Hard Headed Woman

June 2019

The song “Hard-Headed Woman” was recorded on Cat Stevens’s fourth album, Tea for the Tillerman, released in 1970.

I’m looking for a hard-headed woman
One who’ll take me for myself
And if I find my hard-headed woman
I won’t need nobody else, no no no!

I’m looking for a hard-headed woman
One who’ll make me do my best
And if I find my hard-headed woman
I know the rest of my life will be blessed, yes yes yes.

I have always loved this song, and I share the inclination for strong-willed women. I am not sure how many men, even today, will feel blessed finding a hard-headed woman. My friend Richard found his mate many years ago, and she is now grieving his death. Some pending changes in state law in the South of the USA reminded me of this song describing a quest for the right strong-willed woman. I have no idea what will happen to these legislative changes at the end of the process, but I am sure there will be an increase in the number of hard-headed women throughout the USA. It will scare some or many men. It will also offer a larger choice to men who know they will be blessed for the rest of their life with the hard-headed woman of their liking.

OFFICE CLOSED FOR MY 60th BIRTHDAY
The office will close for a little less than two weeks for this occasion, from the evening of Friday June 14, reopening the morning of Tuesday July 2nd. I will only be reachable by e-mail for emergencies and important matters, as I will be outside of France. My service of receiving mail for clients will continue while the office is closed. For the first time in about 20 years, an issue of my column, that of July 2019, will probably not be sent the last day of the month, as I will still be out of the country on vacation. You may expect to receive the issue on the 2nd or the 3rd.

THE EUROPEAN ELECTIONS
In France, voting took place on Sunday May 26, which was too late for me to draw any conclusions for the current issue, so my reflections on the European elections will have to wait until the next issue.

URSSAF HAS INTRODUCTORY INFO IN ENGLISH
I recently discovered that URSSAF is now communicating in English, including a three-minute video explaining French social programs. I am tempted to dismiss this effort because the information is so basic that I wonder who in France would not already know it. That being said, my clients often need me to explain to them how the system works at such a basic level. So I admit this communication campaign might be useful to foreigners who have not figured out how France’s social programs work, starting with an overview on healthcare coverage.

I almost wish I could conduct a poll to find out how many people will take the time to watch the video and how many of them honestly learn something it. Nevertheless, this is a move in the right direction, and I hope URSSAF will continue down this path.

The main section of the URSSAF website in English starts here:

www.urssaf.fr/portail/home/welcome-to-foreign-companies.html

It includes a link to the video on the right side. Otherwise, go directly to:

THE ICONIC METRO TICKET IS ABOUT TO DISAPPEAR
The metro ticket as a means of payment for travel in the Parisian public transport system first appeared in 1900. The ticketing system went through many changes as the metro was modernized. The most recent radical change occurred between 1970 and 1973, when the ticket punchers (poinçonneurs) disappeared and stations were equipped with automatic turnstiles and magnetic tickets. Serge Gainsbourg wrote and sang a song about a poinçonneur, who punched holes in tickets before travelers got on the train:

No matter how diverse the range of various passes tailored to special user groups, there is always the need for a single-trip ticket requiring a single-trip payment. This possibility is fast disappearing. Many people help the homeless and asylum seekers in Paris by giving out a few individual tickets, making a world of difference for those needy travelers. I fully understand the need for turnstiles to evolve with more modern technology, especially considering how often the ticket-reading parts fail and require repair compared to the laser-based pass-reading parts. Still, this evolution further marginalizes what is seen as an undesirable population.

From The Local, May 20th 2019:
Paris authorities are set to launch a new paperless version of their tickets in the form of a plastic top-up card called Navigo Easy.
On June 12, 2019, tourists and occasional users of the Paris metro network will be able to purchase the contactless and reusable card for €2.
“It will work like an e-wallet,” Valérie Pécresse, head of Ile-de-France’s transport network, told reporters at the Vivatech new technologies fair on Friday.
The fare will remain the same: €1.90 for a single-trip ticket and €14.90 for ten trips.
Paris transport authorities estimate the Navigo Easy system has 5.8 million potential customers.
If it’s any consolation for those who prefer to carry on buying the small single-trip carton tickets, it won’t be until the summer of 2020 that they are completely discontinued.
For nearly 119 years, from the opening of the first line of the Paris Métro in 1900, the little rectangles of thick white paper with a black line on the back have been with Parisians.
This will signal the end of the sale of 550 million single-trip tickets every year.
By September 2019 the new digital system will be improved with the option of being able to top up on trips directly from a smartphone rather than at the counter or ticket machine.
“No more queueing at the station or station to top up your Navigo pass or to buy tickets,” added Pécresse.
But the system is currently only adapted to latest-generation Samsung smartphone users. No mention has been made yet of whether iPhone Paris metro users will have been able to go completely digital in future. Paris transport authorities plan to eventually incorporate the whole public transport network of the Ile-de-France region into the Navigo Easy system.

