British citizens’ rights group lodges EU complaint over French residency system

The citizens' rights group RIFT has lodged a formal complaint with the European Commission over outstanding issues with residency rights for Brits in France.

British citizens' rights group lodges EU complaint over French residency system
The citizens' rights group RIFT has lodged a formal complaint with the European Commission over outstanding issues with residency rights for Brits in France.Photo: AFP

Brits who were living in France before December 31st 2020 – and are therefore covered by the Brexit Withdrawal Agreement – face a major deadline on January 1st 2022.

From then, they will be legally obliged to hold a carte de séjour residency card, and those without it can be denied employment, housing, benefits and healthcare and can be deported from France.

French authorities have issued more than 150,000 of the special post-Brexit residency cards, but with just days to go until the deadline, citizens’ rights group Remain in France Together (RIFT) says that many people are still waiting for their card.

READ ALSO What changes for Brits in France in 2022

The group, together with EU Rights Clinic, has now lodged a formal complaint with the European Commission, accusing French authorities of failing to comply with the Withdrawal Agreement.

The Agreement states that UK nationals who lived in the EU (and EU nationals in the UK) before the end of the Brexit transition period have the right to remain there, although countries are entitled to ask them to register for a new residency card or permit.

RIFT said that they had found the following issues raised by UK nationals in France, and had been unable to obtain answers from French authorities on the subject:

  • Not receiving a Withdrawal Agreement Residency Permit after an appointment (long delays)

  • Some Withdrawal Agreement beneficiaries have not yet been offered an appointment.

  • Ongoing unresolved questions with applications being “examined” (instruites) with no clear reason why and no consideration of the length of time in France or family finances.

  • Applications “classé sans suite” (closed/discontinued without being processed) or “classé sans avis favorable” with no appeals process indicated.

  • Lack of help with applications from the préfecture even for the vulnerable.

  • Children experiencing travel issues and parents being charged for DCEMs, old-style documents without the same biometrics as a WARP and therefore not offering children the level of protection from exploitation they could enjoy with a WARP.

  • No working system to change address or have a lost/stolen card replaced

  • Unreasonable requests for extra information

  • No adequate system for reunifying family with some being told to return to the UK to apply for a visa, or other family reunification application issues.

  • Removal from the CPAM medical system and issues with CAF, or other government institutions.

  • Denied and difficult access to France.

  • Errors on WARP cards (name, address, photo, etc.) along with incorrect rights shown (not permanent).

  • Wrong cards issued – such as a carte de frontalier, rather than a residence permit.

A RIFT spokesman said: “The EU Rights Clinic and RIFT have demanded that the European Commission take robust enforcement action against France to ensure it complies fully with its binding legal obligations under the Withdrawal Agreement. A petition will also be lodged in parallel before the European Parliament.”

French authorities have issued several extensions to the deadlines for Brits to have made their applications for a carte de séjour, and also extended the deadline to be in possession of the card until January 1st 2022.

The most recent official data comes from September – shortly before the deadline for applications to be received – and showed that of the 162,000 applications received by French authorities, 151,300 applications had been concluded by September 6th – leaving more than 10,000 people still waiting.

Applications were made centrally on a specially-created online portal, and then passed to local préfectures for processing. Readers of The Local have reported big variations in waiting time between areas.

Find more on the admin for Brits in France in our Dealing with Brexit section.

Member comments

  1. Its a shame they have not included excessive delays trying to exchange British Driving Licences for French ones, and even Ants not following their own well published rules when rejecting applications.

  2. Richard: I have to say that the process was for us remarkably simple and efficient even our brief appointment at the prefecture was on time and our cards issued swiftly.

  3. I guess it’s unsurprising that the process is a lot more efficient in some places than in others. For what it’s worth, my experience in Paris was excellent. I received a carte de sejour with ease. Simple online application procedure (surprisingly little information requested) and a brief interview at the prefecture de police. Card arrived earlier than indicated. Perhaps the key factor was that I applied early. If there has been a rush of last minute applications it might not be a surprise that the process has slowed.

