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Is this the end for the British second-homes visa plan in France?

The Local France
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Is this the end for the British second-homes visa plan in France?
Photo by PHILIPPE HUGUEN / AFP

France's Constitutional Council has rejected a plan to ease post-Brexit visa rules for British second-home owners, crushing the dreams of many. But is there any possibility that this plan, or a similar one, could be revived?

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Since Brexit, Brits who own properties in France have been constrained by the 90-day rule - which states that non-EU citizens visiting France must either limit their visits to 90 days in every 180, or get a short-stay visitor visa.

This rule applies to other non-EU citizens, so for example American, Canadian or Australian second-home owners face the same constraints, but for Brits it represents a change, since before Brexit they benefited from EU freedom of movement and could therefore enjoy unlimited time at their French properties - for example spending the summer in France and the winter in the UK. 

EXPLAINED How does the 90-day rule work?

The change feels unfair to many who bought properties under the old system, and technical problems with the visa website have not helped, with some saying they will sell up because of the level of hassle.

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So, is there any chance of a change?

Immigration bill

France's new immigration bill did contain a clause that would ease visa requirements for British second-home owners, but the Constitutional Council rejected the amendment.

There is no right of appeal to Council decisions so that specific clause is dead in the water.

However there are some grounds for hope - the Council ruled against it on procedural grounds, specifically that the clause bore no relation to the original bill and therefore could not be added as an amendment.

On the concept of lifting visas for British for second-home owners, the council expressed no view.

So what next?

It can't be added to the immigration bill, which is now proceeding into law, but new legislation could be created that would address the situation of second home-owners.

This could take a variety of forms.

The defeated amendment in the most recent bill scrapped entirely visa requirements for British second-home owners - essentially returning to the pre-Brexit situation. It was, however, never made clear exactly how this would be applied and what proof could be shown at the border to distinguish second-home owners from other visitors.

Another suggested amendment to the bill was to create a specific long-duration visa for second-home owners - this would mean that second-home owners would still be required to engage with the visa process, but would only have to do it once every five years, rather than annually as now. 

The legislation would either have to be created as a standalone law, or added to a bill looking at similar issues - of which none are currently planned.

Is this likely?

It's fair to say that second-home owners do not seem to be a priority for the French government - which is currently dealing with issues ranging from the rise of the far-right, likely humiliation in the European elections, inflation, a budget deficit and of course international issues like the wars in Ukraine and Gaza.

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The amendments to the most recent bill were added by senators - specifically senators for the Charente, Dordogne and Haute-Savoie areas, which have a high number of second homes.

It's possible that they could add amendments to future bills - but as the Council ruled, they must be closely related to the subject of the original bill.

When the law was passing through the Assemblée nationale, MPs also raised two other objections - EU law and equality.

They disagreed with providing legal advantages to a certain group based purely on financial status (being able to afford to own two homes), while pointing out that a total visa exemption may affect EU law, specifically the 90-day rule.

As an EU member state, France must ensure that any new laws conform to the framework of EU law. 

The application to cancel the amendment 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."

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A second amendment on the same topic added: "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."

It therefore seems unlikely that anything will change in the near future. 

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