to apply the new rule. As such, simple questions remained unanswered as of January 2024, such as which documents British property owners would need to show at the border.

If the amendment clears all the procedure hurdles as described above - and that's a big if - the changes would come into effect when the immigration bill is published in the Journal Officiel.

Ultimately it is up to the government to decide when bills become law, but it is expected that the immigration bill would come into effect some time in 2024, although it's possible to add later start dates to certain clauses. 

What about second-home owners who are planning stays in France this year?

As the formal timeline for implementation for the visa exemption remains unclear, people who are not citizens of an EU country and who own property in France currently have two choices; limit their visits to 90 days in every 180 or apply for a short-stay visitor visa.

READ MORE: EXPLAINED How does the 90-day rule work?

The visa allows unlimited stays for the duration of the visa (although people need to be aware that their tax status can change if they are out of their home country for a significant period of the year) but only lasts six months per year, so second-home owners need to reapply every year.

Many second-home owners have told us that the visa application process - especially dealing with TLS Contact centres - is time-consuming and stressful.

The cumbersome nature of re-applying each year was invoked when the original amendment for second-home home owners was submitted in autumn 2023.

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Comments (1)

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Iain 2024/01/04 19:20
My wife and I both applied for 6 month visas last December as we own an apartment in Nice. Once we cleared the fraught TLS part we got these very quickly and much faster than previous years, which suggests to me that the London consulate may well be applying this is as a de facto policy.

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