    1. Same here in the Aveyron … delightful people saw us through this at the Rodez préfècture wishing us well and sympathies about Brexit.

  4. I’m one of those still waiting, since attending a rendezvous in Montpellier prefecture back in May. Subsequent enquiries made by email to the ministry and the prefecture in November and December have elicited nothing but automated responses, none of them at all informative.

  5. early appointments were done very quickly – I helped people who were having problems understanding computer applications and I must say after Mid February applications made after that time slowed considerably for getting final appointments with the prefectures – it was mainly due to the numbers of people that the prefectures could handle and Covid restrictions which of course also restricted numbers able to pass through the actual buildings used. Another point I noticed was the computer systems now being used seemed to be leaving some staff behind as new practices were learned on the job which I’m sure slowed the process. All my people were finished by October but the response from prefectures when questioned was normally a standard response of please wait we will get to you ( one phone call made did get a sort of timing it was made15th Oct and we were given the information that they were working on March applications and hoping to finish them soon and start April applications)

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Mythbuster: Can you really ‘cheat’ the Schengen 90-day rule?

It's human nature to look for a loophole, shortcut or workaround to the rules, but most of the advertised 'dodges' to the EU's 90-day rule are nothing of the sort.

Mythbuster: Can you really 'cheat' the Schengen 90-day rule?

If you’re the citizen of a non-EU country and you want to spend long periods in the EU/Schengen zone, you will need a visa.

But citizens of certain countries – including the US, Canada, Australia and the UK – benefit from the ’90-day rule’, which allows you to travel visa free within the Schengen zone for 90 days out of every 180.

Anyone wanting to spend longer than this will need a visa or residency card.

READ ALSO: How does the EU’s 90-day rule work?

So a simple enough rule, and for most travellers 90 days out of every 180 is perfectly adequate for holidays, family visits etc.

However some groups – especially second-home owners – might want to spend longer than this.

For Brits, entering the world of the 90-day rule is a recent development, since before Brexit Brits were EU citizens and therefore benefited from EU freedom of movement.

The harsh reality of the post-Brexit world has prompted a steady stream of articles in UK media (examples pictured below) promising ’90-day loopholes’ or ‘how to beat the 90-day rule’ (scroll to the end of this article for what the below ‘loopholes’ really entail).

But do these so-called loopholes really exist?

Despite the claims in the headlines, there are really only three options for non-EU citizens wanting to spend time in the EU – limit their stays to 90 days in every 180 (which still adds up to six months over the course of a year); get a short-stay visitor visa; or move to an EU country full-time and become a resident.

READ ALSO Your questions answered about the EU’s 90-day rule

All of the advertised tricks, dodges and loopholes are really just variations on these three options.

Limit stays to 90 days

Advantages – the big advantage of this method is no paperwork. You can travel visa free and there is no requirement to register with authorities in the country you are visiting (although second home owners will of course have to pay property taxes and other local taxes in the area where their property is located).

In this scenario you retain residency in your home country and are simply a visitor in the EU – a status identical to that of a tourist.

Disadvantages – the time limit is too short for many people and there is also the problem that stays are limited to 90 days in every 180. Although over the course of a year this adds up to six months, you cannot take your six months all in one go – so for example spending the winter in Spain and the summer in the UK is no longer possible. Likewise travelling to your French holiday home for four months over the summer is no longer an option.

It’s up to you to keep track of your 90 days, which you can use as either one long trip or multiple short trips. The 90-day limit is calculated on a rolling calendar and keeping track of the days and making sure you have not exceeded your limit can be stressful.

As a visitor, you have no rights to enter the country if the borders close (as, for example, happened during the pandemic).

READ ALSO How to calculate your 90-day limit

Short-stay visa

If you want to remain a resident in your home country but don’t want to be constrained by the 90-day rule, you can get a short-stay visitor visa. Visas are issued on a national level, there is no such thing as an EU-wide visa, so you will need to apply for a visa in the country where you want to stay.

