“Talkin’ ’bout a Revolution”

July/ August 2017

Even if the recent news about the French election does not make everybody happy, I would like to wish all of you a great summer and a very nice vacation, as I return from mine.

“Talkin’ ‘bout a Revolution” as Wikipedia notes, is the second single from singer-songwriter Tracy Chapman's self-titled debut album, released in August 1988.

Many may think this refers to the current American situation. Whether they are Democrats, Republicans or just totally fed up with the situation, many seem to be looking for something for another way.

But in fact when I chose the title I was thinking about France! Indeed, two sets of elections – first the presidential one, then the legislative – occurred back to back in less than two months. These four rounds of voting changed French politics completely. It is too soon to say if this will be a lasting change or if the traditional political parties, like the phoenix, will rise up after having seemingly pretty much disappeared.

Today, people also express themselves in “town hall” meetings with their congressional representatives. The discussions are mainly about healthcare coverage. Aside from the question “Is this the right policy for the USA?”, it seems to me that this song captures the spirit of what is going on today, both the major changes the federal government is trying to make and the sizable expression of people wanting things to be different.

In any case, I can see things deeply changing in France :

  • 1. 30 million euros were budgeted to welcome climate scientists from around the world to France; President Macron had the Americans in mind when he gave that speech.
  • 2. French tenants may finally get decent, clean lodgings.
  • 3. British people are eager to get French IDs and some are even asking for French nationality after centuries of disdain
    All this is enough to feel things are completely topsy-turvy, and it seems that the entire French nation is experiencing that same feeling. So who is “Talkin’ ‘bout a Revolution”?

THE RESULTS OF THE FRENCH LEGISLATIVE ELECTION
Most people think revolutions involve fighting with arms, civil unrest, sometimes civil war. But while many revolutions over the years have been bloody and linked to civil war, it does not have to be like that. France, in my view, has had bloody revolutions way too often, and each time has created a new republic; the current constitution is that of the Fifth Republic. Another example comes to mind: when the Spanish dictator Franco died, a king was put in power with the same absolute power, according to Franco’s wishes. Within a couple of years, Spain had become a democracy because the king renounced absolute power, passing it on to the parliament and the government approved by it creating a political system that is very similar to that of the United Kingdom.

Maybe I am getting ahead of myself, but it is clear President Macron will have the support of a sizable majority in the Assemblée Nationale, the lower house of the parliament.

The results were:

President Macron’s party and allies won 350 seats

Traditional conservatives won 130 seats

Traditional liberals won 43 seats

The far left (sort of like Bernie Sanders) took 27 seats

The extreme right (Marine Le Pen’s party) won 8 seats.
The National Assembly has 577 seats, so the president’s group controls about 60% of them – a very comfortable majority.

There are two major unknowns regarding how this assembly is going to work.

Throughout the Fifth Republic, there has been strong discipline within the parties in terms of voting the way the leadership wants. With the presidential group, it is uncertain whether the same obedience will exist, as it is brand new and its members come from very diverse backgrounds and clearly do not share the same views on several topics.

At the same time, this group’s diversity is an expression of President Macron’s desire to appeal to both sides, conservative and liberal. It is thus possible that he might lose votes on one side but gain them on the other. He has said he would love this to happen. Surprisingly, knowing French politics, several major members of the assembly seem to be interested in doing so. The conservative party Les Républicains has already split in two, with a vocal minority ready to approve several of the president’s plans.

While it might seem this is not a big deal, for France it truly feels like a revolution, since it is impossible to know what to expect. We do not really know exactly what policies he will adopt and whether he will have the votes to implement them.

This uncertainty could be the main reason so many people did not vote – because they did not know whom they would be voting for. The turnout was about 44%, totally unheard of.

That is why so many people are talking about a peaceful revolution in the French political system, which would be a first.

