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'This is Brexit' - family gets 30 days to leave France

A British woman living in the south of France has made an emotional video appeal after she said she was given 30-days notice to leave France with her husband and two small children – as they were refused residency cards.

Emma Lawrence from Occitanie, whose Facebook video has been watched thousands of times, said: “This is what Brexit means for people. It’s not just about saving jobs or whatever; this is happening to people from the EU, like Polish and Hungarian people in Britain too. They are me.

“When you come and live in another EU country you don’t have to prove anything. We have a Swedish neighbour who’s just driven down. She’s got her pension and is having a nice time. We had a Belgian neighbour before.

“On the continent everyone moves around it doesn’t matter. You say ‘I’m going to go live in Germany for a bit’, and you do.

“And that’s what we did, and what a lot of people have been doing for years.”

She adds that a family member who voted Brexit had told her “you’ll be fine”, but the reality is “here we are – and we’re not”.

Mrs Lawrence, an IT expert who says she earned a good living in the UK as a technical writer, explains that she and her husband moved two years ago and have been planning to buy land and build a house and to build up their self-employment work. They have one small child in school and another in a crèche.

However due to their move, some months of house seeking, putting the children into school and registering businesses etc. they had been living mostly on savings and had not yet built up regular incomes.

She said they had hesitated to apply for residency cards, worrying they might not meet strict EU residency criteria, and their worst fears came true when the letters arrived yesterday.

She said the letters said they have 30 days to leave, but they have a right to appeal.

“We’re just gutted. We knew this was a possibility. We’ve heard other sad stories of people not getting them.”

Connexion has previously reported on the case of a widow in the south of France who was asked to leave in 30 days (and returned to the UK after an unsuccessful appeal) because she had been living on French benefits. 

In another case we spoke to a woman in the north who is appealing after her carte de séjour application was turned down on grounds that her self-employment income as a gardener was too irregular, which she says was due to illness.

Ms Lawrence adds: “We weren’t going back to Britain. Brexit can **** off, we want to be in the EU. We were going to do everything we needed to do to stay here and haven’t taken a penny off the French government…

“People who voted leave said they didn’t know this would happen, well now they do. This is the reality. This is Brexit.”

Prior to the Brexit referendum the official Leave campaign stated that British expatriates would have all their rights protected by the 1969 Vienna Convention, however Connexion spoke to two academic lawyers who said this was not the case

Under a strict application of EU law, European citizens have free movement to live and work in other EU countries for up to three months and to stay longer if they are working or self-sufficient. After five years of such residency and with no long absences they gain a right of permanent residency and may not be asked to leave unless they pose a serious security threat.

EU countries have the right to legislate to require EU citizens coming to their countries to obtain residency cards in order to stay more than three months. Many countries, including the UK and France, made applying for cards optional and most people did not do so.

However in view of the approach of Brexit it has been advised by the British Embassy and French Interior Ministry to obtain a card, especially for those entitled to the EU ‘permanent residency’ card for those able to show five years of legal residency under the EU rules and no absences of more than six months.

Cardholders also stand to benefit after a Brexit, whether with a deal or no-deal, as they have a simple way to demonstrate their period of legal residency and, in the case of holders of the permanent card, would be able to make a simple exchange for a new card certifying the right to stay under the deal or, in a no-deal, as non-EU citizens.

However difficulties can arise where someone ‘falls through the cracks’ in the system, especially as Britons in France have not had to apply for cards and prove their legal residency since 2004.

An EU directive says self-employment is one of the cases where someone can live in another EU country more than three months. EU case law leaves leeway to officials as to what constitutes self-employment for these purposes, saying the work should be of a genuine and effective nature and not merely marginal or ancillary - in other words it should be ‘a proper job’.

However EU law also allows for people who are neither employed nor self-employed to stay more than three months as long as they are ‘have sufficient ressources for themselves and their family members not to become a burden on the social assistance system’ and have healthcare cover (which could be either private or through a state system). The French Conseil d'Etat has previously ruled that a person does not actually have to be claiming any welfare benefits to fail this test.

EU states may not lay down any fixed amount for the 'sufficient ressources', but should take into account the personal situation of the person and in all cases they should not be required to have income more than the level of income support (RSA for working age people, Aspa for those aged 65 or more). The level of RSA is €1,175 a month for a couple with two children.

Income levels are more stringent for ordinary non-EU citizens who want to come to live in France; they also have to have a visa before settling in France and are obliged to apply for a residency card. This would apply to Britons coming to France after a no-deal Brexit or after a transition period if there is a deal.

Under the EU/UK Brexit withdrawal agreement ('deal') countries would be entitled to apply the same tests as under the EU rules for Britons to stay living there, however the precise procedures that would apply in France have not yet been clarified. Rules for Britons already living in France in the case of a no-deal were recently been laid down by an ordonnance and decree.

Previous stories (from The Connexion newspaper - paywall/subscribers) 

British widow on benefits told to leave France 

Carte de séjour refused to Briton due to low income 

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