The president of the French MPs’ France-UK friendship group says it is “essential” to allow British second-home owners to visit more easily and he will look to submit a new article to help after a first proposal was axed at committee stage.
Alexandre Holroyd (Renaissance, MP for the French abroad), told The Connexion he “regrets” that the Assemblée nationale’s laws commission removed the measure from the text of France’s immigration bill.
The laws commission, a small group of MPs, has been scrutinising France’s immigration bill before it goes to a full MPs’ debate from December 11. On Wednesday the committee accepted two proposed amendments from MPs calling to strike this ‘automatic visa’ measure out of the text.
The idea – that Britons owning second homes in France should have an automatic long-stay visa right, to visit their homes without formalities on proof of home ownership – was originally submitted by Senator Martine Berthet (Savoie) and was approved by the Senate (French upper house) last month and added to the text that was sent on to the MPs. France has the right to set its own visa or residency card rules regarding access to its own national territory.
Despite Ms Berthet's article being struck out by the laws commission, an MP (or MPs) could resubmit the same idea, or something similar, as a new amendment (or amendments), before the full debate. The full house will then consider whether to keep the proposed idea/s or not.
Update: We have now also received an email from a reader whose MP, Philippe Lottiaux (Var, RN), told her that in the case of the automatic visa idea being struck out at the commission stage he would look to submit it again.
‘Measure is essential for many Britons,’ says MP
Mr Holroyd, who has joint Franco-British nationality, said: “This measure is essential for a large number of British people, including a lot of binational families with a second home in France and who participate in the economic and social life of many territories, especially rural ones, in France.
“Continuing to participate in the clogging up of our prefectoral services with unnecessary complexities is a nonsense, and I will continue to try to bring a solution to this problem, for example by resubmitting an amendment in this direction, before the text is debated in full session.”
We had reached out to Mr Holroyd after this week’s decision as he had previously told us that he was in principle in favour of the idea.
As we reported yesterday, he submitted his own amendment to the text being looked at by the laws commission, in which he proposed that the automatic visa right be limited to British people who owned homes in France before Brexit, as opposed to all British people, forever.
He also suggested that all residents of the UK should be concerned, whether UK nationals or not.
The issue of local prefecture services in France facing requests from British people about extensions to their stays also arose in the debate in the laws commission this week.
Some Britons, especially retirees who have moved to France and must renew residency card applications annually, are undoubtedly putting pressure on prefecture officials who must process applications for them.
However, in our experience the biggest pressure from the second-home owners, who retain their main home in the UK, is on the French consulate in London and on its contractors TLSContact, which has three UK offices.
These workers in the past would have mostly processed visa applications from people such as Asian or African nationals living in the UK and wanting to visit or move to France, whereas post-Brexit they also process visa applications for Britons wanting to move to France and those wanting to stay temporarily for between three and six months at one time.
We note that under UK immigration law, it is possible for French people to visit the UK without formalities for up to six months at a time.
What happened in the debate this week?
The laws commission debated article 1er K, about the automatic visa, on Wednesday.
For more about the successful amendments that demanded to strike this article out, and Mr Holroyd’s previous proposed amendment, see our report from yesterday.
The video of the debate can now also be viewed on the website of the Assemblée nationale, here, starting at 2:58:31.
One of the laws commission’s rapporteurs for the immigration law, Florent Boudié (Renaissance, Gironde), who had submitted his own amendment accepting article 1er K in principle but slightly tweaking its wording, said he was withdrawing this because he was now persuaded by the arguments of those calling for striking the article out.
One MP tried to explain the reason for the article
An independent MP for Hérault, Emanuelle Ménard, spoke about the reasons for the article, but appeared to misunderstand some aspects. We note that UK-resident owners of second homes in France rarely apply for residency cards (as opposed to visas) and they do not usually stay more than half the year in France, as their main home is in the UK.
She said: “I think that the reason is – as all those who have British people in their constituencies will be aware – it is probably to ease the services of the prefectures from these incessant requests from British citizens who have a second home in France.
“They are obliged to renew their requests for residency cards very regularly because they spend, most of them, more than six months of the year in France and can’t do it without returning to the UK.
“So, I think the senators, in their wisdom, thought we need to ease the situation for the prefectures who spend a lot of time processing these residency card applications that, in themselves, are not very problematic.”
Benjamin Lucas (Yvelines, left-wing/ecologist) said: “In fact, if you are a foreigner, for the far-right to look favourably on you, you must have a second home. For the rich it’s ‘no borders’, right? How interesting.” [Editors’ note: most of the senators who supported the amendment are not considered ‘far right’].
MP for Doubs said the measure should not be removed
Anne Genevard (Les Républicains, Doubs) said : “We must not remove this article. What is the issue here?
“Since Brexit, Britons can’t visit for more than 90 days in any 180-day period. Those who want to have a long stay in France must now ask for a residency permit or a visa – long and complex procedures.
“These difficulties arise from the UK’s sovereign decision to leave the EU. Despite that, it is still true that many British citizens actively participate in the local economies of our territories and pay their taxe foncière like all the residents.
“So, seeing the unique links that unite our two countries and the importance of these people to the French economy this amendment seeks to create an exception and lighten the entry conditions for British people who own second homes.”
Those who could be seen in the video voting to suppress the article included Mr Boudié and Sacha Houlié (Renaissance, Vienne), while Ms Genevard voted to keep it.