The number of Britons who requested French nationality rocketed by 254 per cent last year in the wake of the Brexit vote, according to interior ministry figures, amid fears that expatriates could lose out if negotiations with the EU falter.
Divorce proceedings between Britain and the European Union opened on Monday, but interior ministry figures released by Le Monde suggest many British expatriates prefer to hedge their bets over the outcome by applying for French nationality now.
The number of requests jumped from 385 in 2015 to 1,363 last year, it said, a “record” number and a rise of 254 per cent.
While the trend remains relatively small given the number of Britons living in France – estimated to be up to 400,000 – the rise has intensified since January, suggesting the figures for 2017 could be far higher.
In Ile et Vilaine, which handles requests from four départements, or counties, in Brittany, there ha been a “very strong rise in requests since the start of the year,” an official cited by Le Monde confirmed.
“In five months, 110 fosters have been received, compared to just 50 between July and December 2016. In previous years, the numbers hovered around “10 to 20 on average”.
The same trend was confirmed in Deux-Sèvres, which handles requests in the central Western Poitou-Charentes region. “We’ve received 62 filled-in files since the start of 2017, compared to 16 in the first half of 2016,” it confirmed.
In Picardy, some 27 requests were sent in this year, compared to zero in 2016.
“These are Britons who have been settled in France for a long time, often married to French nationals,” said the Oise prefecture. The vast majority are older expatriates.
“In interviews, they say that Brexit prompted them to ask for French nationality, as they had serious concerns about the possibility of being able to live in France after the negotiations.”
Brexit negotiations are due to end in 2019, but it takes around 18 months for a request to be dealt with. Due to the delay, the number of French passports handed to Britons has only risen slightly, from 320 in 2015 to 439 last year.
The application process requires a wealth of documents, including birth and marriage certificates, criminal record – all translated into French by a recognised translator – as well as a French “integration language” test for the under 60s.
In an follow-up interview, applicants must demonstrate their ability to speak in French correctly and “sufficient knowledge of the history and culture of French society”.
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The rise in number of requests in France has not as yet reached the proportions of neighbouring Germany, where the numbers rocketed by 361 per cent last year to reach 2,865.
In the UK, the number of requests by European nationals for British nationality rose by around a third from 2015 to 2016, to reach 13,070.
At 2,369, the highest number of applicants were French expatriates.