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‘So many barriers since Brexit’: The French ski businesses no longer willing to hire Brits

After two disastrous seasons due to Covid restrictions, French ski businesses are now recruiting for the winter ahead but are facing a different problem - post-Brexit restrictions that make hiring British seasonal workers extremely difficult.

'So many barriers since Brexit': The French ski businesses no longer willing to hire Brits
Photo: Philippe Desmazes | AFP

Previously around 25,000 Brits have headed to France every year to do seasonal work and they formed a major part of the workforce in French ski resorts.

But since the UK left the EU the paperwork required to hire Brits has made this much more complicated for those needing to recruit seasonal staff and left winter sports businesses in France – many of which are owned or run by Brits who live here – facing a big problem.

Diane Palumbo, who runs the Skiworld holiday firm based in France, said: “We are now running really late.

“If this was a normal ski season, we’d start recruiting before the end of the previous season – we take the pick of the staff who have performed the best, offer them jobs for the following season, and then we start recruitment from May and June. We’d be in full swing now.

“The problem now is there are no guarantees for work permits. Applications can be turned down. You can apply for a work permit. You can apply for a long-stay visa. There is no guarantee they’ll be accepted.”

READ ALSO What are the rules on short-term and seasonal work in France?

Since the UK left the EU, British citizens are no longer able to move to France and work under Freedom of Movement. Instead, the move requires a visa – if they intend to stay longer than 90 days – and a work permit.

Businesses too have obligations, if they want to hire a non-EU citizen they must first advertise the job to establish that no French or EU citizen wants or is able to do it, and then complete paperwork for work permits.

Doing this for dozens of staff at a time at the start of the ski season is simply impractical for many businesses, and many adverts for jobs in the French ski sector now specify that only applicants who have European citizenship or the right to residency will be considered for roles.

READ ALSO ‘EU citizens only’ – why Brits are at the back of the queue for ski season jobs in France

Adverts from seasonworkers.com

Clare Dawson, who runs self-catering ski holiday site Tignes.co.uk, said: “We have a five-month season but often with the cleaners we’ll do a four-month contract and then we have key staff pick up the end bits.

“Now, they [British seasonal workers] can only work 90 days – which doesn’t cover four months. We need people over Christmas and New Year, and then Easter as these are two busy periods. Britons can’t cover the full season. 

“We’d have to employ some for three months, then others for the end. This makes it too expensive and much more attractive to employ other EU workers.”

Both Clare and Diane are British and moved to France under freedom of movement, and say the feel devastated that the next generation will miss out on the opportunities that they enjoyed.

“I really don’t want this to be the case,” Diane said. “I am only going to give up my dream to let the next generation have the same opportunities I had after a fight. 

“We still want to develop with our French, Austrian, Italian counterparts to give young Britons the opportunities we had and for them to come back to the UK with that experience.”

Clare added: “It’s a huge shame not to give Britons the opportunity. I came here to work in a bar in 2000 and now have a house, partner, kids in local school here. 

“We have an amazing life and it makes me really sad to think my nieces and nephews and the next generation won’t get the same opportunities.”

But then, cold, hard business reality kicks in. “As long as it remains an application process, we’ll probably be pushed to people who have EU passports,” Diane admitted.

And it’s not just the ski sector that is affected, many tourists businesses such as summer camps have also traditionally relied on seasonal British workers to fill positions over the summer.

Diane is a representative for the seasonal workers trade body Seasonal Businesses in Travel (SBIT), which is campaigning for bilateral agreements between countries that will allow Brits to continue to do seasonal work in France.

She said: “I grew up in a world in which going to the Alps was the same as going to Edinburgh. I got on a train, applied for a job, arrived, did the job, had an amazing experience and came home.

“Now, that’s gone. [Jobseeking for Britons in the EU is] akin to wanting to work in the United States or Canada. 

“You cannot just get on a plane and go and work. If you want to go and work in the States, your employer will have to advertise the job beforehand. They will then have to prove a local could not do that job – and that they need to hire someone from the UK.

“Your employer will help you secure a work visa, in addition to a long-stay visa if you are going to stay longer than a few weeks in that job. 

“That is the position we’re now in with the EU. What I did is not possible any more for Britons.”

25,000 jobs a year

After the Brexit referendum in 2016, SBIT estimated that some 25,000 Britons worked seasonal jobs in Europe every year. But it believes that figure is well below the actual number, as many more picked up ad hoc work while they travelled across the continent. 

Most of them were aged between 18 and 34.

It is still possible to employ British seasonal workers in France. But the additional paperwork involved – getting a work permit, arranging a long-stay visa to allow staff to stay beyond 90 days – means it is much simpler and less time-consuming for businesses to look for applicants with the right to work in the EU.

