“We Are the Champions” is a song by the British rock band Queen, first released on their 1977 album World. Written by lead singer Freddie Mercury.
The World Cup, Trevor Noah and French nationality
If something could not be missed this summer in France, it was the French men’s soccer team winning the world championship in Russia. I am not much of a sports fan, but there are some events that are worth following, as their impact is much bigger than just winning a game.
Twenty years ago, the French national team won the same championship. Even in 1998, almost everybody spoke positively of the racial diversity of the national team, which in those days looked much the same as it does now.In 1998, hardly anyone dared to criticize this diversity. They were French, and they had won. The celebrations were peaceful, with very isolated exceptions.This summer it was a very different atmosphere. There was looting in the streets of Paris and fighting with police.Interestingly, a controversy arose in the USA when late-night comedian Trevor Noah expressed joy that “Africa” had won the tournament. Noah is from South Africa, where for decades soccer was the favorite sport of black people while whites preferred rugby, especially during apartheid. Not only is soccer South Africa's most popular sport, but most members of the national team, nicknamed Bafana Bafana, have been black since the early 20th century. Black South Africans would attend rugby games just to support the opposing team as a way of showing their opposition to apartheid. By the way, “Bafana Bafana,” from the plural of the Zulu word for “boy,” means “Go, boys! Go, boys!”
Noah later got a letter from the French ambassador to the USA, scolding him for his statement on the grounds that the players were born in France. It would have been more accurate to identify the only clear error Noah made in his presentation.
Stating that the players do not look as though they have some Gallic ancestry is wrong, as the French population is not in fact descended from the Gauls, the Celtic peoples who fought Caesar.
This error has been made for centuries in French textbooks so it is difficult to criticize Noah for perpetuating it. Every French person has heard at least once,“Nos ancêtres les gaulois”!
After Julius Caesar defeated a confederation of Gallic tribes in the Battle of Alesia, Roman influence grew in Gaul. The Romans ended up having a tiny role in Brittany – which may be the only (loosely) historical fact in the Asterix comic books! Then Germanic tribes conquered all Western Europe, defeating the Roman Empire in 476, and each tribe settled where it chose. In France, two Germanic groups grew and battled for superiority: the Francs and the Burgundians ( en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Burgundians ) under whom the remainder of the Gallic nation was destroyed. Not until 1477 did King Louis XI, called “Louis the Prudent,” defeat the Duke of Burgundy https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Charles_the_Bold.
The kingdom of Brittany, whose capital was Nantes, existed from 849 to 1532, when Queen Anne de Bretagne married the king of France. Brittany was independent for so long that today it is the only place in France where one still finds Gallic people, descended from the Celts. There the road signs are written in two languages: French and Breton, a Celtic language.
But Noah is right in saying that when members of the far-right wing made similar statements, they were using the players’ origins against them. So I understand and agree with the content of the ambassador’s letter, from a French point of view. Made in France, such statements are racist. But given what I know of Trevor Noah, South Africa and soccer there, I cannot find an ounce of racism in his statement.
I have always known that the French soccer team is made up of first and second-generation immigrants, as far back as one can go, and I got interested in digging up some historical facts.
For example, during the 1958 World Cup competition in Sweden, one of the French players was Just Fontaine. Born in Marrakech to a French father and a Spanish mother, he was the best player of that tournament, surpassing the number of goals made by Pelé, the Brazilian icon. The captain of the team was Raymond Kopa, born in Poland. In those days, if someone were to have made the same kind of remark as Noah, they would say the French team was mostly East European.
Then, for many years, the French soccer team no longer made it to the soccer finals until the 1976 European Cup, when the Saint-Étienne team lost to Munich. Saint-Étienne, led by brothers Hervé and Patrick Revelli, second-generation Italian immigrants, was made up of French players with origins mainly from Italy and Eastern Europe, as well as from Spain, to a lesser degree.
Michel François Platini is regarded as one of the greatest footballers of all time. He won the Ballon d'Or three times, in 1983, 1984 and 1985. He is also a second-generation Italian. Then there was the 1998 team, which won the World Cup – led by Zinedine Zidane, born in Marseille to Algerian Kabyle parents.
