The British branch of Français du Monde, an organisation for French residents abroad, is surveying French nationals in the UK on the impact of Brexit. Responses to the questionnaire will be used to determine which services to offer to support French citizens in the country.
Français du Monde, or Association Démocratique des Français à l’Étranger (ADFE), is a progressive group working with authorities in France to promote French education, provide information to residents overseas and maintain a sense of community among French abroad. Catherine Smadja is president of the British branch. In the UK since 2000, she discusses the initiatives in the context of Brexit.
What are the most regular issues leading French national to seek your support?
We helped a lot of people in relation to civil partnerships, as there are differences between the French and the British system and this can create problems. We also dealt with cases of parents living in different countries arguing about children’s custody. And we supported people with dual nationality who had their names translated in different languages, an issue that has now been resolved by a law accepting evidence of the translation. But of course, since last year we receive many requests about residence rights and Brexit. That’s why we are circulating the questionnaire. We want to know how we can help people.
British Prime Minister Theresa May just sent an open letter to EU nationals. Did it reassure people?
There are some positive elements in the letter, for example the promise that the cost for the new status will be low, the requirement of comprehensive sickness insurance will be abolished and people won’t have to provide evidence for their travels in and out of the country. So it’s not that everything is negative, but the new status does not mean people will be able to stay in the country. And what if there is no Brexit deal, will the UK maintain these promises? People are very anxious, we can see that from the amount and the content of responses we are receiving.
It has been reported that a growing number of people, EU nationals but also Brits, are applying for a second passport. Is this true for the French community?
French people tend to take British citizenship if they have family situations leading to it. There are three types of responses French people are giving to Brexit. French with British spouses or children want to secure their status in the country, so they are likely to apply for citizenship. Then there are people who have been in the UK for a long time and are disappointed at the situation. Many of them are planning to move back to France or go elsewhere. Third, there are people, especially young people, who were coming to the UK for a couple of years to gain experience and language skills. These are not coming anymore. This is already visible in restaurants, for example, where there used to be 3 applications per day and now it is difficult to find staff. Why would people invest in a country without knowing if they will still have rights in the future?
What do you expect out of this situation?
I do not think people will be thrown out of the country. The National Health Service and the academic sector, for example, have large portions of their staff coming from EU countries. Of course these people are not going to be fired. What worries me are not individual situations, but the general economic context. If there is an economic slump, everyone will suffer and it may become more difficult for EU nationals to find a job. That’s why so many people are trying to get security taking a British passport.
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