April - 2015
"Mistreated" is a song by the British rock band Deep Purple taken from their 1974 album Burn. I personally prefer the version done by another British rock band, Rainbow, in 1976. That shows my musical preferences, and I assume there are still a few fans of this 70s music around to understand.
Most of the topics addressed in this issue deal with people feeling mistreated, victims of someone else's wrongdoing. I even tell a story that happened to me. Such situations can be traumatic, even pushing some people to move back home and give up on France. Crooks and scumbags exist in all countries, and they almost always choose easy targets: newly arrived foreigners are ideal prey. But it is possible to move to France and still stay safe, especially if you do not have romantic, idealized expectations and plan the move down to the last detail. There are professionals specialized in advising foreigners in France, and following their advice helps people avoid the most common problems. The following email from a longtime reader illustrates just this point.
Dear M. Taquet,
First, I want to thank you for your regular email columns, which I find very helpful and insightful. I retired three years ago and we moved full-time to the holiday apartment we have owned for 25 years in the beautiful Alsatian region of France. I started receiving your emails before our move and they have been extremely helpful in understanding the French system. I feel very lucky because we have had no real problem with getting our carte de séjour, French driver's license, and last year, our Carte Vitale.
ERECTING BUILDINGS FOR TAX REASONS AND FAILING TO FIX THE HOUSING CRISIS IN FRANCE
I need to give some background in order to explain the crazy situation with housing in France. The Marshall Plan poured a sizable amount of money into helping rebuild the European countries after WWII, although France did not get a lot of money this way. It took about 30 years, from 1945 to 1975, for France to rebuild and to get rid of the slums on the outskirts of major cities. The last one to be destroyed was in the city of Nanterre, the préfecture of the Hauts de Seine department: it was located where the préfecture building stands today. During this period, a lot of tall residential buildings were constructed; they were very often low-income housing projects, H.L.M. They were financed almost entirely with public money. At the same time, the private sector was making great efforts to build individual houses for more affluent people.
A new policy put in place in 1975 created a significant tax credit for people who invested in rental properties. This was a popular move for the affluent and, for a long time, it worked well enough that many university cities benefited from the program and were able to lodge students, for example, since France had hardly any campuses with dorms. But, probably because of greed more than anything else, the program started to derail completely in two interacting ways.
1 – The investors ended up being less and less affluent and therefore less knowledgeable in how to invest money, since they were just being lured by the tax credit.
2– The buildings were situated in less and less desirable locations, making them a bad investment since fewer people were interested in living there.
No. 2 raises an important point: the apartment must be rented, as it is the rent money that creates the tax credit. Today, among my clients who have invested in products based on this program, all of them are losing large amounts of money. Here are some illustrations of how bad the situation has become:
Vichy, one of the most famous spa towns in France, now has the country's largest ratio of unoccupied rental housing, 22% that is, 4,700 unoccupied units in a town of 25,000 people. Historical reasons, linked to WWII, could partly explain this situation, but that is not the case for Nice (12.8%), Avignon (14.3%), or Mulhouse (13.6%).
At the same time, laws passed in recent decades to increasingly protect tenants have led to another oddity: apartments in desirable locations stay empty because the owners do not want to take the risk of renting. For example, Paris has some 98,000 apartments declared vacant, about 7.3%, and Lyon has 25,000, about 9%.
In late 1998, this crazy situation led the government to issue decree No. 98-1249, by which a tax on vacant apartments was created as of 1999. During 2012 and 2013, it produced revenue that increased from 38 to 130 million euros, and the sum could reach 200 million euros in 2015. Clearly, owners would rather pay taxes than rent. Since this segment of the population private individuals who own several pieces of real estate usually abhors taxes and is quite creative in avoiding them, that says a lot about the fierce resistance to renting under current legislation. Common sense would dictate that owners receive lower tax bills and that more apartments are rented. This requires finding the right balance between tenants rights and those of landlords. But because this topic is as politically sensitive in France as some of the worst issues in the USA, we will see the opposite, with more apartments sitting empty and more tax revenue coming in for this very reason, and the problem continuing to be unsolved if not worsened!
