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The Winner Takes It All

June 2020

“The Winner Takes It All” is a song by the Swedish pop group ABBA, the first single from its Super Trouper album, released on July 21st 1980. My faithful readers might be surprised by this choice, as I am not a real fan of this band with its too often sugary lyrics and disco music.

I like this song quite a lot as it is about the end of a romance. I hear the frustration and pain of the betrayed woman; she lost everything and tried to stay civil about it, and I am not sure the man reacts in the same well-mannered way.

This title (more than the lyrics, I admit) reminds me of an incident that I felt did not get as much media coverage as it deserved. In early May, US Attorney General William Barr was asked by Catherine Herridge of CBS, “When history looks back on this decision, how do you think it will be written?”

“Well,” he replied, “history is written by the winners, so it largely depends on who’s writing the history.”

Sure, in politics it too frequently feels as if the winner takes it all, leaving virtually nothing to the other side. But in a democratic system, the fact that one party wins is not supposed to prevent it from governing for the wellbeing of the entire nation. According to the rules of democracy, the winners cannot take everything, and there are checks and balances to ensure that the minority has sufficient influence so that, in an ideal world, the needs and aspirations of the entire nation are taken into consideration. The USA has for centuries been a model of this because of the way the founding fathers structured its democratic system, with three equal branches of government with the power to rule and to prevent the other branches from becoming too powerful.

Many people describe the policy that is currently being implemented in the USA as an autocratic evolution of the way the current American president and his government rule the country. In other countries, some people see a similar trend in their own government. Indeed many French people think the current president is moving dangerously towards a more autocratic regime.

The French administration is trying to do a good job reopening public services, but when it comes to prefectures and their schedules, the task is enormous and the result confusing, frustrating and highly unreliable. This is in spite of the considerable efforts of the employees.

Since May 11th, prefectures have started to get ready to receive the public and resume some of their activities, although each one seems to have a different schedule.

There are four distinct situations that must be addressed, each requiring different actions:
1 – An appointment was made to pick up the carte de séjour, but then the prefecture shut down. Some prefectures have started to give new appointments to pick up these cards.

2 – The carte de séjour should be ready by now but the prefecture had not issued an appointment before lockdown. Since the applicant cannot be certain that the card is ready to be picked up, they must wait to receive the date and time of the appointment.

3 – The titre de séjour (usually the carte de séjour) needed to be renewed and expired during lockdown. The prefecture needs to arrange for the appointment to be made in a special way, as the standard page of the website will not allow it to be done after the day of expiration.

4 – The titre de séjour needs to be renewed and will expire soon. The prefecture needs to reopen the standard website so that people can make appointments. I am pretty sure the appointments will be much later this year.

The situation that poses the most problems is the third one, as we do not yet know how it will be addressed.

The first cases that need to be discussed involve cartes de séjour, récépissés, visas, autorisations provisoires de séjour and so on that had their validity extended for at least six months. When the system reopens, all those documents will be considered valid and procedures will resume as usual – but only for people who were in France when their immigration status expired; the extension does not apply for people who got stuck out of the country. Therefore, it is extremely important to come back before the immigration status expires. Remember, French citizens and immigrants to France have the right to travel back to France at any time, even when the borders are closed. Anyone in that situation needs to fill out the document called attestation de déplacement international dérogatoire vers la France métropolitaine.

While France’s borders remain shut, it is not possible to fly back to France with just an American passport. For people stuck abroad whose immigration status expired during lockdown, the solution is to ask at a French consulate for a visa de retour allowing you to come back. This document is issued to French residents who can prove they maintained their residency in France but exceptional situations prevented them from traveling. It is supposed to be issued quickly and it does not require much paperwork. But the consulate checks with the prefecture about the applicant’s immigration status, so the situation had better be clear. Ideally, an appointment to renew has been secured, so the intention to stay in France is clearly documented. If that is not the case, the intent to continue residing in France can be more difficult to prove.

This link can be used if you have an appointment to pick up the carte de séjour at the Paris prefecture and it was shut on that date:

Most prefectures for which I have information state that they will be ready to welcome the public on June 15th, but not for all procedures, and with a new way of receiving the public. The only thing that seems to be standard is that appointment times will be strictly adhered to, with a 15-to 30-minute window to enter. This means the process should be quite lean, without the large crowds we are used to. It should also do away with the usual long waits.

