Most people stay away from bus stops. They are known as dreadful places, always found in bad neighborhoods. They cannot be associated with pleasant journeys. Even the worst train stations I have gone through do not have the gloomy lighting and the shaggy feeling one gets when entering a bus stop, getting off a bus, and getting ready to take a bus.I really like the movie Bus Stop; Marilyn Monroe acts using her inside brokenness in a very skillful way. Her character is about broken dreams and severe disillusionment, a woman with a golden heart stuck in a horrid place.
Bus Stop is a 1956 American romantic comedy film directed by Joshua Logan for 20th Century Fox, starring Marilyn Monroe, Don Murray, Arthur O'Connell, Betty Field, Eileen Heckart, Robert Bray and Hope Lange.
…it was the first film she appeared in after studying at the Actors Studio in New York. Bus Stop was based on two plays by William Inge, People in the Wind and Bus Stop. The inspiration for the play Bus Stop came from people Inge met in Tonganoxie, Kansas.
Considering how often I got on and off the bus at bus stops, I ended up being able to see past the gloom, which is maybe the cheerful image needed to celebrate Christmas this year. I wonder how many people will manage to celebrate Christmas this year with a cheerful heart, having a wonderful time with family and friends, partying as they always do. Some people in the USA seem to feel like they are sitting in a bus stop without knowing how they jumped off the bus. Others feel as though they are stuck in a bus they have not chosen. This Christmas, I remember the people I met in those buses, in those bus stops, those people I ended caring about because I got to know them quite well. Ultimately my bus stop vision is an allegory about immigrants leaving with the hope of a better future elsewhere and arriving at their destination with cumbersome luggage, and mixed feelings of excitement and fear about their new lives.
I would like to wish you all
A MERRY CHRISTMAS AND A HAPPY NEW YEAR
I am looking forward to the year to come, 2017.
Like many, I feel that 2016 was a very hard year and I am eager to let it go.
THE GREYHOUND LESSON
As a French person, I wish to avoid making yet another comment about the results of the latest American presidential election. I heard and read way too many comments, but one in particular caught my attention. It was about not knowing how angry the white working class was.
In 1981, I had just turned 22 and was taking my second trip around the USA. I toured the country exclusively on Greyhound buses. Starting from New York City, I went to Denver, stopped in New Mexico, Arizona, LA, SF and Reno, entered Yosemite Park by way of Nevada and left via the main entrance in California, then went back to SF. After that it was Portland OR, Spokane WA, Cheyenne WY, then a long stretch to Birmingham AL and north to Indianapolis and Notre Dame IN before returning to NYC and then taking a round trip to Vermont.
Basically living off the Greyhound buses taught me the size of the country. I got a physical experience of how big it is, like an imprint on my sore body, riding all those miles. Also, in the summer of 1981 it felt as though the entire American population thought Soviet tanks were in Paris because France had elected a Socialist president a couple of months before with the help of the French Communist Party. So everybody thought I was a political refugee, and the way I was welcomed was quite impressive. This was very different from the current position of America (and most of the Western world!) on how to handle refugees.
What may be more relevant to the recent election is that I met the people who rode the buses, waited in the bus stops, ate in the diners. Being French among them made me an oddity, to put it mildly. We shared hours of discussions, and I learned who they were and, I believe, who they still are. I liked the fact that in the traditional American education system, students from middle school on were expected to work for their spending money. Many would earn the money to pay for their college tuition. So, for several years, they often shared the workplaces of blue-collar workers and got to know them. When they started holding executive positions, they could usually understand the practical consequences of their decisions for the people working for them.
Over the years, however, this practice has disappeared in the USA as tuition has skyrocketed and student loans have become common. Maybe the resulting disconnect between economic classes has affected the evolution of the country. I am sure that 35 years later, members of the white working class rarely live any better than they did then, and probably worse. I believe, and many observers agree, that it is this segment of American population that made the election of Mr. Trump possible.
I feel that I was privileged to have the life-changing experience of that American journey. As a law student in Paris fully financed by my parents, I was going back to a very different life than that of the people I met. This was a summertime trip that lasted three months. In addition to the bus trip, I worked in a port warehouse in Stamford CT doing hard labor, loading and unloading rolls of material on trucks. This is one reason I have the highest respect for the old-fashioned American work ethic. People had to work hard to get where they were, and being an upstanding member in the church and the community was also important.
