The site – accessible via the Brexit option at tinyurl.com/vvey9z6 – was due to open in July. Officials from the Interior Ministry’s residency section told Connexion that concerns that prefectures would not have been able to cope with the additional demand had prompted the decision to delay the site’s launch.
One said: “We wanted to allow Britons who benefit from the deal to have residency cards as soon as possible – though they won’t be obligatory until July 1, 2021. During that time, Britons benefiting from the WA are not obliged to hold any residency card. What’s more, the government could decide to put it off a bit beyond that, perhaps to autumn 2021. On the other hand, there are people who are citizens of other third-country states, who must always have a valid residency card, whose cards were expiring during the confinement period."
"We gave them a six-month extension, but it meant that as soon as prefectures reopened, they had to deal with them urgently, as well as those whose cards were about to expire and who had not had an extension. It’s going to take months to deal with them all and the prefectures would not have understood why we were asking them to process cards for Britons who do not need them yet, and they wouldn’t have done it. People would have applied and then had to wait months. We like applications to be dealt with in a reasonable period.”
They are also waiting for a decree giving a legal framework for how the WA deal will work in France, including rules on the cards for Britons to maintain residency and working rights. The decree has been drafted but must be validated by the Conseil d’Etat, which may ask for final tweaks. When it is published – expected to be during the summer holiday period – it will be possible to give more detail of documents required by each category of British resident.
The official said: “As soon as the Conseil says everything we have laid out in the decree is okay, we can exchange with the British Embassy so that they know the detail of what every Briton in every situation must submit as documents and they can start sharing the information and people can prepare with peace of mind. We can also update The Connexion.”
He said legal issues could probably have been resolved faster if it had not been for the backlog. He added there had been no intention to leave the delay of the site to the last minute, but they were subject to political decisions and uncertainties of the health crisis. Prefectures are to have increased staffing and extra training to deal with British applications, especially in areas such as the Charente and Dordogne, but even by October, pressure from the lockdown closures will still be felt.
Creating a smoother process in France
A single visit in person to the prefecture will be required, to bring passport photographs and have fingerprints scanned. Cards will be sent out to people’s homes – a first for France. “We have created a smooth process and will not be asking for a large number of documents,” the official said, “particularly for those who have been here more than five years, who have the status of permanent residents. Whether or not they have obtained an optional permanent EU residency card, if they’ve been here more than five years, we won’t ask them for much."
“Bearing in mind that will apply to most British residents in France, they should not feel worried. The procedure will be simple. An attestation will be issued to show you have applied. After that, they should not be in too big a rush to have the physical card. It will come in due course, but there will be no consequences [to not having one]. From the start of next year, residency in France and coming and going will remain simple for the British. We will not be constantly looking to check who comes under the WA deal, who is a tourist, etc. Things will be different once we’ve passed the date when cards [or having applied and obtained the attestation] become obligatory."
“Everyone will be in a precise situation: you come under the deal and have a card; you have come as a tourist for less than 90 days in 180; if you are coming for longer you will need a visa.”
New rules from January onwards
At the border, on returning to France, bringing proof of residency, such as an attestation of applying for one of the new cards or proof of domicile such as a recent French utility bill, is recommended from next January.
The official said many second home- owners – who are typically in France for less than six months a year – ask if they can have a special status to “do as they like, as now”. “I’m sorry, but for that, the UK shouldn’t have chosen Brexit,” he said. “They can stay for under three months, but must then go back for a while. We were very happy to continue as before, but it’s not the choice that was made on the other side of the Channel. In the law, it’s not possible to invent a new status of ‘semi-resident’.”
The optional residency cards that some Britons obtained which mention EU citizenship will be essentially “useless” from January 1 – the end of the Brexit transition period – other than to support an application for a new WA residency card as evidence that they have been living in France. There is no point applying for one now, the official said. There is also no point worrying about delays obtaining one if you applied recently, or in obtaining dates to submit a dossier – these cards will have no validity as residency documents for Britons in Europe from January 1.
Documents required and easy access
It has not yet been clarified whether officials will be able to use documents submitted to apply for EU cards to issue one of the new WA cards. However, anyone who applied last year on the website that was temporarily open for the cards that would have been needed in the no-WA deal scenario does not have to reapply.
Documents required on the new site will largely be similar to those on the former site for no-deal cards (see tinyurl.com/yy6sudnw). At first glance, the new site may seem more complex but this is because the WA deal allows for a greater variety of specific personal situations than the no-deal scenario.
The official added: “It’s important that British people don’t worry about these requirements to come, especially as the deal protects them greatly. We recognise the rights it gives and we are working with the embassy, which has put in place a whole system of assistance to reach out to more people so they know what to do. In any case, if an elderly person in the Charente, for example, forgets to apply by the deadline, and one day we discover it, they’ll still be able to apply. It’s in our interest to help all those who’ve been living here for a long time to get the residency card. The point of the new system is to make Britons who live here secure in their residency in France.”
He added: “Some people have also been worried because their incomes have dropped during the Covid-19 crisis, or they have benefited from state aid. We’ve told the embassy that we will show pragmatism and goodwill.”
One of the bodies funded by the UK to help Britons with residency card applications, Franco-British Network, now has a helpline on 05 19 88 01 09 (Monday to Wednesday 09.00-13.00 and Thursday and Friday 13.00-17.00).
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