“Knockin’ on Heaven’s Door” is a song by Bob Dylan, written for the soundtrack of the 1973 film Pat Garret and Billy the Kid.
I personally prefer the 1987 version by Guns N’ Roses.
In 1987, Guns N’ Roses started performing the song. A live version of the song was released on the maxi-single of “Welcome to the Jungle” the same year.
When going through a time of despair in a foreign country, people may often wish to find a door that would open the way to escaping the misery. Every immigrant goes through this phase at least once in their new country of residence. In many ways it has nothing to do with how difficult or easy it is to integrate into the new land. It comes from almost physically feeling the pain of being torn apart inside, the “old you” just wants to go back home. From this, the new country seems barbaric – nothing works, nothing feels safe, there are moments of paranoia. Nowadays it is easy to go to another country; you can fly for a few hours and reach a different continent. If you are well off, you can quickly secure a home and the basic necessities of life, and the immigration procedure can even feel like a breeze when you are properly assisted. But even wealthier people, once they choose to immerse themselves in the new country and to be part of a new community, go through such crises. Wishing you were “Knockin’ on Heaven's Door,” or climbing a “Stairway to Heaven,” is then a familiar desire.
I had other reasons as well for choosing this title.
THE IRAQ WAR KNOCKED ON MY DOOR
Most of the time, I spend my day at the office going through my daily routine. Clients come in and leave after an hour or two. This is called “making a living.” I have the privilege of my living being my passion. Some days it even feels like I was called to do this. Clearly, I love what I am doing after close to 22 years.
Then come precious moments that are the experience of a lifetime.
I wrote about the terrorist attack against the magazine Charlie Hebdo right after it happened:
FREEDOM OF SPEECH – THE ATTACK IN PARIS ON WEDNESDAY JANUARY 7th, 2015
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.
I did not know then that I would publish the following in my September 2016 issue:
Face to face with…
Indeed face to face with what?
The answer to this question makes all the difference in the world.
It can be good but most of the time it is bad.
Foreigners are faced with all kinds of difficult situations, with doubts, misunderstandings, and this list can go on for a very long time.
“In the face of death” – for most of us, it is just an expression, which, thankfully we just about always misuse.
In this column, I describe my encounter with one of the victims of a recent terrorist attack that occurred in France. This person came to my office and I was face to face with a reality that shook me to the bone.
Life is rarely a bed of roses; being an immigrant too often feels like being comfortable will never happen again.
Meeting this young man, who had such a broken body, and sharing with him more silence than words for what happened to him, was chilling and made the impression of a lifetime on me.
Then came March 2019. Once again the news is about an outbreak of violence and it feels like only slight exaggeration to say that all countries now have to deal with dangerous aggression, often mass shootings.
Just a few days after the New Zealand mosque attacks, I had the usual type of meeting, discussing a project, a business plan, the outcome of the procedure with the prefecture. I have known this client for about nine months; she is tough and has a military backbone. I know from previous discussions that she did several tours of duty, mostly in Iraq. That day, we did not get any work done. There was a lack of focus; something was wrong. Finally, I asked her what has happened. All I got is, “He committed suicide.” So I asked, “Did he make it?” A painful look and she answered, “He is dead.” A brother-in-arms, very close to her, suffering from PTSD, had killed himself a few days before. She told me, in broken words, that he had fought at Fallujah and had done several tours of duty in Iraq.
Military personnel, regardless of which of the armed forces they belong to, can share and understand the bond that often exists, and the deeply disturbing effect of learning of the suicide of someone so close. I respectfully asked her if I could write about this. I would not have dared to write anything without her approval. Here is her unedited answer:
“I would not mind at all if you'd like to write about this. I think these kinds of things can be good for people to hear, even if they are a bit depressing. The problems of suicide and the struggle of veterans after the war are always kept very quiet in everyday life, but it is a subject that can always use some attention.”
This outrageous situation rarely makes the news. When it does, we see staggering statistics about how many veterans of the Iraq and Afghanistan wars have killed themselves, and how many suffer from extreme PTSD. Behind these numbers are situations similar to this one, brothers and sisters in arms weeping, and parents, spouse and children devastated.
One needs to realize that all combat personnel go through tough training to carry out missions in which they risk their lives every single time. The ability to be an excellent trained warrior comes with a cost. The human cost becomes staggering for those who undertake multiple combat deployments. Living with the daily presence of death takes a significant toll on a person.
