Through the Looking-Glass

May - 2015

Through the Looking-Glass is a novel written by Lewis Carroll in 1871. It is the sequel to Alice's Adventures in Wonderland.The book starts with Alice sliding behind the mirror on top of the mantle and seeing what is happening around her from a completely different angle.

Both of Lewis Carroll's books take place in a fantasyland. Settling in a foreign country very often gives the impression of landing in a place where the rule of a crazy, vicious queen creates complete chaos.

In 1980, I spent a week at the University of Notre Dame, on my first trip to the USA. I attended an English literature class, where I studied these two books. This trip was also where I first experienced culture shock as a young French adult. Most of the topics addressed in this issue deal with the impression that the French administration is either condescending or erratic and confusing.

IN FRANCE, FOREIGNERS EARN THEIR RIGHTS THE HARD WAY
A reader writes, quoting the April 2015 issue: -No one is born French; one learns to be French by sharing the values that France stands for.-
"He is not referring to the ability to hold a French passport, but his vision of what the ideal French nation should look like. Understanding what he means would help foreigners feel much better about handling the required paperwork!"
She continues:
-This reminds me of my naturalization at the French Consulate of San Francisco with my French husband in 1997. My husband made an offhand comment about French citizenship being my right, and was promptly reproved by the consular official: "Ah, non, Monsieur! être français n'est pas un droit, c'est un privilège!

-I have always felt privileged to be a French citizen and the paperwork was all worth it. Got a nice welcome letter from M. Chirac as well, welcoming me to the French nation. 🙂

MY ANSWER
Indeed, the French administration makes sure you feel that you are granted French citizenship - or any other immigration status as a foreigner, for that matter - because they have decided to do so and not because you have a right to obtain it, even though you know you fully comply with the requirements. In those days, the naturalization process was pretty automatic, but this never deterred the administration from making you feel like you got it by the seat of your pants.

Today the issue is really different. The current prime minister was born not French but Spanish, and was naturalized when he was 20. Therefore his vision derives from that, and just being born French is not enough. In his mind what makes you French is the fact you know and respect the legacy of centuries of French history. He expects French people to respect and therefore endorse what France stands for. Thus he goes far beyond what was commonly said before. Of course, he has to, because the far right is attacking him for not being French enough.

I will be interested to see how far he goes in politics, since for the first time that I can remember, a member of the French government who is associated with the left has proclaimed how truly proud he is to be French. Since he was not born French, his message is much more authentic than such a message generally is.

RENEWAL OF THE CARTE DE RÉSIDENT SHOULD BE AUTOMATIC
Another reader writes:
-I finally went through the 3rd or 4th renewal of my carte de résident with the Parisian préfecture after nearly a year of procedure started in March 2014 by submitting the application in the mail. I got the card, after lots of anxiety and correspondence, in early March this year, 2015. The expiration of the card was in July 2014.

-It was quite a slog but I hope this is the last one, as I do not want to be around as a late ninety-year-old man or, heaven forbid, a centenarian after this card expires.

MY ANSWER
Here is a perfect example of the difference between what the law says and what happens at the préfecture.The law on this topic has not changed for decades; renewal of the carte de résident is automatic, except in three cases:

  • – 1. The applicant has served a criminal sentence.
  • – 2. He/she poses a threat to national security as a terrorist.
  • – 3. The applicant has been resident elsewhere for over three years.

If you do not fit one of those situations then you know for sure that the card will be renewed. That is the legal position.

I recently accompanied a client to the central office of the Paris préfecture because her carte de résidentwas being renewed. I was able to get some explanation of the current situation from the civil servant we saw. This person said that the office in charge of this task had been reorganized and new management appointed. As a result, within a few months it got totally disorganized, to the point that what usually took three to four months quickly went to six, then to a year. According to this civil servant, there is no way of knowing when it will be back to normal. So this service is not answering the phone or replying to emails. Although there is a cTake-A-Number ticket dispenser on site, taking a number in order to see one of the préfecture employees does not mean one will automatically be served, as this machine is either for the use of people who already have appointments or who are applying for other immigration papers that do not necessitate an appointment. With some persuasion, we managed to start the conversation and be reassured as to where the récépissé was issued, i.e., at one of the Centres de Réception des Etrangers. (C.R.E.). It is unwise to stay in France with expired papers for several months, even for Americans.

All I can say in response to the rest of your comment is that we can only hope the current problem will have been fixed ten years from now!

THE HARSHEST IMMIGRATION LAW WAS ENFORCED BETWEEN 1993 AND 1997
-Something strange happened to us too, still another reader writes on this topic. We applied as a family for French citizenship because my former husband wanted to.

