Foreign second-home owners: what are French senators’ three proposals?

We explain the different amendments to the new immigration bill that aim to simplify visits

Many second-home owners are affected by Schengen area visiting limits
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Article published November 3, 2023

France’s new immigration bill is to be debated by senators from Monday (November 6) and contains three suggestions to help non-EU nationality, non-resident second-home owners to spend long periods in France more easily.

The ideas include a new ‘very long stay’ visa, an ‘automatic’ visa right and a tweak to the existing long-stay visa rules.

They are in the form of bill amendments, submitted by different senators.

What are the three amendments?

1: ‘Very long-stay’ five-year visa

This proposal states that all foreign second-home owners should be able to ask for a special ‘very-long stay’ visa.

It does not specify ‘non-EU nationality’ or ‘non-resident’, because EU nationals do not need to apply for a visa and anyone who is a resident would already have a visa if they are a non-EU national.

The visa should be valid for five years and allow the holder to stay in France for up to six months per calendar year, it is proposed.

The effect would be to limit visa costs and formalities to once every five years. It could also simplify the application if the only criterion for obtaining it is owning a home in France. A ‘visitor’ visa requires, for example, proof of a certain level of means.

The idea was submitted by Corinne Imbert (Les Républicains, Charente-Maritime).

Read more: Five-year visa plan for second-home owners in France advances

2: ‘Automatic visa’ for Britons

This amendment is solely for British owners of second homes in France and states that they should have an automatic right to a long-stay visa to visit France for more than three months at a time without having to apply to do so.

The details would need to be worked out in a decree, but an assistant to the senator proposing this said it might operate by Britons carrying proof of home ownership in the event of being asked why they have stayed more than 90 days.

This amendment is from Martine Berthet (Les Républicains, Savoie).

Read more: Britons with French second homes should get automatic long-stay visa

3. Adding second-home owners to visa types

A third amendment proposes that home ownership is added as a specific reason for the issue of ordinary long-stay visas as opposed to, as now, second-home owners applying under other headings, usually as a ‘visitor’.

This might make visa applications slightly simpler if the supporting paperwork is less than that required as a ‘visitor’. Those concerned may also prefer applying as such, since many property owners feel attached to their French communes and see themselves as different from people just coming to France on short holidays.

This is proposed by Michel Canévet (Centrist Union group, Finistère) and is backed by five other centrists.

Why are the senators wanting to change things?

The issue concerns non-residents who own a French home but do not have French or an EU nationality and who are therefore subject to a general Schengen area rule on not staying more than 90 days in any 180-day period.

This affects, for example, UK, US, Canadian and Australian citizens (some nationalities are subject to even stricter rules and cannot visit at all without a short-stay visa).

The 180-day period is calculated looking back from today at any time the person is in the Schengen area. For example, if you stay 90 days you must leave for 90 days before you can come again.

This has had a particular impact on British residents who bought French second homes before Brexit, as their status changed in 2021 from being EU citizens to non-EU citizens, in some cases after decades of living between the two countries.

Statistics body Insee previously estimated that there are 86,000 properties owned as second homes by UK residents.

EU citizens can visit France without formalities even if technically, according to EU law, they should be self-supporting financially and have health cover if they want to stay for more than three months. This was formerly the case for British second-home owners who used to come for up to half of the year supported by their Ehic health cards.

As non-EU citizens, currently the only option to stay more than three months at a time is to obtain a temporary long-stay visitor visa, consisting of a sticker in the passport. This involves a relatively complex process both online then taking paper documents in person to an appointment.

In the UK there are only three visa offices. These long-stay visas are typically valid for six months and are not renewable. The fee is €154 per person

Why is this under debate now?

The government wants to make changes to immigration law, such as new residency cards for certain in-demand kinds of work, and a bill for this was lodged by the justice minister with the Senate in February. Government bills start either in the Assemblée nationale (French lower house) or the Senate (upper house).

It was examined by the Senate’s laws committee in March, which considered proposed amendments from senators and made modifications to the bill. It was expected to be debated in public at the end of that month, with a chance for senators to submit further amendments before the debate, but the bill was controversial and it was delayed.

It is now set for its first public senatorial debate all of next week and on Tuesday November 14. Many senators have submitted new amendments.

These can be struck out before debate if considered unsuited to the nature of the bill or considered difficult to finance. All the three amendments reviewed here remain to be discussed.

If the amendments remain in the text voted by the senators, the text, including these ideas, will go to the MPs in the Assemblée nationale next month.

What led to these proposals?

It became clear in the aftermath of the 2016 Brexit vote that the 90/180-day rule, that dates from the early 2000s, would, unless agreed otherwise, apply to British visitors post-Brexit. France currently has no separate status for foreign second-home owners and they are grouped in with normal visitors.

This was not addressed in the Withdrawal Agreement, which, as regards ‘citizens’ rights’, ruled only on the status of Britons living in the EU before Brexit and EU citizens living in the UK.

In early 2020 a campaign was launched to allow Britons to have up to 180 days at a time in the EU without the requirement for a visa. This especially sought to influence the British negotiators for the UK/EU Trade and Cooperation Agreement which laid out the post-Brexit relationship and which was not finally signed off until the end of 2020.

Short-term ‘visa waiver’ foreign nationals (including EU citizens post-Brexit) have this right in the UK already, under British immigration law.

This was not taken up.

In February 2020 Senator Imbert asked the French government if British second-home owners could be given special status to visit more easily post-Brexit. She told The Connexion in March 2022 that she planned to try again after the April 2022 presidential elections.

Meanwhile, former ‘180 days’ campaigner Steven Jolly, a second-home owner from Yorkshire, launched Facebook group France Visa Free in April 2022 and asked members to lobby French MPs and senators to help Britons stay in France for up to six months at a time in France without formalities.

Senators Imbert, Berthet and Canévet were among lawmakers who expressed support.

From early 2023, the group started a campaign encouraging members to lobby for amendments to the immigration bill, with proposals including the five-year ‘homeowner’ visa, a six-month visa waiver for Britons, and making temporary long-stay visas renewable online.

After we shared these ideas with Senator Imbert she said she would submit an amendment on the homeowner visa idea as in her view this was the most likely to succeed.

We also then contacted Senator Berthet who told us she wanted to help Britons, in particular, but would reflect on the best way to use an amendment to do this. Ms Berthet said it would help if we sought feedback about how people are affected.

Our subsequent survey found hundreds had considered selling their French property due to the effects of the 90/180-day rule and that typically they spend around €3,000/month in France. You can read about the survey results here.

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