“There are barriers now which make it much harder,” Diane said.

“Unemployment in France is higher, so the pressure will be for French citizens to fill roles as opposed to Britons, or EU citizens to fill roles as opposed to Britons because EU citizens don’t have the rigmarole to go through. For travel companies, if they are to employ Britons, there is a lot more paperwork involved, which has a cost.”

Organisations like SBIT have been warning about this since the vote back in 2016. “We knew things were going this way pretty much the second the referendum result was announced,” Diane said.

“It’s taken people like Elton John a bit longer to realise that actually it applies to anyone in the UK who wants to work in the EU – we’ve lost the right to do it.”

Nor does she see much help coming from the British government – either practically or politically.

READ ALSO Current rules for Brits in France as good as they are going to get, says ex UK ambassador

“Governments make decisions at the top, top, top level and then they leave business to try to work it out,” she said. “There are lots of working groups across the EU trying to work out the details that Boris Johnson hasn’t seen. No politician goes into that detail.

“By reneging on the Northern Ireland protocol, by threatening unilateral action in relation to Northern Ireland, the British government has done nothing to develop the goodwill that underpins the negotiating process. I can understand that our EU counterparts are distrusting and suspicious.”

But SBIT is not giving up the fight. “The cross-fertilisation that occurs when you live and work in a country for a while and how you develop an understanding of the language and business and the ways of doing things can do nothing but enrich you individually as well as the country you end up in, culturally and commercially. 

“That’s why SBIT is fighting for an agreement to streamline something that allows young people from France to come to the UK and from the UK to come to France. 

“There’s such a surge of business around holiday dates that no indigenous population can serve the needs of a month’s worth of skiers coming to the Alps. 

“We all rely on seasonal business, and that expansion and contraction of workers based on demand delivers value to the customer – otherwise everyone’s holidays would be a third more expensive. 

“We will carry on hoping to have constructive dialogue with our European partners on both sides because the loss culturally and commercially will be palpable if we fail.”

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BREXIT

INTERVIEW: ‘A lot of people think Brexit is done, but it’s not for Brits in Europe’

A new project from citizens campaign group British in Europe aims to empower Brits in the EU to advocate for their post-Brexit rights. The Local spoke to BiE chair Jane Golding about the problems British citizens face in Europe and why the project is still needed.

INTERVIEW: 'A lot of people think Brexit is done, but it's not for Brits in Europe'

In the early days of 2021, after the United Kingdom had left the EU and completed the final stage of Brexit, many British citizens returned to their home countries in Europe only to face a grilling at the border. 

Though the Withdrawal Agreement (WA) technically guaranteed their right to live and work in the countries they’d settled in before Brexit, there was widespread confusion about these fundamental rights and many were treated like new arrivals. 

Over time, the chaos at the airports subsided as border officials and airlines were given clearer guidance on the treatment of Brits. But three years later, a number of Brits who live on the continent still face problems when it comes to proving their post-Brexit rights.

This was the reason campaign group British in Europe decided to set up their new EU-funded ICE project. Starting this year in March, it aims to build valuable connections between UK citizens abroad and mentor the next generation of civil rights advocates around the continent. The acronym stands for ‘Inform, Empower, Connect’ and the project’s organisers describe it as “the first project of its kind”. 

READ ALSO: Hundreds of Britons across Europe given orders to leave

“It’s a completely innovative project – especially the fact that it’s across so many countries,” Jane Golding, chair of British in Europe and one of the project’s founders, told The Local.

Bringing together groups from 11 EU member states, the project aims to train up volunteers to understand both the Withdrawal Agreement and EU Charter of Fundamental Rights, as well as learning skills like advocacy and communication, using real-life civil rights cases that are referred to British in Europe.

“The ultimate goal is to amplify the messages across the wider group,” said Golding. “You start with the volunteers, they go back to their groups, then the people that we train, they go back and train people. Then they pass on that knowledge to the wider groups, on their Facebook accounts and through social media, and hopefully it all snowballs, not just in their countries but across the EU.” 

READ ALSO: What Brits in Europe need to know about UK’s new minimum income rules

‘Far-reaching repercussions’

So many years after Brexit, it’s hard to believe that there’s still a need for a project like ICE that empowers Brits to protect their rights. Indeed, the future of groups like British in Europe and regional groups like British in Germany and Spain-based group EuroCitizens felt uncertain just a year or two ago. 

But Golding says there are still serious issues cropping up for Brits in several countries around Europe – they just have a different quality to the problems that arose at the start.