As I continue to look at French history, I realize that the first wave of immigrants in modern times came from Poland, starting in the late 19th century. By the time it flattened out in 1931, some 500,000 people had immigrated to France. About 30 years later, French players of Polish origin were represented on the French soccer team.
Another wave occurred right after WWII: between 1945 and 1970, 1.8 million Italians came to France. It was the third wave of Italian immigration and the biggest up to then. About 30 years after the beginning of this wave, they were represented in French soccer.
Another massive wave started when Algerian independence was declared in 1962. By the time it ended in 1982, the Algerian population of France had grown from 350,000 to 800,000. About 30 years after this wave began, players of Algerian origin were represented in French soccer, as they still are today.
Does it really matter? Yes and no. Clearly, from its creation by the German tribes called the Franks, France has been a country made by continuous waves of immigration, unlike most other European countries, which historically saw their population emigrating, mostly to the USA.
Soccer in France is played mostly by low-income people, and is especially popular in cities dependent on heavy industry. Thus it makes sense that it takes about 30 years to bring these populations to the top of the game.
The chanting heard the night of France’s World Cup win, continuing very late into the night, just reminded me that France stands by its tradition of welcoming immigrants, as it was created by immigrants themselves. For any country, welcoming immigrants is never an easy thing. Immigration brings out the best as well as the worst in people.
THE IRS AND HOLDING AN AMERICAN PASSPORT
A new policy authorizes the US Internal Revenue Service to block the issuance or renewal of an American passport to American citizens who are in arrears or have pending tax issues. If you owe the IRS more than $51,000 in taxes, it may not be possible to get a new passport or renew an existing one. Your passport might even be taken away.
The media has mainly reported that the IRS says some 362,000 Americans could fall into this category by the end of this calendar year. This situation could represent a significant limitation on travel freedom.
The regulation is very likely to be extended to American citizens living outside the USA who have not met their IRS obligations. Many Americans citizens living in France have never filed annual declarations, or stopped doing so. A plausible scenario is that, if such people visit the USA, they will not allowed to leave if they appeared on the authorities’ radar when they entered the country and this information was passed on to the IRS to see if they have met their fiscal obligations.
A RECENT NATURALIZATION PROCEDURE
The following account (lightly edited for clarity) was sent by one of my clients who recently obtained French citizenship. We are regularly told now that this procedure takes less than a year. I am sure the prefecture is working on it, but clearly it is not happening yet. This one took two years, almost to the day:
“I sent my file on July 11, 2016. My appointment occurred at the prefecture on December 7, 2017. The file then was sent to Rezé, where the registrar of l’état civil des non residents is located, during the month of February. My name was published in the Journal Officiel on July 8, 2018. So, the whole process was almost two years. I have requested my birth certificate and am waiting for that now.
“According to other cases and statistics I have seen, this timeline is currently average for Paris for naturalization by decree (other departments are quicker; it seems Paris is the slowest). Most people are having to wait at least a year to get an appointment in Paris, and sometimes closer to 18 months.
“My understanding was that the ‘official’ one-year (max. 18-month) timeline for a decision starts only from the time of the interview. In fact, the agent told me that day to expect to wait up to a year for a decision (in the end it was only seven months). Perhaps the discrepancy is in how the time is calculated.”
I confirm what this client says. I will keep you posted if I see a significant increase or decrease in how long it takes to complete the process. The truth of the matter is that everybody knows the concept of the procedure taking one year refers to the time between the file reaching the prefecture and the official decision being published in the Journal Officiel.
FREEDOM OF SPEECH ON SOCIAL NETWORKS
At first social media was seen as fun. The idea was to share pictures and emotions, keeping people informed. Social media, especially Facebook, is now criticized by some for allowing unacceptable messages, while others find this criticism to constitute censorship. I am staying away from this debate, as France has rather strict laws limiting what people can say regarding specific topics, especially for publication. France and the USA have very different views on the definition of freedom of speech.
