‘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

Clare Dawson, who runs self-catering ski holiday site, 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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Reader Question: Does a passport renewal restart the 90 day clock for visiting France?

If you were hoping that your renewed passport might offer a way to avoid the 90-day rule when visiting France, here is what you should know.

Reader Question: Does a passport renewal restart the 90 day clock for visiting France?

Question – I’m British and a frequent visitor to France and since Brexit my passport is stamped when I enter and leave the country, in order to keep track of my 90-day allowance. However I’ve recently renewed my passport and of course the new one has no stamps – does this mean that I get a new 90-day allowance?

While it may seem like passport renewal could be a loophole for getting around the 90 day rule when visiting France, you should not attempt to spend more than 90 days out of every 180 in the Schengen zone without a visa or residency permit. 

Non-EU nationals including Americans, Canadians, Australians and – since Brexit – Brits are limited to spending only 90 days out of every 180 within the EU. Anyone who wants to spend longer than this needs to apply for either a passport or a residency card. These rules apply whether you want to move to an EU country such as France to live, or simply want to make frequent or long visits here.

The 90-day ‘clock’ covers all EU and Schengen zone countries – if you need help calculating your time spent in the Schengen zone, you can do so using this online calculator HERE.

Passports are stamped on entry and exit to the EU/Schengen zone, with dates of entry and exit.

However, getting a new passport does not reset the clock – some have suggested that a new passport could be a work-around, as it would not show previous entry/exit stamps which are used to calculate the amount of time a non-EU national person has spent in the Schengen zone. 

The primary reason is that passports are in most cases automatically scanned when you enter and leave the Bloc, which makes it easy to spot over-stayers and for border forces to enforce the 90-day rule. This means that border forces do not only rely on the physical stamps in your passport.

The EU’s new EES – Entry and Exit System – will tighten up the scanning process, but its entry has been delayed.

READ MORE: How does the 90-day rule work in France?

While in previous years France may have earned itself a reputation among non-EU travellers as being not too fussy about the exact exit date of people who aren’t working or claiming benefits, the reality is that you do not want to risk the possible consequences that can come with overstaying in the EU. 

If you are caught over-staying your allocated 90 days you can end up with an ‘over-stay’ flag on your passport which can make it difficult to enter any other country, not just France, and is likely to make any future attempts at getting visas or residency a lot more difficult.

The consequences for staying over can also include being fined – since Brexit, British visitors have reported being stopped and fined at the border upon exit if they are found to have spent more than 90 days in the Schengen zone.

Keep in mind that the 90-day rule does not apply to all non-EU countries – some states, such as India, are required to have a visa for even short stays. You can access the European Union’s map that outlines which countries require visas for short stays to check to see if you are eligible.

To learn more about the 90-day rule, and alternative options for how to stay in France longer than just 90 days out of every 180, click here for The Local’s guide