At the end of this discussion, each of us in our own words was saying that no matter how tough we are on the outside, it does not help a bit with the struggle against the enemy that is inside the soul. I knew I could not even remotely compare her military experience with mine. It would have been offensive, considering how she served while I never left France and knew I would not be deployed anywhere.
We were both teary when she left. That is how the Iraq war came to my office on March 18th, 2019. I would have loved it if it had not, but it came anyway.
RAM, MANAGING HEALTH COVERAGE FOR THE SELF-EMPLOYED, HAS MOVED
There has been some serious reorganization at RAM, the public organization that deals with health coverage for self-employed workers. I do not know how long it will operate before being completely be taken over by Assurance Maladie, but for now it still serves the people it covers, i.e. those who registered as independent workers before the 1st of January 2019.
The most important development is that the branch almost next door to the Paris prefecture, at 28 bis boulevard de Sébastopol in the 4th arrondissement, closed on March 18. The one at 59 rue Cambronne in the 15th is still open to the public without appointment from 9am to 12:15pm and 1:15 to 5pm Monday through Friday. There is also a new office at 11 rue Beaurepaire in the 10th, with the same hours.
ETIAS VERSUS ESTA – TIT FOR TAT BETWEEN THE USA AND EUROPE
Members of the American expat community have been concerned after hearing through the grapevine that as of January 2021 a new EU regulation will oblige Americans to get a visa just to visit Europe. This is totally fake news, but let’s look at what is actually going on.
Since January 12, 2009, any citizen of a country benefiting from the US visa waiver program has been required to go through the Electronic System for Travel Authorization (ESTA) screening procedure, which the USA imposed unilaterally. The people concerned mostly shrugged, as this was one more measure by the USA to screen non-American legal aliens who wanted to come as tourists. For ten years, then, American citizens have had preferential treatment when visiting Europe, as they can just present their passport and enter, subject to a regulation that allows them to stay in the 26 countries of the Schengen area for up to 90 days within a given 180-day period.
Eventually, in an effort to unify EU security as a whole and enhance the security of the residents of EU countries, the European Union adopted the European Travel Information and Authorization System (ETIAS), which is simply a European replica of ESTA. The European Commission says the new system will be enforced, as an effort to upgrade international security, as of January 1, 2021.
This will have an immediate effect on the leniency of the French police regarding North Americans who stay in France past the Schengen limits. As I have repeatedly said here, that leniency is rapidly shrinking, and no one can count on it any longer. While the fines issued are low, rarely more than 30€ to 50€ for this violation alone, the bad news is that the police stamp a record of the fine in the passport. That makes strict compliance with the Schengen regulation an absolute must anywhere within the Schengen area to avoid hefty fines and maybe a ban from entering France and all the other countries enforcing the regulation.
Once there is a central data system that all European police can check when they swipe the passport, leniency becomes impossible. Every trip that involves facing a custom passport control officer will be recorded in this database. I am just speculating, but it is possible that airlines will be connected to the database for information gathering, without being able to change the information.
For American citizens who still live most of the time in France without immigration documents, this is a powerful wake-up call. We now know the deadline after which it will be impossible for them to continue, and I am sure the leniency will shrink even more as we get closer to the date.
Help fight the tall tale about visas by explaining that it is tit for tat – ETIAS against ESTA – and the obligation to comply with the law, which should be the normal thing to do.
A READER WRITES ABOUT BREXIT CONSEQUENCES AT PREFECTURES OUTSIDE PARIS
Prefecture of Saint Brieuc in Brittany
I am a regular reader of your column and find it extremely interesting. Your piece on Brexit is correct except not all prefectures are coping with the influx of Britons applying for a carte de séjour. We live in Còtes d’Armor. The prefecture in St Brieuc has been so overwhelmed that they cancelled all carte de séjour appointments from 18th February. They have said that they cannot process the cartes until the results of Brexit are known, and those of us who applied earlier for them will have to change them if there is no deal. The rush for them has caused a problem for third-country citizens who have applied. My American grandson has been waiting since August for his. He has been here since he was 7 and is now 19, so should have his adult carte, but due to an error by the prefecture in 2006 he had the wrong carte and now his whole life is on hold until they have the time to sort it out.
The knock-on effect of Brexit is much more far reaching than was envisioned.
So please be tolerant of my inability to juggle social media outlets. Going through my website or sending an email directly is the best way to reach me, and lately just about the only way, as I have less and less opportunity to pick up the phone since I am usually in a meeting or outside the office.
