Brits who live or plan to buy property in France have been recalibrating their plans after France’s Constitutional Court rejected a proposal to let them stay more than 90 days without a visa.
The British chose to become “third-country nationals” in relation to European Union countries when they voted in favour of Brexit in 2016. That means they lost their right to stay indefinitely in France. Under French immigration rules, any Brits wishing to stay among their Gallic neighbours for longer than three months out of every six, must now apply for a temporary long-stay visa or take matters further and apply for permanent residency.
The new law would have meant that British owners of second home could have extended their visits to France beyond the current 90 days with no need to complete complex paperwork or jump through bureaucratic hoops. Things were looking bright as the law passed through two Senate chambers, to the extent that property platform Kyero saw a 582% hike in UK searches for French properties.
But the door slammed shut again when the proposed easing of regulations was ultimately refused by the equivalent of the High Court. There is no way to appeal the decision.
Brexit and Covid double whammy
One Brit who spoke anonymously to Travel Tomorrow outlined the impact of Brexit alongside Covid-19, on his family’s plan to move to France to start a business.
“Brexit changes to Freedom of Movement meant that our move from the UK to France would now rely on us proving our income to receive residency. If you’re invited to a full-time position, then those work visas and future residency are easier to obtain. Given that we were planning to start a business, this was always a worrying risk, but one we had several years to achieve. Then Covid meant we couldn’t go as soon as we wanted (before the rule changes) so you could argue Covid was the problem, but if Brexit hadn’t happened at all, we would have eventually been able to emigrate, buy property, start our business and have a different life.”
Negative effect on rural communities
Some French politicians will be as disappointed as the Brits. Martine Berthet, A French Senator representing the Savoie department, has pointed out that making it difficult for Brits to spend time in their second properties is negatively affecting local economies. British people make up a huge proportion of foreign nationals in France, with around 86,000 owning second homes plus another 177,000 (or 24% of foreign nationals in France) enjoying the right to live there permanently having gone to the trouble of applying for permanent residency.
But many second homes are now standing empty for large parts of the year as many Brits are unable or unwilling to complete the necessary steps to take advantage of being there. In addition, properties that would once have attracted British buyers in beautiful but isolated areas of rural France now lack buyers, worsening the French problem of “migration rurale” – which has seen the gradual emptying of rural areas and death of small villages and businesses.