Globally Speaking | September 27, 2022

French Nationals in the UK: Still Mobile, Still Attracted?

The French community of London is a highly organised and motivated community with a developed social and professional ecosystem that actively supports business, entrepreneurs and wealth creation. For those not involved in the French community, you may be surprised by quite how well co-ordinated and influential they are, whether it is arranging funding cycles, lobbying on behalf of big business or arranging high profile networking events. There is also a highly evolved social scene, children can be educated entirely in French and furthermore, through an elected representative, you have a voice at the Assemblée Générale. In my opinion, there is no other expat community in London that can rival the French and as a result the UK continues to attract from across the channel.

Unfortunately, the last few years have been challenging for the French of London: whether caused by Brexit, Covid or disruption to international economic patterns. However, there is one particular challenge that I want to focus on: immigration. Access to the UK is perhaps the biggest challenge if the community is to avoid losing its critical mass. It is all the more important for high net worth families in terms of wealth creation.

At the moment, a French citizen looking to move to the UK has to fit within one of the visa schemes if they intend to spend more than 180 days in the UK in any year. The current visa schemes broadly mean that the applicant should work and be sponsored following a particular formula, which is often not reflective of how a high net worth individual structures their business, their family office and their lives. In the case of entrepreneurs, for whom you will hear that success in London eclipses the notion of success in Paris, the entrepreneur visa schemes can be construed by some as burdensome and intimidating.

It was the case that wealthy French clients would consider the investor visa post Brexit, but this was insufficiently tested due to the Covid lockdowns. Just as we, as advisers, were about to make applications on behalf of such clients, this visa route was abruptly terminated, partly in relation to a greater scrutiny of foreign investment in the context of the Ukraine crisis. I had to break the news to various clients, some looking to join their children in the UK and some to run their investment businesses or family offices from the UK, all of whom could not, without a certain dose of legal creativity, apply for a visa under the other routes. La porte est fermée à double tour.

As a result, we have this paradoxical situation where such individuals are not welcome in the UK beyond six months a year, yet they will be allowed to buy property, pay the associated and significant tax on it, and employ people. The most surprising result is that the visitor visa could very easily (and legitimately) qualify them as UK tax resident early in their second year. This means that they are taxed to income tax and capital gains tax on a worldwide basis. It is true that we still have the remittance basis but only for a limited number of years.

Indeed, the French community’s incredible success has for a long time been coveted by the French political classes who are actively trying to attract citizens back. There is even a London lobby group, made up of active and prominent members of the French community, whose main effort is to report back to Paris what makes the UK such a successful place to do business. It is very likely, in the context of Brexit, that those efforts to bring the French of London back to France will intensify and perhaps be encouraged by further tax incentives by the French government. Other jurisdictions are similarly vying for their spending power and tax and economic contribution.

Options could include a visa linked to a certain threshold of self-sufficiency and property ownership (which would create an immediate tax charge through stamp duty land tax), giving the applicant immediate skin in the game. Perhaps even a bespoke visa scheme for nationals whose communities play a significant role in the success of the City of London and Global Britain.