“In some ways it’s needed even more because as we predicted right at the beginning, at the first stage of implementation, you’ve got the more routine cases,” she explained.

“What we’re seeing now is not as many cases, but when the cases come up, they’re complex. They can have such far-reaching repercussions on people’s lives. And of course, memories start to fade. A lot of people think Brexit is already done, but it’s not.”

Volunteers in British in Europe ICE project

The volunteers of the British in Europe ICE project pose for a photo at the kick-off meeting in Brussels on May 21st, 2024. Photo courtesy of British In Europe

Though the rights set out in the Withdrawal Agreement apply across the continent, different countries have taken different approaches to implementing them.

That means that while in Germany, for example, UK citizens simply had to declare that they lived in the country, people in neighbouring Denmark had to apply for their rights. 

This led to a notorious situation in Denmark in which as many as 2,000 Brits were threatened with deportation after not applying in time or completing the right application process. According to Golding, this had a lot to do with the fact that people who arrived in 2020 weren’t given the same information as other UK migrants who arrived before. 

In Sweden, meanwhile, the situation is still difficult for many Brits who lived there prior to Brexit.

“There have been issues with an anomalously high numbers of refusals compared to other countries, and they seem to be taking a very strict approach on late applications,” Golding explained. 

READ ALSO: Brits in Sweden still in limbo years after Brexit deadline

Portugal has been another difficult case. Although the country opted for a declaratory system where Brits could simply exchange old residence documents for a new ID card after Brexit, reports suggest that the authorities have taken years to issue these cards, leaving many of the some 34,000 Brits in the country in limbo.

“While people are still waiting to have their status confirmed and have their card in their hand, it’s difficult to access a whole range of services, like health services, or applying for jobs or dealing with the authorities, or even going to the bank,” Golding said. “All of these problems just affect people’s lives.”

A French border guard checks a passport at the border

A French border guard checks a passport at the border. Photo by DENIS CHARLET / AFP

There are also concerns about the EU’s new exit and entry system (EES), due to come into force in October, which is based on biometric documentation.

“We still do not have clear data on how many people in declaratory countries like Germany, where it wasn’t compulsory to apply for the card, don’t actually have a card,” Golding said. “How is that going to play out if it’s a document-based digitalised system?”

READ ALSO: How Europe’s new EES border checks will impact flight passengers

A lack of support

In the immediate aftermath of Brexit, funding from the UK’s Foreign, Commonwealth and Development Office (FCDO) was still available to support NGOs in Europe helping Brits with their migration and civil rights issues. But that temporary funding soon expired, leaving groups like British in Europe largely on their own.

“The whole point is people’s lives change at very different paces,” Golding said. “And now this project is really going to start to pick up some of those cases and report on those issues, which is really crucial and exciting for the precedent that it sets, and it’s very clearly necessary still, because people don’t just sort their lives in the 18 months that the FCDO chose to supply that funding.”

This feeling of being left alone and increasingly isolated from the UK is one that many Brits in Europe have felt in the aftermath of Brexit. But the upcoming UK election on July 4th could be a game-changer.

This time, following a change in the law, Brits who have lived abroad for more than 15 years will be able to vote for the first time.

Polling station in the UK

A polling station in the UK. Photo by Elliott Stallion on Unsplash

When it comes to the election, the message from British in Europe is clear: “Make your voice count now, make your vote count, make sure you use it,” Golding said. 

With the June 18th registration deadline fast approaching, BiE is advising UK citizens abroad to apply for a proxy vote as soon as possible, rather than relying on a postal vote from abroad. Since the 15-year rule was abolished on January 16th, more than 100,000 British citizens have registered to vote, according to official statistics. It is unclear how many were registered before the change in the law. 

READ ALSO: How Brits living in Europe can register to vote for UK election

With an estimated 4.7 million Brits currently living abroad – 1.3 million of whom are in the EU – this could have a significant impact on the electoral landscape, Golding says. But most significantly, the change is creating a feeling of connection and belonging that wasn’t there before.

Nurturing this sense of belonging is one of the main goals of ICE.

With these bridges being built, British in Europe hopes to create a network of support that spans across borders.

“Now we’ve met. We’re going to meet,” said Golding. “We know we’re going to meet again in Berlin in October and then we’ll meet again in the new year in 2025 as well. It means a huge amount because even British in Europe, our steering team, we’ve only met physically three times.”

This opens up the possibility of people sharing their knowledge from country to country, Golding explained.

“There is crossover and the reassurance of having that EU wide view and knowing that you’re not alone and knowing that in this country, we managed to get this solution,” she said. “And then you can go back and say to the authorities in your country, well, in that country they did that – all of that helps. It’s really good.”

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