MY WIFE ATTENDED THE FRENCH NATIONALITY CEREMONY
My wife, Paula, received notice that her request for French nationality as the wife of a Frenchman had been approved and we attended the official ceremony on March 26th in a special meeting room, called la salle Marianne at the préfecture, where she received the government decree of naturalization. One oddity linked to this procedure is that the administration created a French birth certificate for her. Many people misunderstand this, taking it to mean that France wants to erase everything from your foreign past. That is absolutely not the case. In France the birth certificate has a margin on which such life events as marriage, divorce, PACS, etc., are written. Mine includes the court decision ruling that I am French, and my marital status. Hers simply states that she is married.
France has so often changed its requirements and procedures for naturalization that it is difficult to keep track of how it has evolved. Almost 20 years ago to the day after we had moved from the suburbs to Paris's 10th arrondissement and our first child, Lucille, was born, I started the process by going to the Tribunal d'Instance at City Hall. I went there with birth certificates for both Paula and myself, our French marriage license, our livret de famille (family register) and my military file, showing that I was a lieutenant in the non-active reserve (it had already been 10 years since I had served).
In those days, the procedure had been very restrictive for four years or so. The civil servant looked at my birth certificate and asked if I could submit my Danish mother's naturalization paper. I answered that I had never seen it and that, in those days, the wife automatically became French. So he looked at my father's birth certificate and asked to see my grandparents' marriage license and my grandfather's birth certificate, as my grandmother was born Spanish. He added that, just to be on the safe side, I should come with my French great-grandparents' marriage license and birth certificates to make sure my grand-father and therefore my father were definitely born French. (As I recently explained, even in the early 20th century, when my grandfather was born, a child born in France was not automatically French.)
Faced with this enormous request for official documents, I pulled out the decree that made me a lieutenant, along with the latest change-of-address report I had sent to the Army, and asked if these documents had any weight. He looked at them with great contempt, and warned me pompously that even if I had been able to fool the French Army and the Saint Cyr military academy into thinking I was French, I would not be able to fool him. I felt so humiliated that I left without a word. A few weeks later, I filed a petition with the Tribunal d'Instance asking it to rule on whether I was French so I could have a definitive official document that would spare me another such painful experience. A couple of months later, I received the appropriate ruling in the mail, but by then both of us had lost interest in the process. It took almost 20 years to start the procedure again. Everything had changed and for once for the better: the file was quite simple compared to what was asked for before. About a year after we submitted the request, the positive decision came in the mail..
BUYING TAX STAMPS ON LINE
This is another illustration of how the French administration is moving into the 21st century. For the first time, certain timbres fiscaux, or revenue stamps, can be bought online. Such stamps are the way fees are paid for certain administration services. The ones needed to get a new French passport can be now purchased throughhttp://timbres.impots.gouv.fr with a credit or debit card. The transaction has an ID number, which you give to the préfecture or City Hall so they can get the stamps delivered to them.
The traditional way to buy them is at a tax office (centre de finances publiques) or a tobacconist. The new method is part of a general simplification of the administration approved in 2013. The online sale of passport tax stamps is clearly an experiment, and I can see this service expanded to all revenue stamps.
By the way, getting the carte de séjour always entails some sort of fee, paid by such stamps. Now some of them can be quite expensive maximum 550€! There is a cashier in the Paris préfecture's main building near the métro stop City and it is easy to buy stamps one can even use a credit card. It is difficult to find a place aside from the préfecture that sells the highest-value stamps, i.e., over 50€. I advise my clients to be efficient with their time and to go there even if their process has been handled by a branch of the préfecture elsewhere. But some of them are so traumatized by the times they had to go to the central office that they cannot force themselves to enter the dreaded building even though it will save them hours of searching for another place that sells the stamps. I am no psychiatrist and therefore I do not try to treat this trauma.
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.
FRENCH NATURALIZATION PROCEDURE - WHAT HAS REALLY CHANGED
I would have found the March 2015 article a lot more interesting if you had specified just how much easier it is now to become French. I have been living here legally for over 30 years and currently hold a carte de résident, which is valid for ten years. I would love to get French nationality if it did not involve so much paperwork. Your link at the end just sent us to an article with statistics. This is no help at all. Could you be a bit more specific please?
I would like to start by explaining a couple of things about my column. Each issue can be read on its own, but I keep in mind that the vast majority of the readership has been subscribed to my column for a long time, in some cases several years, since it has been published for over 20 years. So I try to avoid addressing the same topics, or at any rate with the same angle. For reasons out of my control, however, the topic of French nationality attracted a lot of attention and I received some interesting and passionate responses. So it was addressed in the latest Dec/Jan issue, and in both February and March, and again this month.