Different EU countries have different visas, but most offer a short-stay visa (usually six months) that gives you the status of a visitor, but allows you to stay for longer than 90 days.

Advantages – no more counting the days, for the period when your visa is valid you can stay for as long as you like in the country of your choice. By maintaining your residency in your home country, you don’t have to register with authorities in the EU country and won’t be liable for residency-based taxes.

Disadvantages – visa paperwork can be complicated and the process is time-consuming and sometimes expensive (most countries require an in-person visit to the consulate as part of the process). You also need to plan in advance as visas take several weeks or months to be issued.

A visitor visa usually requires proof of financial means, so this is not available to people on very low incomes.

You are still classed as a visitor, so have no rights to enter the country if the borders close (as, for example, happened during the pandemic).

If you are spending a significant amount of time each year out of your home country, this might also affect your tax status, depending on the rules of your home country around ‘tax residency’ (which is not the same as residency for immigration purposes).

Move to an EU country

If you were accustomed to splitting your time roughly equally between your second home and your home country, you might want to consider becoming a resident in the EU.

Advantages – as a resident, you are no longer constrained by the 90-day rule in the country in which you live. The rule does, however, apply to other EU countries. So if for example you are a Brit resident in France, there are no limits on the amount of time you can spend in France. However the 90-day rule does still apply for trips to Italy, Spain, Germany and all other EU/Schengen zone countries. In practice, border checks while travelling within the Schengen zone are pretty light touch, but technically the rule still applies.

You can of course pay unlimited visits to your home country, provided you maintain your citizenship.

Disadvantages – moving countries involves a lot of paperwork. The process varies slightly depending on the country and your personal situation but in general you will first need to get a visa (which must be applied for from your home country, before you move) and then on arrival will usually need to undergo extra admin to validate the visa and register with local authorities. You might also be required to undergo a medical examination and take classes in the national language.

Depending on the type of visa you apply for, you may also need to provide proof of financial means, which disadvantages people on low incomes.

You will also need to register for healthcare under the system of the country you live in, and may be required to either pay taxes or at least complete an annual tax declaration in the country you live in.

Admin is not a one-off event either, most countries require you to regularly renew your visa or residency card. Being officially resident abroad will likely also affect your tax status and access to healthcare in your home country, while your pension entitlements may also be affected.

Can’t we just ignore the 90-day rule?

As a responsible publication, The Local obviously doesn’t advise breaking any laws, but aside from the moral issue, the practicalities of the 90-day rule make it a difficult one to get around.

If you’re not working or claiming benefits most EU countries are unlikely to even notice that you have over-stayed, and the prospect of police knocking on your door is pretty remote.

However, the problem arises when you need to travel, as border guards will likely spot that you arrived in the EU more than 90 days previously and have no visa. Penalties for over-stayers include fines, deportation and ‘over-stay’ stamps in your passport that will make future travel more difficult.

Planned changes to EU border controls (due to come into effect in 2024) will tighten up these checks.

So in short you could over-stay your 90-days but only if you were prepared to never leave the Schengen zone. And if you’re now living here full time there will come a day when you need to access healthcare or other social benefits and that will be difficult if you do not have an official status as a resident.

All EU countries have undocumented migrants living in them, often working illegally on a cash-in-hand basis, but their existence is precarious, they are ripe for exploitation and often live in poverty. We wouldn’t recommend it. 

PS: Those ‘loopholes’ promised in the articles above? The couple in the Telegraph got a visa and moved to France full time, where they are now residents. They told the paper: “The visa process took 9 to 10 months – we had thought it might take three. Yet we think our new life is wonderful and more than worth all the effort.”

The travel influencer mentioned in The Sun simply limits her stays in the Schengen zone to 90 days out of the every 180, but instead of returning to the UK for the rest of the time, she goes to Bulgaria (which is not part of the Schengen zone).

Truly, there are no loopholes . . .