Motherless Child

October 2018

 

From Wikipedia
“Sometimes I Feel Like a Motherless Child” (or simply “Motherless Child”) is a traditional Negro spiritual. It originated during the era of slavery in the United States. An early performance of the song by the Fisk Jubilee Singers dates back to the 1870s.

The song is clearly an expression of pain and despair conveying the hopelessness of a child who has been torn from her or his parents.

“Sometimes I feel like a motherless child
A long way from home, a long way from home”

Negro spirituals and some gospel songs say a lot about the suffering the slaves in the USA endured. Today they are usually sung by choirs, and too often we enjoy the concert, the performance, the beauty of the music, and overlook what the lyrics meant to the people who created these songs. It has always fascinated me to see large crowds of French people listening to this music, knowing next to nothing about the lyrics and what they convey.

This might explain why so many African-American musicians, particularly jazz and blues performers, moved to Europe and especially France. This began as early as 1925 with Josephine Baker.

Longing for home is very common among people who emigrate to a different country. The farther away they are from home, the more painful this feeling is.

Clearly the title can be linked to the topic that follows, concerning the fact that the majority of French children are born out of wedlock. When I discussed this topic with my two children, their response was that the term “out of wedlock” does not mean anything, and should be changed. They were trying to find something that would mean “children born of a stable relationship.”

I believe the title can resound further with almost everybody, especially those who have lost their parents.

THE MAJORITY OF FRENCH CHILDREN ARE BORN OUT OF WEDLOCK
When I first traveled to the USA in 1980 and 1981, and during my later stay when I got married in 1986 and lived there several years, I was surprised by the large number of teen pregnancies. The expression “babies making babies” was commonly used. One day I looked at France and saw that a growing number of children there were born out of wedlock – although the cultures of the two countries in this respect are quite different. There are several reasons for that – I would like to explain them before discussing the results of recently released data.

For a long time, almost 60 years, fewer and fewer people in France have been getting married, to the point that the legislation needed to change to follow this evolution.

1 –From the mid-1970s, city halls started to issue increasing numbers of certificat de concubinage. A couple would go to city hall, state that they were living together, and walk out with an official statement that could be used to obtain benefits that otherwise only spouses could get.

2 – The kinship law of January 3rd 1972 erased the legal difference between children born within marriage and those born outside of wedlock, as long as neither parent in the latter case was married to someone else.

3 – The PACS law of November 15th 1999 established the pacte civil de solidarité, which quickly became almost a carbon copy of the institution of marriage.

With the French state officializing stable non-married couples and giving them strong legal status, more and more such couples are having children without being married.

Teen pregnancy is virtually non-existent in France, and children are almost always born to a stable couple.

In 2017, almost 6 children out of 10 (59.5%) were born outside of marriage. In 2007 such children were already the majority at 50.7%. These numbers were published by INSEE, the French National Institute of Statistics and Economic Studies, on September 4th 2018.

The numbers indicate that churches have almost completely lost their influence on the general population, as one must be married at city hall before having a religious ceremony. It is clear that France is a secular country and can no longer be called a Catholic country. Of course, these percentages include French Muslims. However, since France does not allow data studies to be based on ethnicity or religious affiliation, it is impossible to know how many Muslims get married, and how many of these ceremonies include religious rites.

There were 228,000 weddings celebrated in France in 2017, around 5,000 fewer than the year before. Some 192,000 PACS were recorded in 2016, up 3,000 from the year before. The numbers say it all – the trend is obvious. This clearly explains how it was possible to have 6 out of 10 children born out of wedlock in 2017.

Several years ago, I met a couple who showed that the numbers were not telling the entire story. He was French, born in France of two parents from the same African country. She was from that country as well. They chose to be PACSed rather than married. But the young woman told me she had waited to be PACSed before moving in with the man and consummating the relationship, as she was an honorable woman.

