Worried British nationals in some parts of France are seeing their attempts to secure their futures scuppered by French authorities who are effectively telling them to wait until after Brexit. Which is exactly what they wanted to avoid.
Since Britain’s shock vote to leave the EU in June 2016 many worried British citizens in France have been taking steps to secure their status in their adopted country.
While some have gone down the route of seeking French citizenship, others have applied for permanent residency permits, known as a carte de séjour, which can be obtained if you have lived in France for five years continuously.
While the residency permits are not necessary for EU citizens, which until the UK’s official Brexit still includes British nationals, they are considered useful given the ongoing uncertainty around the rights of Brits living in the EU, not least because the permit certifies that a person has been living in France on a “stable and legal basis”.
Essentially if talks fail then those with a carte de séjour will have secured permanent residency before the expected rush.
British nationals have the right to apply for a carte de séjour but ever since the referendum Brits have been reporting problems obtaining one.
While many have no problems some departments, notably the Gironde in south west France, have been effectively telling applicants to come back once Brexit has happened.
Phillip Mold, 60, who lives in Gironde, is one of those who had his application rejected. He was sent a letter reminding him that the the referendum result hasn’t yet changed the legal situation for Brits in France.
In other words until Brexit is signed, sealed and delivered Brits have no need of a residency permit, so come back later. But it was the uncertainty further down the line that Brits in France were hoping to avoid by gaining a carte de séjour.
“I have no faith in the UK government and if they anger the French government during the negotiations then each side could end up refusing to look after each other’s citizens or guarantee our right to remain,” Mold told The Local.
“There will be almighty queues at the prefectures, but if you already have a carte de séjour then you have already jumped over most of the hurdles.
“I don’t really have any legal redress. They have the right to say no. I thought about going to court but I don’t want to kick up a fuss and cause problems because I might need them further down the line.”
However those turned down are encouraged to go back to the prefecture and point out their legal entitlements.
A spokeswoman for the department of Gironde confirmed to The Local on Monday that British citizens are being sent letters asking them to delay their applications.
“The referendum hasn’t changed anything for the moment. British citizens are still citizens of the EU and can still stay in France. We invite them to apply when they are no longer EU citizens and therefore need a carte de séjour.
“It could still be a long time before the UK leaves the EU, when we have a date then it will be time to look at the applications.
“This is not a refusal. We are just telling them there’s no urgency. There is a big demand for residency permits so we are telling British citizens it’s not necessary yet. There is still a lot of time.”
The spokesperson added that applications from Brits had risen since Brexit and just like British nationals lamented the lack of certainty with regards to future rights of EU and British citizens.
Back in May the EU promised to investigate the problem around British nationals seeking permanent residency permits and even though France’s Interior Ministry agrees it is their right to obtain one, prefectures in different departments seem to have different approaches.
Earlier this month the British embassy in Paris also asked citizens who had been refused a residency permit to come forward as they try to gather evidence of where the problems are.
“We are just trying to gather evidence of which departments are causing problems and then we will give them a call,” a source at the embassy told The Local.
British citizens in France are divided about what to do as a result of the referendum with many thinking there’s no need to go down the route of seeking residency permits just yet because they are confident negotiations will eventually succeed and their right to remain in France will be guaranteed.
Nevertheless community groups that have formed out of the referendum recommend applying as “good practice”.
The Remain in France Together (RIFT) group writes: We recommend applying for a carte de séjour as good practice. Because as British citizens settling in France we are not required to register our arrival with our mairie or elsewhere, it isn’t always evident how long each of us has been a resident.
“Going through the (relatively simple) procedure now of applying for a carte de séjour as an EU citizen will make sure that your date of arrival is formally registered, so that once Brexit has happened you can easily demonstrate that you are already resident and hence can benefit from the citizens’ rights agreement.”
But while Gironde and other departments may be asking applicants to come back later many Brits in France report obtaining a carte de séjour without a problem.
A spokeswoman for the Indre-et-Loire department told The Local: “Nothing has changed but if British citizens really insist of on obtaining a carte de séjour then we will deal with the application.”
Source: The Local