Brexit FAQs and misunderstandings...

Jigsaw of EU flag saying Brexit in middle and with one piece coming out

As Britain heads towards Brexit, Connexion has put together this list of frequently asked questions and mythbusters

We are entering a crunch period for the Brexit negotiations and a no-deal exit has never looked so possible, even so objections are sometimes raised to advice, including this article on what to do to prepare for Brexit  that urgent preparations are advisable for Britons wanting to remain living in France.

Here, we look at some typical comments and questions we have received.

We never needed much paperwork before the EU, so why now?

How far back are you going? We joined the EEC (forerunner to EU) in 1973 and joined the full EU single market in 1993. However Britons in France needed a carte de séjour until it was clarified in a 2004 government circular that their rights come directly from EU treaties so in their case having a card should be optional and its value is not to confer rights but simply as a way of declaring and proving rights.

Since then Britons have been able to live in France simply with a UK passport and few bothered with extra formalities.

The chairman of the British Community Committee of France, Christopher Chantrey, said that prior to the UK joining people did need to have cartes de séjour to live in France and those wanting to work had to have a carte de travail, furthermore you could not come to France to seek work but had to have work organised. 

As for today, Brexit means that  automatic treaty rights are probably not going to apply after March 29, 2019 (unless Brexit is cancelled or the negotiations are prolonged). At present that, therefore, means that obtaining an EU citizen carte de séjour to prove you have been living in France legally and stably over a given period has become much more useful and important than before.

In future, Brexit means Britons will be obliged to have a card of some form in order to prove the right to be here, as does every ‘third citizen’ to the EU (ie. Non-EU, non-EEA, non-Swiss citizens). 

The French are not going to kick us out – we are good spenders so we don’t need to do anything

Sources assure us that the Interior Ministry is keen for Britons living legally in France are able to stay and researchers from the University of Limoges have been undertaking a major research project showing the importance of British people to the French economy (with a focus on the south-west).

Even so, it would be imprudent to simply leave things to chance, firstly because if there is an exit deal (which is uncertain) the French government have said they will expect people to prove they have been living here legally and stably according to EU residency rules. Those who have obtained a carte de séjour as Europeans will either not need anything else or will be able to exchange the cards simply for another kind of card before the end of the Brexit transition period, officials have said previously in a National Assembly debate and a Connexion interview.

Those who have not will have to undertake similar procedures, at a time when prefectures may be under even more pressure than now.

If there is nothing in place then after Brexit then British people in France will, until things are sorted out, have no legal basis for their residency in France, as was stated by France’s Europe Minster last week.

This is because they will be ‘third country’ citizens, and as such to live legally under current rules they should have a visa from a French consulate in the home country and in most cases also a carte de séjour from the prefecture of the area where they live. Note also that not all forms of third country carte de séjour allow people to work and they do not necessarily give an automatic right for you to be accompanied in France by your family.

Those who have already obtained a ‘permanent residency’ carte de séjour as EU citizens would arguably be an exception to this because they may have a legally enforceable right to stay; however there have never been any court rulings to confirm this point. Those with a shorter-term card (one or five years) may also be on stronger ground than those with no paperwork at all.

In the event of a ‘no-deal’ Brexit, Britons would, however, largely depend on the goodwill of France and could face one of three scenarios:

  • Having to go back to Britain because they are not considered legal residents
  • Having to regularise their situation by proving the usual visa and carte de séjour requirements for third-country citizens, which are more stringent than the requirements for EU citizens on matters such as income levels (some also require you to not work and some have language skill requirements).
  • Or, having to prove they have been living legally and stably in France as EU citizens so as to benefit from any special ‘no-deal contingency planning’ measures France may put in place.

There is good reason to hope that the third scenario would be applicable because a senior official from the Interior Ministry told Connexion in the interview linked to above that they expect Britons already living in France would continue to benefit from the same rules as if there was a deal. What is more, last week French Europe Minister said last week they would wish to help Britons who would otherwise become illegal citizens, to ensure they can stay. 

There is, so far, no suggestion that there would be a blanket offer to legalise the residency of all Britons in France with no need to give documentary evidence to prove legal, long-term residency and so, once again, obtaining a carte de séjour as soon as possible is currently the only way to obtain useful paperwork to help you benefit.

Americans live here with no problem so why should there be a problem for us?

Americans come here knowing they have to jump through various hoops in terms of visas and cartes de séjour and so do not find themselves in a ‘limbo’ scenario as Britons might after a no-deal Brexit. Even if there is a deal, Britons in France face the unusual situation of having to formalise their residency after they have already become established in France, rather than the other way around, as is usual for third-country citizens.

