Don’t panic and cards will be valid, says ministry

Connexion has interviewed a senior Interior Ministry official about Britons in France and cartes de séjour

Many Britons have applied for an EU citizen’s carte de séjour as a safeguard but there have been reports of difficulties. You have told us you have communicated with the prefectures. Are you confident that this kind of problem will not happen again?

You can never be completely confident when it comes to the civil service but difficulties should be less frequent.

If people have problems still how can they solve the issue?

If it is impossible to overcome the ‘resistance of the [foreigner’s service] counter’, as well as of the head of the foreigners’ service, it is advisable to write making an appeal to the prefect.

If this fails, applying to Solvit is a possibility, or to the Défenseur des Droits. The latter has delegates in each department, giving voluntary help to users who feel their rights have been infringed by officials. If mediation fails, it is possible to apply to the administrative court. Finally, it can be useful to inform the local press in your department: prefects generally pay close attention to this.

In some prefectures there is no appointment booking system; you have to queue, sometimes for hours. It can be hard for the elderly or disabled. Can anything be done?

Seeing foreign users by appointment is being rolled out throughout the country. In the short term, I can only invite people in this situation to call the prefecture concerned in order to find an ad hoc solution.

In some departments where there is a booking system, there are difficulties to have a slot, or long waits. Do you have a good understanding of the number of Britons and where they are, and can you manage the demand?

Consideration is under way at a high level to find a solution in the event of an influx of British people to the prefectures. At that point, if the need arises, a specific reception system could be set up in the departments with the most Britons - of which we have fairly reliable assessments.

‘Inactive’ people may be asked for proof of a certain income level. Will prefectures be flexible about this?

EU texts stress the need to take individual situations into account. In this respect, I invite Britons with modest incomes to provide proof of all their income, not just their regular income (pensions, salaries...).

The autorities must take into account all income, including irregular income, financial assistance provided by relatives and financial capital.

Finally, prefectures must take into account factors other than financial, in particular degree of integration into French society and how long someone has lived in France.

In a debate in the National Assembly [ministry official] Agnès Fontana said whatever happened with Brexit France would respect  as an acquired right the right of residence of people who had obtained a permanent residency card. Can you confirm that?

Of course. The post-Brexit rules will only apply to new arrivals and residence permits of Britons already present in France will remain valid, whatever their length of validity. Breaking this rule would be contrary to the rule of law and would also create a chaotic situation that the civil service is keen to do without.

Assuming there is an agreement on expatriates’ rights as negotiated, have you decided how British expatriates in France will prove their rights under the agreement?

British citizens residing in France before Brexit and holding a European residency permit will retain the benefit of it. In principle, they will not have to ask for a new card.

British citizens who do not have an EU carte de séjour when Brexit happens will be subject to the same rules as their compatriots who do have one, provided that they meet the required conditions. An EU residency permit is not compulsory. It would therefore be discriminatory, just after Brexit happens, to cause worry for some Britons and not others when they find themselves in similar situations.

In any event, the British, who do not have a European card, will be invited to regularise their situation, according to arrangements still to be determined (ie. whether they will have to go to the prefecture, whether a specific service might be set up etc.).

In any case, they will not be penalised compared to compatriots who already hold European cards. [The DGEF, the section of the Interior Ministry dealing with foreign people’s residency, confirmed that ‘regularising their situation’ means they will need to apply for a residency card, and it will not at that stage be an ‘EU’ one – it is not clear yet what it will say on it; the aim however will be that those who apply will not face additional difficulties compared to those who had applied for EU cards.

Connexion understands it is therefore expected, for example, to be free of charge, unlike ordinary cards for non-EU citizens which are charged for. If all goes according to the draft exit deal, people would have to apply for a card at the latest by six months after the end of the transition period, ie. mid-2021].

Have you planned for the case of ‘no deal’?

It is likely that in the event of a ‘no deal’, negotiations will be prolonged.

In the unlikely event of a ‘no deal’, the British already present in France will continue to benefit from the same rules.

On the other hand, Britons settling in France after Brexit will be subject to ordinary immigration law - unless otherwise provided for in a EU/UK or Franco-British migration agreement.

What will happen with regard to residence rights of Britons coming after Brexit?

If an agreement is reached [between the UK and EU] on this, the British will have the same right of residence in all EU states - in France as elsewhere in Europe, if not [as mentioned above] they could be subject to ordinary immigration laws, however it is likely that a bilateral or multilateral agreement would be made clarifying the right of residence of our citizens on both sides of the Channel.

In both cases, given the degree of economic integration between the UK and the continent, I have no doubt that both the British and Europeans will be subject to rules that, while stricter than at present, would be more flexible than basic immigration law.

Even if it is sometimes difficult, we must have faith in the intelligence of our leaders.

Is there anything else you would like to say to Britons living in France?

To paraphrase one of your greatest writers, Don’t panic!

Connexion notes that estimates for numbers of Britons in the EU and France have been dropping – the UK refers to 800,000 in its recent white paper on the future EU/UK relationship, as opposed to 1.2m, a United Nations estimate often used in debates on Brexit.

Recently the UK’s Office of National Sta­tistics suggested 900,000.

The latter, like a figure of 150,000 Britons in France supplied by France’s Insee, is based on census data.

However Insee told Connexion that in censuses people can only give one nationality so those with double nationality are often not included in statistics for ‘Britons’.

For more about this and general Brexit updates such as on the Fouchet/Shindler case and a translation of the list of documents for a residency card see our Brexit website page atconnexionfrance.com/French-news/Brexit

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