Britons with second homes in France are being urged to write to the French MP for the area where their property is if they support the ‘automatic visa right’ plan that was approved by the French Senate in November.
They should explain how much they value their time in France.
The idea has been added as article 1er K to an immigration bill which MPs will debate from December 11. It needs their approval to be brought in.
Plan said to be a ‘win-win’ for Britons and France
Senators voted to allow British second-home owners to bypass the Schengen area 90 /180 days rule and return in effect to the pre-Brexit situation of not needing a visa to stay in France for up to six months.
France can set immigration rules for its own territory so is able to do this.
The plan is said to be a ‘win-win’ for France as Britons integrate well and many areas benefit economically from the time they spend in France. It would also free up time for overworked visa processing staff.
‘I hope MPs will keep the amendment in the bill’
Senator Martine Berthet (Savoie, Les Républicains), who wrote the original amendment, said: “I am delighted. I was able to make my colleagues aware of the difficulties that these British people have encountered since Brexit and the economic impact that this has had on our regions.
“The adoption of the amendment shows the importance that the Senate attaches to the Franco-British relationship.
“I hope that MPs will be sensitive to this issue and keep this provision in the text.”
Photo: Senator Martine Berthet (Savoie, Les Républicains) wrote the amendment to help British second-home owners; Credit: Martine Berthet
Ms Berthet was referring to the complications many Britons face in obtaining visas to spend extended periods at their French homes, most of which were bought pre-Brexit when the 90/180 days rule did not apply. The visa process must also be repeated for each visit.
The change would give an automatic right to stay for longer than three months due to being British and owning a second home in the country.
No application would be needed and it could work, for example, by showing a document proving home ownership at the border, an assistant to Ms Berthet said.
Full details would remain to be worked out in an additional decree.
Not all agree with the plan
In the Senate, a minister said it was not needed as visas exist. A socialist senator also opposed it saying Britons “often make house prices rise”.
However, an MP for President Macron’s majority Renaissance party has since told campaigners they will look closely at the proposal and their position is not yet finalised.
Two other amendments relating to foreign second-home owners, including one for a five-year visa aimed at all foreign owners, were rejected.
Hard work to get to this stage
Senator Berthet promised to consider what amendment could help British second-home owners in an interview with The Connexion in June.
We contacted her because she was among lawmakers who expressed support for them in 2022 to Facebook group France Visa Free, which later turned its attention to opportunities presented by the new bill.
We ran a survey to help and more than 1,000 people replied.
Ms Berthet had written to the Foreign Affairs Ministry in spring 2022 about the 90/180 days restriction Britons face.
She also pointed out that all EU visitors to the UK can stay for up to six months under UK immigration law.
This September, she then wrote to the Interior Ministry proposing a ‘special status’.
She referred to King Charles III’s recent state visit to France as evidence of the valued relationship between the countries.
‘Finally a light at the end of the bleak tunnel of Brexit’
The procedure in the UK to obtain a temporary long-stay visa for stays of four to six months is costly and complex. Many readers who have tried say they could not face it again.
French consular officials, and three offices run by contractors, have been struggling to offer enough appointments to cope with the demand since Brexit, including Britons wanting to move to and/or work in France.
Previously, they would have mainly processed visas for, among others, people such as UK-based Asians and Africans who wanted to move to France.
Dozens of Britons have written in support of Ms Berthet’s idea.
Fraser Watson, who has had a home in Tarn for 15 years, said it would encourage him to spend half the year here and invest in home improvements.
Otherwise, he is considering selling and reinvesting in the US. He estimated he has spent in excess of €200,000 with local tradespeople and said he is active in his village community.
Charlotte Allain, who has owned a home in Limousin for 17 years, said there is “finally a light at the end of the bleak tunnel of Brexit”.
She hopes to spend as much time in France as possible during her retirement. “We love our home and France,” she said.
‘Britons made sacrifices to afford a second home in France’
We also contacted the MPs’ France-UK friendship group.
The office of its president, Franco-Briton Alexandre Holroyd, said he supports the idea but has not defined his position with regard to the amendment.
One of its vice-presidents, Caroline Colombier (Charente, Rassemblement National) said: “It seems normal to me to make it easier for British citizens who have owned a property in France from before Brexit to come”.
She said she would support the amendment if it is debated, as opposed to just accepted, by MPs, “in the name of the historic friendship between our countries, as well as the beneficial, notably economic, effects that it would have for our country”.
France Visa Free founder Steven Jolly, 67, a retired teacher with a home in Mayenne, called the adoption of the idea by the Senate “very pleasing”.
“When I began the campaign to get a better mobility arrangement, there were some who said we would never succeed. This shows otherwise,” he said, adding: “There are areas where the second homes are those that the French would not buy.”
Britons also pay property taxes for the full year and claim no benefits.
Many make a “significant” economic contribution to their communes, he added, but they are not “all privileged or rich” and many made sacrifices to afford a second home.
Hope Spain will follow
The idea is also supported by the founder of Facebook group 180 Days in Spain.
Andrew Hesselden said he is “delighted to see French senators recognise the issues that British part-year residents have faced since Brexit” and he remains “hopeful of similar recognition in Spain”.
Tools to write to local French MP
MPs’ email addresses can be found here by searching for your commune or department.
Tools such as deepl.com might help those without fluent French, but ask a French speaker to check your letter.
It is unclear how the idea would work with the European Entry/Exit System automated border checks due next year. All EES users will also pass in front of an official’s desk.
Some Britons wonder if boat or mobile-home owners could benefit. This is unclear, but they might be more likely to be seen as a ‘French home’ if located at a marina/park on a settled basis, especially if they pay property tax.
What did the Senate reject or back in the new immigration bill?
The Senate has, in the main, toughened the immigration bill, as initially drafted by the Interior Minister. Here are decisions of note:
- Residency cards to regularise illegal immigrants working in understaffed sectors
- The aide médicale d’état healthcare scheme for undocumented migrants should be replaced with a more restrictive one related to serious, urgent conditions only
- Immigrants should live in France for five years before claiming housing benefit or family allowance, as opposed to six months
- Immigrants who want to bring over close family via regroupement familial should have to wait for 24 months, rather than 18, should have ‘regular’ income, and their family members should have a minimum (A1) level of French
- Children born in France to immigrant families would no longer become French automatically. They would have to apply, stating their desire to become French, and must not have spent more than six months in prison
- Quotas for economic migration should be enforced and living in France irregularly should be a délit (crime) with a €3,750 fine
- Obtaining a multi-year residency card should be made dependent on showing level A2 in French, which requires ability to communicate in simple, routine tasks and use common expressions. At present, applicants only have to take lessons if their level is insufficient
- New four-year ‘medical talent’ residency card for doctors, pharmacists and midwives
- The senators accepted an amendment allowing residency cards to undocumented migrants who sue landlords who take undocumented migrants and charge rack rents
- Bill includes stricter rules for non-EU retirees moving to France. We cover this issue in more detail here.