Article published November 8, 2023, updated November 10
France’s senators have approved a bill amendment giving British second-home owners in France an automatic long-stay visa right without any formalities.
The idea has now been added as a new article in France's immigration bill and so will form part of the text to be sent to the Assemblée nationale députés (like British MPs) for debate in December after the senators (French upper house of parliament) conclude their discussions on Tuesday November 14.
Two other bill amendments for non-resident foreign second-home owners were rejected. The bill also includes other issues relating to changes to French immigration law.
The successful amendment, presented by Martine Berthet, representing the Savoie area in the Alps, says that people who meet the criteria of being British and and owning a second home in France should benefit from an automatic long-stay visa right for France, without having to formally apply for this (if a person whose main residence is outside France owns a French home it is always considered to be a 'second' home by France).
A visa is an authorisation from a government to a foreign person to come and go across the country's border and to stay on its territory; 'long stay' refers to staying in the country for more than three months (all Britons can already come for up to three months' maximum without any formalities).
Further details of how the new law would work would be set out in an additional decree at a later stage, but they could involve for example simply having to show French border officials a document proving home ownership, thus saving time and expense to the British homeowners and freeing up staff in the French consulate in London and in the three UK offices of their contractors TLSContact.
It would not necessarily involve a visa sticker in the passport, as such stickers, commonly issued after formal visa authorisation procedures, only represent evidence of holding a visa right.
Senator Berthet's law aims to recognise the difficulties faced by many British second-home owners since Brexit, as they cannot currently spend more than three months at a time at their French homes without renewing "long and complicated" formalities both online and in person with TLSContact.
This is as a result of Brexit, which means that instead of these Britons have free movement in the EU, they are subject to basic EU law for non-EU foreigners, which in this case allows them only to spend up to 90 days in the EU's Schengen area in any rolling 180-day period; so a total maximum visit to France of about three months.
Post-Brexit, the main option available to these Britons to stay longer than this has been a formal application for a ‘temporary long-stay visa’ under the heading of being ‘visitors’.
These 'visitor' visas are for a named period, typically from four to six months, and a lengthy application must be started from scratch each time and a fee paid. It differs from most other kinds of French visa application which assume that the holder is moving to France to settle there for a year or more.
Senator Berthet's amendment recognises the unusual situation of these homeowners, whose rights changed due to the UK’s decision to leave the EU. It is now listed in the immigration bill as article 1er K.
In putting it forward she noted the "many techical issues" that complicate the current visa process ("malfunctions of the TLSContact website, few available appoinments...") and argued that special rules for these homeowners were justified by the fact they "actively participate in the dymanism of the local economy in our territories" and pay their property tax, as well as by "the unique links that unite our two countries".
Prior to Brexit, France's visa workers in the UK only had to deal with requests from British residents of non-British, non-EU nationalities, such as for example, a Chinese person living in London who wants to spend a year in France. They now process applications from all British people moving to France as well as those wanting to come for extended temporary stays.
National statistics body Insee has previously stated that there are 86,000 properties owned by UK residents in France. Many of these homeowners have told The Connexion they feel strongly attached to their French villages and towns. They bought prior to Brexit when Britons could come and go for up to half of the year without formalities.
The latter is still the case for French visitors to the UK, under UK immigration laws which allow visitors from nationalities with a short-term visa waiver, such as EU citizens, to come for up to six months at a time.
A survey we ran to help her in her reflections about a possible amendment, answered by some 1,300 homeowners, showed they spend on average around €3,000/month in France and would come more frequently if they were not subject to the standard Schengen area 90-days rule.
France can set its own national rules with regard to visas and residency cards for the French territory.
Long-stay visa rights mean the holder will not face tough questions and fines at the border related to ‘overstaying’ beyond the 90-day period.
The second-home owners report feeling different from ordinary holidaymakers, with whom they are currently grouped, because of their investment of time and money in their French communes, sometimes over decades, with many taking part in local associations or other voluntary activities.
They pay taxe foncière property owners’ tax as well as remaining subject to taxe d’habitation. The latter has this year been turned into a tax only on second homes, thus also, for example, being payable by Parisians owning weekend or holiday homes on the coast who can visit more frequently.
Their healthcare is covered by the UK and they do not access French welfare benefits.
Many are used to spending up to half the year in France, either because their work allows flexibility, or because they are retired and love the French culture and lifestyle.
Senator Berthet’s amendment was also put forward by 38 other signatories, all from the Les Républicains party, who were the main backers in the debate and are classed as centre-right to right politically. A socialist senator spoke against the idea.
French MPs’ email contact details can be found at this link by clicking on an MP's name and then scrolling down his or her information page.
What happened in the debate on Tuesday November 7?
