A senator for Normandy says he backs the plan for an automatic visa right for British second-home owners because they are being penalised by Brexit as they cannot visit as before.
Philippe Bas (Les Républicains, Manche), who presented the idea to the Senate on behalf of Senator Martine Berthet last week, says he believes Britons love the region and are “perfectly integrated”.
He said the automatic visa idea, now added by the Senate (French upper house) to France’s immigration bill, would also benefit French visa officials and contractors as it will free them up for other tasks.
The bill is now set to be debated by the French MPs in the Assemblée nationale next month.
Visa applications are complex
Since Brexit, Britons must undertake complex visa applications every time they want to spend more than three months at their French homes and officials have been struggling to provide enough visa appointments to cope with demand.
The applications are the same as those undertaken by people moving to France, but who only have to complete them once.
Ms Berthet’s amendment to the bill says people who are British and own French homes should be able to come to France for extended stays without applying for a visa.
Mr Bas said: “The text we have adopted is well-suited to resolving the problems with these procedures, which people have succeeded in completing, but which are rather discouraging because they are long.
“They’re also rather disagreeable for the French officials because it obliges them to repeat the same work regularly.”
He added: “There are many British people who spend part of the year in France, sometimes retired people who love France, and they are not necessarily Brexiters.
Good relations with neighbours
“It’s something that I have especially taken to heart as I have many British friends in Normandy. They love our region for its beautiful scenery which is reminiscent of England, and the mild climate, and they have good relations with their French neighbours but are also sufficiently numerous to be able to regularly meet up among themselves. They are very sociable.
“So I find it unfair that they should be penalised by Brexit when most of them didn’t want it, and we need to make life easier for them.
“There are also economic arguments [in favour of the automatic visa] but they are not the decisive factor for me; my reasons are more personal. I want our relations to be easy with these British citizens who are in the habit of spending time in France and are happy here.
“That is what motivated me to help with the drafting of this amendment and why I personally spoke in favour of it in front of the Senate.
“I feel friendly towards the British here because as a French person it is very pleasing to see the warm feelings they have towards France.”
UK needs close links with France
Mr Bas said he respects the UK’s Brexit decision, but the UK still “needs to have relations that are as intense as possible with its closest neighbours”, and this is another reason why it makes sense to help British nationals.
Mr Bas said the amendment was voted through by a large majority of his colleagues last week, even though some do not have a lot of British second-home owners in their areas.
While the amendment is important to Britons in France, it is not a key issue for the Assemblée nationale MPs, he added.
“I think that now the Senate has voted for it, at least some of the MPs will think there’s no point fighting the Senate on this point, when there are many other issues to be dealt with.”
He said the senators vote more freely than the Assemblée, where the Majority MPs tend to vote according to the government’s view – and so far a government minister had expressed a negative option to the senators last week on behalf of the government.
She told the senators the existing process, of applying for a temporary long-stay visa each time, was enough.
However, Mr Bas said the minister, a pharmacist by profession whose remit relates to health professions, is not a visa specialist.
“I tried to make that point, as gently as possible, in the debate, though I am not sure she took it well,” he said.