I wish I could be more specific in the way you are expecting. I really wish the procedures in France were paperless, or much more nearly so. The reality is that, while so much has already become paperless in other domains, people only notice the cumbersome procedures in the French administration, where the traditional paper file is required. Anything that is handled by the préfecture falls into that category. I thought I was clear in the March issue: the guidelines have not changed when it comes to the number of documents needed; this is not where changes are likely to occur.
The general evaluation of the applicant's profile includes assessing such items as whether the applicant has a stable lifestyle and whether he/she is well integrated into French society. One illustration of the changes could be the lower expectations as to the level of French and general knowledge of France. Another could be that a recent move of the home or change of job does not carry as much stigma. Maybe it could be the lesser importance placed on a recent divorce or break-up of a PACS. I heard the current French prime minister explaining his view on this matter in a rather provocative way. This said, his statement perfectly fits who he is " he was born Spanish from Catalonia, and became French at age 20" as well as his strong personality. I am sure that applicants for French naturalization would prepare a much better file if they understood his logic and therefore his belief regarding this matter. In a recent speech, the prime minister expressed his provocative opinion this way: .
First, one needs to understand that the French administration maintains very tight control over foreigners right to work. This is supposed to protect the established people already living in France, i.e., the French! You have registered for a right to work as a self-employed auto-entrepreneur, and obtained it without first getting permission to do so from the préfecture. For that reason alone, when the préfecture finds out, the chances are you will automatically lose your carte de séjour salarié.
"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 the foreigners feel much better about handling the required paperwork! So, while the number of documents has not changed, the level of requirements to obtain naturalization has been lowered so that anybody can become French, rather than just those wealthy enough to pay a professional or those highly educated in the French elite school system who can handle the task alone. In short, lack of money or education should not be a barrier to becoming French, as long as the allegiance to France is genuine and the integration deep and sincere.
So, yes, situations like those described above do happen in life and there is no stigma attached to them in modern French society. At the same time, it is obvious that such situations affect a person's stability and the ability to stay within society. That is why the préfecture used to impose de facto a delay of a couple of years or more after such a life event so that the sense of stability was ensured. It is this idea of stability that most first-time applicants have trouble grasping. They think: What is wrong with getting a better job, or moving to a better place? To them, these things are by definition good and the person should be rewarded for them
French people, though, see such moments more as risky than anything else, implying the possibility of failure and a definite rupture with the previous life. In short, the exact opposite of stability and integration. You can see this contrast regarding just about all aspects of life. In short, an American focuses on the opportunity and the benefit to be gained if it is a success, while a French person focuses on the risk and the possible loss if it is a failure. 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.
WRONG FISCAL STATUS FOR THE CARTE DE SEJOUR LINKED TO A LICENSED PROFESSION
I tried to work as an architect in France a few years ago and there was a lot of confusion between my French lawyer, the préfecture and my French accountant. The latter one advised me to create a corporation called SASU (société par actions simplifiée unipersonnelle). The préfecture considered my position within the SASU to be the manager of a commercial corporation and therefore saw my profession as that of a commerçant, (a merchant). Unfortunately, according to the Order of Architects, that is incompatible with working as an architect in France. Yet the Order accepted the registration of a SAS or SASU (which is basically a company created by an individual rather than a group). This was clearly nuts: the préfecture gives you papers with the term commerçant on them, which is against the "regulation of the profession; and the Order of Architects accepts the registration as a commerçant under a SASU, against their own code of practice!
A lawyer whom I took on later said I should have had profession libérale status. It was the darn accountant who came up with the SASU and sold me on it, thus increasing his workload and fees, though I can't say that was his intent. If the business had been successful, perhaps the SASU would have been a good structure for accounting and tax reasons. You don't need to respond to this, unless you like, as it is water under the bridge.
I am now waiting for a final contract from a firm offering me a position in France and am taking note that it would be safe to stay put in the US and imagine a longer waiting period than they hope for from their side.
I could, I guess, be in France for the 89 days allowed with no visa, not get paid (or have some honorarium paid to my US account, as I will then be mostly working from the Swiss office), and just return to New York for my visa application appointment at the New York consulate once the permis de travail request from the employer has been approved, as it seems there are no exceptions to applying from one's home' city. That is costly (an extra round-trip ticket, visible stamps in my passport as well). What do you think of all this?