AN UNUSUAL USE OF A MAID’S ROOM DURING WWII
A reader sends this reminiscence:
“In 1939 my family was living on Blvd Jules Sandeau and my father, fearing the possibility of Paris being bombed, moved us to the south of France. After the debacle and capitulation in 1940 he returned to Paris and moved some of our valuables to the chambre de bonne. After the war when he returned, the apartment was cleaned out but the chambre de bonne was intact. That was a plus for their difficult access. That is another story for these chambres.”
LEAVING FRANCE, CONTROLS AT THE AIRPORT – EU REGULATION
Another reader writes:
“On 2 October, my wife and I left CDG for Minneapolis. At the immigration kiosk I presented our American passports. My wife's is virgin, as she usually travels to all other countries, other than the US, on her French passport. The immigration officer looked in vain for an entry stamp and asked when she had last entered France. I told him she was a French citizen. He asked for and got her French passport, and that was that – for her passport. He then asked me when I had last entered France. My answer was slow in coming as it had been well over a year. He then asked if I was married to her. I said yes, and that was that for me. (I have a carte de résident.) Lesson: French immigration authorities have joined their EU compatriots in checking Schengen entrance dates.”
RETENUE À LA SOURCE – INCOME TAX WITHHELD BY THE EMPLOYER
I wrote the following section for the July-August 2015 issue. Since then, aside from a few snippets in the media, it seems nobody is talking about this enormous reform to the taxation method except the people who are working on it. If you go to government websites, there is detailed information explaining what is going to happen, but it seems that nobody cares. This will be a radically different way to pay income tax in France. Therefore, I am republishing this July-August 2015 section.
France is one of the last Western countries where income tax is paid by the individual directly and not withheld by the employer. There are many cultural and historical reasons why the French people are reluctant to change this set-up, but all of them combined are not enough to explain why it has not yet been done. There is only one technical reason that withholding tax would be very difficult to set up. It is called the quotient familial. I believe France is the only country that taxes the family as a group rather than individuals.
- This means the amount of tax you owe changes if:
– You get married,
– You get divorced,
– You have a child,
– The child leaves the home,
– A family member dies, and/or
– A family member becomes disabled.
These events occur frequently enough in the course of a lifetime that if France had withholding taxes, such happenings could significantly change the amount withheld. A withholding system works well only if there is just a small discrepancy at the end of the year. This is why the French system prefers to have taxes paid in three installments. The first two, in February and in May, are calculated on the amount owed the year before, and the last one on the amount of taxes owed for the year.
Now, however, the government is determined to have a new withholding system go into effect on January 1st 2018. Neither employers nor employees are very happy with this. Employers do not want an extra task to complicate the French pay slip even more. Employees do not want the change, as it will mean the employer will know much more about their private lives. Employees will be required to inform employers right away of any of the abovementioned changes in their life. The employers will then be obligated to inform the tax office to calculate the new amount owed. Considering the level of distrust that French employees have toward their employers, this could create major difficulties.
It is going to be interesting to see if this measure actually goes through. Most likely it will, but I can see a lot of problems arising from it, and there will be a lot of unhappy people in France before everything settles down.
To ease the transition to the new method, the French administration will start setting up tools in the second quarter of 2017. It will send employers the rate of income tax their employees paid in 2016. On January 1st 2018, employers will start withholding an amount based on that rate, which will be reviewed in September 2018.
I strongly advise anyone who is an employee in France to be extremely attentive in 2017 regarding this reform. If need be, ask your employer how it is handling the change, what tax rate it has for you, and so on. Keep in mind that even though French employers have paid social charges for decades, they are not really equipped to deal with this. It is important to note that the employee, not the administration, will be responsible for telling the employer when to change the rate because of a change in family situation. Culturally speaking, this is not going to be easy.
MORE ON SENDING A TEXT MESSAGE TO PICK UP A CARD AT THE PREFECTURE
The document officially called feuille de mise en salle but often referred as fiche de renseignements changed sometime in November at the Paris Prefecture. In the personal information section, it now states that : “nécessaire pour l’envoi du SMS pour la remise du titre”; that is, translated into English “needed for transmission of the text message advising one to pick up the title” which means the new carte de séjour. I know that the prefecture can change this document again at any time, but the new wording is a clear indication that the French administration considers the system of notification by SMS to be here to stay.