Prefecture of Nanterre, Parisian suburb
FYI, I forwarded the March 2019 newsletter you sent us to a British expat friend who has lived in France for 25+ years. In that newsletter, you suggested that British expats make an appointment at the prefecture before a no-deal Brexit takes place to establish EU status for the carte de séjour. Our friend lives in Courbevoie and told me that the prefecture in Nanterre (which handles Courbevoie) will not schedule appointments for British citizens until it is known how the UK will be treating French citizens after Brexit. So, at least in Nanterre, your suggestion cannot be implemented.
Recall what I wrote last month about this: British people living in France should not be worried about their ability to obtain a carte de séjour. Even though they will be subject to the regulations for non-EU citizens, there are so many grounds on which to issue one that it is almost certain everyone will fit one of those cases.
I will keep you informed.
OFFICE CLOSED FOR MY 60th BIRTHDAY
The office will close for slightly over two weeks for this occasion. It will start on Friday June 14th evening and will reopen on Tuesday July 2nd morning. As always, I will only be reachable by email for emergencies and important matters as I will be out of France. The service I offer of receiving mail for clients will continue while the office is closed. I have not figured out how I will send the July issue considering the situation.
MY SUMMER VACATION: THE OFFICE IS CLOSED from July 19th to August 19th
The office will be closed for one month starting Friday, July 19th, reopening on Monday, August 19th. 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.
MY FEES WILL GO UP ON OCTOBER 1st 2019
I plan to change some aspects of my business when I reopen the office on Monday, August 19th. The main reason is to allow my assistant to do some tasks more systematically. One of them is to accompany the clients to the prefecture, URSSAF, CPAM and other public offices. She already handles most of the dealings with the offices where self-employed people are registered. She has also accompanied my clients to the prefecture several times. As her fees are lower than mine, this should compensate for the increase in my fees. On October 1st, I will raise my initial retainer from 270€ to 300€ and the hourly rate from 110€ to 130€.
BILLING AS A SELF-EMPLOYED PERSON IN FRANCE
I am an American and after a couple of years living in France, I got the carte de séjour linked to my self-employed work as an auto-entrepreneur. I need to renew my immigration status, but I am panicking because I have had just about no French clients. Almost all my current clients are Americans and they pay me in my American bank account. I heard that I will lose my immigration status if I make less than 25,000€ in a year. In France I cannot account for more than 3,000€ but I am close to $50,000 in the USA. Am I really in danger of having my carte de séjour taken away in a couple of months when I go to the prefecture?
Your problem can be fixed very easily. Your American clients are in effect contributing to your French business. Clearly you have more than enough income to obtain a four-year carte de séjour. To make this clear to you, I need to explain several things.
The first is that the same legal grounds exist in the USA and France, and probably most other countries: either you do business in your own personal name (as a sole proprietor in the USA, an indépendant in France), or you do it through a corporation whose legal nature can be rather all-inclusive as it is incorporated.
Second, you have created a French business without a corporate structure, so it is glued to you, as it were. You can work in France and the jobs you do are local business transactions. When you work elsewhere within the EU, technically you are exporting but with very loose regulation, as the EU has a federal-style government and many countries have the same currency, the euro; I would describe this as close to a domestic transaction most of the time. When you have American clients who pay for work you do while in France, this is definitely exporting your services. I know that may seem weird, as you feel you are working with what you consider to be “local clients” whom you may have served for years, in the community where you grew up. From a legal point of view, however, this is a French business serving American clients and thus exporting its services, much as GM puts cars made in the USA on ships to be sent around the world. Think of your services as a product going on a boat to the USA. Even if everything inside you feels American and you have strong bonds with your home country, you had better get used to the situation so that it becomes a reflex and stops being a contortion exercise.
You do face a problem, however: you have made too much money for your current fiscal status of auto-entrepreneur, which limits annual sales to 33,200€. Once your income goes above that, you must register with the French tax office in order to pay VAT on your services. I am sure the invoices sent to your American clients never mentioned VAT, though the French ones surely did. The invoices sent by auto-entrepreneurs must have three lines one mentioning the amount before adding the tax, then the VAT, which is always zero, then the amount after adding the tax, which the same. Remember, persons with the status of auto-entrepreneur cannot legally charge VAT when the annual sales stays within the amount of 33,200€.
I have advice for an immediate solution, so that you are ready for your prefecture appointment, and possible solutions for the next time you need to declare your income in both countries.
