Immigration bill: amendment for non-French second-home owners expected

We spoke to immigration and legal experts about the controversial bill set for debate this autumn

New version of the immigration bill is being prepared by French government
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Debate over immigration is increasing with senators preparing to debate a bill on the topic in November.

President Macron has also spoken of an immigration-themed referendum.

Amendment to bill could help British second-home owners

Senator Martine Berthet, for Savoie, has told The Connexion she plans to submit an amendment to the immigration bill to ease the situation for tens of thousands of British second-home owners whose lifestyles have been affected by Brexit.

She feels there is an argument to be made as for many their visiting rights changed after they purchased their homes, and they contribute to their French communities.

A survey we undertook on the topic has received some 1,300 responses from non-French, non-resident second-home owners.

Many have considered selling as a result of restrictive post-Brexit rules. They spend an average €3,000/month while in France.

The second-home owners, by definition, have no immediate plans to move to France, do not claim benefits and are not a burden on the health system.

Senator Berthet said: “As soon as we have the text of the bill, I will look to see what amendment I can submit for Britons who own second homes in France.
“In addition, following King Charles III’s visit to France and his visit to the Senate, I am writing to our minister of the interior, Gérald Darmanin, on the subject.”

Read more: 90/180-day rule: French senator wants help for UK second-home owners

Another senator, Corinne Imbert (Charente-Maritime) previously, suggested a special five-year visa for foreign non-residents who own second homes in France, that could allow holders to come for up to six months a year at the time of their choosing.

This idea has also been backed by certain MPs, as well as the possibility of a special six-month visa waver for Britons.

Controversial right-wing and far-right ideas

The timing is sensitive, with immigration controversial, fuelled by right-wing and far-right policies in support of tougher rules and with President Macron keen to appease Les Républicains, in particular, as he lacks an absolute majority in parliament.

Among the more controversial ideas that have been proposed by the Right and far-right are removing the automatic right for children of foreign immigrants born in France to become French, instigating immigration ‘quotas’, and, in the case of Rassemblement National in particular, a ‘French-first’ rule on housing and benefits.

Several ideas would require a change to the constitution, which is complex, or could break EU law, said Serge Slama, administrative law professor at Université Grenoble Alpes. For example, he said Les Républicains want to be able to deviate from EU laws on immigration but have not been specific about which parts.

Constitution does not allow immigration referendum

Mr Macron has been vague on the question/s a referendum might pose and the constitution does not, in principle, allow one.

Article 11 limits referendums to issues including the “organisation of state powers, or economic, social or environmental policies” (‘social’ generally refers to social security and work). Any changes to this may also require a referendum.

Read more: Macron raises possibility of referendum on immigration in France

‘Macron playing dangerous game with the Right’

Prof Slama said an immigration referendum is an old idea, dating from the days of Jean-Marie Le Pen’s leadership of the then-Front National.

“It has no chance of happening – and what does it even mean? It is almost impossible to enlarge the meaning of article 11 just for that.”

He added: “The Right are also critical of family regroupement [rules allowing foreigners working in France to bring their spouses and children here], which actually involves fairly low numbers.

“And they talk about quotas, but of what exactly? If it relates to certain work sectors, parliament can already vote on targets.

“Most of the time, they propose things which already exist or are unconstitutional or are blocked simply because foreigners are human beings with rights.

“It will backfire on Macron. It is dangerous to get into these games.”

Read more: President Macron faces battle over immigration crackdown in France

‘Negotiate flexibility with Britain, like Norway or Switzerland’

Prof Slama said he would rather see the government focus on “real solutions” to the fact that 100,000 people a year end up undocumented, in many cases not deliberately but because of problems with the asylum system or issues such as not being able to obtain prefecture appointments.

“It is a real state scandal that the system is so dysfunctional,” he said.

“If a law is adopted, it will probably make things worse as there is no thought given to an overall reform for a coherent system, centred on the foreign person themselves.”

Regarding second-home owners, he said it is in France’s interests to negotiate more flexible rules with the UK, similar to those with Norway or Switzerland.

“Rather than negotiating over toughening border checks at Calais, they should take an interest in the British and French people and come to an agreement,” he said.

‘Macron’s talk of a referendum is nonsense’

Antoine Math, of immigrants’ rights association Gisti, said we have seen a “tough political line” on immigration for several years. On the whole the original immigration bill tended more towards further toughening, he said.

“There was one measure, however, which said undocumented migrants could obtain residency cards after a certain period in understaffed jobs, which was positive. But this does not please the Right and far-right, so the law has become blocked.

“Many employers have been asking for it but the government doesn’t have the majority to pass it. So, as the Right and far-right are obsessed with questions of [national] identity, immigration is still much talked about.

“Now, Macron talks of a referendum. It creates a buzz but nothing clear comes out of it, just that we see that on immigration, like everything else, he is trying to find a majority with the Right.

“It is a lot of nonsense and is even more hypothetical and uncertain than the immigration bill.”

Similar to Prof Slama, Mr Math believes that for Britons, including second-home owners, the best hope is a bilateral UK-France agreement, as he does not see a will generally to ease the immigration process and border rules.

“As for whether the UK would want it, if a lot of Britons are involved, they are voters and they are people who are losing rights and may have to sell their property.

“The UK has good reasons to be interested in its citizens’ interests but perhaps pressure will be needed.”

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