Allow me to review the new situation before addressing what happened previously. By now you have indeed lost all immigration rights in France and everything must be started again from the very beginning, which means submitting a visa request. Note that this is the ONLY thing that will be similar to the previous procedure. Everything else is different, including the timing and the complexity of the file you will submit at the French consulate once DIRECCTE (the regional labor and consumer protection department) approves the employer's request to have you work for them. The procedure is as follows:
1 – The employer submits the file to DIRECCTE/MOE (the latter stands for Main d'Oeuvre Etrangère, foreign labor), which must review the request within two months from the date it is received. As I have explained several times, the MOE has the right to veto such requests, but in your case I doubt it will be used, because
- a – a multinational is submitting the request and you would be on the payroll in Switzerland
- b – you were licensed as a French architect and even if your license is not current you can requalify in no time.
Therefore I see nothing blocking or even slowing down your request. It happens that the MOE often takes longer than the two-month limit without any consequences. This should not happen in your case for the reasons I have just explained. Mind you, in France nothing is totally easy.
2– Upon approval of the request, your employer is informed of the decision and the file goes to the local branch of OFII (Office français de l'immigration et de l'intégration) to be quickly reviewed and sent to the French consulate in the USA near where you live
3– The consulate informs you that the file has been received and you need to submit the long-stay immigration visa. This just involves filling out the form, showing your passport and maybe a couple of documents, rarely more, since the entire reason for your going to France has been secured and fully approved. You do not have to prove anything but your identity.
4– The visa is issued quickly and you can come to France and start working as soon as you get here, as you hold an immigration visa and an autorisation provisoire de travail issued by MOE.
5– You send out the OFII form to get a medical appointment, which includes a complete physical. Normally the OFII stamp is a standard titre de séjour mention salarié for the first year.
- This is how I see the timeframe:
- MOE - maximum 2 months
- OFII review - 2 weeks
- Consulate - maximum 2 weeks or so
- TOTAL 3 months
Since this is an immigration procedure, the regulation demands that the applicant not be in France while the request is being reviewed, i.e., during the entire procedure. I cannot see any way this procedure could be speeded up to only last six weeks.
Clearly there is some misunderstanding regarding the situation. The main thing MOE approves is a labor contract, which therefore becomes a tripartite contract involving the French administration. You cannot "lose" your job simply because the procedure takes time. A labor contract is in effect "written in concrete" it is not simply a job offer.
I hope I have reassured you regarding the procedure.
Now, regarding the past, I would like to make a bad comparison but one that I believe conveys the point. You plan on driving across the USA for your vacation with your family of six people and therefore you need to rent a better suited vehicle than the one you have. Misguidedly, you rent a tractor-trailer, a 16-wheeler! The vacation experience is going to be terrible and awfully expensive. You did not get the vehicle best suited to your vacation.
As an architect, you are a member of what is called a profession réglementée, one requiring a special license to practice, and as such, in France you must have one of only two types of professional status: either independent self-employed (profession libérale) or employee of an architectural firm (salarié d'un cabinet d'architecte) in the private sector. You clearly see what you did wrong and you have explained it very well.
The idea of you owning a commercial corporation and being its senior management was complete nonsense. This solution made no sense at all, as you found since you had a hard time registering as a practicing architect. Furthermore, obtaining the carte de séjour mention commerçant is in itself a horrendous process, very long and expensive. On top of this, because your activity was NOT -commerçant- it made the immigration request even more difficult.
What I find fascinating in your story is that even with this huge accumulation of wrongs, the French system managed to adapt, tolerating a dark gray status in other words, one that was illegal for all the parties involved but accepted by all. I am not sure if in the end it was a good thing for you or if you would have been better off being told that what you were trying to do was just impossible and you absolutely needed to comply with the law. Your past situation is a perfect illustration that this tolerance of the "gray status" in France does not always produce good things, at least not as good as they first seem. So often I hear statements like this: But I did it every year at the préfecture and they were happy then. How come they refused this time?
The reason is just that they were not applying the law before; they tolerated your ignorance, thought you would fix the situation sooner rather than later, and finally got tired of waiting.
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.
– 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.