Secondly, Americans come knowing they will have to have to prove income of a certain level so as not to be a ‘burden’ to the welfare system, and they have budgeted for this. What is more, the typical American moving to France is well-off, much as was the case for Britons moving to France before the EU. According to one financial expert working with English-speakers in France, Americans often have pensions of around €200,000 a year, an income bracket incomparable with the typical British pensioner who has moved to France under EU free movement rules.

Britons already in France – IF there is an exit deal – should be able to largely continue their lives as before (apart from those whose work relies on cross-border mobility) as long as they can provide paperwork to prove they have been living here legally.

If there is no deal, and assuming that Britons can regularise their residency, any continuing benefit of the rights that come with free movement would depend on decisions of the UK, EU and/or France. Consider that:

  • The drop in the pound means income in pounds is already worth around 20% less and the rate is likely to become worse if there is a no-deal
  • Britain freezes state pensions of all Britons who move abroad to countries that it does not have a specific social security agreement with guaranteeing uprating. Britain and France used to have such an agreement before the UK joined the EU however it is deemed to have been superceded by the EU single market arrangements and so far there are no guarantees that it would automatically apply again.
  • Many Britons in France continue to claim UK disability benefits as a result of EU free movement rules on exportability – these would no longer apply unless the UK agrees otherwise
  • As EU citizens, Britons benefit from better access to certain French benefits than third-country citizens, for example many Britons have been accepted for Aspa pension top-up benefit on the basis of having established residency in France for more than three months; this takes 10 years of holding a workers’ carte de séjour in France for third country citizens.
  • British pensioners in France have French healthcare paid for by the UK under an EU scheme which would stop unless Britain decided otherwise. If deemed legal residents they could probably join the French Puma scheme, but this may involve making an annual payment for membership.
There will be a transition period. It’s not going to all change from one day to the next…

The transition period is part of the exit deal that has been negotiated, but still not finalised. If there is no deal then there will be no transition period but instead a ‘cliff-edge’ change after March 29, 2019 (though last-minute emergency plans by France and/or the UK could help).

If there is a deal then people will have up to mid-2021 to apply for a carte de séjour, however considering that some prefectures are already offering appointments to submit applications in one year’s time, it makes sense to do it as soon as possible.

There’s no point in getting a EU citizen carte de séjour when the UK won’t be in the UK!

This is an understandable objection, however there are several reasons why it is still worth getting a carte de séjour even though it will say ‘EU citizen’ and we provided more information on this point here

We’ve been here for 20 odd years, of course we will be OK…

Your long-term residency in France should be helpful in proving that you are an established legal resident in France, so as to ensure you can stay after Brexit. However you will still need to provide proof.

It is likely that, as now, the most useful paperwork will be documents showing legal and continuous (apart from short stays of less than six months) residency in France in the last five years. The Interior Ministry issued a list of these documents.  Note, however, that if you previously obtained a ‘permanent residency’ carte de séjour in the past (for example dating back to when cards were required), your prefecture should still have a record of this. In which case you should only have to supply proof that you have continued to reside in France without long breaks away, such as a utility bill for each half year.

Visas won’t be needed – they weren’t before

Concerning visas, there are two kinds: ones for travel as a visitor and ones for residency. It is very likely that after the end of the transition period, if there is a deal, or after March 29, 2019, if there is no deal, then Britons wanting to come to live in France will need residency visas. This is because all third-country citizens need this and it is not expected that Britain would be an exception, especially considering the fact the UK has stated it intends to treat EU citizens no differently from anyone else after Brexit, and this may be reciprocated.

It is possible that tourists would need short-term Schengen visitor visas after a no-deal Brexit as these are required for all non-EU visitors apart from those from a list of countries which are given a waiver from needing one. Such status depends on multiple factors including human rights and the EU's relations with the country. It may require bilateral negotiations and is not automatic. EU negotiators have previously said whether or not travel visas are needed after Brexit would depend on how well the negotiations go – and a no-deal would be considered the worst scenario. We could therefore, at least, expect a period of visa requirements until such a time as there had been a negotiation to cancel them.

Even if there is an agreement on waiving travel visas, during 2021 the EU is bringing in a new scheme called Etias, as part of concerns to increase security at the borders of the Schengen Zone. This (not technically a visa) would apply to any visitors coming into the Schengen Zone from outside the EU, therefore including ones from Britain. It will involve a €7 payment and an online application for prior approval to come. Certain factors, notably having criminal convictions in the past 10 years, will mean the application being subject to extra scrutiny and could be a bar.

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