I have encountered many similar situations where the couple mixes very traditional values with choosing a PACS over marriage. This puts back in perspective the variety of choices hinted at in the title, especially for people who are not used to the French situation, which is after all not an oddity. It is just people adapting to situations and making their own decisions according to the law of the land.

https://abonnes.lemonde.fr/les-decodeurs/article/2018/09/04/six-enfants-sur-dix-naissent-hors-mariage-en-france-un-record-en-europe_5350153_4355770.html

EMPLOYEE PROTECTION IN FRANCE HAS A LIMIT
French labor law is extremely protective in favor of employees. This is well known, and the scariest tales heard in the expat community have some truth in them. But recent laws sought by Economics Minister Emmanuel Macron and achieved by President Macron are taking away some of this protection. A recent court decision sheds some interesting light on this issue.

A sales representative had a company car and pretty much had all of France as his territory and therefore drove a lot. He registered with the Blablacar site to drive people during his working hours. Blablacar provides carpooling, which ensures that more than one person is traveling in a car, reducing the need for others to have to drive themselves.

The initial problem was that the car was insured only for his own use when he was using it on company business. Therefore, his action constituted a violation of the labor contract.

On top of that, even though the car did not cost him anything, he was asking for cost sharing and a tad more, which ended up making him a substantial profit – several thousand euros in a couple of years – which Blablacar does not allow.

The employee argued that the fact that his participation in Blabla-carpooling did not cost his company any extra, and therefore it had no grounds for firing him.

The Rennes Court of Appeals in August 2018 struck down the decision by a lower court in Nantes because he had driven the car in violation of his company’s insurance policy and therefore his employer’s guidelines, and because he made a profit, which did not comply with Blablacar regulations.

The usual argument that “it does not hurt the employer” does not work as well as it used to.

https://www.lemonde.fr/economie/article/2018/09/06/les-prud-hommes-deboutent-un-salarie-licencie-pour-covoiturage-avec-une-voiture-de-fonction_5351321_3234.html

THE PARIS BRANCH OF OFII HAS MOVED
Since I started my business over 20 years ago, I have seen this division of the French administration change its name many times, since it felt like each president wanted to fix the immigration problem once and for all. The office now called OFII (Office Français de l’Immigration et de l’Intégration) has several functions:

(1) It is probably best known for the mandatory medical exam for people who come to France with a visa.

(2) In the procedure of an employer hiring a foreigner living abroad, OFII carries out the second round of investigations before sending the file to the designated consulate.

(3) In the family reunification procedure, when a foreigner sponsors a spouse and/or minor children to come to France, it carries out the initial strict investigation.

(4) It also introduces visa-holders to France, showing them an explanatory movie and testing their ability to speak French, find a job and so on.

The office used to be located at 48 rue de la Roquette in the 11th arrondissement, near the Place de la Bastille. The new location opened on September 25th at 83 rue de Patay in the 13th. It is now quite far from a metro stop, and is closest to the Bibliothèque François Mitterrand and Olympiades stops.

My guess is that this will not fix the problem of the office personnel being overworked due to the number of asylum seekers who need appointments. I have not heard feedback yet, but I will make sure to let people know how it goes.

VFS GLOBAL, A NEW PLAYER IN THE FRENCH IMMIGRATION PROCEDURE
From Wikipedia:
VFS Global is an outsourcing and technology services specialist for governments and diplomatic missions worldwide. The company manages visa and passport issuance-related administrative and non-discretionary tasks for its client governments. It is based in Dubai.

The company operates in 139 countries on behalf of its 60 client governments. It has processed over 180 million applications since it commenced operations in 2001.

There are two very different issues here I would like to raise.
1 – For the foreigner, it complicates the procedure and increases the risk of getting the wrong visa. The request for the visa is filed online but VFS does not gather enough information about the exact reasons for the visa request to ensure that the visa hoped for will be the one received. I have been seeing people who went through this procedure and thought they asked for a visiteur immigration visa but instead received a one-year non-renewable one because they chose “up to one year” instead of “more than one year.” The latter is needed to obtain true immigration status that can be renewed by the prefecture a year or so later.

2 – For the government, it means trusting a private foreign corporation to handle a national security matter. Controlling the borders includes dealing with those coming into the country with a visa. French civil servants, i.e. the French administration, have a mixed reputation but most people agree they take pride in doing their job to protect the nation’s interests. The fact that this attitude can sometimes lead them to treat private individuals with contempt does not negate this point. So hiring a private company whose employees are just there to do a job does not reassure me when it comes to those employees completely reviewing a file and understanding the nature of the request. It really feels like paper pushing. All the approved requests go to the French consulate in Washington for the visa to be issued.