I strongly advise people to check their prefecture’s website regularly so they can act right away. Currently the Parisian prefecture is sending new appointments scheduled in mid-July by postal mail to the people who had appointments in Mid-March. This gives some vague indication as to when one can expect to have the appointment rescheduled. As for people who need to schedule an appointment, I do not know when this will be possible and, it could be as late as January 2021 even if one manages to get in the system shortly after it reopens. If so, this delay will create more problems for many people.

As many activities of the prefecture are linked to national security, there is a permanent desire for control and scrutiny to make sure no one is trying to cheat. That explains why, during the issuance and renewal of immigration status, there are two times when the foreigner must be present: to submit the request and to pick up the physical ID. Few people are aware of the abuse of cartes de séjour common in African communities in France. An undocumented foreigner pays someone who is in France legally to use theircarte de séjour to get a job. All the pay slips and credits associated with receiving a salary in France go to the legal holder of the card, but it allows the person illegally in France to earn a living.

Early in May I started hearing that the prefecture would mail out cartes de séjour to foreigners. This solution has several advantages, given COVID-19 and the prefecture’s three-month backlog. The prefecture sends out the usual text message saying that the card is ready, but instead of giving a date and a time to come and pick it up, it says either Votre titre de séjour xxxxxxxx disponible en pref. taxe à payer : 0000 eur. rdv sur site internet pref pol/ressortissants étrangers/envoi postal des titres or the same message with0225 eur, depending on whether a fee is owed. The recipient must go through a couple of clearance steps to make sure the right person is activating the account. The final step is to confirm the mailing address. Then thecarte de séjour is sent by registered mail.

This shows that the prefecture is facing unbelievable chaos if it is willing to give up its sacrosanct double presence policy and trust the postal system to check the recipient’s identity. It also shows the ingenuity of the French administration, coming up with an alternative solution that works. I would not be surprised if it is retained, even when everything falls back into place once the pandemic is truly over.

The website is the one mentioned earlier:

In an event sponsored by the Facebook forum American Expats in Paris, the Franco-American lawyer Daniel Tostado and I held a webinar to answer immigration questions. Daniel came up with the idea and we worked on the format. He is my second-in-command for my volunteer activity at the American Church in Paris and this was an attempt to do something for the community, as the activity stopped when the church closed on March 14th.

Chris Mann, a member of our church running a computer ministry, monitored the Zoom session, making sure we could address the issues in an orderly fashion and manage the waiting room. It did not come close to replacing the sessions at the church, but it was an attempt to reach out and we had decent turnout.

The topics covered were visas, residency permits and the like, appointments, extensions, closures, reopenings, and our best speculation as to how the French government would proceed in the months to come. The webinar was recorded and we insisted it be made available to the public. Since it was done during lockdown I can be seen with a sizable beard, which I never wear when my office is open. So, thanks to Chris Mann, it is now on YouTube and my reputation for good grooming could be challenged!

After a few months of lockdown, many researchers have started to study the effects of the confinement (forced to stay at home) on people. The findings include significant increases in domestic violence and divorces. We have also seen petty as well as generous action and behavior. So much has been said on this subject and there is bound to be much more to come, but I would like to share an exchange that highlighted an interesting aspect of what was happening.

After 29 years as part of the American Church in Paris congregation, we have seen several pastors come and go. My family has stayed in contact with some of them, even 20 years later. The following was an exchange with one of them.

My 75th birthday was May 4, and E. organized a Zoom meeting with M. and A. and kids. M.’s daughter S. said something that really struck us all: “Funny, we are now living a huge worldwide event that someday in the future will be in the history books and studied by children and adults in school. But we’re actually LIVING this future to-be-studied event right now!” A simple but profound perspective, we thought.

Indeed, there are so many layers in her comment.
1 – It is true that we are connecting with the world and it does not take much to feel close to one another, when we are physically far apart.

2 – For now – and I believe this will never change – a human being is made of a body and therefore needs to have the presence of another person. In the past generations, people prioritized those who shared their lives. Other people were important as well; our grandparents, parents and I, myself, had significant epistolary exchanges which sometimes led to marriages. In those days, the methods of communication were limited to visits, snailmail, and, more recently, phone calls. The existence of internet should not change this basic principle; the people present with you should have your priority because they share your life, and the others are probably important but fit in between those who are present with you.

3 – I use social media more and more and I am happy it exists. Facebook has become a tool I communicate with that helps me remember birthdays and where I advise for free on several francophone and anglophone forums. I believe that on some occasions I have managed to make a difference in people’s lives with some good advice. It is also a marketing tool: People see what I answer and contact me later. I welcome this communal aspect of social media. But it can also be a tool used to harm others, enabling some people to destroy reputations and sometimes lives, with rumors.