NEW LEGISLATION REGARDING FRENCH IMMIGRATION
On November 3rd I was at the Paris prefecture with clients and there was a traffic jam at the printer-copier. A new regulation to be implemented on November 1st, which is a national holiday in France, was close to 300 pages long. Its printing for this office was taking a long time, keeping the civil servants from doing their job, which includes making a copy of each récépissé issued with the number the applicant is being called by. The civil servant dealing with our request explained that the work done by the entire office on November 2nd had been piled up as they were waiting for guidelines on what to do and which card should be awarded to whom. The upshot is that it is now official: the multiyear cards are now available.
However, the bad news is that the tax linked to the carte de séjour has skyrocketed. Renewal used to cost 110€ because the card is only valid one year; this was less expensive than the initial card or the ten-year carte de résident. Now, just about all cartes de séjour will cost 269€ to renew. The official reason given is that, regardless of how long they are valid, they all cost exactly the same to produce.
There are so many flaws in this logic that I will just review the ones I find the most offensive. The first and most obvious is that it makes a carte de séjour ten times as expensive as a carte de résident. A carte de séjour carries a lot fewer rights, so for the users, who most of the time are poor immigrants, this increase in cost is going to be very onerous.
An underlying principle of the French administration is that a service and the price charged for it are not connected. The idea of le service public is that everyone must have access to a given service offered by the administration and its cost should not be a barrier. But in this case, the population concerned does not vote and does not really have a means of voicing its opposition, so revenue from card renewal is easy money.
Choosing to have all cards priced at the highest level is a political decision that goes against this very basic French principle. Furthermore, the price is way too low if one looks at the cost of just the wages of all the civil servants who have to spend time working on renewal requests. It is way too high if it is just the cost of each card’s actual production that is taken into consideration.
Also, making it financially difficult to obtain the card is a way to increase the number of people who lose their legal right to live in France simply because they lack the means to pay such a large amount in one lump sum (269€ is 16% of the monthly minimum wage in France).
The new legislation also involves intrusion into people’s lives. Previously, the civil servants based their decisions simply on the documents submitted to them. As long as the originals looked authentic, the documents were trusted. There is always a police check before the card is produced, but what the police do in this respect is up to them.
- Now, however, the prefecture has been given direct access to several databases:
– The état civil, i.e., everything pertaining to the person’s birth, marriage, divorce, children, and so on.
– Social charges and organizations dealing with people’s employment or profession, i.e., all the information that carries the French Social Security number. Even though this is a lot less information than for the American counterpart, it is still a lot!
– All programs linked to social services, whether through the Caisse d'allocations familiales (CAF) or the Caisses primaires d'assurance maladie (CPAM).
– All records from schools and universities, including children’s report cards, as well as school-based extracurricular activities.
– All utilities contracts, including internet access and both fixed-line and mobile phones, going back five years.
– All bank statements going back two years.
This will definitely eliminate fake originals and related cheating. It will also put a lot of people in a delicate situation if their life is a tad messier than the paperwork in their dossier shows.
The only good news that I can see in this is that now some types of cards can last for more than one year. This is especially true for employee (salarié) and private life (vie privée et familiale) cards, since student cards have been multiyear for a while. People holding visiteur cards will continue to renew yearly.
For more information (in French), see : www.lemonde.fr/les-decodeurs/article/2016/11/03/loi-sur-les-droits-des-etrangers-les-decrets-enterinent-des-reculs_5024888_4355770.html
APPOINTMENTS MADE BY THE CRE IN PARIS ARE VERY EARLY
There is a new situation that only affects a few people but provides a good illustration of what happens when one division of the French administration does not care at all what other divisions require. The result is that applicants are caught in the middle and have to handle an impossible situation.
It is possible to immigrate to France with a visa for self-employed professionals. When the procedure happens in Paris, the first step is to go to the Centre de réception des étrangers (CRE) to get an appointment for the Cité prefecture and a récépissé. This serves as a French ID (which the visa is not) and enables the applicant to register with URSSAF, the Maison des Artistes or AGESSA, which in turn process registration for all related agencies.
It used to be that the prefecture appointment was scheduled about two months later, sometimes more. This was great because four offices must respond in due time in order to make the file complete for the appointment. In short, once registered, the foreigner had time to start working, get all the necessary documents and be ready for the appointment without too much hassle.
At the beginning of this year, however, the period was shortened to about six weeks. That was the bare minimum possible, and it meant the statement of health coverage was never ready on time to be sent and needed to be picked up. But for one of the last cases I submitted at the Cité prefecture, the appointment was one month to the day after the CRE visit: from October 14th to November 14th. The agencies involved are going slower, too: even though the client picked up the statement from RSI regarding health coverage on November 13th, it stated that the request was in process. The next appointment is at the end of March 2017.
