February - 2015
French custom dictates that New Year’s wishes can be expressed until the end of January, so I have managed it a few hours before the deadline.
The New Year comes for many of us with a long list of good resolutions; it is the visible line of entering the New Year that makes the desire to improve so strong. If only decisions in life were always that easy to make, the line that easy to spot. The reality is so different, especially while living in a foreign country: What is the right thing to do? Whom should I trust? What do I want now? (this often means What is available for me?) Am I safe? The perpetual absence of road signs other than on the streets, fuels the confusion, exacerbates the feeling of being in danger. Obtaining legal status after years of fighting is nothing less than a paradigm shift that is never anticipated and for which the person is never prepared enough.
Small children for centuries have played hopscotch: the lines are drawn on the sidewalk and they hop from one place to another. As responsible adults, good parents, we think we know where we are going. As foreigners, struggling in a foreign country, we too often look like unsteady children playing a game, cursing because we do not see where we are landing!
FREEDOM OF SPEECH - THE ATTACK IN PARIS ON WEDNESDAY JANUARY 7th
I drafted this entire issue, including the title, before New Year’s Eve, so I thought I was done. But now, for weeks France has been faced with a powerful and traumatic crisis after the attack on the magazine Charlie Hebdo. A lot, maybe too much, has been said about this.
In an attempt to explain to friends in the USA what had just happened, I quickly posted on Facebook that the shooting could be compared to someone gunning down the team of Jon Stewart’s The Daily Show at Comedy Central. In short, eight people living in France were killed because they mocked, caricatured and ridiculed, which was their job. They were entertainers, comics, cartoonists more than journalists, and they never referred themselves as journalists. They had no agenda, especially no political agenda, other than ridiculing any kind of authority. Any one drawing, picked out of the magazine in isolation, could appear to be very offensive, ridiculing a minority, but if one went through the entire magazine one would see all three monotheist religions, the army, the police, schools and the government ridiculed one way or the other, usually more than once per issue.
I would like to add some historical perspective to this. With Mr. Honoré Daumier arose the modern political cartoon in the early 19th century. This is what Wikipedia states about him: Honoré Daumier (February 26, 1808 - February 10, 1879) was a French printmaker, caricaturist, painter, and sculptor, whose many works offer commentary on social and political life in France in the 19th century.
« Daumier produced over 500 paintings, 4000 lithographs, 1000 wood engravings, 1000 drawings and 100 sculptures. A prolific draftsman, he was perhaps best known for his caricatures of political figures and satires on the behavior of his countrymen, although posthumously the value of his painting has also been recognized. »
So it is safe to say that French political cartoons are almost 200 year old. This is a deeply rooted tradition. Look at Daumier’s cartoons and see how modern they are, keeping their razor edge after nearly two centuries.
Before that there was the position of the fou du roi, the jester, which as Wikipedia tells us was a historical entertainer employed to entertain a ruler or other nobility in medieval or Tudor times. « Much of the entertainment was performed in a comic style and many jesters made contemporary jokes in word or song about people or events well known to their audiences. » The jester appointed to the king made jokes about the rulers of the time, even mocking the king himself to his face.
Thus, even before the concept of freedom of speech was conceived as a right that people should enjoy, France had developed a tradition of mocking the rulers and the authorities of the country. At the same time, especially since the 20th century, France and many other countries in Europe have put limits on the freedom of speech. My explanation is that these countries experienced first hand the results of Nazi propaganda and wanted to be able to block any further racist propaganda right away, should such reappear. Many American media outlets and public figures over the years have strongly criticized France for putting such strong limits on this freedom, since the American view is that it should be as unlimited as possible.
Yet very few American media outlets have shown or printed recent Charlie Hebdo cartoons because they were too extreme for the American public and would not have been understood. At the same time, very strong support came from the American people and American media because it was clear to them that the essence of freedom of speech had been attacked in a deadly way, and it was not just France that was attacked.
I believe that the French philosopher Voltaire (pen name of François-Marie Arouet, November 21st 1694 - May 30th 1778) best captured the very essence of freedom of speech in France and many countries in the world.
His « Treatise on Tolerance »,published in 1763, chastised the Catholic authorities in France for showing intolerance toward religious minorities, likening it to the persecution faced by early Christian communities. He also argued that the personal beliefs of one group or another could not stand above the law of the land.
As he explained it, this freedom had to go both ways to fully exist. One has the right to argue, dispute, express, publicize an opinion. In other words, I have the right to dispute your ideas that are the opposite of mine, but I also have the obligation to fight for you if your right to express your opinions, which I strongly disagree with, is being taken away from you. Interestingly, since the tragedy, this book has become a best-seller in France.
Most French people normally do not buy Charlie Hebdo and are critical of its contents. Yet about 4 million of them showed up in the streets of Paris and many other cities in France on Sunday January 11th to show their complete support of the idea that this magazine has the right to exist and to express opinions they quite often disagree with.