For more info (in French), see: www.lemonde.fr/politique/article/2017/06/18/resultats-des-legislatives-2017-la-republique-en-marche-modem-obtiennent-une-majorite-absolue-estimee-a-355-sieges_5146653_823448.html

A SURGE IN BRITISH RESIDENTS OF FRANCE SEEKING A TITRE DE SEJOUR
I would like to address two issues here. First, British people living in France are increasingly concerned about the consequences of Brexit and want to be sure they can stay in France. There is also a report that more and more prefectures are making it harder for British citizens to obtain a carte de séjour to secure their legal stay in France.More and more British people are contacting me to start the procedure to obtain a European carte de séjour and officially become French residents. Some of them have been in France for decades without feeling the need to register anywhere, living a comfortable life in France using only their British passport.Their obvious concern is that even though the negotiations on how Brexit will happen have just started, Britons may lose their right to remain in France legally with just their passport. Their fear is legitimate. It is impossible to forecast the end result of Brexit. Possible solutions range from the so-called Swiss status, which means free trade with EU countries and freedom of movement, to being completely outside with virtually no reciprocity, so the British would be treated like other non-Europeans, such as Americans, Canadians, Australians or Japanese.

So British citizens in France and probably other European countries are securing their legal stay by asking for an immigration ID. If they hold a valid ID as immigrants, Brexit is likely to have much less impact on their life. It is difficult to know exactly which immigration status they will get once the ties are cut, but the prefecture, when it comes to France, will certainly have to find an immigration status that fits their situation, and there are many to choose from. I tell my clients that asking right away for French nationality, based on just the British passport and several years living in France, is not the safest way to go. Holding a carte de séjour européenne is more than enough, since it lasts five years and Brexit should be complete by then. They will then be in a clear, secure situation.

There are also British citizens who have lived in France with a carte de séjour for years and would like to ask for French citizenship. This is a perfectly normal evolution, though clearly some have ulterior motives. It seems pretty obvious that holding EU citizenship, which offers the same level of rights as British citizenship before Brexit, is a strong motivation for them. Unlike all other levels of immigration status, naturalization means pledging allegiance to one’s new country, to be fully part of it in every respect. Therefore, I have no problem if Brexit and its immigration consequences make such people realize that if they do not become French, they will not be part of the EU. If they come to understand how important it is to live in France and being part of it, and this leads to submitting a naturalization request, then I am all in favor. If the motivation is just taking advantage of an opportunity, then I question such requests.

Aside from the criminal justice system, however, motivation is rarely a major factor in deciding what is legal and what is not. So it is quite possible that people with opportunistic motivation will become French, and there is nothing illegal about it. I question the morality of doing so, but that is a completely different issue.

In some cases, British citizens may have trouble obtaining a carte de séjour. A client of mine sent me an article describing difficulties British citizens have had with the procedure since the Brexit vote a year ago. Although this publication is quick to report even minor incidents related to foreigners living in France, I would think the fact that the matter has been raised before the European Commission means it has happened enough that it can be seen as a possible trend. www.connexionfrance.com/French-news/Brexit/EU-to-investigate-cartes-de-sejour-problems-in-France

 

PRESIDENT MACRON OFFERS AMERICAN SCIENTISTS 4-YEAR GRANTS TO MOVE THEIR RESEARCH TO FRANCE
In response to President Trump’s decision to leave the COP21 Paris Agreement, President Macron made a speech inviting the American scientists to come to France and continue their work. I was not sure how far it would go, but his invitation pleased me, and I knew the carte de séjour – passeport talent included a subsection for scientists doing research. So there was every reason to conclude that there was a possibility of offering them valid immigration status under existing legislation, although what I had seen only as a possibility, many in the media referred to as if it were a sure thing.As we often say, “Put your money where your mouth is” – The French government has done so, announcing that it was budgeting 30 million euros to welcome and hire foreign climate scientists, mainly Americans.

As I said in the previous issue, nobody knows for sure how many American scientists will leave their positions to go to work in France. My guess is not many, and probably only for a few years if they can get French funding to finish projects.

While I am happy with this initiative for many reasons, immigrating demands an accumulation of reasons, feelings, hopes and fears. For many people, including Americans, work is enough to envision changing cities or even states, and many in the USA move from coast to coast even if they do not have a job secured, simply filled with hope they will make it in, say, New York or Los Angeles.

Moving to a different country is a completely different thing. It entails a much more definitive uprooting, with considerable work needed to be able to bloom again in the place where one has decided to settle and put down new roots.

