*UPDATE: Since this article was published, the French Ministry of the Interior has announced that it is postponing the re-launching of their residency permit portal from 1 July to 1 October 2020 because of the impact of Covid-19. You can read their update here: https://brexit.gouv.fr/…/brexit/…/vous-etes-britannique.html.
It is now also certain that there will be no extension to the Brexit transition period, meaning that this second half of 2020 is the deadline for Britons to become established as residents in France before stricter “third-country national” visa and residency rules apply.
The UK has ruled out requesting, or accepting, any extension to the trans-ition period beyond December 31. The Withdrawal Agreement (WA) signed between the UK and EU allowed the possibility of extension, at the latest, to 2022, but this had to be agreed before June 30. All Britons able to show they have established their main residence in France this year are entitled to benefit from the WA deal, which aims to maintain their key rights as EU citizens to live and work in France.
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The new online process
They will need to apply for a new kind of residency card by the end of next June at the latest to continue living legally in France. It is expected to be officially called titre de séjour accord de retrait du Royaume-Uni de l’UE. The process will be online and, after applying, Britons will receive an acknowledgement (récépissé) by email as proof of this. Help will be on offer for those lacking computer skills or with other difficulties. The British Embassy has also been in contact with the Association des Maires de France about publicising procedures to isolated Britons. It intends to circulate a booklet of key points people need to know.
The new website is expected to be very similar to the site that was open for a few months in late 2019/early 2020 for applications for a “no-deal” card when that scenario looked prob-able. As before, the new website will be bilingual and accessible via the Brexit option here: tinyurl.com/vvey9z6. The previous French website was for “third-country” (non-EU) citizen cards that Britons would have needed to maintain legal residency if there had been no Withdrawal Agreement.
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Will you have to apply again?
The WA is an international treaty since the UK left the EU on January 31 and is not linked to the outcome of the current UK/EU talks on the “future relationship”. Those who applied for a “no-deal” card via that website will not have to apply again. Details of their application will be retained and converted for a “Brexit deal” card. For those who did not do this, it is expected that requirements in terms of documents will be similar to those on the “no-deal cards” website. These varied, depending on your situation – see tinyurl.com/y25mm6ln or our helpguide Brexit and Britons in France.Applications will be followed by a prefecture visit to give a fingerprint scan and photographs. The cards, which will be free, will be posted to you.
There will be two kinds of card: one for people who can prove they have lived in France for at least five years and thus benefit fully from the WA deal, and another for those who came more recently. This second card will be valid for up to five years and will be exchangeable for the other type after five years of residency. As before, the application process will be the simplest for those who obtained one of the optional 10-year “permanent residency” cartes de séjour as EU citizens.
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Difficulties proving residency rights
An expert from the DGEF, the Interior Ministry’s residency section, told Connexion they would not make “extraordinary demands” and will “do the maximum to make it simple and to be favourable over issues such as income”. We will ask prefectures to be flex-ible,” she said. Failure to qualify would be very rare and most often linked to security concerns.
Christopher Chantrey, vice chairman of the British Community Committee of France (BCC), which represents British associations across the country, said they are anxious to know the website opening date.
He said the BCC originally pressed France to open a simple website for Britons’ card applications in late 2017, as many people were facing difficulties at local prefectures when they tried to obtain cards as EU citizens to prove their residency rights.
At the time, applications were on paper and required an average three visits to a prefecture, arduous for some people living in rural areas up to 100km away. Some Britons reported queuing for several hours to see an official. Others could not obtain appointments to present their dossier. The BCC wrote to President Macron and also met the prefect of the Dordogne, Mr Chantrey said. “Then I wrote to the Interior Ministry in January 2018 and we were invited in April 2018 to the first of several meetings, and things started to happen."
“We spoke about prefectures not doing their jobs properly. We suggested there should be an online application, one visit only to the prefecture, and that the cards should be posted back.” When an online system opened for “no-deal” cards, the BCC was pleased that the ministry appeared to have listened, he said. “It was straightforward. I used it and it was quite easy. And anyone that did that does not have to reapply now.”
Help is at hand to apply online
Three organisations are confirmed as having approval and funding from the British government to help Britons in France with applications for the new WA deal card. Others may be approved in the future but those ready to help now are the International Organisation for Migration (IoM); the Soldiers, Sailors, Airmen and Families Association (SSAFA); and the Franco-British Network.
The IoM is a UN partner agency helping migrants and refugees. It will hold outreach meetings to raise awareness, share information on residency requirements, and provide direct help for those in difficult situations. The latter could include people with chronic illnesses, or language, literacy or IT difficulties. It will be based in Saint-Brieuc, focusing on Normandy, Brittany and Paris, and can be contacted at UKnationalsFR@iom.int or on 0809 549 832, Monday to Tuesday 14.00-16.00 and Wednesday to Thursday 10.30-12.30. Meetings at the office will be possible by appointment.
