The Other Side of Life

May 2016

The Other Side of Life is the twelfth album by The Moody Blues, released in 1986. I have listened to their albums since I was a teenager, and have always found both the music and the lyrics thought-provoking and uplifting.

I chose this album more for its title than any of the lyrics, as it reminds me that life would so much simpler if we could see the other side of an issue, know what the other party was thinking, understand another type of logic, such as French logic, which so many people see as a contradiction in terms. Most of the topics I address this month attempt to show the two sides of the issue and how important – but difficult – it can be to figure out “the other side,” whatever it may be. It is really not about who is right or wrong, just an illustration of how things can go wrong due to misunderstandings.

THE FIRST RENEWAL OF THE EMPLOYEE CARTE DE SÉJOUR

Obtaining the employee carte de séjour is a rather long and tedious procedure since it requires authorization from the Foreign Labor Office (Main d’Oeuvre Etrangère) of DIRECCTE, which is the regional business, competition, consumption, work and employment department. The MOE office has a veto right based on the unemployment ratio in the applicant’s profession. While reviewing files, MOE civil servants surf the web and check out a few things before making decisions. There are a lot of negative answers.

To inspectors, everything looks suspicious. The civil servants of DIRECCTE always assume that there is an underhanded scheme to discover. Therefore, when a foreigner asking for the first renewal of the carte de séjour has started working for a different employer, they immediately suspect fraud. Was the first employer bribed to sponsor the foreigner? Was the employee so bad that the he or she had to be dismissed after such a short time?

Article 5221-36 of the labor code (code du travail) states that renewal of the right to work can be refused if the foreigner changes employers during the first year, unless the change is involuntary on the part of the employee: Le premier renouvellement peut également être refusé lorsque le contrat de travail a été rompu dans les douze mois suivant l'embauche sauf en cas de privation involontaire d'emploi.

This means it is suspicious to leave your job for a better one, and the person can be punished for that, whereas it is understandable and therefore acceptable when the employee is laid off or fired – which looks very unfair to American eyes.

Such situations happen quite often, however. It is often difficult to find a job in France. It almost always takes a long time, several months, if not years, so foreign students often latch onto the first good offer received. This means they make sure that they submit the file requesting the change of status before the immigration card expires. Since such decisions need to be taken early, the students obviously cannot predict the results of their intensive job searches. Therefore it is extremely common that several months later these foreigners get interviews and possibly are offered better jobs. An agonizing dilemma starts right there: if a different request is then submitted to DIRECCTE, it can seem inconsistent, and the civil servants look at this change negatively. Foreigners can also wait to change jobs until the procedure with the first employer is finalized. Then and only then, they change jobs, i.e., after getting the immigration status. But choosing that option is contingent with taking a rather high risk of being denied the right to work as an employee because of this abovementioned legal provision. Until recently the student carte de séjour only lasted a year. Although its validity can now be up to four years, students still must deal with the quandary described above.

The reality is not as harsh as the above description. Usually taking what is obviously a better job, especially with better pay, secures the right to live in France rather than risking it. Nevertheless, I find this provision very French because a dismissal is seen as “one of those things” and has no negative implications for the employee, while taking a better job looks suspicious.

LIST OF COUNTRIES WHOSE CITIZENS NEED NO VISA TO ENTER FRANCE

Many Americans traveling to France think that entering the country without a visa is normal and that everybody is treated the same way. The truth is that France offers this privilege to the citizens of very few countries. Here is the list:

Albania,* Andorra, Antigua, Argentina, Australia, Bahamas, Barbados, Barbuda, Bosnia, Brazil, Brunei Dar-es-Salam, Canada, Chile, Costa Rica, Croatia, El Salvador, Guatemala, and Herzegovina,* Vatican/Holy See, Honduras, Israel, Japan, Malaysia, Macedonia,* Mauritius, Mexico, Monaco, Montenegro,* Nicaragua, New Zealand, Panama, Paraguay, Saint Kitts and Nevis, San Marino, Serbia,* Seychelles, Singapore, South Korea, Taiwan (passport bearing number of the identity card), Uruguay, USA, Venezuela.

*holders of biometric passports only

As many of those countries are small Caribbean island nations the size of an American city or county, this right is granted to relatively few people. One consequence of the recent terrorism is that the list could shrink even more.

FRENCH MINORS NEED PARENTAL AUTHORIZATION TO LEAVE FRANCE

The National Assembly voted on October 8th 2015 that a minor desiring to travel outside of France had to have authorization from his or her parents to leave the country. The new law was pushed through the Assemblée Nationale very quickly, though my research indicates that the measure has not yet gone into effect.

The necessity of such parental authorization was the norm for a very long time and it was abandoned in 2013, since it was considered at that time that traveling within the EU did not pose any dangers and EU law granted freedom to travel throughout EU territory.

What made the October vote urgent was not that EU countries have become more dangerous, but rather that the EU is facing a global risk. Enforcing this law in airports is expected to stop minors from traveling to Syria and enrolling in ISIS forces. On the other hand, because of regulations within the Schengen zone, it is possible that minors’ IDs will not be checked until they leave the European zone by car or train. Trips to Syria are much more difficult when they necessitate crossing Europe by train or car instead of taking direct flights to destinations outside of Europe like Turkey.