https://www.thelocal.fr/20190520/this-card-will-start-replacing-paris-metro-tickets-on-june-12th?fbclid=IwAR0awcBiObEDUUdpXL7hTzphM_YHPRN8iBdPYAyaL1aLaEUBjHEhAj9_XNU

FRENCH REAL ESTATE AGENTS NOW MUST ADVISE CLIENTS
For a long time, French real estate agents were reputed to lie about everything. In the last twenty years, legislation has been passed forcing the industry to give accurate information on specific topics. For example, the law known as the loi Carrez sets out obligatory information on the size of a dwelling, and other regulations specify tests that must be done at the seller’s expense including checking for possible hazards such lead, asbestos, and more, along with the status of electricity and gas.

Now the French Supreme Court, the Cour de cassation, has issued a ruling that adds a new layer of professional obligations which could radically change the way French real estate agents do business.

Until now, agencies were liable for inaccuracies, also called lying, that could be proved in court. In other words, they have been operating on what I call “French truth.” This means they saying just enough to be telling the truth, but not the whole truth. There is often a huge difference between the two. For example, stating that that no major work has been done inside the house could hide the fact that the patio and terrace were built illegally, as they are not “inside” the house.

The latest case is a milestone because a real estate agent was ruled liable for not giving a critical piece of information even though he was not asked about it.

In this specific case, a couple bought a house in southwestern France in what seemed to be a quiet place. Neither the sellers nor the real estate agent mentioned that a new highway loop would be built about 50 meters (164 feet) from the house.

The buyers sued the sellers and won the case; the sale was annulled on the grounds of willful misrepresentation or dol. This legal concept means knowingly giving the buyer a false impression about what is being bought. Staying silent about a critical element of the object purchased has long been considered dol. What is new here is that the real estate agent was ordered to pay damages for not informing the sellers about their duty to be honest with the buyers. The argument that he was not enough of a professional to know the consequences of the highway plans did not stick. The court ruled that the agent had a responsibility to disclose the plans since he knew that a road so close to the house would have an impact on the quality of life of those living in it.

Let’s hope for the best: perhaps in the future French real estate agents will inform buyers of what they know.

SUMMER VACATION: THE OFFICE WILL BE CLOSED from July 19 to August 19
The office will be closed for one month starting Friday, July 19, reopening on Monday, August 19. As always, I will be reachable by e-mail for emergencies and important matters. My service 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€.

Best regards,

WORKING THROUGH A NON-PROFIT

QUESTION

About a year ago, I got a visiteur visa and was able to renew it. I have always been interested in healthy food and teaching people how to eat, which means how to cook. I know many say France has the best cuisine in the world, but I see the same bad habits that exist in the USA – the fast food industry, eating processed food, and so on. This is not French cuisine, but French people are eating it. I can live off my family trust fund for years so I am not rushed to resume my career in France, but I would love to launch awareness-raising courses right away. Is it possible with my current status, or should I change and maybe wait several years? Would asking for a different visa in the USA make it possible?

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ANSWER

You have raised several issues, and I believe there is a solution that would allow you to remain in France the entire time, carrying out your project in different steps.

The first thing to do is check the extent of your rights in France with your current immigration status. It is possible for you to do volunteer work as long as you do not receive compensation of any kind. You could run a non-profit (association) to duplicate in France what you used to do in the USA.

Since you are a French resident, creating an association will be easy. All you need to do is write by-laws, find a second person to participate, hold a founding meeting to present the association, take minutes of the meeting, and then register with the prefecture. A couple of weeks later, the Journal Officiel will publish a notice of the establishment of this non-profit, and you will have an organization that allows you to conduct the activities you wish to offer.

The only cost involved is 44€ to have the notice published. You get a receipt with a copy of that issue of the Journal Officiel, which you should keep, as it is the only legal document proving that the association exists.

