The on-line portal for British nationals in France to apply for residency has finally opened, to general endorsement.
After several delays due to the Covid-19 pandemic, the site opened on 19th Oct. It can be found at Application for Residence Permit.
British nationals living in France have until 30th June 2021 to make application for a residence permit (carte de séjour) under the terms of the Withdrawal Agreement. Only those resident in France by 31st Dec 2020 can make use of the portal.
All British nationals in France aged 18+ need to make an individual application on the portal, except those who have previously made application for a residence permit under ‘no deal’ procedures, provided you have not relocated to another department. They will be contacted by the prefecture who will issue them with a new residence permit.
The website is written in the English language, and has been designed in a simple, clear manner. It is not necessary to complete the application in one process; you can make a start and return to it at a later date. All applicants will also need access to a scanner, to upload identity papers and other documents. The documents you need to supply will depend on your circumstances, but they are set out in English at WARP Documents.
According to Simon Crerie, Communications and Marketing Manager from the Franco-British Network in the Dordogne, one of the officially accredited support bodies, "We have received a regular flow of calls and emails from applicants about the process. One of the most frequent queries has concerned the response to questions to which there are potentially multiple responses, when applicants are unsure which box to tick. Other queries have been from those applicants who have been in France for less than 5 years, for whom there are a number of additional questions to answer and the requirement for supporting documentation is higher."
In addition to offering email and telephone helplines, FBN has a dedicated website section to applying for French residency, with free access to their Guide to Applying for French Residency Online.
Simon also points out that although the application must be made online, applicants will later be called to the prefecture for a photograph and fingerprinting, the standard biometrics that are used on identity papers in France. No interview process will take place.
All applicants will receive an acknowledgement, which can be used for travel between borders until you have received your residence permit.
Those with under 5 years legal residence are required to prove ‘sufficient resources’ and health cover, which is not the case for those with at least 5 years residence. Proof of residence for more than 5 years could include income tax notice and the taxe d'habitation notice.
Although for most British nationals in France that will be a formality, for those who have been living in France ‘under the radar’, without having made an income tax declaration or becoming affiliated to the French health system, it will be more complex.
Over the past year, it is noteworthy that we have seen a significant increase in enquires about registering a micro business, a step that grants automatic access to the health system and confirms residency in France. Those who are engaged in a business activity may have some limited exemption from the resources test, as the test is aimed primarily at those who are economically inactive. However, the application form does ask that you provide information on the 'Proof of effectiveness of the activity'. The evidence to provide may be the sales figures, but can also be 'any other supporting document at the choice of the applicant.' Clearly, if the business is newly established the prefecture will have regard to that fact and, provided you have other income which meets the resources test, it is unlikely to be a significant factor.
Some British expatriates have lived in France using their European Health Insurance Card (EHIC), but as Simon Crerie points out, the EHIC will not be accepted as proof of health cover for residency: "The EHIC is a document used by visitors for temporary stays in France and Europe; it grants no health rights if you are permanently resident."
There have also been queries about the 'sufficient resources' test, as those aged 65+ may be subject to a higher minimum income threshold.
As we have pointed out previously, different tests are enshrined in French immigration law, with those under 65+ subject to the minimum income threshold of the Revenu de Solidarité Active (RSA) and those aged 65+ the Allocation de Solidarité aux Personnes Agées (Aspa).
The Withdrawal Agreement stipulates that in relation to the test of resources ‘Article 8(4) of Directive 2004/38/EC shall apply’:
That article states: ‘Member States may not fix the amount of resources they consider sufficient, but must take account of the personal situation of the person concerned. In any case, this amount is not higher than the level below which nationals of the host State may receive social assistance and, where this criterion may apply, not higher than the minimum social security pension paid by the host Member State.’
The French government have stated on several occasions that they will interpret ‘generously’ the circumstances of each applicant.
Accordingly, in stating they will be ‘generous’ in their interpretation of individual circumstances, and in using an age-based test of resources, the French government is acting in accordance with the WA and European law.
Just how 'generous' they will be remains to be seen (they may be willing to use RSA for all), but Simon Crerie states that "the local prefecture in Dordogne have made it clear to us that they are not looking for reasons to refuse applications."
Many second-home owners who have in the past spent many months in France without declaring residency are also having to face the choice of whether to relocate to France permanently, or to accept that if they wish in the future to spend more than 3 months in France they will need to apply for an entry visa.
The scramble to beat the 31st Dec 2020 deadline also continues apace amongst those who wish to relocate to France to establish residency prior to the introduction of entry visas from 2021. That process introduces a tougher minimum income test and a mandatory requirement for health cover, which may be difficult for those with a major illness to obtain.
We are seeing plenty of evidence of a 'one foot in the door' approach, when at least one family member is relocating to France prior to the deadline, as this grants a right for remaining family members to later join them. The on-line portal confirms that:
'The following persons arriving in France between 1 January 2021 and 1 July 2021 are considered to be family members benefiting from the provisions of the Withdrawal Agreement:
- the spouse of a British national;
- the registered partner of a UK national;
- the partner of a British national;
- the adult child of a British national;
- the adult child of the spouse of a British national;
- the father or mother of a British national;
- the father or the father of the spouse of a British national;
The family relationship must have existed before 1 January 2021 and continue at the time of the request.
Children born or adopted after 1 January 2021 are also taken into account.'
Although France is now in lockdown until at least 1st Dec, there is no ban on international travel within EU borders (including the UK), provided it can be justified. Relocating to a new home is accepted as a justifiable reason.