The situation became even worse with a new client, when I went to the CRE on November 17th to start this same procedure and the latest appointment we could get was December 1st. This person was not even allowed to get a récépissé because, we were told, the visa, which lasts three months, would be still valid and therefore it was impossible to issue one. There was no point in going to URSSAF without it. Thus the meeting at the Cité prefecture that is supposed to finalize the procedure now will start it. I tried everything I could think of to get the civil servants to understand. Even without my asking to see the manager of the CRE, he kindly came out of his office and said he was sorry but that the software blocked the issuance of the récépissé.
Some people might be happy to have appointments so quickly, and I would share this feeling if applicants really benefited from this and could be done dealing with the prefecture sooner, which I admit is quite an appealing prospect. But as the above description shows, the actual result is that it stretches out the process by many months, which makes it completely counterproductive.
A similar topic, which I need to address in the next issue (for February 2017), is the fact that people with universal health coverage (CMU), now called universal health protection (PUMa), have not paid any premiums for an entire year. The people in charge explain that the situation will be fixed in 2017, probably in the first half of the year. The problem is that foreigners holding the carte de séjour visiteur must show that they pay for their coverage, which proves that they are not destitute. The prefecture refuses to renew the carte de séjour without this proof.
REDESIGNING MY WEBSITE
Since my Christmas vacation starts soon and there is no January issue, during this time I plan on having my website redesigned, mainly so as to use more recent software to update and manage it. This means there may be a couple of days when the site will not be online, and I may have difficulty accessing my email. I am sorry for the inconvenience, but we will do everything we can to keep this outage as short as possible.
OFFICE CLOSED FOR CHRISTMAS
The office will close for three weeks for the Christmas holidays, starting on Friday December 16th, reopening on Monday January 9th. 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 did not take any vacation time last summer, so now that I am settled in the new office with my new corporation, I have decided to take some time off, close to the normal length of my vacation. Of course, I will honor the prefecture meetings already scheduled, as well as a couple of other engagements.
I would like to remind everyone that there is no January issue.
RENEWING THE CARTE DE RÉSIDENT
My 10-year card came to its expiration date at the end of October. Knowing this I recently called and obtained a renewal appointment in August. I did get the official document in the mail but I was wondering if it is still legal for me to work here while waiting. So I called a second time and was told to go to the CRE in the 17th district to get a récépissé. The agent had told me I needed all kinds of docs – like phone/gas bills, copies of my passport and current resident card, etc. – but when I got there, the only thing needed was my convocation and a PHOTO (the photo was the only thing the agent did NOT mention on the phone). Fortunately, there is a Photomaton on the ground floor AND a change machine.. So I was in and out in about 10 minutes – a miracle. If I understand correctly, I’m now still “legal” up through my convocation date. I hope this will work for traveling as well because I must make a trip to England in the near future. Neither of these two documents feel like they are proper ID, and I do not trust the prefecture.
Too often, foreigners feel that what is happening is not right, and it does not bring confidence in the system. It is perfectly normal that things do not feel right; this system is foreign to you by definition. I assume that even though you have lived in France close to 20 years, you are having an American reaction: an ID card is the size of a credit card and is made of plastic. The documents you refer to are the convocation and “récépissé”. The first is not an ID in any way, but is just a sheet of paper telling where and when your next meeting is. The récépissé, however, despite your suspicion, is a valid ID document. It is made of heavy paper about the half the size of a letter and contains a lot of information about you, such as your parents’ names. It bears an original photo that was done on the premises, it is stamped by the authorities and it is signed by you. It states that it is valid as an ID when shown with the expired card, whose validity dates it also gives. I have received feedback to the effect that American and British immigration officers, as well as airlines and Eurostar personnel, are sometimes suspicious of this document, but I have yet to heard of anyone being prevented from traveling with a valid récépissé. The récépissé is mostly used in two situations. The most common is when one is waiting to go to a scheduled appointment at the prefecture, either because the appointment occurs after the card’s expiration date or because the appointment is inconclusive and a new one has been made; either way, an ID must cover the period concerned. The other situation is when an appointment is conclusive but there is a delay of between a few weeks and a couple of months to get the plastic card.
The headquarters of the Paris prefecture and all the branches that I know have photocopiers and Photomatons on the premises. It is always better not to rely on them, but it is a reasonable bet that they will be working when you are there.