The second person, who can hold the position of secretary of the non-profit, can be a relative living in the USA and barely involved in the project. While it is preferable for this person to share your views and be someone you can work with as a team, you may be too new to France to have found someone like this, so choosing a parent, sibling, or your best friend in the USA is a way to start right away.

The by-laws, which must be written in French, can cover one page or a dozen. The two things that must be very carefully drafted are the description of what the non-profit will do and how someone becomes a voting member of the annual meeting, a board meeting and, even more importantly, the executive committee one. The executive committee is made up of the president, treasurer, and secretary. You can combine the positions of president and treasurer, thus in effect controlling the organization.

The board must have at least two members and as many as five (or seven or more). It is good to have an odd number to avoid tie votes, and to keep the number fairly low to make meetings short and efficient.

At the annual meeting, the voting members approve the past year’s activities and accounts, as well as the budget for the coming year.

There are many reasons to have the people involved in your courses, workshops, activities, and so on be non-voting members. They are there because they like the services you offer, but they probably do not want to get involved in the management of the organization. And those who would want to decide how things should be done are not necessarily the best people to have voting rights. One of the hardest things as the years go by is to maintain the integrity of the founding vision that pushed you to form the organization in the first place. So make sure there is an endorsement procedure and a high quorum and majority when a new voting member is approved. That way you can choose who comes on board.

France being France, the by-laws must include a pretty specific list of the non-profit’s functions and activities. If they cover a full page, chances are you have not missed anything. Someone well-versed in law should draft this section, which is often article 2 or 3. (It comes right after the association’s name and address; the latter can be your home even if it’s a 7th-floor maid’s room). It takes some serious thinking to get a succinct but thorough vision of the goal you are pursuing.

Once the organization is up and running, there are several things you can benefit from. The most obvious is that while at first you cannot be paid, some of your living expenses can be reimbursed. Since the registered address is yours, a fraction of your utilities, Internet, and other expenses can be paid by the organization. A computer, printer and ink, stationery, etc., can be paid in full or in part. Thus, a well-run association can bring you some financial relief, which is always welcome. Meanwhile, while you are still working as a volunteer, this allows you to build up a cash reserve in the organization.

After two years of living in France with visiteur status, you have the right to change your status, at which point you could become an employee of the organization. Although that is a possibility, it is not the best solution. Better yet is the self-employed carte de séjour, called profession libérale. Not only is it easier to get than employee status, but it has an added financial benefit: If you are self-employed, you can invoice among your other clients, the association for the courses and other activities you provide.

Ideally, you should do some long-term planning for the next two to five years. This is how I would see it:

  • 1 – Establish the organization, then wait until it has the funding for you to get paid
  • 2 – Request the prefecture to change your status to self-employed, building a business plan partially built on this organization.
  • 3 – Earn your money through the organization at first.
  • 4 – Once you are known enough to be hired by other organizations to conduct your programs, the courses and non-profit can go back to being a tool to promote awareness of better health.

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HOW TO MANAGE A NEGATIVE DECISION FROM DIRECCTE

QUESTION

I am an American living in Paris. I came to France in 2016 to pursue my master’s degree in hospitality and tourism management at Paris School of Business. During my studies, I worked at Planet Hollywood as a bartender to support myself for 960 hours per academic year. Upon graduation, I was offered a full-time job as a bartender with the same employer. So I applied for a work permit at the prefecture of Bobigny while I enrolled in a master’s research program. I waited a year then received a letter from the prefecture refusing this work permit and giving me 30 days to leave France. I have 25 pay slips and 12 of them are full-time. Can I appeal the decision to a court? Can I ask for new student status?

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ANSWER

The fundamental thing to understand with an immigration procedure is that you are the one submitting a request, so you must be sure to comply with the requirements linked to the status you choose.

You were and still are a full-time student. You could have chosen to have your student status renewed on the basis of the master’s research program. This status comes with the right to work as an employee 60% of full time, which you have been using for years. Your studies, not the job, were and are your main reason to live in France. The prefecture reviews each immigration status request based on what the applicant considers his or her primary reason for being in France.

Instead, you asked for a change of immigration status, seeking the right to work full time. This made your studies less important in your life and therefore a side activity to your job.

I believe you misunderstood your situation. Both the prefecture and the Direction régionale des entreprises, de la concurrence, de la consommation, du travail et de l'emploi (DIRECCTE) review each request. They do not try to understand the motivations and misconceptions that led to a given situation, but review the request as they receive it.