Senators presented the three amendments relating to foreign, non-resident second homeowners.
Senator Canévet (Union Centriste) began with his idea of making home-ownership a specific reason for applying for a standard French long-stay visa (allowing a stay of more than three months).
“We can see that, notably in Finistère following Brexit, there are a certain number of British second-home owners who are no longer in Europe and are therefore penalised concerning access to their properties. So, it seems relevant to allow them to obtain long-stay visas.” Editor’s note: this is already possible by declaring yourself to be a ‘visitor’.
Pascale Gruny (Les Républicains) presented Senator Imbert’s idea of a new ‘very long stay’ visa for all foreign second-home owners, which they would have to apply for, but only once every five years. It would allow visits of no more than six months in any one calendar year.
Philippe Bas (Les Républicains) then spoke in the name of Senator Berthet to support her ‘automatic’ visa right for British second-home owners.
Senator said Berthet amendment is 'best of the three'
“This is the best of the three amendments because it’s the most targeted,” he said.
“It’s the one that’s the least wide and open and so doesn’t give rise to the risk of creating a big splash [he said appels d’air meaning events which cause a change, good or bad]. It is just for British people who own a second home in France.
“Generally-speaking they didn’t have anything to do with Brexit, but Brexit has punished them. They must be able to come to France and make the most of their second homes and spend their money.”
The law’s rapporteur, Philippe Bonnecarrère (Union Centriste), said the Senate’s laws commission had decided to ask the government’s opinion of these ideas.
Government was asked for its view
He said: “The question being posed here is a very practical one and probably a lot of you have been approached in your French departments with similar requests.
“It relates to British citizens, who... own second homes but their main residence is in the UK.
“They come to France to use their second homes but can’t stay more than 90 days and are obliged to leave…
“They would like to benefit from a long-stay visa, but it’s not possible for stays that are repeated from time to time [editor’s note: it is possible but difficult], and it supposes that they are moving on a settled basis to France, which is not their objective as we’re talking about second homes.
“So, for the moment we don’t really know what solution to propose to them and need your opinion to find one.”
Agnès Firmin Le Bodo, a centre-right minister from ‘Horizons’, allied to President Macron’s Renaissance party, gave the government’s view.
She said: “I quite understand the aim of these amendments but let me reassure you, British second-home owners can already benefit from a long-stay visa if they stay in our territory for a period of more than three months in a rolling 180-day period.
“After Brexit, the situation of British people who are especially attached to France was subject to specific official directives so that each situation can be dealt with, respecting both EU and French immigration rules and laws.
“So, depending on their situation, long-stay temporary ‘visitor’ visas – or otherwise visas equivalent to a residency card [used in the first year by people moving to France] are issued if they present the appropriate supporting documents, including proof of sufficient financial resources and health cover for the duration of their stay.
“That permits them to stay for periods from three to six months in France, or even in some cases 12, beyond which they need to ask for a multi-year residency card [editor’s note: retirees are generally only given cards renewable annually].
“Of course, these provisions come on top of the Withdrawal Agreement, which permits some 160,000 British citizens to benefit from five-year residency cards under simplified conditions if they were living in France before 2021 and can show they were living here legally for less than five years, or 10-year cards if they show they were living in France legally for more than five years.
“These provisions have benefited a significant part of the people whose situations you are talking about in your [Senator Berthet’s] amendment, and as your amendment is satisfied by the existing legal framework I invite you to withdraw it, otherwise the government's view [of this amendment] will be unfavourable, the same applies to Senator Canévet’s amendment, and we take an unfavourable view towards Mrs Imbert’s amendment which creates a new visa.”
Socialist senator criticised the idea
Corinne Narassiguin, a Socialist representing Seine-Saint-Denis, a Paris suburb known for its high-rise estates and large immigrant population, said that the debate on these amendments came after several other “articles and amendments” were voted through on the previous day which toughened rules for foreign people living in France who want to bring over family members.
She said the debate also came shortly after the government had stated that it would withdraw an article allowing irregular immigrants working in under-staffed sectors to have their residency legalised.
“Now we have this amendment to come to the rescue of British people who own property in France. We can see that for Les Républicains there are really ‘good and bad’ foreigners,” she said.
“The bad ones are those who want to have a family life, who work in France and pay their social charges, but on the other hand those who have financial assets and, for that matter, often make house prices rise and make it harder for a lot of French people in a lot of areas of France – these are good foreigners, who we don’t ask to speak French so as to come to France with long-stay visas. At least you are consistent.”
Senator Bas said: “It is precisely because the procedures that you [the minister] referred to don’t work well, and that they involve a lot of paperwork and complexity that we submitted this amendment that allows us to resolve the problem in a very simple and effective way.”
Votes were held on a show of hands and were not counted.