[Article updated on May 12 at 11:30]
A Facebook group calling for British visitors to be able to spend up to 180 continuous days in France in a year has attracted more than 1,300 members in its first month of existence.
The France Visa Free group is aimed at people who frequently visit France for longer periods, often because they own or rent a property there and are restricted by the 90-day rule, but also because they tour round the country in boats, caravans and mobile homes.
Since Brexit came into effect, British citizens who do not have a visa or residency permit have been allowed to stay in France for up to 90 consecutive days in any rolling 180-day period.
This means that if someone went to their second home for two months in May and June and then a further month in September, they would then need to wait until the earlier stay ‘dropped off’ the end of the last six months before returning.
“Together we are people whose needs and concerns have been forgotten by the Brexit arrangements,” the group states, arguing that British people who visit France for long periods or own homes there “make a significant economic contribution” to the country.
The group, which stresses that it is not just for second-home owners, wants British citizens to be able to spend 180 consecutive days in France, “whilst respecting local residency and taxation rules,” just as French citizens are allowed to spend 180 days in the UK.
It is therefore encouraging members to “start a civic conversation” with public figures such as their local MP (député), mayor or senator, and has drafted example emails which people can send.
The group’s founder, Steven Jolly, told The Connexion: “I set up the group to build upon with work of [the Facebook group] ‘180 days visa free’ and to complement ‘180 days in France’.
“With the latter focused on supporting visa applications I felt we needed to set up a group that was proactive in seeking change in France.
“As someone with a home in France and who regularly visits to stay there and pursue my interest in World War One History I want the freedom to spend up to 180 days at times suited to me.
“I do not wish to be constantly having to check that I am complying with the 90/180 rule. The latter is restrictive and means as a traveller that I have to constantly look back.
“More significantly, I want the same rights as the UK affords to French nationals visiting the UK.
“I would stress that change is in the interest of France too. All across the country the British visitor makes an economic contribution that helps to enrich communes and helps to sustain the purchasing power – pouvoir d’achat – of residents.
“For example, in Gorron (Mayenne) a weekly British movie night attracts British visitors and helps to sustain the municipal cinema. Elsewhere, a mobile fish ‘n’ chip food truck, an English tea room, a British foods store, and a motor servicing outlet are some new businesses that have developed because of the number of British visitors.
“Add to these the business that comes from mooring a boat, serving a mobile home or maintaining a second home. Chimneys are swept, goods bought from a Brico store, gardens are maintained, it all supports employment.
“If the British visitor is discouraged then the consequences on some communes could be very marked. Ports like Le Havre and St Malo need to see the British visitor coming, estate agents need to see the British visitor buying and selling
“Through France Visa Free I want members to start conversations with députés, senators, maires and businesses in France and MPs and Peers in the UK. In just 4 weeks we have attracted almost 1400 members.
“There have been some signs in France and Spain that civic organisations are supportive of change. We need to keep this issue alive.
"We are not seeking special status for property owners, we just want to see equality and reciprocity."
The office of Sénatrice Élisabeth Doineau (Nantes) has already responded to one group member, saying that it will look into the issue.
Charente-Maritime senator Corinne Imbert has already appealed to France’s foreign affairs ministry to extend the time Britons may spend in the country.
Her request was rejected, but she said in March that she plans to ask again for: “a special status for Britons with second homes in France to be able to visit without delay and without administrative constraints”.
France Visa Free can be found here.