The procedure goes as follows:

  • 1 – You submit a file to the prefecture with the documents you were told to provide. You must have shown a full-time employment contract of some sort, whereupon the prefecture told you what documents you and your employer had to put together to make the file complete. I assume you did that.
  • 2 – The prefecture sent part of the file to DIRECCTE so it could respond to the request for the right to work full time as an employee.
  • 3 – DIRECCTE saw that you were asking to be able to work as a bartender while holding a master’s degree in hospitality and tourism management. It would see no link between the position and your studies, as the job does not require a master’s, especially yours. Furthermore, you never showed that you had training or professional experience as a full-time, expert bartender. This may sound weird, but in France, where there is official training for just about all jobs, DIRECCTE distinguishes between being a bartender to earn some money on the side and being a true professional who knows how to prepare complex and sophisticated cocktails, not just pour liquor in a glass.
  • 4 – Looked at in this light, the negative response from DIRECCTE makes total sense. This is what you should have known before submitting the request to work full time.
  • 5 – The prefecture received the negative response from DIRECCTE. Since it did not approve your new primary reason to be in France, the prefecture denied you the right to stay legally.

Now, you do have the right to appeal either decision, although I cannot see any reason to challenge DIRECCTE’s ruling. It is crystal clear that this was an error of judgement on your part, so the decision would not be overturned.

The better choice would be to appeal the prefecture’s decision, putting the entire blame on yourself and acknowledging that the full-time job was a huge error. You should explain that all along your studies have been the most important thing in your life and you want to finish them in France.

You are likely to meet a lot of resistance. The prefecture does not generally grant requests to go back to student immigration status, seeing them as a desperate attempt to stay in France; such requests are often based on fake studies, chosen at the last minute and unrelated to what was studied before. But you can prove that you are engaged in a long cycle at the master’s level, arguing that your grades have always been good and it has been a smooth ride so far. Even so, the outcome is quite uncertain. The file and the conditions for submitting it must truly be perfect, which rarely happens.

As for appealing on legal grounds (recours hiérarchique or filing in court), it would be impossible to get the decision overturned since the initial request was so flawed. In any case, an appeal would take several months at best, and you would be stuck during that time, so you need to think strategically.

Another option is to go back to the USA and ask for a new student immigration visa at the consulate. This might seem like failure, since you feel like you deserve the renewal of your status. But you have been ordered to leave France within 30 days, and while I have never heard of any North American citizens being deported just for immigration violation, the document you received is like a court ruling.

If you go back to the USA and ask for a new visa, the important—and positive—consequence is that everything you have done in France regarding your immigration status is erased, including the erroneous request to DIRECCTE and the order to leave. Another thing that would be buried is the fact that you worked for a year full time, in violation of what your student status allowed. You might not consider this a big deal, but if you ever ask for an employee carte de séjour, DIRECCTE could hold it against you and make things more difficult for you. With a new visa, though, even this is erased, and you would come back to France with a clean slate.

Objectively, this option has many benefits, the most important being how fast you may obtain a new legal stay in France. Student visa requests are now processed in a couple of weeks, though getting the appointment can take a couple of months at the height of the season, in August and September. Even with this delay, all things considered, it could be faster than waiting for the result of an appeal.

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LONG-STAY VISA WITH NO RIGHT TO RENEW

QUESTION

I am an American studying French in Paris. I have been here since March 27 and will finish the winter semester at the Sorbonne this week. I have a dispense temporaire de carte de séjour, which expires in October 2019. This has prevented me from obtaining a carte de séjour, which I was hoping would then allow me to get a work visa, as I thought as a student I was permitted to work 20 hours a week. In order to stay, I must have a job, as I have plunged below zero in my bank account. I have two job offers, but both require proper papers. I can go back to the States if necessary and deal with the French Embassy in LA, but I wanted to see if you thought you could help me with anything. I know people who are here without proper visas and seem to be getting around the system, finding work where they are paid under the table. Is it really the best solution?

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ANSWER

Situations like yours began appearing about two years ago because of a procedural change that was aggravated by subcontracting the procedure to VFS Global, a private firm. It is an outrage that people asking for visas are receiving non-immigration visas because they were misled in their request. They end up getting what was asked on the form, but it does not reflect what they wanted.

To obtain renewable immigration status, one must answer “more than one year” to the question on length of stay. What is meant here is not the amount of time to be spent in France once you get there, but how long you want to live in France; if you answer more than one year, you can make it permanent, since it is possible to renew the immigration status indefinitely provided one continues to meet the requirements.