4 – Lockdown has exacerbated the absurd and way too common situation where people constantly use their phones to publish things to a wide, anonymous audience while sitting with friends, loved ones or family members. The sad reality is that fake Facebook friends can become so important that the real loved ones who are physically close are ignored. How often do we see gatherings where everybody is on their phone as if they were alone in the room? This is wrong. The person you are with should have your main and ideally undivided attention.


This evolution scares me, even if the pandemic may have made people aware that a screen does not bring a body, just an image. That leads me to the topic of working remotely, which surged enormously in France and became widely used in the USA and many other countries. In the past few months I have conducted business meetings with clients via Skype, Zoom and other platforms. Since it was the only way, I was happy to do it, but I miss the personal aspect of such exchanges.

A personal presence clearly changes the dynamic, and I am sensitive to it. Many people complain about feeling uneasy during Zoom meetings. After taking part in a few of them, I got used to it, and Zoom offers a real ability to communicate and exchange. Yet no matter how productive the meetings were, I always came out of them feeling a kind of dryness and coldness that was unrelated to the people I was with but existed because the communication was through a screen.

Some people say that once they got used to it, it stopped bothering them. But that is exactly my point: We are getting used to dehumanization. Having all those internet tools saved many businesses, allowing employees and small business owners to continue to work, and I rejoice that it was possible. At the same time, we saw people getting used to being locked in and enjoying the slower pace, and having more family life. They suddenly had more time for their spouses and children. They tried, sometimes clumsily, to manage work the best they could while putting their priority on the people they lived with. They did not complain much about having to stay inside their home. We also saw people who after one month or less became violent or depressed because they were stuck, and they felt stuck, and social media was not enough.

Of course, there are much bigger problems stemming from the pandemic, including the death toll, rising unemployment and a staggering number of bankruptcies. As is often the case, I like looking at what could be seen as an insignificant detail. I find that it is not.

Since January 1st 2019, all French employers have had to withhold the amount of money owed for income tax on salaries paid monthly. But one category of employers could not really do that the way the system was initially set up: private individuals employing people at home as tutors for their children, cleaners, nannies and so on. These employers are not equipped to calculate and pay the social charges related to the salary paid.

The program through which such workers are paid, called chèque emploi service universel (CESU), has existed for about 17 years. The French administration, in the form of the URSSAF branch in the city of Saint-Etienne, calculates the amount of social charges owed by the employer and takes that money from the employer’s bank account at the end of the month. That office was not ready to add the tax calculation when all other employers were forced to do it. The government overlooked this problem, and URSSAF was not ready to implement the policy. Later another question was raised: Should the withholding be done on the employer’s bank account or the employee’s?

Finally, in January 2020 (although employers were not informed until about two months later), the amount paid by the employer at the end of the month began including the estimated income tax owed. The form confirming the declaration done online shows three amounts: net salary earned by the employee, amount of income tax estimated, and amount the employer pays the employee before the income tax is taken off. Nearly the same situation exists for people paid through Pajemploi, which is for nannies and other childcare.

While implementing the policy, URSSAF created two new services, called Cesu+ and Pajemploi+. The employer can pay the employee by check, wire transfer, cash, PayPal and maybe more. There are some restrictions as to how much a cash payment can be. With the “plus” service, URSSAF can transfer the net salary directly from the employer’s bank account into the employee’s designated bank account, with prior approval of the employer.

On several occasions, I have mentioned that notaires are obliged to inform both buyer and seller of all consequences of a property purchase. The rights and obligations linked to a property are passed from seller to buyer when the closing is signed. The notaire has a duty to control and therefore inform, which covers many issues. The most obvious is that the seller is the lawful owner and that the title is clear so it is safe to buy the property and live there. Another mission is to make sure the buyer has all the information needed to make the right decision and buy the place for the right price. Sometimes the amount paid to the seller differs from the purchase price if a known liability is attached to the property.

The obligation to repay a loan backed up by a mortgage is obvious, and thenotaire rarely neglects this information. But certain more insidious issues are likely to be overlooked by both the notaire and the buyer. One common concealed liability is a lawsuit pending when the property changes hands. If a suit is underway in the middle of the procedure, it is virtually impossible to know the outcome until the court rules. This issue is usually downplayed or ignored because most such cases deal with unpaid condominium charges. In these lawsuits, the unknown costs include the amount of legal fees the co-owners will have to pay, and when the court case will end.