Recent French Supreme Court decisions shed some light regarding its consequence on social media and hence the limits of the individual right of freedom of speech on Facebook. The cases involved an employer who fired an employee for negative posts that damaged the employer’s reputation. In most cases, this is considered a valid reason to fire an employee, as there is a loyalty obligation as well as an obligation to work for the interest of the employer. The key question is whether the message can be considered slander or objective criticism.
RETENUE À LA SOURCE – INCOME TAX WITHHOLDING STARTS ON JANUARY 1st 2019
I first mentioned that this would happen in my July-August 2015 column. The tax office has been communicating by email and post about this enormous reform, and now people are receiving information about exactly how it will be done. The bottom line is that the employee will have the money withheld by the employer; for the self-employed, the tax office will take a set amount from the bank account linked to the income declaration.
Many in the French media continue to state that the system is not ready yet and could lead to some serious problems. The one segment of the population that will escape this new policy is people working for private individuals, who are the cleaning ladies, the nannies, and the tutors among many others.
The French administration has come with several sophisticated explanations for this exception, but they are not at all convincing. It is pretty obvious what happened. The French pay slip is so complex that it is nearly impossible for anyone but a French CPA to issue a valid one. Therefore, over 20 years ago, on December 1st 1994, le chèque emploi service universel was created so that URSSAF, a division of the French administration, would issue those pay slips. URSSAF is very qualified to calculate social charges, as it collects them from businesses. I am sure the people who planned the new policy totally forgot this type of situation. Only about 250,000 people nationwide fall into this category, which does not match either of the two situations mentioned above.
The people affected are employees, but the employer is not issuing the pay slips; the tax office could take the money from the employees’ bank account but they are not self-employed, even though some of them have a lot of employers. I have known some cleaning ladies who have ten employers at once.
But URSSAF has not had the time to add this new function to the service it already offers. It really requires redesigning the calculation of the bill sent to the employer.
Many of the employees affected have very low wages and therefore do not pay income tax. This may be another reason the French administration did not push as hard as for the other categories: there will be very little money to collect.
TAX OWED ON 2017 INCOME IS DUE SEPTEMBER 15th
This is the last year in French history that people pay their income tax in the traditional three installments on February 15th, May 15th and September 15th. The new system will be implemented on January 1st 2019, as mentioned above. There is a special office in the Parisian suburb of Créteil for residents of Paris. It used to be that the two divisions of the French tax administration involved in the reform had different locations. Today they share the same buildings, but still function as separate entities. Nevertheless, the September 15th deadline will be retained so as to wrap up any discrepancies between what was paid and what is owed.
BUYING AN APARTMENT WHILE RENTING IT
I have been renting a furnished apartment for over a decade. A few days ago, my landlord sent a real estate agent to my place to take pictures, and a surveyor for all kinds of testing. Later I learned that the landlord has signed an exclusive sale mandate and plans to have me move out.
I am really mad because for several years I have told him I would like to buy the place. I thought I had the right of first refusal before he could give me notice. Also, I thought he could not do this in the middle of the lease but needs to wait until the anniversary date. I reminded him that the lease states primary residence and as such he should have dealt with me first. He answered that his hands were tied and I should make my offer to the real estate agent.
I feel bullied and cheated. Do I have any recourse?
There are several issues here; to give you a complete answer I would need to write the book on renting in France.
Let’s start with the right of first refusal. Your lease may be so old that it does not mention this right, which you now have. It used to apply only for “bare wall” leases, which were considered the only ones granting primary residence protection. The regulation has since evolved, and now covers all situations in which a tenant rents a primary residence. The fact that you were not offered this right means one of two things: it is grossly illegal and the sale can be blocked by a notaire, or you will change landlords and stay a tenant, in which case there is no obligation to offer to sell the place to you. It would be very interesting to know how the real estate agency is going to advertise the sale: empty or rented?