Renewing the immigration status is the main difference is between the type of immigration status documented by the OFII stamp, a carte de séjour or resident, on the one hand, and on the other a short-term stay, no matter the reason for it. Holding a carte de séjour enables you to stay in France while changing your grounds for staying in France. But when you get the type of stay you have, and you wanting to renew or change it, you have to go back to the USA to get another visa/authorization.

You may have an excellent reason for coming to and wanting to stay in France. If it is a romantic partnership, you could get a carte de séjour without going back to the USA, even without getting married.

Otherwise, you need to make sure you can justify your stay in France (study, work, or both) and prove you can finance it. If you want to be an employee, the employer must start the procedure by submitting the initial request to DIRECCTE. Once it is approved, you must submit an immigration visa request related to this status.

For student status, you can apply for a full-time student visa, good for one year at a time, which requires you to prove the reality of your studies and the way you are going to finance them.

Now, about Americans staying in France for years without residency status and having a great time: It is true that the French police have little interest in clandestine Americans so the risk of deportation is non-existent. But a foreigner working in France and being paid under the table is a person who is committing tax cheating and fraud. As long as this person is not caught, life is wonderful. But once he or she is caught, the sentences are serious and could include a jail term. Most Americans in such situations leave France and never come back; if they did, they would be liable for the huge amount they owe to the French government. Also, with the tightening of security controls at France’s borders and even more elsewhere in Europe, you are pretty much bound in France until you are ready to travel back to the USA.

Here is the conclusion I would like you to reach:

  • 1 – I cannot renew the visa I have received.
  • 2 – I want to stay in France several years so I need to go back to the USA to ask for a new immigration visa.
  • 3 – I will make the best of this time in France to fine-tune my long-term plans.
  • 4 – I choose the visa that best fits what I want to achieve.

That way, instead of feeling like you have wasted a year, you will have devoted a year to building your future in France, and minimizing the pitfalls and dangers linked to starting your new life.

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MOVING HOUSEHOLD POSSESSIONS TO FRANCE WITHOUT A TAX CLEARANCE

QUESTION

We arrived in France in January and have now found a place to settle down. We are ready to move our stuff. We will be back in the USA in August, which would be a time we could hire the mover. Our one-year window to move things without fees ends on December 8, the date the visa was issued. We are within that deadline, but now we have been told that we would pay duties if we cannot prove it is our stuff. This makes no sense: the movers are taking all this from one home and moving it to a new home. How can it be an import?

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ANSWER

A little bit of history is needed before we deal with the legal issue. It used to be that a statement regarding moving without fees was automatically given with the visa, as it was assumed that a move would be needed once the visa was issued. Later it was issued upon request, even after the visa had been issued. Now it no longer exists, according to the various consulates contacted in the USA. This leaves the foreigner moving his stuff to France in a precarious situation.

The logic is simple: French customs law states that every import is a commercial transaction unless the client/individual proves it is not. If it cannot be proved that this is not a commercial transaction and is just a private individual moving his things, the legal assumption prevails. This is true even when the document shown by the moving company clearly indicates that the load came from a private place and is moved to another private place for the same person. Without this document, the mover cannot prove definitively that this is a personal move by a private individual.

Now you see better what you are up against. The French consulates are quite careless in stating that there is zero risk of taxation. It is not 100% certain, but the risk is high enough that it is not worth taking.

If you own real estate in France and are staying there, and your immigration status uses the same address, this is a strong indication but may not be sufficient.

The last time I assisted someone in this situation, I advised my client as follows: You will be in France before your stuff arrives in Le Havre, so you have time to rush to the local tax office and state that you have moved your American primary residence to your French primary residence and therefore are asking the French tax authorities to act accordingly.

French law forbids claiming two primary residences, so if yours is in France then it legally means you no longer have one in the USA. If you explain that you have moved your stuff from your former primary residence in the USA to your new one in France, you can get your tax office to issue a statement of primary residence. Customs authorities in Le Havre then have an official French document stating that you are moving the contents of your house, which allows you to disprove the legal assumption of a commercial transaction.

You should be aware that this procedure has some negative consequences, the main one being that it does not allow you to opt to declare your income only to the USA and not to France. For more information in English:

https://www.douane.gouv.fr/articles/a14707-transferring-your-primary-residence-to-france?fbclid=IwAR20ho1LaPmjF1GwOIEnTklNs-RdyB23PJ9H0pA2sd0QWo0Om3TNu_PGuqc

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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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