France has the right to freedom of speech in its DNA, just as the USA and several other countries do. But that right is lived differently in each of those countries. Let’s also keep in mind that a large number of countries have no such rights.
THE DIFFICULT CHOICE VICTIMS OF DOMESTIC VIOLENCE FACE
Below is the testimony of a victim of domestic violence who initially chose not to press charges against her French husband, hoping in this way to focus on rebuilding herself faster and better. The consequence is that she waited so long that the statute of limitations under French law applies and no prosecution is now possible. This is a dilemma I have heard often. It illustrates how broken down inside the person is. Anger pushes for punishment, for the idea that the world should know that he is the villain and she is the victim, and that therefore she should press charges. For so long she has heard that she was doing everything wrong, that she was worthless, and so on. The desire for healing, on the other hand, makes it seem better to just stay away from him and everything about him, let go, or on occasion even flee but in doing so, the victim far too often gives up rights and protection. The need to be left alone is very important, as it is a positive way out of the condition. As the statement below shows, however, both have serious limits, as too often the perpetrator, even today, gets away with it 100% and most women struggle for a very long time before they are functional enough, inside and outside, to overcome their trauma.
Pressing charges can be seen as getting closure, because if the state finds the husband guilty it validates the wife as being truly the victim. This logic, however, also creates two very serious problems. First, the victim feels even worse and sometimes is completely incapable of handling a verdict of not guilty. The second is that whatever sentence may be passed is never enough to make up for the pain and suffering felt during the violence itself and during the related post-traumatic stress syndrome, which often lasts for years after the violence stops. One should not forget that a criminal trial means detailing all the physical violence and therefore reliving it, which can be highly traumatic.
Not pressing charges, in my experience, prevents the victim from getting full closure. Even though the sentence is always insufficient, it is still a strong and official signal that there is a perpetrator and a victim. The other issue is that leaving on your own and working alone through the hardship of recreating a life is extremely difficult. Just to start with, the husband can stall the divorce proceedings. There is also a chance that leaving does not produce the hoped-for results. It often feels like adding insult to injury. This is especially true when the woman leaves home to escape violence and is found guilty of abandoning the family home, which can only be disputed if some violence has been done. Often the woman cannot fight effectively during the divorce proceedings without producing definitive domestic violence documentation, which can only be obtained for sure by opening a criminal investigation. The end result is too often that the self-reconstruction of oneself is poorly done, and since the statute of limitations is three years for felony charges and ten years for a crime, the victim often finds that it is too late to press charges against an abusive partner.
I do not believe there is a right or a wrong choice in these circumstances. I see people struggling for many years about whether they should have made one or the other choice. I have reached the conclusion that the victim needs both at the same time, which for a great many of them is beyond what they can handle.
I have been a victim of domestic violence. The last time was Sunday November 15, 2009, when my husband thrust three handfuls of a potato dish into my mouth and throat, forcing me to swallow them. My call for help was heard by the children who were in their room and by a neighbor who rang at our door and helped me get up from the chair I was seated in the whole time. When the neighbor warned that she would not accept any violence, my husband expressly stated that there was no violence going on in the apartment.
I did not file a complaint.
The following day I went to work Despite my attempt to conceal the signs, several colleagues noticed my face was swollen and two pushed me to see a doctor and file a complaint, since it wasn ’t the first time they had noticed marks. I was put on sick leave. I mostly suffered psychologically and thought that if I was treated in the way it was because it was all I was worth and thought of drowning myself in the bathtub.
Of a sound and reasonable family, I had a burst of lucidity and scolded myself as my mother would have done - you do not commit suicide for a broken heart! - and went out to see the social worker for help and shelter. She and the person at the center she called both listened and were very understanding, welcoming and professional, but there was no room for me. I understood then that if I wanted to work my way out, I could count only on myself. Sheerly through good luck, I was first able to temporarily move to a relative’s apartment before I rented my own apartment as of January 2010.
The process of « working my way out » has been very long (and is not over) despite my best efforts. For a while, on top of working weekly with psychologists at a medical center since 2006, I was seeing a psychiatrist-psychotherapist. During this same period, I also set a rule that I should spend at least one moment I could really appreciate every weekend, in order to help myself to value life and find pleasure in it again. I worked very hard at not being a victim, and I put a lot of importance in not sinking and going down, but in « working my way out, » but four years later, the pain and the difficulties (e.g., just thinking correctly) are still there.
The reason for this most likely lies in the fact that while I was trying to reconstruct myself, I was also going through an unnecessarily difficult divorce. Our divorce procedure is just like our marriage and reflects his abusive behavior - lies, intimidation, manipulation, reversing of situations - rendering it difficult to work my way out of my confusion.