It does not seem that the legislative process is finished: this provision has not yet been implemented. So it would appear that what was considered urgent in October is no longer top priority, despite the recent terrorist attacks in Europe.

This measure applies to French children. Foreign children need to hold a French ID for minors called the document de circulation hors du territoire français or titre d’identité républicain, since as minors they cannot hold a titre de séjour. Both parents must submit written agreement to permit the issuance of such a card.

FRENCH INCOME TAX: TIME TO DECLARE AND PAY

Regarding the more mundane topic of income tax, I would like to remind everybody that the paper version of the 2015 income declaration must be filed in France before Wednesday May 18th and the second partial income tax payment (deuxième tiers) is to be paid before May 15th (midnight, in both cases). The forms are now available on the website www.impots.gouv.fr. It is now possible to file your declaration on this website, provided it is not your first time. To do so, you need your tax ID number and some access codes.

If you file online, the deadline is later. The schedule depends on your postal code:

  • départements 01 to 19 must file by midnight on May 24th
  • départements 20 to 49 by May 31st
  • départements 50 or higher by June 7th.

An important reminder: if you are a French fiscal resident (i.e. if you hold a carte de séjour or an immigration visa validated with an OFII stamp, and comply with the requirements), you must declare your worldwide income to the French authorities even if you have no income in France and do not have the right to work in France. There is no penalty for neglecting to file. However, not complying with this obligation is illegal and can have consequences. The second Q/A this month shows how critical filing will be for people insured under the CMU (now called PUMA)

The four situations that define a French fiscal resident are:

  1. Staying in France for 183 days in a calendar year, whether you have legal immigration status or not.
  2. Having immediate family members who reside in France (a spouse and/or children).
  3. Having a French employer.
  4. Running a French business, even something like tutoring schoolchildren in English.

There are now government-sponsored advertising campaigns stating that the paper form is a “has been” and that filing on paper is obsolete. Right now, declaring electronically gives you an extension of a few weeks. I believe the next step will be that using the paper form will engender additional fees, thus creating a financial incentive to go paperless.

INCREASE OF MY FEES ON OCTOBER 1st 2016

It has been about six years since my fees last increased. On October 1st, I will raise my initial retainer from 250€ to 270€ and the hourly rate from 100€ to 110€.

MY OFFICE WILL NOT CLOSE DURING THE SUMMER VACATION

Since my office situation has not been resolved and I do not anticipate being able to move before August or early September, I am not planning any vacation time and do not expect to go away for any length of time this summer. Depending on the outcome of my office search and how quickly it proceeds, this could change some – but not much, considering the fact that any changes would be last minute.

LOOKING FOR AN OFFICE

I have to move by September 15th and have started looking for a new office. Here are the characteristics I have in mind:

  • Very quiet, which means in the courtyard rather than on the street
  • On the ground floor or one floor up, or in a building with an elevator
  • Monthly rent no more than about 1,000€ TTC
  • One room or, at most, two rooms, about 30m2 to 50m2
  • Completely independent entrance which is not shared with other offices
  • No more than a five-minute walk from a major metro stop.


Best regards,
Jean Taquet

WHY CHANGE THE PICTURE IN THE CARTE DE SÉJOUR RENEWAL?

QUESTION

 

I am an American and at the end of December I went to the prefecture for the annual renewal of my carte de séjour. It was my 11th time going through this process, and, for once, everything went smoothly. They called my number within 15 minutes of my scheduled time; the interview itself took less than a half hour. I found myself standing on the banks of the Seine at 10h.

 

Twelve weeks later, I went to pick up the card only to discover that they did not have a card for me. They needed another photo even though I had given them the required photos in December. No one would explain why a single new photo was now required. (C'est nécessaire, monsieur. C'est tout.) So I went into the hallway where there was a photo machine, paid my 5€, and handed the new photos over to them. They clipped out only one and returned the others to me along with a note saying I could pick up my new card in a month!

 

I was just wondering if you have heard of anyone else going through this sort of thing, and if, by chance, you know why the extra photo was required.


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ANSWER

Throughout the years, the quality of the picture required and the ever-stricter specifications make it increasingly difficult to get an acceptable photo. It used to be for most IDs that there were close to no requirements other than the most obvious one, that it looked like the person! But now these pictures are scanned, and in the case of the titre de séjour in France, they are reproduced in a hologram on the card, so the quality of the picture must be such that this is possible. So, for example, no more smiling in the picture because, I was told, in the scanning process teeth reflect light and make it difficult to recognize the person. It is the same thing for people wearing glasses. Everyone who has to deal with getting a new carte de séjour, a new passport, and so on, has been confronted with extra scrutiny, with civil servants looking at the pictures from all possible angles. If they have any doubt, they ask for a new photo.

Despite the extreme vigilance, it still happens that the result of the scan is unusable and there is a need for a new picture. The procedure I am used to is that the entire file is sent back to the prefecture with the request to have the person come with the new pictures. In your case, they waited until you came to the prefecture and asked you to give them a new picture on the spot, since there are photo machines on the premises.