A reader sent me a link to a site rating this company. Its score was 2 out of 5. Many of the negative comments sounded familiar to me. Even clients of mine who got their visas recently have not been impressed by the quality of the service. In the most striking case, the address for the meeting was wrong because VFS had moved without informing the people who had appointments.

www.trustpilot.com/review/vfsglobal.com
https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/VFS_Global

CPAM IS NOW TIGHTENING PUMA REGISTRATION AND COVERAGE
President Macron has stated a few times that the Assurance Maladie should do more to keep people who do not live in France from abusing the system. I have seen this happen; sometimes it is people do not know they are breaking the law, but others know the regulations very well. The Assurance Maladie covers only residents of France.

Thus, alongside PUMA coverage, we have seen a growing effort to identify users who do not live here but have their medical check-up when they come to France on vacation.

First CPAM suddenly refused to register foreigners with visiteur immigration status. This lasted several months until the rule changed and these foreigners regained the right. Then came a hassle in obtaining coverage for people who could not prove they had been living in France for the previous three months. The immediate assumption was that they were not residents, even people who had their immigration visa, the OFII stamp, and utility bills in their name. Such scrutiny has decreased significantly, but proof of residence from several sources is still required. Therefore, if you are one of those affected, be ready to bring your lease, rent receipts (quittances de loyer), utility bills and Internet provider bills for the last six months. If you have children in school, bring their school registration statement.

The latest development is that some foreigners are receiving very detailed questionnaires asking their whereabouts. One of my readers writes:

“The letter was received at the beginning of this week – which is not only the middle of the vacation period but includes the August 15th holiday – demanding the return of a dossier within three weeks, without which the rights to health coverage will cease and steps can be taken to recover medical expenses already paid.”

Though the vast majority of PUMA beneficiaries are French nationals from birth, it seems they will also need to prove residence in their native country each year.

There was also apparently a request to furnish a RIB in the name of the individual person, even though couples often have joint accounts. The points is that Sécu accounts are now individual. It is not clear whether the submission of a RIB in the name of the individual was optional.

I am attaching the complete letter for those who are interested.

Best regards,

INSURANCE COVERAGE FOR FRENCH SMALL BUSINESSES

QUESTION

I am an American who teaches in France with auto-entrepreneur status. My most recent client demands proof of insurance. Have you any thoughts on that? It is a bilingual school, and the manager wants me to have two separate types of insurance – one for working with children and the other for being in the actual school building. Both are very expensive and I honestly do not understand the need for two policies. Can't I have just one insurance policy that covers me for the work I do wherever I do it? Do you have an insurance company you recommend?

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ANSWER

There is so much wrong in this situation that I have a hard time knowing where to start.

First of all, you are a self-employed teacher working for a school teaching students. The rule against this is crystal clear, and URSSAF inspectors are going after auto-entrepreneur teachers so they can nail the schools, and such employers in general, who are violating the law in this way.

The law is that any teacher, regardless of how few hours they teach, is an employee of the school if they are in the classroom teaching. It is impossible to wiggle out of this.

One consequence is that an employee cannot be independently insured – only the employer can insure the school for everything – the building, the employees (including against any wrongdoing by them), specific coverage for working with children, and so on. This is why you are having such a hard time finding this kind of policy and when you do find one, it is so expensive: The insurance company is treating you as a school, not as an independent worker. The school is demanding this because you are an independent worker and therefore their policy does not cover you if there is a lawsuit against you for wrongdoing on their premises.

I do not understand the second request at all. How can you be insured for being in a building when you occupy it as a teacher for only a limited amount of time?

All this indicates that the best thing to have done was probably not to take this job. It would be better to accept contracts that are more in line with what your true activity is supposed to be: teaching your students independently, either children (in which case you are a tutor) or adults, individually or as a group, at their location or yours.

