Several British second-home owners are reporting having to change their French travel plans after being unable to find a suitable appointment for the submission of their long-stay visa applications. Here is what two of them told us.
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The visa process
In order to apply for a visa, it is necessary to first submit an application via the France-Visas portal including your personal details, and then to book an appointment for the submission of your supporting documents.
These appointments are carried out to a handling agent called TLS Contact, which has centres in London, Manchester and Edinburgh. It is only possible to book a slot once you have made a separate account with the branch you will be attending.
Engineer Sam Crossley has for years shared a property in Manche with friends, and in 2021 bought another house in the department with his partner and is applying to spend more than three months there this summer.
Dr Crossley said that the application process is “deceptively easy” at first.
“Registering and filling out the form through the France-Visas portal is not difficult, even though in order to complete the application it is necessary to tick a box confirming that one has contacted the handling agents and obtained an appointment when this is not actually possible before one has completed the application form.”
Lack of appointment availability
“We chose the Manchester office as it is easiest for us,” Dr Crossley said. “For three to six-month visas, you cannot apply more than three months in advance and the advice on the website is to do so about 20 days before you travel.
“So I thought doing so 40 days in advance of our departure for Caen would be more than adequate, but having registered with TLS Contact Manchester and filling in their form, I then discovered that the earliest appointment date they could offer me was just four days before we were due to leave and so we have had to abandon our original plan.”
The Connexion notes that the precise wording states it is "strongly advised to allow at least 20 working days of processing delays".
Once an applicant has had their visa appointment, the documents must be sent to consular officials to be processed, before the passport is then sent back to the TLS Contact centre. Official guidelines say once transferred to the consulate the process typically takes from two to 15 working days, but delays can vary depending on various factors. So the visa appointment cannot be in the few days preceding someone’s trip to France.
Another Connexion reader has also reported finding that the next available TLS Contact appointment in Manchester was four-and-a-half weeks after their application was made, meaning that they may not be able to travel at the end of April as they had planned.
‘Messed up our hopes and plans’
Lyn and Andy Challands, who have now retired from their jobs as a GP and hospital manager, told The Connexion that they have been looking for an appointment for either the London or Manchester TLS Contact branches, but that “there are no appointments free for the whole of the three months the diary covers.”
The couple have a house in France and were planning to be there from mid-April until mid-September. Last year they visited only for the 90 days that they are allowed as non-EU citizens and “didn’t want to come back when we did.”
They have already been in France for five weeks over January and February so without a visa they would not be able to spend even two months of the summer there.
“For six consecutive working days I have tried to phone the helpline,” Dr Challand said. “It tells me that no operatives are available but they will phone me back in a few hours. To date I have received no phone call.”
“I emailed TLS Contact to be told no appointments were available.
“This has totally messed up our hopes and plans for the summer. [The permitted] 90 days, having just used up 35 of them, just doesn’t come close.
“We will try to continue with the visa process but it seems increasingly unlikely.
“We may have to look at French residency but I’m not sure how likely we are to get that now the withdrawal period is over.”
Dr Crossley will also now have to use his 90-day allowance, going to France later and returning earlier in order to apply for a visa once again.
However, he also noted that even when he manages to get an appointment with enough time to spare before his next trip, it may not be the end of the process.
“If you do take everything you need and it is all correct then that’s fine, but if something is wrong and you have to go away, you might not be able to get another appointment for months!” he said.
“Given that the season hasn't really got started yet, this situation will presumably only get worse - and soon.”
Reflecting a wider problem
“My guess is that 90% of those interested in a three to six-month visitor visa will want to cover April to September.
“That means the initial application window is from January to March because you can't apply more than three months ahead.
“This also means that there could be a very limited total number of visas that can be issued for this period. Manchester’s TLS Contact offers 17 half-hour appointment slots, five days a week.” So, even if there are several agents on hand during each of these windows, there can only be a maximum of 2,000 or 3,000 appointments before the summer season begins.
If the number of slots is spread over London and Edinburgh as well, there could be a total of around 10,000 appointments available between January and March.
“Given that some visa applications will be for purposes other than long-stay tourism [such as study or work], the number of slots available for visitor visa applications could be a lot lower than that,” Dr Crossley added.
In 2020, 86,000 British people owned French second-homes according to figures from French national statistics institute Insee, and so this application system could cause issues for those who wish to spend more than 90 of every 180 days in the country.
“It’s depressing,” Dr Crossley said. “France can issue only a tiny number of visas for the summer period if these are their rules.”
“I know of several people who have given up homes in France because they can’t get to them” as easily since Brexit. “And by doing this they’re taking their money out of the country.”
The Connexion has contacted TLS Contact, France-Visas and the French consulate to ask what is causing the lack of appointment availability and whether people should start leaving more than 20 days for their application process.