Why I And My Fellow French Expats Haven't Applied For Settled Status

Marie Le Conte

As a French citizen living in the UK, there are several stages to dealing with the news that only 70,000 out of over 300,000 of your Britain-based compatriots have applied for their settled status.

The first one is national pride; France is a country of bountiful and ever-present paperwork, and as such, we as a people have grown fond of leaving absolutely everything to the last minute. If you don’t leave something to 11pm on the day before the deadline before finding out there are 17 different forms you must fill in, are you even French? Probably not.

The second is national pride, but pettier and directed at the United Kingdom. Much has been written about Britain’s Europeans and their ambivalence towards Brexit and their uncertain future, but it feels even more pointed in our case.

Related...

Our two countries have been the best of frenemies for centuries, and living here but refusing to make it official feels like blowing a joyous raspberry at those wishing to make our lives harder. We are here, we are staying here, and we are making your admin unnecessarily lengthier.

Then there is the third, which is a bit less pleasant. As a French citizen living in the UK who has not applied for settled status, learning that over three quarters of your lot are in the same awkward situation means having to confront some uncomfortable truths.

Why haven’t they applied? You cannot possibly speak for all of them - everyone has their own reasons; perhaps they haven’t had the time to do it yet, or they are waiting for the Home Office to get its act in order, or they need to find an Android phone to do it on, or they are planning to move back to France anyway, or they don’t follow politics at all and do not know they have to do it. You feel very jealous of this last batch, by the way.

Why haven’t you applied? You have had the time to do it, you know the Home Office will not get its act in order, you have an Android phone, you are not moving back to France, and for your sins, you really do follow politics and know you have to do it.

Maybe you’re in denial. Maybe the way you have managed to deal with months and years of Brexit tedium and assorted attacks on Europe and its citizens was by not quite admitting that it was happening, or at least not to you. 

Brexit is a thing British people are doing to themselves and it is unclear how it will end - it was never clear how it would end - and it is a very boring and sad thing to have to witness, here, in a front row seat.

It is not interesting and though there is a small chance it will have a positive effect on the United Kingdom - a vanishingly small chance but you are optimistic by nature - it will definitely not have a positive effect on you.

So far Brexit has brought you uncertainty, anxiety and the promise of future paperwork, and at the end of the tunnel there is nothing for you; at best, your life will remain the same.

You have also had to watch all this chaos unfold but your voice has not been a welcome one in the debate. Like a teenager stuck at the adults dinner table as the grown-ups argue about politics, it was always clear that your presence was required but your input wasn’t.

In a way, it made it easier to deal with; if Brexit supposedly had nothing to do with you, it was better for everyone concerned for you not to get involved. Brexit could exist but not be tangible, something real but that had nothing to do with you.

This all changed when you were told to apply for settled status, and kindly but firmly reminded that you may get deported if you didn’t. The process is straightforward and doesn’t take long, but the idea of doing it ties you back to reality, and to Brexitland. It is a reminder that this is your problem too, because you are here and undeniably stuck in this mess.

You’ve delayed doing it and joked about the reasons why you haven’t done it yet, but deep down you know why you keep pushing it back. Once you do it Brexit will become real, but until then you can just stay in denial.

I can just stay in denial.

Marie Le Conte is a freelance political journalist. Her book, Haven’t You Heard? Gossip, Power And How Politics Really Works, is out now. 

Related...