Support is growing in the French parliament for more flexible visa rules for foreign second-home owners.
Several senators and at least three MPs now back the idea of a five-year visa for this group that would allow visits of up to six months a year in total during the five-year validity period.
This would be separate to the 90 days in 180 Schengen visa-free rule that applies to non-EU visitors, including second-home owners.
Currently, second-home owners must submit full paperwork each time they want a visa to visit for four to six months and go through the same in-person visit process.
A fee is due every time.
The proposed visa could be for all nationalities, and not just Britons post-Brexit.
France free to set own rules
The idea is possible as France is free to set its own national rules on visas and residency cards, whereas the 90/180-day rule is a general Schengen area policy.
The government also indicated after a recent France-UK summit that more flexible rules for British visitors, in particular, could be looked at.
Members of the France Visa Free campaign group have shared with us the support of other lawmakers for changes since we reported about Charente-Maritime senator Corinne Imbert in April.
Read more: Five reader tips on how to avoid French visa delays
Those who have so far supported more flexible rules for second-home owners, such as a five-year visa, include senators Martine Berthet and Cédric Vial (Savoie), Philippe Mouiller and Gilbert Favreau (Deux-Sèvres), Nicole Bonnefoy (Charente), Philippe Bas (Manche) and Jean-Claude Requier (Lot), as well as MPs Caroline Colombier (Charente) and Philippe Fait (Pas-de-Calais).
MP Xavier Roseren (Haute-Savoie) also said he would “study the legal situation attentively” regarding British homeowners in France.
Five year visa
Earlier this year, Ms Imbert submitted a proposal for an amendment backing the five-year visa to a new Immigration Bill.
The bill was postponed and is now due to be introduced to parliament in a new version in July. Ms Imbert said in March: “I will take advantage of the new text to re-submit the amendment.”
She said it was most likely to be seen as acceptable if it was for all foreign second-home owners.
It had more chance of passing, she said, than a deal offering a special six-month visa waiver only for British owners.
French and other EU visitors can spend six months in the UK visa-free.
Senators can submit amendments for debate when the house examines laws as long as they are deemed to be legal and appropriate.
Campaigners continue to argue, however, that the case of British homeowners is special as many bought as EU citizens but are now subject to non-EU citizen rules, often without having voted to lose EU citizenship.
The Brexit deals cover residents but not second-home owners.
Estimated 86,000 British-owned second homes
There are an estimated 86,000 British-owned second homes in France where many owners had been coming visiting for up to six months without formalities as EU citizens.
Many report difficulties with the visa process, causing some to delay plans to visit.
One reader told The Connexion they are considering selling up as a result.
Read more: ‘Preparing to put house up for sale’: Readers blast French visa woes
Others have told of problems the 90/180-day rule causes.
Reader Will George, a retired office manager from the north of England, showed us an email message from the assistant of Côtes d’Armor (Brittany) senator Alain Cadec saying: “He supports the proposal of his colleague Senator Corinne Imbert and will back it when the Bill is examined by parliament.”
Mr George, in his 60s, said he and his wife had made sacrifices to afford an old property in a French village.
They had planned, on retirement, to spend six months at a time there but last year had to “jump through hoops” to obtain a temporary long-stay visa.
“We find the process extremely onerous and with little or no flexibility from TLS [contractors for the French consulate in the UK], creating a huge amount of anxiety,” he said.
Read more: Connexion reader overcharged by TLS Contact for French visa
He added that the 90/180-day rule creates problems if they need to visit their property to deal with an emergency.
“We could also make many more improvements to our garden and property if given the time to be able to do them.
“And my interest in World War One has led me in the past to accompany school trips to Verdun, the Somme and Ypres.
Having used up my 90 days at my house, I can no longer do this.”
Britons ‘a real asset to our region’
French MP Rémy Rebeyrotte (Saône-et-Loire) has written to the Interior Ministry, prime minister and president, saying that foreign second-home owners, including Britons, in Bourgogne-Franche-Comté are “a real asset to our region”.
The Britons are now “penalised when they wish, like any owner who pays his or her property taxes, to enjoy their property,” he said, adding that he agrees “in particular with the idea of a new ‘owner’ visa or even a reciprocal six-month visa exemption.”
MP for Manche Bertrand Sorre has had a response to his written question to the Foreign Affairs Ministry in which he asked about a new visa, or a six-month waiver for Britons.
He said the 90/180-day rule “penalises [them] despite the fact they contribute to the local economy, the life of local associations and restore old buildings”.
The ministry said British owners could use a temporary long-stay visa to stay six months.
However, it adds: “At the March 10 Franco-British summit, France and the UK agreed to establish a ‘dialogue on mobility’ via a technical working group to look at questions of mobility which can be addressed in a bilateral context [as opposed to EU-wide].”
The Schengen Agreement states that certain bilateral treaties from before it came into force (1995), in theory, still stand in parallel with the Schengen 90/180-day rules.
One, for example allows Americans to stay in France for an additional three months.
However, US travel advice for France does not mention this and we understand American visitors rarely attempt to use it as it might be hard to explain to border police.
We have not so far identified any states that signed such agreements subsequent to the implementation of the Schengen area rules.
Some Schengen countries, such as Sweden and Portugal, do allow visitors of nationalities not requiring short-stay visas for brief trips to apply, while in the country, to stay an additional three months.
They must show sufficient means to fund this.
In France, extensions are exceptional and relate to emergencies, such as needing to stay for healthcare.
It is also often difficult to obtain a prefecture meeting to discuss such claims.
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