To be ready for the prefecture, you need to redo your billing, mixing French and American clients so you get to about 23,000€ in sales, which qualifies you for a four-year carte de séjour as a self-employed person. The MICRO fiscal status for profession libérale defines the amount of profit as being 65% of the amount of sales done, so 23,000€ x 0.65 = 14,950€ annual profit when the minimum required is the net French minimum wage, SMIC which is 14,056.08€. The rest is declared as being earned and taxed in the USA by the IRS. This solution is not great; at least everything you earn gets taxed, but it is not sustainable in the long run, as an in-depth tax investigation in France could reveal what you are doing.
Now that you have some time before going back to the prefecture, you need to make long-term decisions.
An obvious solution for the following year is to declare your entire gross to France, which means paying high social charges and of course income tax on top of that. It is possible to maximize what you declare as expenses, but there is a limit to this. And you would be leaving the micro BNC fiscal status for réel simplifié, where you must itemize everything and you are in the VAT loop.
Another solution is to create a corporation in the USA to accommodate a bigger project, such as bringing in a partner. Be aware that you cannot do this just to avoid paying French taxes and social charges.
Many French business accountants propose a solution that could be economical for a French person but is rarely satisfactory for a foreigner holding a carte de séjour, which is creating a French corporation. It is true that a corporation would act as a buffer, so it could work for you, but there are two major problems.
The chief one is that creating and maintaining a French corporation are quite expensive, and I am not sure you would end up saving much. This is especially true for annual billing of less than 70,000€.
The other problem is that it means changing your carte de séjour, especially if you have profession libérale status. Often the choice is to avoid jeopardizing everything by letting the prefecture once again decide your fate in France.
This is why many people do nothing and pay more and more French tax, as long as the annual billing stays below 70,000€. There people accept that they have to pay VAT without taking full advantage of the expense itemization they could be doing.
PARENTAL AUTHORITY AND THE RIGHT OF A MINOR TO TRAVEL OUT OF FRANCE
I have been a single mother for about 10 years. My son was born in France and the father disappeared shortly after the birth. We were never married and all I could ask for was some child support, which was awarded, but the father lives in Tunisia. This means I never get anything on a regular basis. It feels more like a spurt-of-the-moment thing, he remembers he has a son and I get a gift for him and some money for a couple of months.
My problem is that I often go home to the USA and my son does not have any French ID because his father has always refused to sign the French forms, or even to put in the initial court decision, issued when our son was 2, that he was allowed to leave France at all, even for vacation. Lately, entering the USA and France is becoming increasingly difficult, not to mention the hassles I get from the airline.
I got a lawyer and took the matter to court, and sued for the father to lose all his parental rights. I thought the lawyer went too far and there would be a violent court battle, since the father shows up only once in a while in the life of his son. I was stupefied to learn that he did not retain a French lawyer, and sent a whining letter to the judge saying that I was not an honest and modest enough mother and woman for his taste so that he could not be associated with me in any way, and that France has always made it difficult for him to get a visa to exercise his parental right of a visit during vacations, as the first court ruling described.
My lawyer said that under the circumstances, we will win the case. Great, but this does not answer my problem, which is how do I get the father to sign the French form for a document de circulation for my son so I can travel with him worry free?
I could answer your concern in just one sentence: the court order replaces the father’s authorization.
But it feels like I need to explain further. Let’s start with the position of the prefecture, which requires all parents to agree to get this ID which is only for minor children. It is important to know that the document de circulation gives its minor holders the possibility to leave France without any supervision and considerably facilitates possible kidnappings to a foreign country. Since it seems that the father will probably lose all or most of his parental rights to the child with this court decision, all it takes is your signature, because legally speaking you are the only parent left once the court case ends.
Always keep in mind that the father clearly would have had grounds to contest this request. I agree with you that your lawyer went beyond what you were hoping for, which was get him to sign the form and be done with it. In many ways, your lawyer did an excellent job pushing for the maximum to see what you would end up with after a fight in court. But there was no fight because there was no opposing party. I repeat, this is his choice and he must suffer the consequences. In many ways you have done nothing wrong, nor did your lawyer in asking that he be deprived of all his parental rights.
So, you win the court case, but this does not negate the fact that there is a child, a father and you. There could come a time, I believe sooner rather than later, when the father will resume sending some money and a gift for Christmas or birthday. Your son will soon be old enough to ask if he can visit his father alone, and he might do it. I would like you to think of the best interests of your son and allow some contact, communications and recognition of him as a dad, if this is possible, and if it is indeed in your son’s best interests.
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.