SSAFA will help veterans, especially disabled and pensioner veterans, and those in remote areas or needing help with translating paperwork. They can be contacted on 08 05 11 96 17 Monday to Friday, 09.00 to 17.30, or at email@example.com. The Franco-British Network (FBN), a non-profit body that helps Britons move to France and set up businesses, will focus on the Dordogne. Questions may be sent via its website francobritishnetwork.fr. They will be answered in three days.
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Its team consists of three bilingual professionals from the area who were already part of the network, plus two new paid part-time workers. Its president, Roger Haigh, said they refocused to offer more online help, due to Covid-19, but a phone line opens on July 1 (number unavailable on going to press). There will also be webinars and information packs on filling out the forms.
Finally, those identified as needing face-to-face help will be offered home visits. The FBN will be seeking to identify them, partly by liaising with mairies, Mr Haigh said. “We have already opened for queries and have been giving out what information we know to be correct, though we do not yet have all the answers from the ministry. “We are also telling them what was asked for in the past for the no-deal cards website. We recently had a meeting between the associations which have received grants and the British Embassy, following a meeting between the embassy and the Interior Ministry. We were told the French are definitely not going to put any more demands on UK residents than applied on the website last year, which is good news."
“They do have to look at people’s financial situation but the embassy said the ministry confirmed to them they will take a very easy look at things and, if there are no major issues, they are going to play ball.” Mr Haigh said that flexibility on earnings loss due to Covid-19 was specifically raised. “They will look at previous earnings before the coronavirus to make their decisions,” he said. “And they will look at the overall situation over a number of years if the first year isn’t acceptable.” Another point mentioned was that the UK government plans to raise awareness in the UK, so that family members of vulnerable Britons are informed, he added.
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Time running out for a ‘future relationship’ deal
Time is short for the UK and EU to reach a “future relationship” deal as the EU has accepted the UK’s choice not to extend the transition period beyond December 31. The EU, and France independently, had stated that they were ready to extend to give time to obtain the best deal.
Negotiations will intensify this month and the UK’s prime minister told journalists he wants a deal this summer. The EU says October 31 is the realistic deadline as it will take at least two months to ratify. The EU would like one comprehensive treaty on all matters, from trade to security cooperation and social security, but the UK is asking for several separate ones. EU negotiator Michel Barnier recently said they had made little progress. He accused the UK of “attempting to cherry- pick parts of our Single Market benefits” while refusing such ideas as a “level-playing field” on mutual standards to prevent the UK becoming an “unfair competitor”.
While the WA deal signed earlier this year will protect Britons established in France before the end of the year, a failure to agree on the future relationship will affect many matters moving on. Especially affected would be Britons seeking to move in the future, and those with second homes, because it might mean no Ehic visitors’ health cards, and the freezing of state pensions for future British expatriate retirees. However, even in the event of a deal, the UK has expressed no intention to seek to continue the S1 form system, under which it pays for pensioners’ healthcare in France, for future British expatriates or the right to export British disability benefits. We did not receive an answer from 10 Downing Street as to why this is.
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In the event of no future relationship deal, it would be possible for the UK to sign individual social security deals with each EU country, on matters such as pension uprating and aggregation, or coordination of social security rights of cross-border and temporary workers. Christopher Chantrey, vice chairman of the British Community Committee of France, said the British in Europe (BiE) coalition of groups is “worried about knock-on effects of no future relationship deal” as well as other matters not covered, or only partly covered, by the WA. This includes recognition of British work qualifications in France, he said.
In the EU, the UK benefited from mutual recognition but the WA only allows this to continue for those people who are covered by the WA deal and who apply for formal recognition of a qualification before the end of the transition period. He said: “We are also concerned about the right to onward free movement [to other EU countries] for those who may have to move regularly from one country to another, and also family reunion rights. We had been hoping to persuade the UK to amend its new immigration bill, which will concern Britons who want to go back to the UK with an EU-national family member. After March 2022, it will only be possible if you can meet the UK’s immigration rules for foreigners.”
Mr Chantrey said BCC was a founding member of BiE in 2017, when he met the coalition’s co-chair, lawyer Jane Golding, with members of the3million group for EU citizens in the UK to give evidence to British MPs. “When something happens that could affect the lives and livelihoods of UK nationals living in France, the BCC naturally picks it up,” he said. “Brexit is the biggest threat to our lives since the invasion of France in 1940, which came just after we were set up in 1939. Then, suddenly Brits had to try to leave France.”
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New law allows France to protect Britons by decree
Laws can be made by decree in France to deal with situations arising at the end of the transition period, especially if this ends with no future relationship deal. Debating the law permitting this, Europe Minister Amélie de Montchalin said this could include certain measures to protect the rights of Britons, especially those working in France, though in most cases these would be covered by the WA deal.
It is not known if, as last year in preparation for a “no WA deal” scenario, this will include a decree to maintain the validity of British driving licences in France indefinitely after the transition period, or if they will become “foreign” (non EU) and subject to obligatory exchange within a year and additional paperwork. A government road safety section spokesman said the situation is unclear but the UK may sign a deal which will allow Britons to keep driving on their licences in France.