“Why just one?” is a very good question. The form that the prefecture uses during the normal procedure requires an identical picture on each side. Usually when the file is sent back, the civil servant throws away this form and creates a new one with two new pictures. I do not know why this rather cumbersome procedure was not applied to you and why you were asked to provide just one picture to be scanned. I am not sure there is a reasonable explanation, other than that the people working at the prefecture decided it was so!

One thing I find very interesting is the two opposite evaluations of the situation implied in your question. You are clearly annoyed by the situation and it sounds like you blame the civil servants for having picked on you and having postponed the date the card is available. But, knowing the prefecture as I do, I can see them thinking that this is no big deal and there is no reason to send back the file, forcing you to get a new appointment where your situation is reviewed and therefore more recent documents are required. So my question would be, why did you get such favorable treatment?

I am sure you will agree with me that at the Paris prefecture going to pick up the card and going to an interview are two totally different experiences. The first is barely stressful and the wait is very often short. The second, as you implied, is very stressful and one normally waits for hours. Clearly you and the prefecture see this incident very differently, to say the least.

WHAT HAS CHANGED NOW THAT THE PUBLIC HEALTH COVERAGE CALLED CMU HAS BECOME PUMA?

QUESTION

I saw an article on french-property.com about British people retiring early in France and getting French health care coverage and how new legislation affects foreigners. There is no longer Couverture Médicale Universelle (CMU), which has been changed to Protection Universelle Maladie (PUMA). What interested me was the mandatory wait before signing on to this new program. This would seem to cover my case, though the article does not go into details about the French government wanting 8% of my total worldwide income as a health insurance premium. I will be 70 years old in April 2016, and as an American I would certainly not be one of the “early retirees” that the British-oriented newsletter is worried about.


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ANSWER

It is true that the situations of a British citizen and an American citizen living in France are totally different, and therefore advice for one is rarely good for the other. I would like to explain why this is a non-issue for you as an American.

The European Union treaties grant the right to EU citizens of member countries to travel anywhere and settle anywhere within the EU. This is why the EU is sometimes called “the United States of Europe”, although the complete transition to a full federal structure is far from been done. The EU, with some difficulty, is trying to manage two phenomena that are very well known in the USA.

The first can be summed up with the example of liquor stores located near the borders of two states with different regulations on liquor sales. This is the case of the border between the states of Delaware and Maryland. In Europe, think of British people crossing the Channel to buy alcohol or get medical treatment.

The second phenomenon is people motivated by a financial crisis to move to a better place. This has happened several times in US history, as exemplified in the novel The Grapes of Wrath by John Steinbeck. Maybe because the EU is not very advanced in the federal process and because nationalist feeling prevails over European allegiance, member countries try to avoid having people move just to obtain social benefits, such as welfare, universal health coverage and family subsidies in France. As an example, the CMU program, now called PUMA, is not available to other EU citizens for their first five years in France. During that period, they are covered by the health insurance of their country of origin, which in some cases makes the French medical system too expensive for them. If they have work in France, however, whether self-employed or as an employee, they are almost immediately covered. This shows that the freedom of traveling and settling can be protected without being a drain on social programs. So, in reply to your comment regarding “the mandatory wait before signing on this new program,” for EU nationals the delay has existed for a long time and continues to exist under the new PUMA program.

The new way the 8% premium is calculated to pay for the health coverage does, however, involve a radical change for many foreigners. Under the CMU, the insured person made an annual declaration, attaching a French or a foreign tax document, such as an American 1040, to prove the veracity of the declaration. Since the insure was charged a fixed percentage of income which was not based on age and medical condition, this was considered very fair, with one paying what one could afford. For some wealthy foreigners, on the other hand, it was more expensive than the private sector and therefore they never signed up for this program unless they had a pre-existing condition or were dumped by the insurance company due to a serious illness.

Now, however, it seems that there will be no need for an annual declaration. The French health care agency may soon be able to get the amount to invoice from the French income tax statement. This is great for the vast majority of people living in France, but it could create a serious problem for a small category of people. Non-EU citizens holding a carte de séjour mention visiteur are not obliged to declare their income to France if they state that they are not French fiscal residents. Until now, the CPAM has accepted an IRS 1040 form as the document proving that there has been an income tax declaration. With the new system, it appears that everybody who used to be covered by the CMU and did not declare their income to France will now required to do so if they wish to keep this coverage under PUMA. Currently, there is no clear information available and both URSSAF and the tax office have received no information about how to handle this new medical billing. One can hope that the French tax office will accept a voluntary income declaration for the purpose of calculating the PUMA premium. I am not optimistic but we will see.

For some people, this double French and American income tax declaration makes the process quite expensive, since it is calculated on American income including pensions, all of which now have to be declared in France. For others, it forces them to show their worldwide income and therefore allows the tax authorities to make an estimate of their net worth, which could later make the PUMA recipients subject to the French wealth tax after five years of residence in France.

These consequences should not be overlooked and it would be wise to anticipate these future problems and come up with a Plan B dependent on individual situations before the income tax declaration is due.

DISCLAIMER
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 be taken as professional advice.


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