Automatic visa for second home visits: Senator feedback and questions

We talk to Senator Berthet about the next steps and answer queries

Tt is planned that Britons will be able to come for long visits to second homes without complex formalities
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Article published December 21, 2023, edited January 3, 2024

The senator behind the ‘automatic visa’ plan to help Britons with second homes in France visit them much more easily has spoken of her delight at the plan being passed by parliament.

Senator Martine Berthet told The Connexion she did her best to make sure the plan – which was put into the immigration bill text at article 1er K – stayed in the final version of the immigration law.

Read more: Automatic visa for easier second home visits passed by French parliament

However, this was in the balance until Monday [December 18] night when a final text, modified by a small mixed group of senators and MPs, was put to the vote in both houses of parliament.

Ms Berthet (Les Républicains, Savoie) originally told us in June she wanted to propose a bill amendment to help Britons, in particular, to come to their second homes more easily.

She had felt that this targeted approach was justified by the fact most Britons had bought their home before Brexit under more flexible rules as EU citizens but now could no longer use their properties as before, due to the restrictions of the EU’s 90/180 days rule.

We remained in contact as she wrote to the Interior Ministry backing a 'special status' for British homeowners and worked out the text she would submit when the bill finally came for full debate in the house on November 7, 2023.

Read more: ‘We must help ease 90/180 days rule for owners of French second homes’

She said on December 20: “I had contacted one of the députées (MPs) in the mixed commission from Les Républicains – Annie Genevard (Doubs) – who I knew had already been speaking up on the subject.

“I told her that while it’s not one of the most important things in the text and there are many other aspects, if this article could stay in, that would be good.

“And it did remain, which is perfect, and things are moving ahead.”

Her article in the law says that Britons who own a French second home should have a long-stay visa right automatically and are thus exempt from having to apply for a long-stay visa.

The next stage is consideration of the text of the whole immigration law by France’s constitutional council, to double check that no measures contradict the Constitution. This will take up to a month; so until mid-January.

However, no MP or senator in the debates in parliament criticised the second-home owner measure on grounds of unconstitutionality, which Ms Berthet agreed should bode well from that point of view.

“There is no reason why it should not stay in,” she said.

She added: “There are many British people with second homes, not just in my department, but in many areas of France, whether by the sea, in the mountains or in the countryside.

“To have them able to come a bit more often, and for longer, will avoid us having homes standing closed up – and which are not necessarily let out to anyone else, as people do not necessarily want to do this [editor’s note: doing so can give rise to additional complications, such as tax liability and other formalities].

“It is good for the British people and for our tourist economies and also for the life of the villages. While the Britons are here they participate in the life of their communes. So this is all very good.”

After the constitutional council, the law will be published in Le Journal Officiel. The only remaining step will be for a decree to be made, setting out how the law will work in practice.

Ms Berthet said: “I’ll be speaking to the office of the interior minister to ask for the decree to be published.”

Read more: What happens next for law to ease second-home visits to France?

How long will the visa be for and how does it fit with the 90/180 days rule?

Ms Berthet’s aim in the wording was for a long-stay visa right to be obtained automatically if a person is British and owns a second home in France (ie. their main home is abroad).

The wording does not stipulate a precise number of months for the visa right, but the term ‘long-stay’ refers to the right to stay in France for more than three months. The decree may add further details, or this could stay open-ended. Whatever wording is chosen, however, it should not be incompatible with the person remaining resident abroad and coming to France for only temporary stays to 'second' homes in France (this assumes that the person is not going to be spending most of the year in France).

For many foreign nationals, including Britons, Americans, Australians and Canadians (among others), it is already possible to stay in France visa-free for three months without further formalities. However this is subject to the additional proviso that they should not spend more than 90 days in any rolling 180-day period in the EU’s Schengen area as a whole.

A visa is a right granted by a country to enter and remain on its territory and it is separate to the Schengen area’s 90-days rule. Time spent in France on a visa is not counted in this.

As a result, being in France under the new ‘British second-home owner’ visa right, should not prevent, for example, short stays in other Schengen area countries in the same year under the 90/180 days rule.

Note that any non-resident foreign person, including EU citizens (who do not need visas to stay more than three months), should take care with staying more than six months a year in France, as this may give rise to an assumption that they have moved to France and become a tax resident. This would also raise questions as to whether the home in France has become the 'main' home, and Ms Berthet's visa plan is not aimed at 'moving to France' on a settled basis.

Will an application be required to obtain this right?

The exact details would remain to be worked out in the decree.

Ms Berthet’s parliamentary assistant previously told us it may be possible for the process to be as simple as just showing proof of home ownership at the border.

The final details are still unknown, however, Ms Berthet said in practice a simple application may be required to have a specific document to show at the border as proof.

She said she would hope that if this is the case it would be a one-off process, or the document would be valid for a long period such as five years.

The decree also cannot deviate too much from her law wording: “they are thus exempt from having to apply for a long-stay visa”, so it would be hoped that any application would not involve the usual long form on the French visas website and appointment at TLSContact.

“It would always be simpler than going via the usual online visa platform – at least that is how I see it,” Ms Berthet said. “We do not yet know how the government is going to see things. But the idea in the text is about simplification: that it should be automatic and there should not be the requirement to apply for a long-stay visa each time.”

In submitting her original amendment, Ms Berthet noted to the senators in supporting comments her intention to ease the problems Britons have faced post-Brexit with “long and complex” procedures, including “malfunctions of TLSContact’s website and a lack of appointments”.

A simple process would also help free up France’s consular officials and the workers at TLSContact in the UK who in the past did not have to deal with Britons, more those such as Asians or Africans living in the UK who wanted to live or work in France.

When will this new right start?

It would be expected to start once the decree is made by government officials and validated by the Conseil d’Etat. There is no specific timeline, but in 2024 may be realistic.

What will happen in the case of mixed nationality couples?

The text of the article says Britons who own properties are entitled to the new right. It would be down to the wording of the decree as to whether that can also extend to members of their close family travelling with them.

Will it help family members visit Britons who live in France?

It is not expected that the new law would enable, for example, parents or siblings of Britons living in France to visit them for longer than three months without an ordinary long-stay visa application. The law is specifically aimed at Britons who do not live in France full-time but have a home in the country where they spend part of the year.

Why are other nationalities not included?

The new law arises from campaigning by Britons who spend part of the year in France, as well as the wish by senators and MPs to address the complications that have been caused to thousands of British homeowners who bought under one set of rules before Brexit and now cannot visit their properties as often as before.

One senator did propose a special five-year visa for all homeowners of any nationality, but this idea was rejected by the senators and no MP proposed a similar idea when the law went to the Assemblée nationale.

Another senator argued in the Senate debate that Ms Berthet’s idea was more acceptable as it was narrowly targeted.

However there is no reason why other nationalities, such as Americans, should not write to the MPs and senators for the areas where they have homes to canvass the possibility of a future law to make their extended visits easier.

Read more: Why are Americans not part of second-home easy visit plan for France

Read more: Is Spain calling for easier second-home visits as French senators are?