On November 15, 2012, at the expiration of the limitation period, I took the time to examine whether I would file for complaint or not. My own battle to work my way out seemed already hard enough to get through; I could not take up another battle that would most probably bring me down or backward more than anything, so I did not. However, since 2012, after the unsuccessful mediation procedure I was obliged to ask for to have my rights respected, during which my ex insisted that he address me as « vous » in order to mark the distance he wished from me, I was able to live more serenely.
Though I am still going through the hardship of my divorce, I am much better and stronger, and I sense that today, if I had the possibility to file a complaint against my ex, I would do it out of the same sense of obligation that pushed me not do so at the time.
I consider that my first duty as a responsible citizen is to inform of this horrific violence done to women. From the moment I could not find refuge at the women’s shelter in 2009, I understood that I had to help myself and that what was important was not to become a burden for myself and for society. And, if I did not file a complaint, though I recognized the harm my ex could do in his state of mind, it was out of that obligation.
My wish today is that the legislation take in consideration first and above all the reality and needs of the victims, allowing them a better chance of prosecuting those who were responsible for the violence done to them and, in that way, also taking in consideration the real needs of our society, which are to save the victims and take legal action against the authors of violence.
The specific situation of foreign spouses of French husbands is that they are often very much under the power of these men from an immigration point of view. It starts with the fact that they get their carte de séjour vie privée et familiale on the grounds that they are married to a French citizen and this card will be taken away if they leave before their third wedding anniversary. My experience is that abusive men take full advantage of this domination, explaining that:
– the wife will be immediately deported if she leaves home,
– their French children will always stay with the French parent,
– the woman will be jailed for kidnapping if she tries to move back to her home with the children, and so on.
Domestic violence is evil by its nature and this total domination destroys the woman. Abusive men seem to have amazing imaginations, finding countless reasons to scare their spouses away from leaving home. Often the mental control is the hardest to break. Foreign spouses, whose right to live in France depends 100% on their husband, must fight against highly controlling behavior and the corresponding feelings of helplessness, in addition to what I have just described. For one thing, such women feel unable to contact the police, since they fear that if they report the domestic violence, the husband will be taken into custody, which will break up their life together. Wives fear the police, seeing them as French authority figures who will systematically favor the husband, though this it is not true. Going to social services and asking for support can also be frightening, since the women who are placed in shelters are protected from their partners, but they believe that they can be deported as a result of leaving the family home. The only recourse is to press charges but the help of the social worker often is not enough to overcome their fear of the police.
The main difference I have seen regarding leaving the home and pressing criminal charges, is that quite often women raised in a Western way will take the risk of moving out, sometimes on the spur of the moment, believing that they are saving their life by doing so. They also think that they will be able to make it outside the home, even in a foreign country without the ability to speaking the language well. In my experience, women from the Indian subcontinent or East Asia are so afraid - of the police and deportation, of their partners or husbands - that it is much rarer for them to move out. This is sad, since the préfecture fully accepts that, in cases of documented, serious domestic violence, a foreign wife must move out of the house before the three-year period mentioned above has elapsed. Documentation of the violence is well handled by the police through a medical visit to a hospital’s forensics section and the police investigation that follows.
Here the issue is one of trust as well as passing along accurate information. Someone who is believable needs to reach out to abused spouses so that they get the right information and believe it. But that is a completely different topic.
MY TAKE ON FATCA
Once in a while I get a call that truly makes my day. In early December, one of my readers called me to ask for my opinion and professional analysis regarding the Foreign Account Tax Compliance Act (FATCA). The reason she called me was that she had reviewed my past issues for over a year and could not find any mention of it. Her comment was so endearing that I want to share it with you: « I count on your column to inform me of all the new legislation that affects Americans living in France. Since you never wrote about FATCA, and I just spent a long time reviewing your column pretty far back, I was wondering if it is as serious as it sounds. You surely must have something to say about it if it is that important. » This is an ego booster that lasted for several days!
However, it was easy for me to explain that my focus is exclusively about French legislation and it is extremely rare for me to comment about any other legislation, including from the USA, since I do not feel that I can be a professional in these fields.
Still, since I received this adorable call, I feel compelled to state that I know just enough about it to stay away from it, leaving this topic, as well as the Foreign Bank and Financial Accounts Report (FBAR), to people who have a professional knowledge of these regulations affecting American citizens holding accounts in foreign banks. To avoid adding to the dissension among the various groups fighting and/or explaining this type of regulation, all I will give is the page of the IRS website describing these regulations: http://www.irs.gov/Businesses/Corporations/Foreign-Account-Tax-Compliance-Act-FATCA
FRENCH INCOME TAX REMINDER
French income tax is generally paid in three installments: on February 15th, May 15th and September 15th. Everyone should have received the applicable tax statement by now. If you have not received it, but you know that you owe French income tax for 2014, you must pay the required amount, which is one-third of the total tax you paid in 2013. Errors made by the French administration never exempt the individual from complying with the law.