Signing an exclusive sale mandate with a real estate agency is totally legal and there is nothing you can do about it. If you never made a formal offer to buy the place, the landlord can claim that he did not know you were serious about it. You have to have offered an exact amount to buy the apartment and be able to prove your claim.
He is right that with an exclusive sale mandate all offers must be sent to the real estate agency, as it is certain to get the commission on the transaction even if the buyer learns about the sale without going through the agency.
I believe the best strategy is for you to make the agency an offer, with a very long period of validity, of what you consider the right price for an apartment with a tenant – which means a significant discount, about 10% or maybe more depending on how long the lease lasts.
The offer must comply with the requirements that make it legally binding. You could go so far as to have it done through a notaire to ensure that it is rock solid.
Send it to both the owner and the agency. It is very likely that with the commission the agency expects, your offer will at first be considered unacceptable. But it depends on what happens next. If the apartment sells at the asking price, you are out of luck. But if the sale takes some time and they lower the price, every time this happens you should send a new offer quoting the original price.
In the end, there may come a time when both owner and agency prefer to take a lower amount and be done with the sale. Count on the agency to lobby in your interest once it makes financial sense to them.
SPOUSES OF DIFFERENT NATIONALITIES IMMIGRATING TO FRANCE
I am American and my wife is Filipina. After a couple of years of marriage and just a few months living together in the USA, she has been denied residence status for technical reasons. We are continuing the legal battle to extend the time before deportation, without much hope of success. So, she will be forced to leave as early as February 2019. We might make it to May 2019 at best. We have been through so much, emotionally, being rejected by my home country, coming to terms with leaving my grown children and the beautiful financial situation I have worked my life to attain. I am proud to run a successful business. Our only choice appears to be to commit, financially and emotionally, to a new life in France. Having our visa requests rejected would be a catastrophe. In the hope of success, we have chosen either Dordogne or Occitanie to be our new home.
Most immediately, we need to know if she has the right to apply for her French long-term visa in our French consulate in the USA or if she will need to return to the Philippines to apply. What are our chances of success?
Let’s assume that she is successful in obtaining her long-term visa at either location. I would then need help in securing permanent residency for both of us. This means I need to work to sustain our stay in France. I believe that living in France is our best choice and maybe the only one, considering her status. I have nightmares thinking about what can happen if our visa requests are rejected. I hope and pray for a yes, against all odds, considering what we went through. Please help us.
Allow me to explain, step by step, what most likely led up to this situation.
I fully understand how you feel. Your first and foremost priority is to secure your immigration process to France, ideally to reach 100% success. Allow me to address your three critical issues, which are:
1 - Your wife’s visa request: where and how to submit it?
2 - Which visa also gives you the best right to work and how quick is the complete process, not just the procedure?
3 - Which visa request ensures the most complete success?
In that order: First, I assume that the reason she lost her residency is because she committed what is considered to be a criminal offense. The offense is criminal exclusively from an American point of view and according to points of American law, not French. It is possible and even probable that these “criminal” offenses will have a negligible influence on the French visa request. What you should be worried about is getting the process completed before the date of her deportation from the USA. My experience and French law lead me to believe the decisions are made in consideration of the situation current the day the visa request is submitted. For her, this means she has legal status right now, even though she knows she will lose it. The sooner you submit the request for visas, the better the chance that you will be able to file your requests at the same time in the same consulate in the USA and that you will be able to travel together.
If she is deported sooner than you expect, which is possible given current immigration policy, she can still obtain an immigration visa from the French consulate in the Philippines. It will be based on your ability to secure her lodging and resources in France. The unknown here is the timing; it could be several months after you arrive in France.
I often use the image of a tractor-trailer in such situations. That is, your visa request is the stronger one – you are married and want to move with your wife to France, therefore, she will also get a visa. This changes what has been happening. Ideally, you are together at the consulate and you are the door opener; she is not applying on her own. Needless to say, today French immigration law is much easier to comply with than America’s.
Second question, which visa to choose? Without exactly knowing your profession and situation in the USA, I envision four or five types of immigration status you can choose from. The dilemma is that the easier and hence faster ones grant fewer rights. The harder and slower ones grant complete rights to you both, including full rights to work. We should review your immigration request as being for the couple, not just you.
