In recent days there have been a number of headlines in the British press along the lines of ‘Spain and France aim to end the 90 days rule for British second-home owners’ – but is this correct?
The Connexion broke the news earlier this month about how French senators had voted in favour of an ‘automatic visa’ right for British people who own second-homes in France – however since then many media have linked this with alleged similar actions with Spain.
An ‘automatic visa’ means an automatic right to visit for more than 90 days thus doing away with any need to fill out complex applications for a temporary long-stay visa.
There have been headlines both in the mainstream media and less-well known websites suggesting that both countries are seeking to “end the 90 days rule for British second-home owners”.
In fact, there is no evidence that Spain is taking any action with regard to this.
In general, the EU does not get involved in immigration matters, leaving it to individual countries to set their own rules on matters such as visas and residency cards for their own territory.
However, it has a small number of basic rules, one of which relates to non-EU citizens visiting the Schengen area, which comprises most of the EU and includes France.
This says that certain non-EU nationals, including many from Africa, South America, Asia and Africa, need a ‘short-stay’ visa even to visit the Schengen area for short holidays.
It states that non-EU nationals from nationalities who do not need short-stay visas can visit the area for up to 90 days in any rolling 180-day period without a visa. In other words, at any one time when such a national (eg. a Briton, American or Australian) is in the Schengen area, they should not have been there for more than 90 days in the previous 180 days.
In practice this means that it is not possible to spend more than three months in total in France at any one time (minus any other recent work-related or family or leisure stays elsewhere in the EU).
This causes complications for many British second-home owners who pre-Brexit, were used to coming to their French homes for up to half the year.
The only ‘solution’ in France is to undertake a temporary long-stay visa application for every visit of more than three months, which is costly and time-consuming, and which many Britons say they could not face doing a second time.
Here we clarify what France and Spain are known to be doing.
What is France doing?
A French senator, Martine Berthet (Savoie, Les Républicains), submitted an amendment about British second-home owners as a proposed new article in France’s immigration bill, that is going through parliament.
The senators (France’s upper house) voted in favour of this by a show of hands, and added it to their text of the bill.
This text is now set to be debated by MPs starting from December 11.
The aim of the amendment, now article 1er K, in the bill, is to make a change in French immigration law so that British people who own a home in France should be able to come and go freely for as long as they like, probably by presenting proof of home ownership at the border.
So far it is not officially backed by the French government and cannot become law without the backing of MPs.
What is Spain doing?
As far as we can tell, nothing.
The UK’s i newspaper ran a piece on November 8, 2022 in which it said that Spain’s “tourism secretary” was going to “ask Brussels to relax the 90-days rule so British holidaymakers can stay indefinitely when they visit”
In an interview with the paper, Fernando Valdés, referring to the 90/180 days rule, said: “Unfortunately this is not something Spain has established by itself or can get rid of…
“It is in our interest to lobby and convince the EU we can try to work an exception with them. But the solution must come from them.”
In Spain the tourism secretary has a junior minister role under the minister of industry, trade and tourism.
In February a press officer in the Spanish tourism department told us that “we don’t know what Fernando Valdés told that newspaper, but he’s been replaced as tourism secretary some months ago”.
He advised that we should ask the Interior Ministry, as he said that issues such as visas and foreign citizens’ rights in Spain were its job. The Interior Ministry told us it knew nothing about this.
Currently, the minister for industry, trade and tourism is Héctor Gómez and the tourism secretary is Rosana Morillo.
Some media sources recently attributed to Mr Gómez the exact same quote as stated by Fernando Valdés to the ‘i’ one year ago, without giving any context to the quote.
Has Spain said anything 'official' recently?
An official press release from the Spanish government about a tourism industry event in the UK this month states the following: “The Secretary of State held an important meeting at the Foreign Office with the Director for Consular Affairs and Crisis, Jennifer Anderson, in which they discussed issues of interest regarding the stays of British tourists in Spain and proposed collaboration projects for future seasons.”
This is the only official – and very unspecific – statement that we have identified by the Spanish government recently that has a bearing on the issue of British people’s rights to visit.
We emailed the tourism secretary’s office last Friday to ask if they can tell us if Spain has been lobbying the EU about the 90/180 days rule or if it has any other news about actions affecting this rule and Britons. We have not had a reply.
The Interior Ministry replied to a similar email saying: “We’re sorry but this issue is not the responsibility of the Interior Ministry.”
We also asked the office of the Spanish permanent representation to the EU the same question, and the press office for Spain’s 2023 EU presidency, but have not yet had replies. We will update this article if any is received.
Is Spain's current EU presidency significant?
It has been assumed by some Britons that Spain may make use of its presidency from July 31, 2023 to December 31, 2023 to lobby on this issue, but so far we have seen no evidence that it has actively done so.
A campaigner for Britons in Spain, Andrew Hesselden of Facebook group 180 days in Spain, meanwhile, told us that he regrets that Spain may be taking the view that something can only be done at EU level, whereas in fact the 90/180 days rule simply sets a baseline.
The rule means that EU countries must allow Britons, and other nationals exempt from short-stay Schengen visas, to come for at least 90 days without formalities (if they have not stayed too long in other Schengen countries), however it does not prevent individual EU countries from creating more favourable rules with regard to their own national territory as the French senators want to do.