Here are the most obvious reasons I think France’s invitation is a good move:

  • 1 – It creates a sense of competition within the scientific community and French scientists can feel validated and challenged at the same time. This should motivate them to work even better.
  • 2 – French public research, especially at the university and doctorate level, has been underfunded for years. This could be an excellent opportunity to seek more funding for French scientists.
  • 3 – A country’s economy is closely linked to the optimism or pessimism of its consumers and entrepreneurs. I am not sure this decision will have an impact on consumers, especially a positive one, but I know it boosts entrepreneurs’ confidence even if their business is unrelated to the scientific world.
  • 4 – Given the erratic legislation regarding French immigration, with changes occurring way too often, making it harder for people to obtain legal immigration status, such a change could convince postgraduate students to choose to study in France again.

For further information, in English and French, see:

www.businessinsider.com/emmanuel-macron-american-climate-scientists-france-2017-6

abonnes.lemonde.fr/climat/article/2017/06/09/l-elysee-lance-un-site-web-pour-attirer-les-chercheurs-sur-le-climat_5141058_1652612.html

finance.yahoo.com/news/france-offering-us-scientists-4-154100285.html

www.lemonde.fr/climat/article/2017/06/17/climat-la-france-debloque-des-fonds-pour-attirer-des-chercheurs-etrangers_5146272_1652612.html

www.latribune.fr/technos-medias/french-tech-visa-la-france-deroule-le-tapis-rouge-aux-talents-etrangers-740267.html

 

NEW OBLIGATIONS FOR LANDLORDS IN FRANCE
French landlords have a reputation for renting apartments in dubious condition. A survey found that 90% of apartments failed the electricity safety test and 80% the gas test. Since there were no consequences for failing, however, the places were rented as is.  Many might think the latest regulation is another one that will have little real impact on landlords, but in fact it involves a drastic measure. If the apartment fails one of those safety checks, the apartment will be declared unrentable and get what the regulation calls a “non-décence” label (meaning “unsafe”). The regulation, effective on July 1st, applies to all buildings erected before 1975, which in Paris covers a lot of property. It may even be that the new regulation will apply criminal sanctions for unsanitary and dangerous lodging. We will see what happens soon, but this, too, feels like a revolution. French landlords will have to give their property a makeover when needed and really maintain it.

For more info (in French) see:  www.lemonde.fr/argent/article/2017/06/06/de-nouvelles-obligations-pour-les-proprietaires-bailleurs_5139460_1657007.html

MY OFFICE REMAINS OPEN IN JULY OR AUGUST
Since I just came back from vacation, I do not plan any further vacation and do not expect to go away for any length of time this summer. I will likely go on extended weekend trips in France.

CHURCH
Since I was away for about half of June there is not much to report. The last session is scheduled for July 5th and the sessions will resume on Wednesday September 6th.The Q/A “CHILDREN’S GUARDIANSHIP AND A JUDGE’S DECISION” will give you an idea of the off-session cases we work on. It is the story of a woman who initially went to the senior pastor of our church, who asked me to help her. It shows that, even though we do not just deal with refugees, many of our cases are truly heartbreaking.

PERSO
Paula and I visited New York City for four days. The highlight of this visit for me was Ground Zero. At first, the large crowd made it seem like just another tourist location, and as is often the case with such attractions, merchandising was almost everywhere. Then we went to the 9-11 tribute center. The guides are all volunteers who were there on 9-11 and took an active part in the rescue and cleanup. We were fortunate to have a firefighter and a city employee as guides, who offered two very different perspectives on what happened. At that point, it became easy to ignore the crowd and the merchandising. We listened spellbound to their gripping descriptions of what they saw, what they did and what happened to them and their colleagues. It was a lot more than just “explaining 9-11”. This was, by far, the most intense and gripping moment of my trip to the USA – looking into the two abyss-like pools of the memorial, after hearing the explanation of what it conveys as a message, with all the details, and how it is taken care of by the volunteers. After that visit we went up One World Trade Center; it felt like a caritature compared to the experience we had just had. But everybody is different; this was my experience.

I would like to remind everyone that there will be no August issue.

Best regards,

RETIREMENTS INVESTMENTS VIEWED BY FRENCH AND AMERICAN FISCAL LAW

QUESTION

I am an American who has lived in France for just a couple of years and I would like to know whether an IRA should be declared on French tax form 3916? On the US side, a French PERP is not reported on the FBAR. Is the same logic applied by the French administration?

 


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ANSWER

When one lives in two or more countries, things rarely fit neatly in each of them. Even treaties rarely eliminate problems but only reduce them.

The unpleasant answer to your question is yes, an IRA must be declared to the French tax authorities, as it is considered a bank account. Here is why.

