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UK families in France struggle to gain Brexit WA cards for children

The issue arises when teenagers turn 18. One mother said; 'It's getting beyond a joke'

In 2021, Britons’ WA cards represented almost a third of cards issued in France, significantly increasing prefectures’ workloads Pic: Mikalai Kachanovich / Shutterstock

Families have told us of their struggle to obtain Brexit Withdrawal Agreement (WA) cards for teenagers turning 18.

Two mothers who hold WA permanent residency cards got in contact about the prefecture of Nice, Alpes-Maritimes, after our recent report about the problems some young Britons have been experiencing with residency rights.

That part of France has for years had high demand for foreign people’s cards.

Read more: Young Brexit agreement Britons facing residency difficulties in France

No information or appointments offered

Nationally, in 2021, Britons’ WA cards represented almost a third of cards issued in France, significantly increasing prefectures’ workloads, on top of issues related to homeworking and health restrictions during the pandemic.

However, the situation is not helped by the fact that the foreigners’ section of the Nice prefecture’s website contains no information about procedures for those needing WA cards.

It offers no contact option apart from online messages, no in-person visits and no system for booking an appointment to discuss residency cards.

Nurse Emma Sum­merfield, 50, has two children who were 18 this year and one who was 17.

Emma Sum­merfield with her teenage children; Photo: Emma Sum­merfield

She applied for them via the online portal that was open last year, having understood it was possible from age 16. 

Her children study in the UK but maintain their main home with her.

Confusion over ‘document de circulation pour étranger mineur’ (DCEM)

No French residency cards are required before age 18, although applications from 16 are possible if a card is needed for practical reasons, such as work. 

In the case of WA cards, young people are required to apply after turning 18 and before age 19. 

They should receive a five or 10-year card, depending (with minor exceptions) on whether they have been a resident in France for at least five years or not. 

Ms Summerfield said she received a query from the prefecture in summer 2021 about one of her children, suggesting a DCEM (proof of residency for a young person, to show on entry to France) would be appropriate.

She replied, explaining that her children wanted residency cards.

“I said we didn’t want a DCEM. My children were entitled to cards and wanted them for travel – in times of Covid it was necessary – and they might want to work or do a course.

“Since then, I’ve received no correspondence.

“I’ve sent registered post, emails asking for a meeting, and have had nothing back.

“It’s getting beyond a joke. They all want to work in the holidays next year and won’t be able to until they have the card.”

Read more: Explainer: France’s Brexit residency cards and foreign travel

UK consulate stepped in

She is now seeking help from Rift remaininfrance.fr, the support group for Britons, as is Sarah Melitz, another long-term resident of the Alpes-Maritimes.

She applied for her son when he was 17, having previously obtained a DCEM for him. 

She said the prefecture told her that only adults can qualify.

In the meantime, her son has started French university studies and she said the university “luckily” accepted his DCEM for that. 

She wrote asking the prefecture to make an exception, but said she has not received an answer to this nor to emails sent. 

Finally, after he turned 18, she was sent information about how to obtain an appointment but he ended up being issued a vie privée et familiale card, suitable for a young person from an ordinary non-EU foreign family. 

She was able, with support from the UK consulate, to have it swapped for a WA card but is now fighting for a refund of the €225 she was charged for the first card. WA cards are free.

“We’re British, he’s British and my queries were sent via the contact form ‘Brexit’ option so why did they give a card that wasn’t Brexit-related?” she said.

She added that her son, while waiting for the first card, had not been able to receive his French driving licence after passing his test due to not having a residency card.

Clarification of French Interior Ministry

In light of these reports, we advise when making contact with your prefecture that you stress you are applying for un titre de séjour article 50 TUE/ accord de retrait du RU de l’UE

We also suggest waiting until the person is 18 or, if you apply earlier, stressing the reason.

An interior ministry spokeswoman said, legally, this is allowed where a young person wants to work, and it is enough to state this. It is not necessary to provide supporting documents as proof.

She added the ministry would contact the prefecture about the lack of information on its site for remaining ‘article 50’ applicants. These also include foreign-resident close family members joining a WA Briton in France. 

A planned roll-out deadline of online procedures for all residency card applications by the end of 2022 has been put back.

Procedures that are fully online so far for first applications, as well as renewals on expiry, include students’ and visitors’ (for retirees) cards and passeport talent cards for highly-qualified workers, plus (for all types) renewal of cards due to a change of address or loss. It is hoped the rest will go online next year.

Who needs a DCEM?

As we reported recently, Rift has flagged up confusion at some French border points as to whether or not young Britons living in France need a DCEM.

Read more: Does my under 18 need a DCEM travel document for travel from France?

The interior ministry has clarified to us that they are not obliged to have a DCEM to return to France after a trip abroad, as all British people can freely come to France for visits of up to 90 days in any 180-day period. 

Having a DCEM, however, will avoid a young WA family member having their passport stamped when they enter France, potentially causing issues in the case of future foreign travel.

A DCEM is free to Brexit WA agreement people. There is a €50 fee for other cases. Young people taking part in school trips do not require a DCEM.

The ministry said any young non-EU national travelling away from France should be accompanied by one of their parents, unless they have an autorisation de sortie du territoire signed by them.

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