I understand full well that language schools and private schools have been abusing the system for almost a decade and the crackdown is insufficient to stop it. So they continue, considering the odds and the risk they face versus the financial consequences, which can be severe, as they may suddenly be forced to pay all the social charges on the amount they have paid their teachers. Indeed, this money is considered as being a net salary and the final bill can be huge since the authorities can go back three years.

Now I would like to address the legitimate point that your business can and should carry liability insurance. Anyone working in a profession libérale runs the risk of doing something that causes harm and having to pay damages. Some professions, for obvious reasons, require such insurance – lawyers, doctors, architects, CPAs and some other professions run a higher risk, while others such as teachers, translators and consultants have lower risks. Indeed, what kind of liability can a teacher faced with an unforeseen situation incur, especially in France, as long as he or she is giving courses inside a building? Inappropriate behavior would make you lose the job or incur criminal charges, and those are risks the insurance company does not cover.

All insurance companies offer such policies, and you choose the one compatible with your activity and budget. Maybe you should stick with tutoring children in their home, where the liability risk is at its minimum, as the parents are required to have insured the house and therefore what is happening inside.

At this point I would like to reiterate that your professional status, being a self-employed person, is incompatible with teaching in a classroom at a school. Should the prefecture find out this is what you are doing, you could lose your carte de séjour. I know this practice has become very common, but it is still illegal. As long as you are not caught, you are fine. The problem is that at the prefecture you must eventually show your invoices and bank statements. You will have to be able to prove that you make enough money without the work you do at this school. So look at the big picture: with all the trouble it creates, and the very serious risk you are taking with the prefecture, I do not see a single reason to take this job in the first place.

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FRENCH HEALTH COVERAGE AND BREXIT
QUESTION

I am British, married to an American. I understand that because of Brexit, we wil find it very difficult to get health insurance when we move to France. She received a liver transplant twelve years ago, and recently was successfully treated for hepatitis C. Am I right in my understanding or do we have to wait to see how the EU treats the Brits in the coming months?

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ANSWER

First, let’s look at what Brexit is: It is the decision by the UK to leave European Union. It has no legal consequences on French domestic issues – none whatever. The consequences strictly concern British people living in France and business exchanges between France and the UK.

You are right about one thing: once it is finalized, Brexit will affect the rights that British people will have in France. That is part of what is being negotiated now, and so far nothing is certain. The absolute worst thing that can happen is that British citizens will be deprived of their rights as Europeans and they will then be treated like American citizens when it comes to immigration, among many other things.

Next, let’s talk about who provides health insurance in France. The French healthcare system is almost totally regulated by a public system called Assurance Maladie. People pay into the system, either through an employer in France or via premiums paid while they reside in France, whether as lawful immigrants or as French citizens. A portion of the income related to retirement is excluded from the calculation of the premium, which is 8% of the remaining amount.

A tiny minority of foreigners living in France can choose to be covered by private health insurance. The insurance companies offering such insurance include British companies.

My conclusion is that there is no way Brexit as such can affect health insurance. Either the UK will retain some EU rights, and then, depending on how extensive they are, British coverage may apply in France as it does today. Or, if the UK keeps no EU rights, then British residents, like Americans, will have to choose from the solutions France offers.

Because of her medical condition and what seems to be a pretty severe pre-existing condition, I would make the calculation of how much the public sector and the mutuelle would cost, knowing that what is linked to hepatitis C should be 100% covered as an affection de longue durée (long, pervasive illness). If one of you works in France, then there should be no premium to pay, as the social charges would pay for coverage for the two of you.

Looking at all this, I do not believe you have any reason to think she will have difficulty getting health coverage in France.

Interestingly enough, the only scenario where you two could have some serious problems getting healthcare coverage is if British citizens end up maintaining full EU rights in France. This is because the French public coverage, previously called CMU and now PUMA, is not available to other EU citizens living in France for the first five years of residence; instead, they must rely on the health coverage of their country of citizenship – that is, unless they are employed; remember, EU citizens currently have an unrestricted right to work in France.

Therefore you can see that the fact that the UK is part of the EU has a negative effect on access to French health coverage. So let’s imagine that one consequence of Brexit is the collapse of the UK’s National Health Service. You would not be allowed to sign up for French coverage, but there would no British coverage.

