The Kafkaesque Acquirement of a French Visa
My “Carte de Résident” expired October 17th, so in technical terms, I am no longer living legally in France.
Of course, this didn’t happen by design. At the end of April, I sent in all the documents required to renew my 10-year visa by registered mail and received a signed notice that the Préfecture de Police was in receipt of them. For a few months I didn’t worry — it would happen in due course.
In September, the worry started to set in so I made a trip to the Préfecture de Police on the Ile-de-la-Cité, waited in four different queues only to be told that there was nothing I could do other than wait or go to the office in the 17th arrondissement to ask for a “récépissé” — kind of receipt showing that the renewal was in progress enabling travel outside of France.
I wanted to avoid this at all costs. Stories are told about the long waits — sometimes many hours. One thing I learned from those who have had the experience is that the waits happen if you arrive there in the morning when the office opens, but that timing your arrival can make all the difference.
Yesterday, I chose to arrive during their lunch hour — at about 12:30 p.m. This way the morning crowd would have been served and the clerks would come back newly refreshed after lunching and perhaps the wait would be lessened and their demeanors better.
As it turned out, at 12:45 p.m. when I entered, there was no one in line and the seats were only about one-third full. Good sign. I took a number and opened up my laptop. No network was available for Internet connectivity — they must have made this an unaccessible zone. The numbers chimed away one after the other fairly quickly and by 1:05 p.m. I was at “Guichet 4” seated in front of a very pleasant and polite woman (surprising!). She assured me that it was no problem — the immigration office was running eight months behind, created the “récépissé” and off I went, inside of 30 minutes start to finish.
The question of visas is a constant stream of conversation for those who come to France often and dream of living here longer. When you travel here for less than 90 days, you will enter on what is called “The Visa Waiver Program (VWP).” American passport holders are not required to obtain a visa prior to visiting France (as tourists) for up to 90 days per semester (6 months). If you plan to work in France for up to 90 days, you are NOT required to have a visa except if you are: a diplomatic/official passport holder on a mission or a journalist.
Legally speaking, this means that if you are here a full 90 days, then you must leave the country for another 90 days before re-entering. Obtaining a long-stay visa requires an application submitted with a French Consulate based on where you live in the United states. And caution: this visa DOES NOT allow you to work in France. As a consequence, the proof of sufficient funds and assets to support your stay in France without working for more than a year will be crucial to qualify you for this visa.
It’s all a “Catch 22” and “Kafkaesque” to say the least.
If you want to come to Paris and stay up to 90 days to see if you like living here, based on current city regulations, you are not entitled to a rental apartment with a lease less than one year. (See my many missives on the current rental laws.) And if you do decide to live here, you must go back to the U.S. to apply for the long-stay visa (it cannot be applied for from France) which can take months to acquire. In the process, you must prove that you have accommodations — which you can’t get because the landlords are so nervous about squatters that they won’t want to rent without proof of income, or a large guarantee in the bank (sometimes one year’s worth of rent) and a long-stay visa, which you don’t yet have.
If you do get the long-stay visa and have agreed NOT to work in France, then it’s near to impossible to find a job. You can’t get hired without the working permit and you can’t get the working permit without the job. Plus, to have the visa converted from “visitor” to “working” status is near to impossible, but interestingly enough, one can start an “Auto-Entrepreneur” (small business) with a long-stay visa.
Immigration attorneys will cite the law, but what they can’t tell you is how to manage around it. We all know that on the 91st day of being in France with no visa, no one is going to come get you out of your bed and deport you! But, other things can become more difficult, such as traveling to other countries where border control is strict — the U.K. and Germany, for example. (You can cross borders within Europe by car without suspicion or passport control.)
We also all know that when passing a customs officer at Charles de Gaulle, they often don’t even open American passports much less stamp them or question anyone carrying a U.S. passport that doesn’t look like a terrorist! (I can’t tell you how many times this has happened to me personally.) So, the real trouble begins when you want to get more involved in “the system” — like get paid in France for doing a job or performing a service (which is why so many choose to do business in cash).
Either way, my advice to you if you want to do this right, is to:
1) Keep in mind that there is “the law,” and then there is the “reality.”
2) Visit the HUNDREDS of Web sites that outline the regulations, all a bit differently so that you can become confused from the outset.
3) Talk to everyone you know who has gone through the process who is sure to tell you a lot of different stories, all conflicting, so that you won’t know who or what to believe.
4) Speak to three immigration attorneys or advisors, who will each have something new and different to add to your confusion, but remember, who can’t tell you the nuances of managing the regulations like your friends can, who really went through it.
5) Come here only three months at a time every 6 months and not worry about any of it (except how you’re going to find a place to live that’s not an expensive hotel under the current rental laws).
6) Apply for your long stay visa from the U.S., get it, but don’t stay more than 183 days so you won’t become tax resident in France…as that’s another issue entirely!!!
7) Take whatever risks you’re prepared to take by calculating the level of the consequences and then ‘pray like hell.’
Note: It’s in French, but the best site for the most complete information is: vosdroits.service-public.fr/.
A la prochaine…
Editor, Parler Paris & The Adrian Leeds Group
(with Kate Sheaffer)
Respond to Adrian
P.S. In special memory: I take this moment to honor and remember Ms. Kate Sheaffer, my long-time friend and colleague who treasured Paris, who spent a lot of her best times here and who battled cancer for the last several years. She was recently in Paris where this photo of us was taken. Her sister, Janine Johnson, wrote that “Kate asked that, rather than sending flowers, anyone who would like to remember and honor her make contributions in her name to her much-loved and oft-visited Carl Schurz Park on Manhattan’s East River. Kate was a lifelong gardener; she took great pleasure and found continual solace in the park’s beautiful flowers and elegant river walk.” I urge you all to support her cause, if not for her, but for all of us. Contributions in Kate’s honor can be made at:
The Carl Schurz Conservancy/Web site
1483 York Avenue #20523, New York, NY 10075-8819
Phone: 212-459-4455 / Fax: 212-202-3739
Please mark checks sent to the Conservancy: “In Honor of Kate Sheaffer.”