-We were at the final step when the Minister of Interior, Mr. Charles Pasqua, declared zero immigration and this very tough law was approved. An elusive letter said they were not actually refusing us but we should wait and start all over again in three years!

Well, I said a few chosen words and threw all the paperwork in the garbage, feeling that I did not really need citizenship to carry on my life in France.

MY ANSWER
This must have happened exactly as it happened to me, under the so-called Pasqua-Debré laws, which were in effect in 1993-97. I faced the same attitude coming from a completely different angle. The painful incident I described in the last issue occurred during that time.

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 2014 income declaration must be filed in France before May 19th and the second partial income tax payment (deuxième tiers) is to be paid before May 15th (midnight, in both cases). The forms have been available since April 15th on the website www.impots.gouv.fr. It is now possible to file your declaration on this website, provided that it is not your first time filing (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 26th,
  • – départements 20 to 49 by June 2nd and
  • – départements 50 or higher by June 9th.

An important reminder: if you are a French fiscal resident (i.e., basically if you hold a carte de séjour or an immigration visa validated with an OFII stamp), you must declare your worldwide income to the French authorities even if you do not earn any income in France, do not have the right to work in France or truly do not work in France. Just because there is no penalty to pay does not mean it is legal to neglect to file.

 

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.

OFFICE TO CLOSE FOR A NON-SUMMER VACATION!
My office will be closed from the evening of Wednesday June 3rd until 9AM on Wednesday June 17th. As always, I will be reachable by email for emergencies and important matters. The service I offer of receiving mail for clients will continue while the office is closed. I will let individual clients know how to receive or retrieve their mail during this period.


Best regards,
Jean Taquet

THE FRENCH SOCIAL SECURITY NUMBER

QUESTION

I am a self-employed American living in France and I cannot create a personal account with CIPAV, RSI and URSAFF, because apparently my French social security number is either incomplete or perhaps not right.
Can you advise me on how to get attestations from any of them saying that I am paid up, as I need them for the préfecture to renew my carte de séjour?


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ANSWER

You do indeed need to show the préfecture the following statements:

  • –  URSSAF - attestation de compte à jour, the statement showing that you are paid up with them
    –  RSI-RAM - attestation de compte à  jour attestation d'ouverture de droits, which shows that you are covered by them. As for CIPAV, you do not need a statement from them to get your card renewed, but you can always ask for an attestation de compte à jour.

You also need to show the bills from those organizations and the schedule of payments you receive at the beginning of the year.

Even if you do not have a valid French social security number, with just your ID (carte de séjour or passport) or your tax ID number (numéro SIRET) you can go to the appropriate branch of each organization to get these documents. Thus obtaining them can be time consuming but relatively easy. (Never underestimate the waiting time in those places.) Another solution is to call and ask to have them sent by mail or, even better, by email. The wait to get someone on the phone can also be long and the mail can take several days.

This situation underlines the fact that, unlike in the USA, in France the social security number pertains to a range of social benefits, rather than just pensions, but is not used as a generic ID N. It can sometimes feel like each organization issues its own ID number; some are shared but others are specific to the organization. For example, URSSAF never uses the social security number, but insists on getting its own number before it will do any research; on the other hand, it may agree to use the numéro SIRET to find you in the database. I admit that it is all very confusing.

As for your statement that -my French social security number is either incomplete, or perhaps, not right,- I have a hard time believing that INSEE could issue a wrong or incomplete number, although I can understand that perhaps your frustration makes you feel that this is the case. I would like to explain how the number is constructed to show how improbably it is that it is incomplete or wrong. Virtually the entire number is based on your location and date of birth.

Take, for example, the number 2 64 04 99 404 xxx xx

  • – 2 is for a woman (a man's number would start with 1)
  • – 64 is the year of birth, in this case 1964
  • – 04 is the month of birth, i.e., April
  • – 99 means the person was born outside of France
  • – 404 stands for the USA and means that is where the person was born.

Then come three digits issued by the computer system, followed by two digits called the key, which are the result of a complex math formula.

Once you receive a number that shows all this, you know you have the definitive one. The need for official proof of this information explains why it takes so long to get the definitive number from INSEE, and why you have to produce an original birth certificate, with its official translation. Way too much derives from this document.

When you enter the system as an adult foreigner, INSEE issues a temporary ID number so you can benefit from the health coverage and other benefits. Generally, a temporary ID number cannot be used to create a personal account online. The reason is that the software in the website translates these numbers into the information it represents as I have illustrated just above. A temporary ID number is made of too many 9s or 0s, which cannot represent the situation of a real person. Therefore the computer software declares it invalid.