If British citizens in France maintain full EU rights, however, including the right to work, the solution would be to immediately take the first job you can find, in order to be covered by the French public system.

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IS A STUDENT IN FRANCE A FRENCH FISCAL RESIDENT?
QUESTION

I am an American who recently received a two-year student visa and now hold the OFII stamp. I arrived late April 2018. I have several questions to which I cannot get a straight answer:
Am I subject to French tax (income or other)?

  1. If I am subject to French income tax, what is the trigger and can it be avoided?
  2. Does opening a bank account in France have any impact on the answer to the first question above?
    I ask because HSBC is telling me to fill out an auto-certification tax form, and since my HSBC account is linked to my new French address, my banker is saying that the country of tax residence (currently USA) needs to match the address and be in France as well. This doesn't seem right, considering I am just on a student visa.
  3. I want to continue filing my taxes in the USA. If I cannot escape French taxes, do you think it’s best that I find a French accountant?

I ask because HSBC is telling me to fill out an auto-certification tax form, and since my HSBC account is linked to my new French address, my banker is saying that the country of tax residence (currently USA) needs to match the address and be in France as well. This doesn't seem right, considering I am just on a student visa.

I want to continue filing my taxes in the USA. If I cannot escape French taxes, do you think it’s best that I find a French accountant?

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ANSWER

There are many things to say about your situation. The first is to explain what defines French fiscal residence.

There are four situations that would make you a French fiscal resident:

  • 1.Staying in France for 183 days in a calendar year, whether or not you have legal immigration status.
  • 2. Having immediate family members (a spouse and/or minor children) who reside in France.
  • 3. Having a French employer.

4. Running a French business.
Even though you arrived in France only a few months ago, when it comes to the time to declare income in France in May, you will have been here more than 183 days in the 2018 calendar year. Therefore, you should start operating as a French fiscal resident now, since it is going to happen very soon.

You should also know that you need to declare your worldwide income to France. Under the tax treaty between France and the USA, any money you might earn in France will be taxed in France, while American unearned and earned income is taxed in the USA. So you cannot avoid being a French fiscal resident, but it is quite possible that you will avoid paying taxes in France.

Opening a French bank account as such does not change anything regarding residency, but the bank needs to know if you are considered resident or non-resident for fiscal purposes. The difference is visible: The address on your French checks is the French one if you are a French resident, and the American one otherwise. According to what your banker told you, your account will carry your French address and you are expected to declare your income in France.

This question also has an impact for your banker regarding the mandatory declaration of an American citizen opening a bank account in a foreign country under the American FATCA regulation. This is one reason American citizens are having difficulties opening a bank account. This explains why your banker spoke to you this way, and he was right.

Another issue is that in France there is no such a thing as a French accountant in the sense you mean, i.e. someone who helps average private individuals with their income declaration. However, there are professionals who can do your French and American income declarations and ensure that they both state the same thing. Here is a breakdown of the accounting profession in France:

1 – Un comptable is an accountant
This is someone who works as an employee in a firm (accounting or legal) or in a company and does his job in the accounting office. He cannot do accounting for anyone else.

2 – Un expert-comptable is the equivalent of a CPA
These professionals do the books of corporations, non-profits and so on, which is just about the only mission they have. They hold a license and have a monopoly on practicing accounting. Hardly any of them handle personal filing. This means private individuals cannot get help from them in filling out income declarations such as the American 1040 form.

3 – An international expert has no equivalent in the USA, as far as I know
These are the professionals who can fill out French and American tax forms. They are very useful for American residing in France because American tax law requires them to make a double declaration of the same worldwide income.

4 – Firms like H&R Block do not exist in France
Professional tax preparation firms are based in the USA and may be hired from there by expats in France.

The reason there is no such thing as a tax professional who advises private individuals, other than the international experts, is that part of the job description for tax inspectors in France is to be a fair and honest tax adviser. French people line up in May to have their declarations reviewed by their inspectors. Only the very wealthy need a professional, and the declaration of personal income is just one more task to do after the corporate books are done.

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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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