ACQUIRING FRENCH NATIONALITY AS A FAMILY
In your December 14 issue of your newsletter, you wrote that: "A child born in France to two foreign parents can claim French nationality first at age 13. Then my question is that once the minor child becomes French at age 13, may the two non- French parents apply for French citizenship? If YES, then under what program or rationale can they do that? Also, may a younger sibling also apply for French nationality before the age of 13?
As I explained in the issue you cite, having a French minor child has no direct impact on the ability of the parents to obtain French nationality. It only gives the right to obtain a carte de séjour mention vie privée et familiale, which we hope they would have obtained by then after living in France for more than 13 years. This is true even if they were undocumented aliens when the child was born in France, as this card can be asked for after the family has stayed in France for more than five years. On the other hand, it definitely improves the quality of the naturalization request if the parents ask for it, provided that they qualify for all the requirements of the naturalization procedure, which might not be the case. Keep in mind that on paper the requirements to obtain the carte de résident and French nationality are now very close, not to say identical, but their interpretation is hugely different.
I believe that reviewing an actual case would make it a lot easier to understand the situation of each member of the family. Therefore, I would like to illustrate this regulation with the analysis of the most common situation of families of undocumented aliens. The husband and father works and therefore speaks good French and often is quite well integrated; the wife and mother stays mostly at home and therefore often does not speak French and has not integrated into French society; this couple has four children, two of whom were born in France, with the two older ones born in the family’s country of origin.
So, in line with the above explanation, let’s look at the moment when the third child that is, the first one born in France reaches the age of five. By this time, for sure, the parents have enough seniority in France to submit a request for regularization. The applicant must prove a minimum of five years in France as a family and at least one child must go to school, including kindergarten. In our hypothetical case, the two elder children are also enrolled in school. We assume that the parents request is processed slowly and therefore they get their respective cartes de séjour vie privée when this child is six. One can assume that the mother speaks just enough French to pass the test.
To obtain the carte de résident or French nationality, for that matter the parents must live five years legally in France. This shows how close the requirements are for both statuses. Therefore, going back to our case study, the third child must turn 11 before they can ask. Then, the requirements are:
- – you have spent a minimum of five years with legal status in France
- – your earned income exceeds the French minimum wage (the SMIC), which amounts to 14,000€ annually,
- – you have had a minimum of four tax assessments a request that can mean the applicant has spent closer to six years than five in France,
- – you have fully secured your lodging, which must be in your name whether it is as a tenant or as an owner, but the main issue often is that it must be big enough for the entire family in order to comply with health regulations,
– you have good knowledge of French and some general knowledge from living in France; the list states a DELF diploma (diplôme d’études de français langue étrangère) or something equivalent, or proof of having tested at the B1 level in French no more than two years before at a licensed school (constatant le niveau B1 validant la réussite l’un des tests délivrés par un organisme certificateur).
– you have a stable, life in France.
If just one of these elements is not met, it will prevent the applicant from obtaining the carte de résident and, even more so, from obtaining French nationality.
I would like to go back to the request for French nationality for the child turning 13. First of all, the procedure is called « déclaration », which is supposed to be an automatic procedure. Second, no matter how much the file is scrutinized, all the paperwork is there as long as the parents have kept everything, because, aside from the identification documents, everything else is linked to the school records. Obtaining French nationality this way has NO effect on any of the siblings, whether younger or older.
As for the situation of the older two siblings, the key question is whether they entered France before the age of 13. If they did, they should obtain a carte de séjour vie privée when they turn 18 not the student one, as is too often the case! If they arrived after the age of 13 they will only be entitled to a carte de séjour étudiant, which is a much lower level of immigration status. Another unknown aspect of the request for French nationality is that when one spouse asks for French nationality, the other must also do so. The rare exception is when it is impossible to become French without losing the citizenship of origin. Nevertheless, it is quite possible for one spouse to obtain it and not the other. When this happens, it often means a lack of integration in one regard or another.
When one parent is naturalized, all the minor children become French automatically. So, going back to our case, the youngest of the children, who was also born in France, would thus become French before turning 13.
In the November 2014 issue I detailed the requirements to obtain the carte de résident and it shows how similar they are on paper to the ones for French nationality discussed here.
So, considering the above explanation, the parents could qualify for French nationality when this child turns 13. My experience is that the foreigners who could thus obtain residency through family regularization often do not. I strongly advise them to first go for the carte de résident as this enables them to stay away from the préfecture for ten years. That alone makes it worth it.
Please forward this message to all those who would be interested in its contents. The information contained in this newsletter is intended only as general information. I strongly urge readers to seek professional guidance concerning the legal and tax matters mentioned. This newsletter is intended as a general guide and is not to