Article written January 25, updated January 26
A new law allowing British second-home owners an ‘automatic long-stay visa’ right has been rejected by France’s Conseil constitutionnel along with many other sections of France's new immigration law.
However, it was rejected on a technicality rather than because the Conseil objected to the idea in itself.
Other aspects rejected by France's top constitutional watchdog included the creation of a new crime of being in France illegally and plans to toughen the rules governing immigrants bringing in family members.
The ideas had all been passed by both houses of the French parliament as part of the new immigration law. The final step was to pass scrutiny by the Conseil to ensure they are constitutional.
The Conseil, considering views presented by a group of left-wing MPs opposed to the second-home automatic visa, ruled that the idea's inclusion was contrary to article 45 of the Constitution. This says that amendments to a bill must be linked to the ideas proposed in the original text presented to parliament.
The 'automatic visa' was not in the original text presented by the government a year ago, but was added by Senator Martine Berthet as an amendment which was then adopted by the senators as a new bill article.
The Conseil, in its ruling, stated that it did not have a close enough link to any of the original bill articles, without going into any further analysis.
This fact alone made the bill article in question unconstitutional, the body said, however it stressed that it was taking no view as to whether the substance of the automatic visa idea itself goes against any part of the French Constitution.
Senator Berthet (Les Républicains, Savoie) had previously told The Connexion she hoped the link would be seen to be sufficiently clear as the bill relates to similar matters such as residency cards and border control.
Law aimed to ease visiting complications
Her automatic visa law aimed to ease the problems faced by thousands of Britons, most of whom bought a second home in France before Brexit and so under different visiting rules. Post-Brexit they face significant visa complications if wanting to visit their homes for more than three months at a time (each time they must apply for a 'temporary long-stay' visa under the same system as non-EU foreign people moving to France).
The proposal aimed to allow these Britons to come to France without heavy formalities for more than three months at a time. Ms Berthet had said this was justified both by the Britons’ contributions to their French communities and the close links between the UK and France, as demonstrated by King Charles’s recent visit.
She called the decision “a real mess” [‘quel gâchis!’], adding that “instead of just sticking to its mission, the Conseil constitutionnel has decided to be political”.
There were positives
Ms Berthet said, however, that it was positive that the Conseil did not criticise the idea in itself and that the debates in parliament had raised awareness of the problems among many MPs, senators and the government.
She said her party, Les Républicains, is disappointed that several of its proposals, including this one, were rejected either by the Conseil or at earlier stages of the bill. They will therefore be pressing for a new law on certain immigration matters, she said.
She will seek an opportunity to present the automatic visa again at that stage, or in any other related bill that allows for it.
In the meantime, Ms Berthet said she would speak to the Interior Ministry to see what could be done to make visa procedures for such second-home owners more flexible with a less complex measure, such as a ministerial decree.
“It was a first try that has not worked, but when we bring it back, it will be a subject that a lot of people already know more about. It allows us to move forward nonetheless and as soon as there is a new bill I will get going again,” she said.
She added she has also spoken with TLS-Contact, France’s contractors for visa appointments in the UK, about problems Britons have reported with the process.
They told her they were unaware of the issues but that there were "far too many visas being requested compared to the French consulate's capacity to deal with them", which Ms Berthet said "shows there's a problem somewhere".
Steven Jolly, the founder of the France Visa Free Facebook group which pushes for visa-free visiting rights for Britons who live part-year in France, said: “Having campaigned relentlessly to bring about a change in French visa law, France Visa Free and its 5,000 followers are understandably disappointed by the decision.
“However, the council has not rejected the substance of Ms Berthet’s proposal. Instead it states it is irrelevant to the purpose of the original bill. Therefore the campaign has hit a temporary barrier.
“We have won support, our argument stands and our campaign continues.”
Other elements rejected from the immigration law
These elements of the immigration law were also among those rejected by the Conseil:
- Several articles relating to the right of foreign people to join family members in France, notably:
1. extending the stay required for the foreign person from 18 to 24 months before a family member can come
2. their partner having to be aged at least 21 as opposed to 18, and
3. the family members being able to speak basic French.
- An article creating a délit (medium severity crime) of staying in France illegally
- Longer periods of living in France required for non-EU foreign people to access family allowance, housing benefit and benefit to help with autonomy needs
- Requiring young people born in France to foreign families having to apply to become French, as opposed to this being an automatic right
- Holding an annual debate about immigration in parliament, and setting immigration quotas