If you have been struggling for about a year, which I assume is the case since your carte de séjour is up for renewal, it means your file has been stuck for a long time because there is something wrong with it. I believe it is most likely that your request is trapped either in the Auray RSI office or at INSEE because of some anomaly on the birth certificate you gave them. In any case, go to your local RSI branch to ask where the file is stuck and request that they check to see if the right document was supplied, meeting their full requirements for an original birth certificate with an official seal, i.e., the de Hague apostille, both documents have been officially translated. An efficient procedure takes less than six months, so you can see that something went really awry here.>

CARTE DE SEJOUR VIE PRIVEE ET FAMILIALE AFTER A BREAK-UP

QUESTION

I am American who was PACSed for five years, and I recently de-PACSed with my French partner. My carte de séjour expires in November. I am a student and will be done with my internship in mid-June. Do I have to change my status now, or only when I apply for another visa? I am afraid to change status because I have heard so many horror stories of the préfecture deporting expats because they believe they are cheating the system. I just want to stay until the end of the visa and I will leave. What are the necessary steps I need to take so that I can stay until the end of my visa?


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ANSWER

I understand your concerns but in order to address the right ones, I need to identify the situation and the solutions you will choose from. You are right to be afraid of what the préfecture can do, since you must change the grounds on which you will request your next carte de séjour. Choosing the right one is critical, as it has an immediate impact on your life in France, as well as when it comes to renewal, as some are easier to renew than others. I often compare the préfecture to a shop where foreigners should be able to choose among the many types of immigration status available, picking the one that best suits their specific situation. So, before jumping to conclusions, you should review your current situation.
You obtained your first carte de séjour mention vie privée et familiale after having lived with a French partner for at least one year and being PACSed in France. Therefore I assume you have lived in France at least five years and maybe longer. I also assume you have been a full-time student the entire time and that you may be finishing your courses soon.

So, you have a choice between requesting renewal of your carte de séjour mention vie privée et familiale, on the basis of the overall long-lasting ties you have had with France, or changing status. In the préfecture's view, a PACSed relationship that lasts more than five years opens the right to the vie privée et familiale card. This card allows you to work full-time and is not related to your success in school. Thus, this would in effect be the ideal card for you now and in the future, once you are ready to look for a job and start your career.

Alternatively, you could ask for the carte de séjour mention étudiant. I assume you would not encounter too much trouble, as you are indeed a student, but the préfecture has the right to evaluate your studies to decide if they are "good enough" for you to have this card. Furthermore it would make it a lot more difficult to get your first full-time job in France. The reasons are:
– it is very difficult to get a first full-time job in France,

– the duration of the procedure and the risk of a negative answer discourage potential employers

– when the procedure is successful, the employer must pay a tax equal to 60% of your monthly salary

Hence, it is obviously in your best interest to continue with the carte de séjour mention vie privée et familiale.

Be aware that the préfecture closely scrutinizes all requests where the status has changed, even if they do not entail changing the name of the card. It is quite possible  especially with the carte de séjour mention vie privée et familiale, which has so many different categories  that the grounds on which the card is issued change but the mention stays the same. This type of request must be addressed as if you had to prove everything the way you did when you had just got off the plane. What makes this situation risky is that you are losing one status and the file does not prove that you fully qualify for the new one. Horror stories about the préfecture almost always involve applicants who put together a file that does not meet expectations and so are told to come back again and again. Your goal is to submit the perfect file so the préfecture cannot refuse your request. In your case, this means documenting the five years that the relationship lasted, the progress you made in your studies, and any jobs and internships you did  in short, everything that shows how well you definitively made your life in France. You present all of yourself!

Now, practically speaking, I would advise you to wait until November for your appointment, in the case you need extra time to prepare the file. You are also obliged to declare your change of address and change of relationship status. The change of address can be done easily at the nearest police station without affecting your carte de séjour. It is better for you if the préfecture learns as late as possible that you are now single.

One other thing I would like to point out is that, contrary to what you imply, the préfecture does not believe all requests for a change of status are motivated by a desire to cheat the system. As I said, the préfecture reviews requests very thoroughly in order to be certain that the applicant complies with current requirements.

The last but not the least of my comments is that it is unheard of for an American or Canadian citizen to be deported just because they have lost their French immigration status. Letting one's papers lapse is never the best solution, but in some instances being without any French immigration documentation for a few months or so  because the process is taking a very long time, or one needs to transition from one status to another can be a reasonable risk to take.

The bottom line: do not act in fear, but find out what is best for you and act accordingly, and with confidence that it will work.


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