There are two CREs in Paris: the one you mention in the 17th and one just south of the Gare Montparnasse in the 14th. They mainly serve two purposes: obtaining an appointment to have one’s immigration request reviewed and obtaining a récépissé. My experience is that the best time to go for a récépissé is near the end of their workday. They refuse people starting at 4PM, so my advice is to go about 3PM. The main reason is that undocumented aliens who believe they are eligible for an appointment must have their request reviewed at the reception desk before noon, so some go as early as 5 or 6AM even though the doors do not open until 8:30. Thus going in the morning means waiting for hours in a line that goes all the way to the sidewalk and sometimes around the block. Even in the afternoon, being taken care as quickly as you were so is unusual, albeit possible.
As for the substantial wait for an appointment, it depends on a lot of factors; my experience is that lately carte de résident holders get their renewal appointment several months after the date of request and the process of issuing the card also takes a long time. So be ready to hold a récépissé (periodically renewed) for up to a year. It might feel unsettling, and you might be anxious to get it over with, but there is no way I know of to speed up the process and the prefecture is good about keeping you documented. You have to trust the system, which means trusting the prefecture, if you want to go through this with some peace of mind.
HOW TO OBTAIN A CARTE DE SÉJOUR AS A SELF-EMPLOYED PERSON
All by myself, I got a self-employed immigration visa from the French consulate in Chicago. I showed them what I do as a branding consultant specialized in the fashion industry, and got references from the couple of businesses in France interested in what I do. I am planning my arrival in Paris but I cannot find any information that makes sense regarding the steps I should take to secure my right to work and live in France. On the bottom of the visa is “carte de séjour à solliciter dans les deux mois suivant l’arrivée”, which I understand means that I must ask for my immigration ID within two months after I arrive. The consulate did not give me any other information other than to contact the prefecture. I tried and get no answer by email and once I got someone on the phone and did not at all understand the explanation. Can you tell me where and when should I go?
This immigration visa deals with both the right to work in France as a self-employed person and the right to live in France. The procedure entangles the two, so I would like to describe the steps one by one so you can see where to go and what to expect. The sooner you start the better, but you need to have a fairly complete file to submit to the branch of the Paris prefecture called the CRE (Centre de réception des étrangers). There are two in Paris and depending on your address you are assigned to either the northern one on rue Truffaut or the southern one on Bd du Maine near the Gaîté metro stop.
- STEP 1.
Prepare the file, which must include originals and copies of a proof of address (ideally a utility bill less than three months old) as well as your birth certificate and its official translation, on top of whatever you gave to the consulate.
- STEP 2.
Go to your CRE branch to register the visa with them and ask for an appointment at the prefecture headquarters on the Cité. You will get a récépissé stating that you have the right to work as self-employed a the end of that meeting and a document detailing the appointment. I strongly advise you to go in late afternoon, close to closing time, to avoid the massive number of undocumented aliens who must submit their requests before noon. The appointment at the prefecture should be as far off as possible – ideally, in three months – so you have time to get everything done to comply with the requirements for the meeting you just scheduled.
- STEP 3.
As soon as possible (ideally, the next day), go to the URSSAF branch easiest for you. One is in northern Paris near Porte de la Villette, the other on rue de Tolbiac near the metro stop Bibliothèque François-Mitterrand. There you register your business with a form called Pø, which details your legal and fiscal status and your personal information. This registration triggers a series of further registrations with units of the French social system. You are covered by the public healthcare system as of your URSSAF registration date.
- STEP 4.
This is a double process.
–First, review what you receive in the mail and throw away obvious junk mail, but archive non-pertinent official documents and fill out the forms for the tax office.
– Then review which documents you need to comply with the requirements of the prefecture, so as to be ready for the appointment at which you ask for a carte de séjour. Make a schedule for obtaining any missing documents so that you are sure to be ready on time.
- STEP 5.
At the meeting with the prefecture, the file should include, as a minimum, originals and copies of:
– The Pø form, stamped by URSSAF
– An INSEE statement showing your SIRET and APE numbers
– A welcome letter from URSSAF
– A welcome letter from RSI-RAM
– A welcome letter from the tax office
– Proof that you have a French bank account
– Your passport, with visa
– Your birth certificate and the official translation
– Recent proof of address
– A boarding pass if your passport was not stamped when you last entered the country.
You will get a new récépissé covering the period until the card (carte de séjour) is ready. You will be informed by text message about a week before you must pick it up.
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.