First and possibly foremost, retirement funds in France are public, so individuals do not have their names on their accounts. There are numerous acronyms associated with the French pension system, and all these organizations should be considered part of the administration. All other investment vehicles are considered part of the banking industry, or rather finance industry, since in France banking, investment and insurance industry are combined, with companies offering this wide range of services.

The second reason, which derives from the first one, is that deferred tax or tax preferred accounts are not part of French retirement. Several of them are clearly meant to be for retirement, given the conditions in which one may start using their funds, but they are managed by the private sector.

One can easily compare an IRA with a PER by focusing on their similar features, and not looking too closely at the details. This is why, as you said, the IRS considers these accounts, obviously made for retirement, as similar to an IRA. But by the exact same logic, the French tax administration considers an IRA a personal bank-investment account.

The French equivalent of US Social Security involves organizations such as CNAV, CIPAV and RSI, to mention the most common ones. The commonest equivalents of US employer contribution and matching funds are ARRCO and AGIRC, while there are many equivalents of the IRA and similar accounts, such as are PER, PERP, PEA and assurance vie.

The biggest difference between the public and private systems is that money set aside in the public one does not go to an account that bears your name. You are accruing rights, not money. The money you put aside in a private account is always yours, regardless of limitations to using it before retirement age. The account bears your name!

The French administration does not distinguish between a checking account, a mutual fund, an annuity/life insurance, or a portfolio of stocks and bonds. The bank does it all. It also insures your car, your home, your business and so on.

As a final note, I would like to reassure you about the obligation to declare. Unlike the American IRS, the French tax authorities are currently pretty lenient about this. They just want to know if you have an account and with which organization. They are not interested in how much you have in it. Also, the consequences of not declaring are minor and consequently I am not sure the tax inspectors even enforce the requirement if they are omissions done in good faith.

MULTIYEAR CARTES DE SEJOUR: THE SITUATION CHANGES
QUESTION

I live in the USA and I would like to live in France. Do you know if I can get a student visa and then apply for a long-stay visa? Meaning I probably have to fly back to the States and reapply?

 


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ANSWER

I could answer this question with just one line: The student visa is a long-stay visa.

However, that clearly would not answer the issue underlying your question. It would be better to review the fundamentals of French immigration so you can see where you stand and what it means.

First, except on very rare occasions, American citizens do not need a tourist type of visa because a visa waiver program allows them to stay in the Schengen zone for up to 90 days (three months). At least, that is currently the case, although ever since the US Congress created the Electronic System for Travel Authorization (ESTA), the European Union has wanted to put something similar into effect, so the situation could change.

For now, because of the visa waiver program, it is reasonable to assume that any American asking for a French visa will be making a long stay. If the visa is valid for a year or allows the holder to ask for a carte de séjour, it is probably an immigration visa, which allows one to settle in France, maybe permanently if desired.

A one-year student immigration visa is an immigration visa. But many other types of immigration status exist in France.

There are currently 6 types of immigration status. (An immigration visa turns into an immigration ID once one arrives in France.)

  • visiteur
  • salarié
  • étudiant
  • vie privée et familiale
  • commerçant et artisan
  • Passeport talent.

The consequences of this categorization are critical because:
1 – Should you wish to change your status you can do so while staying in France, provided you meet the requirements. Changing to being an employee is different from changing to private and family life..
2 – Your question implies you already have in mind a step following student status. Maybe, just maybe, a student visa is not the right choice for you. You might be better off asking for the one you really want right away.

Obviously each type of carte de séjour has its own requirements. Furthermore, and this is critical, there are numerous subcategories. Thus one really needs to know pretty exactly what one wants to do in France to choose the right status at the right time. Almost all the nightmare stories one hears in the American community in France stem from one of two things:
1 – The file is incomplete and the prefecture asks for the missing documents, often forgetting to mention that others must be updated. This leads to numerous meetings, and the file never seems to be complete. The foreigner does not understand what is being asked for because in the prefecture’s eyes, what is needed goes without saying.
2 – The foreigner is asking for the wrong status, which usually results in a refusal due to non-compliance. Interestingly enough, when the wrong status does get approved, it is almost worse because it is a dead end. The situation is often impossible at renewal time. The entire procedure ends up being expensive and time-consuming for a disastrous result. The foreigner generally leaves France, unable to change or even just renew the immigration status.

