France could be set to extend its 30 June application deadline for new post-Brexit residency permits, potentially allowing thousands of British nationals an extra three months to secure local healthcare, employment and other rights.
The Côtes d’Armor prefecture in Brittany said on Thursday the deadline for UK citizens legally resident in France before 31 December last year had been extended until 30 September and that the French government website for applications would stay open until that date.
It was not immediately clear why the prefecture had made the announcement, which was not confirmed by either the French government or the British Foreign Office (FCDO).
However, sources suggested the delay – for which campaigners have long been calling, and which follows a similar extension by the Netherlands last month – was likely to be officially announced by the French interior ministry soon.
According to the British embassy, 135,000 Britons in France have applied for post-Brexit residency out of a population estimated at 148,300, leaving at least 13,300 at risk of losing access to healthcare, pensions, property rentals, jobs and mortgages.
Officials say that because France does not require EU nationals to register as residents, the true number may be much higher. They are also harder to contact than in countries, such as the Netherlands, with longstanding compulsory registration.
A 30 June deadline remains in force in three other EU states: Latvia, Luxembourg and Malta. According to the latest figures, 8,300 of 13,600 Britons in Malta, 3,600 of 5,300 in Luxembourg, and 420 of 1,200 in Latvia had applied.
Under the terms of the Brexit withdrawal agreement, UK citizens who were legally resident in one of the EU’s 27 member states on 31 December last year are eligible for permanent residence, protecting their basic rights.
Fourteen countries, including Spain, Germany, Portugal and Italy, opted for systems that automatically confer a new post-Brexit residence status on legally resident Britons, with no risk of losing rights if any administrative deadline is missed.
The other 13 chose a constitutive system under which Britons must formally apply for a new residence status, including five – France, Latvia, Luxembourg, Malta and the Netherlands – that initially set a 30 June deadline.
The FCDO and campaigners representing British residents in the EU have urged people to apply and pushed for the deadlines to be extended, warning many risk falling through the net.
The campaign group British in Europe has said it is worried about several categories of British citizens in the EU, including older people who have lived on the continent for decades, perhaps married to EU citizens, who may not realise they must act.
Similarly, some younger people who were born and grew up in an EU member state and now have EU spouses and children of their own are so well integrated that they “simply do not think of themselves as British”, the group says.
Others at risk of losing their rights may be in care homes; living “under the radar”, and offline; or fearful of failing a possible minimum income test. Many who have residence permits do not realise they must be replaced with a post-Brexit version.