To illustrate this dilemma, let’s compare the best choices at each end of the spectrum.
1 – The faster one – visiteur
To obtain a visiteur visa, you must basically prove that you have the means to live in France, you have secured an address in France and you have an insurance policy that provides health coverage in France and repatriation. Approval can come very quickly. If you have the paperwork ready, it should take less than two months. This status must be renewed every year. But it does not allow either of you to work in France, and most prefectures demand that you remain a visiteur for two years before you can change your status. This means significant financial hardship if you cannot earn money through your US business while living in France. You need to be 100% certain that this is possible over the long term.
2 – The slower one – passeport talent, subcategory 8 mandataires sociaux, or subcategory 5 créateurs d’entreprise
An example of mandataires sociaux: You run a corporation in the USA and then you create a branch in France. The branch needs an executive director – i.e. you. So you submit to the French consulate a complete presentation of the American corporation, the French branch, the legal paperwork naming you director, and a complete business plan with very solid financing, proving that this is a sustainable French business. The review of the visa request alone often takes two months, not counting the time it takes to put the file together.
With créateurs d’entreprise you do not need to create corporate representation in France. Being self-employed in France is enough, which speeds up preparation of the file. Unlike subcategory 8, however, you must prove you will invest a minimum of 30,000 euros to create the business. If you run a consulting business, this could be very challenging.
The good news, in both cases, is that both of you get four-year immigration status; in your spouse’s case, it is vie privée et familiale status, which carries full rights to work in France.
Two other categories are possible, but they are much less advantageous.
* - Visiteur profession libérale is for a sole proprietor business in your own name. It is a tad better than above, as you have the right to work in France and your market is the EU. Your spouse gets visiteur status, which carries no right to work for two years and must be renewed annually.
* - Commerçant includes the managing director of a corporation, whether a branch, a subsidiary or a French creation. There is no other real requirement except financing and proof of expertise. Your spouse again gets visiteur status.
Also, in both of these cases, expect the review of the request to last some months. While a profession libérale request can take less than two months, commerçant often exceeds two or even three.
Let’s get a little technical at this point so you can envision the short- and longer-term issues. Here are all the current types of immigration status:
- vie privée et familiale
- commerçant et artisan
passeport talent, which has ten subcategories, each with different grounds for legal residency
- 1.jeunes diplômés qualifiés salariés ou salariés d’une jeune entreprise innovante
- 2.travailleurs hautement qualifiés (carte bleue européenne)
- 3.salariés en mission
- 5.créateurs d’entreprise
- 6.porteurs d’un projet économique innovant
- 7.investisseurs économiques
- 8.mandataires sociaux
- 9.artistes interprètes
- 10.étrangers ayant une renommée nationale ou internationale (domaine scientifique, littéraire, artistique, intellectuel, éducatif ou sportif).
To address your third question, on which visa request is most likely to be successful, we need to look again at the types of status we discussed for you, determining how secure your chance of success is in each case.
There are now five types of carte de séjour, compared with eight a year ago. The eight were:
Visiteur is extremely secure because the requirements are basic and therefore easy to comply with.
Visiteur profession libérale is a lot less secure because the French administration needs to evaluate the business creation proposal and read the business plan.
Commerçant is the least secure because the administration evaluates everything and there are a lot more requirements.
Passeport talent créateurs d’entreprise is quite secure once you prove you will invest 30,000 euros in the first year.
Passeport talent mandataires sociaux is extremely secure because you control 100% of the paperwork and once the French business representation has been created, there is no space for the administration to say no.
You are facing a very tough choice right now, and I would like to add something to reassure you. I am not sure which type of immigration is best for you. It might be possible for you apply for any one of the five kinds of residency status mentioned above. As you can see, there are several ways to obtain French immigration status, and, all things considered, the requirements are more or less easy to meet. This should reassure you when it comes to obtaining and maintaining French immigration status for the two of you.
I wish you the best of luck.
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.