I hope this explanation helps you make the right decision for you.


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CHILDREN’S GUARDIANSHIP AND A JUDGE’S DECISION
QUESTION

I live in France with my French partner. I was rushed to the hospital a couple of years ago, and my partner was not at home at the time. So social services took our daughter and I thought it would be for the time I was in the hospital. Two years later, they refuse to give back my daughter, invoking all kind of excuses. The last one is that one of his former girlfriends from a very long time ago has filed charges for domestic abuse and the police is taking this very seriously. I am sure he never did those things, so why are they talking about this? And even if he had done something like this about ten years ago, what does it have to do with my situation? I have an absolutely clean record with everybody. Can I tell the judge he is wrong? He should understand our situation.

 


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ANSWER

I could say, in response, “You should understand your situation!” Because if you did have a thorough understanding, you would be able to conform to what the system wants. You see your situation only through your eyes. Even if this is understandable, at first, if you want to get your daughter back you need to comply 100% with the system to be seen as responsible enough to give her a good, safe home.

I can imagine what must have happened and why you now face this situation, which has dragged on too long for your taste.

You were alone with your daughter when you were rushed to the hospital, and she could not be attended to right away. Your partner was probably unreachable, and no one else was there to take her so that your partner could pick her up later. This is not a normal situation, but such things can happen. So social services took your daughter and waited to see what would happen. I assume your partner went there to pick her up. Normally, after conducting a routine interview and gathering further information, they should have let him go home with the child. This did not happen. So I am pretty sure the interview did not go well. It is not common for social services to refuse to let a father take his child. When this does happen social services become quite suspicious of what is happening in the family and will keep the child until they are sure she will really be safe at home. At this point, it has nothing to do with you but is strictly about him.

When you got out of the hospital, you went to see social services to take your daughter home. During the interview, you described your life and how things are going with the three of you. What you said did not change their minds about the safety of the child. Whether their decision is right or wrong is completely irrelevant. You have to either convince them the household is fit for the child or go to court, hoping to be awarded custody of your daughter.

There was at least one court hearing, maybe more, and the ruling went against you. At this point, you need to figure out why the judge ruled this way and what is blocking you from getting your daughter back. Something needs to change, get fixed, whatever it takes, but there is no point in telling the judge he is wrong. What you need to do is submit persuasive evidence that your home is completely safe for a child.

The charges brought by your partner’s ex are probably the most damaging part. If she is accusing him of a misdemeanor (délit), there is a three-year statute of limitations, while a felony (crime) has a ten-year statute of limitations. If the alleged crime was a misdemeanor it means your family is quite recent and your little girl was very young, maybe not even a toddler, when you went into the hospital. The young age of the child can raise concerns. If it was a felony, then what your partner is facing is extremely serious. At this point, whether there will be a trial or not is irrelevant. I cannot imagine social services letting the child go back to the family while an investigation is pending, which means you must wait until, in the best scenario, the case is closed and all charges have been dropped.

In your view of the situation, you are a good mother, which to a certain extent is not the issue. To say it plainly, your partner is probably the main reason you are in this situation. His being the father of the child gives him rights and obligations. He has not reassured the social services and it is his obligation to do so. You may never know what, if anything, he did to his ex during their relationship. You may never know what happened when he went to social services the first time. You may not realize what happened when the two of you visited your daughter or when he went alone. My guess is that there is a compounding effect of all these things and you are in for a long battle with social services and the justice system.

Finally, it should go without saying that he must be completely truthful with you if you want to have a chance to get your daughter living at home soon.

I am sorry to be so blunt, but you really have only two options.

You can decide your priority is your family, including your relationship with your partner; you are in for the long haul. In that case you need to accept that your daughter will probably spend some years away from you until everything is settled. You also need to think of what will happen if your partner is convicted. Indeed, it will not help your case, especially if he serves time in prison.

Or you can decide your priority is your daughter and this situation has helped you realize he may not be the right man for you. You get your own place and put your life back in order as a potential single mom, and probably you can have your daughter with you soon after that.

As I said in the beginning, you must quickly understand your situation, then make the right decision. You alone can do that.

DISCLAIMER

Please forward this message to all those who would be interested in its contents. The information contained in this newsletter is intended as exclusively general information. Therefore, 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 be taken as professional advice


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