However, when there is a lawsuit concerning matters such as the firing of thegardienne, dealing with a contractor accused of bad construction work, or settling with the city regarding cleaning and maintenance of the facade, the outcome can end up costing the co-owners a lot of money, so it is imperative for the buyer to be properly informed of the risk, and escrow is virtually impossible since the amount per apartment will not be known until the case is settled.

Information of this type must be included in a document called état daté, which the property manager (syndic) issues on request of the notaire. It summarizes all amounts owed by the seller, including unpaid charges and any amount linked to work already voted but not yet paid for. Each is clearly identified, and such items rarely cause problems. The buyer understands that once a contractor starts working, the final cost might be lower or higher than what was voted during the general meeting but what counts is the motion that has been voted.

The état daté must also list all current lawsuits. A ruling by the French Supreme Court, the Cour de Cassation, on June 20th 2019 addresses this issue. A syndic stated in the document that there were issues with the underground parking pending in a court case. Much later the buyer found out that the issues were linked to grossly defective ventilation, in the parking lot as well as in the staircases and common areas, creating a serious health hazard for residents. The syndic claimed the buyer was informed of the existence of the lawsuit, but was found guilty of misrepresentation.

I strongly advise anyone buying an apartment in France to carefully read all minutes of three or more recent annual general meetings and make sure they understand every motion voted on. If necessary, investigate why the motions were on the agenda and voted on. Ideally, you should also read the notification of each general meetings (convocation à l’assemblée générale), as these have much more information than the minutes. In the court case mentioned above, the minutes simply noted approval of a motion to take the contractor to court, but the pre-meeting notification would have included the letter from the co-owners’ lawyer explaining what the case was about, probably along with the expert’s memo listing the problems, and so on – enough information to show much better what was at stake. By law, the seller is only obliged to give the minutes of the three most recent general meetings. This is a great improvement, compared to before, but this above-mentioned court case shows its limits.

For more information on the état date, see

The office will be closed for one month, starting Friday, July 19th, and will reopen on Monday, August 24th. 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.

Handling mail in my office: 40 euros per month
Handling mail received at my home: 50 euros per month
Surcharge for out-of-the-office meetings: 60 euros which corresponds to less than 30 minutes’ transportation
Surcharge for meetings and phone calls at the client’s request after 7PM weekdays, all weekend and during national French holidays and vacations: 30%.

Best regards,


I do not know if the prefecture will be open by the time of your appointment. Prefectures cancelled all meetings with the public when the lockdown went into effect. They will reopen to the public on June 15th. You need to be ready to reschedule, despite the complications. Your file then must be fully ready as the prefecture is currently sending out the new convocations. If your appointment is scheduled after June 15th, then assume that it will take place and be ready for it. I do not know yet how the meeting will take place. You have valid French immigration status as well as American citizenship, therefore, I hope that you can reenter France before your immigration status expires. Then you should have no problem coming back even if there are still some restrictions on entering France, which will only apply to people whose immigration status has expired or are tourists.

The other issue in your question, however, concerns everybody who submits any kind of file to the prefecture: proving where you live. There are basically four situations, each requiring a different set of documents for proof of address.

1 – You own your primary residence.
The complete documentation should comprise the most recent taxe foncière statement, showing that you owned the place until the date of the statement, and one of those, a utility statement or bill less than three months old, as well as an internet provider bill or the most recent bill or statement from the tenant’s insurance company.

2 – You legally rent, ideally your primary residence.
The complete documentation should comprise a copy of the lease, a rent receipt (quittance de loyer) less than three months old and one of the following, a utility statement or bill less than three months old, an internet provider bill or the most recent bill or statement from the tenant’s insurance company.

3 – You are hosted by someone, either for a real or a fake rental where nothing is in your name.
The complete documentation should comprise an affidavit that you lodge with the person, a copy of the person’s ID and a utility statement or bill less than three months old in the person’s name, or one of the documents mentioned above.

4 – You legally rent an Airbnb kind of place or are in long-term hotel accommodation.
The complete documentation should comprise the lease or a contract with the hotel and very recent proof of payment, covering at least three months.

The prefecture may ask you to explain why you do not have longer-term lodging in France. You could say you needed to leave for a couple of months or more and wanted to move out of your old place anyway so you gave notice when you left and thought you would have time to get a new place when you came back before the prefecture appointment, but then France was shut down and you stayed in the USA until it was safe to travel but you had no time to find a long-term rental. This should be pretty close to what actually happened.

