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Brexit deal - what does it mean for expats here?

The Connexion, Nov 15

Details emerged of the deal that has now been reached in principle between the UK and the EU – here The Connexion looks at what it means for British people in France.

The draft withdrawal agreement, agreed yesterday by the British cabinet, follows the lines previously agreed in terms of citizens’ rights, meaning that most of the key rights relied on by Britons in France are protected.

This does however come with some provisos, notably that full free movement to live and work in other states apart from the one where people are settled is not provided for apart from in the specific case of frontier workers (who live in one EU country and have their main work across the border in another EU country). Campaigners are concerned that this will disrupt some people’s future plans, as well as the working lives of people whose businesses require them to have easy access to working rights across the EU. Rights to vote in local and EU elections are also not included.

EU negotiator Michel Barnier called the agreement “a decisive step in concluding these negotiations”.

Saying that citizens’ rights (the rights of British people living in other EU states and European citizens living abroad in the UK) had always been the priority for both sides, he added they would “be able to continue to live their lives as before in their country of residence”.

He said: “They will be able to continue to live in their country of residence, study there, work there, claim benefits there and bring their families there, for the whole of their lives.”

In comparison, in the case of no-deal, the French Europe Ministry has stated Britons in France would have no legal residency status after March 29, 2019, and they would look at how French people were treated in the UK before deciding how to treat British people in France.

There will now be another EU summit on November 25 at which the draft will be formally concluded and it will then go for votes in the UK and EU parliaments. In the meantime work is also ongoing to finalise the text of a political agreement on the future UK/EU agreement that is to accompany the withdrawal agreement.

The latter would form the basis for further agreements which the UK and EU hope to formalise during a transition period until the end of 2020, notably on new trading arrangements. If necessary, the draft released allows for the possibility of extending the transition period.

Here are key effects on different groups of Britons living in France:

All British people living in France

If you are living in France now or are coming to live in France before the end of 2020 (or beyond if the transition period is extended), your rights within France are guaranteed to be as now if you have been living in the country in a continuous and legal manner according to EU free movement laws.

The agreement also protects family members granted rights under EU law, including current spouses and civil partners, parents, grandparents, children, grandchildren and informal partners with whom you are in an long-term relationship. If they do not currently live with you in France these people could also join you in the future. Future children would be protected, however people you may marry after the transition period, for example, would not be covered.

France is entitled to require you to apply for a card proving you qualify for these rights and if it did not require this you would be entitled to request documentation proving it for your own convenience. Interior Ministry officials told Connexion this summer that Britons living in France would be required to have cards although their exact format was not clarified.

People would have up to six months after the transition period ends to apply for cards and would be immediately given proof of having applied.

This will be a key difference compared to now when no documentation other than an EU passport is necessary for a British person to live in France.

It is expected that those who already have cartes de séjour as EU citizens will be able to swap them in a simple process for a kind showing rights under the deal (it is not yet clear what this would say).

So far, people’s experiences of applying for cartes are mixed across France – some people have obtained them easily, others have struggled. There have also been reports in some areas of long waits to even be allowed to submit an application. However the situation has been improving with an increasing number of people reporting obtaining cards quickly and without multiple visits to their prefecture.

However there could be difficulties for certain groups who may be unable to provide paperwork showing they meet the criteria of legal residency. Connexion has notably heard of problems in cases such as:

Self-employed people who had very low and irregular incomes and cannot therefore show that they were providing for themselves and not a ‘burden on the social welfare system’, which is one of the criteria in the first five years of residency for those who were not employees.

People who lived mainly on French welfare benefits and similarly cannot meet criteria of self-sufficiency in the first years which may be required under strict EU free movement laws for those who are not employees. These can require that people show they had ‘sufficient financial resources’ and comprehensive sickness insurance during this period.
The draft says “the host country should ensure that any administrative procedures for applications are smooth, transparent and simple and that any unnecessary administrative burdens are avoided”.

If you have gained an EU right of permanent residency due to meeting the relevant criteria for at least five years (and in particular if you have gained a ‘permanent residency’ carte de séjour proving this) then your rights are secured under the draft agreement. The rights would only be lost after five continuous years away from France.

The draft agreement provides for a free swap for another card in the case of those with permanent residency cards, though it may be conditional on an identity check, proof of ongoing residency and criminality and security checks.

Workers

Workers rights to employment or self-employment are protected by the agreement, including the rights to continuing recognition of British qualifications you rely on for work if you have, where appropriate, applied to have these validated before the end of the transition period. We advise doing this if you have not done so already.

Retirees

Retirees would be entitled to continue to draw a British state pension which would be uprated each year as now. They would also be entitled to have the UK pay for their healthcare in France, as now, and would be entitled to an EHIC card for their healthcare while travelling abroad in the EU. They would maintain current rights to exported disability benefits.

Frontier workers

If you live in France but work in Belgium, for example, you would be entitled to continue doing this and to have your qualifications recognised in Belgium if you have applied to Belgium for validation, where appropriate.

Holiday home owners

This group is not concerned by the agreement, as it only deals with those whose main home is France. In future holiday home owners are expected to be subject to the same rules as for other visitors, however, the EU Commission yesterday noted its wish for there to be no visitor visa requirements for visitors from the UK even in the case of no-deal (however this has to go through further steps before it is confirmed, and would rely on the UK also waiving visas for visitors from the EU, which it has indicated willingness to do). Also holiday home owners from non-EU countries, as they are staying in their own properties, do not have to show evidence of an accommodation booking, or obtain an attestation d’accueil from the mairie of their destination in France as other non-EU visitors do if staying in a private home.

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