There is a third issue: the length of stay in France. The rule is that with visiteur immigration status, the only thing that proves you reside in France is the amount of time you spend in France. That is not true for all types of carte de séjour. In your case, for this particular renewal, this could become an issue. Therefore, the letter explaining your lodging situation should clearly explain how you got stuck outside of France against your will.

The prefecture can easily see the situation by reviewing your bank statements. A normal pattern is that some payments, such as rent, utilities, telephone and internet provider, are made regularly. If in addition they see credit card transactions and ATM withdrawals, they know you were in France that month. In your case, there may be several months with hardly any transactions. That will immediately draw their attention and it requires explanation. The pandemic will explain some of the months you were away, but that will not be enough if you stayed out of France more than six months. So think about how much you can explain without giving the impression that you deserted France for a long time and came back at the last minute. It would be a huge mistake to think the pandemic is your best excuse and the prefecture will accept your request for renewal of your immigration status. You are better off preparing the file as if the pandemic explained little if anything.



I wanted to thank you for your monthly comments. I always find them informative and, at times, thought-provoking. In your current notice I did find an item where I wanted to offer a comment. Regarding taxes, it is probably worth noting that while there may be no tax due if there were no earnings in France, social charges (CSG/CRDS) may still be assessed, even if the person filing the taxes is not receiving assurance maladie. However, once that is noted, there is the golden lining, so to speak, of now being able to claim the social charges as a US tax credit.

Regarding the note about tax filing being requisite for a 10-year carte de résident, there are many reports of people having been required to show proof of tax filing, but in our own case, we were never asked to provide evidence of tax filing at any point, from the original visa de longue séjour to the carte de résident. Also, the official information pages do not list tax filings as a requirement.

It was obvious to my wife and me that we received better than average treatment during all of our contacts with the French consulate in the US, and at the prefecture here in France. However, I credit some of that preferred treatment to the way we presented ourselves: We spoke only French, we were relaxed, calm, in good humor, we never challenged anything, and where there were questions or issues, we always asked for help and advice.

However, as to the list of detailed documents, I can say that, at least in département 06, there is no published requirement to show the avis d’imposition sur les revenus. Here is a link to the page for renewal of a carte de séjour temporaire. I chose this option since it would assume being present in France for over a year.


I checked the list and indeed, you are right, it is not mentioned. Therefore, it could be understood that it is not needed. This understanding would be wrong.

I need to explain the evolution of the prefecture’s way of informing the public. When I started 23 years ago, their lists covered several pages and each addressed a specific case. Therefore, they were easy to read because of the spacing, and more reliable because they were a better listing of the documents needed. Shortly after that I did an exercise with one of those lists, which mentioned only four items. I came up with 17 documents to have a complete file and comply with the requirement. Over the years, the prefecture has made its lists even less complete. It has reached the point where I use lists that are 10 to 15 years old when I explain to my clients what documents are needed.

Also, for a long time each prefecture had a different list and different procedures, though they usually reached the same goal at the end. The Parisian lists included an avis d’imposition sur les revenus as one of the most important documents, even for visiteur status. As it happens, the Paris prefecture and many others systematically let North American citizens get away with not showing the avis and thus do not ask for proof that the foreigner is a French fiscal resident. When you got that level of preferential treatment, you thought it was because of the way you conducted the procedure. I agree you had the exact attitude to make it go smoothly, but what you did not know was that you were missing documents and the prefecture was not applying the regulation to you.

You believe, rightly, that the prefectures trust a well-prepared file, as North Americans are used to organizing their documents this way and there is no reason to suspect them of using fake or forged documents.

Your link is to the Ministry of Interior list of guidelines for prefectures to follow.

When an applicant states that a document was not mentioned on the list, the prefecture responds that it was implied, given what you are being asked to prove. In your case, you must prove you are a French fiscal resident (if you live less than six months in France you cannot get the carte de séjour visiteur) and the avis d’imposition is the only way to do it. You are capable of providing it, and your taxable income is a critical piece of information to evaluate your status.

Last but not least, on the list at the link there is a section mentioning that if there is an affidavit of support, the person must submit theavis d’imposition as the cornerstone of proof that they have the means to provide support. This also indicates the importance the document.

I tell everybody I help that a list from the prefecture cannot be taken at face value. The bigger picture has to be considered! The context is that what is basically a police authority is going to review the file and has every right to verify whatever makes sense considering the situation, even if it was not mentioned.


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