Visas: le choix de ta vie

“So, are you going to stay in France?” is the #1 question I get from family and friends (yet, everyone already knows the answer). After hearing (or reading, in some cases), “yes/oui,” this next question always follows: “How are you going to make that happen?” That’s a very good question.

Unfortunately, staying in France (legally, of course) is not easy for US citoyens. Especially the type that prefers to make her way in the world as an independent super-hero.

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Let’s face it: The easiest way for US citoyens to reside in France and have the right to work is to get married to a Français/e. In this case, it doesn’t matter if you marry after your visa expires (or if you’re in France as a touriste for 90 days) because you’re entitled to a long stay visa for the spouse of a French national. So, you can return to the US, apply for this visa, and BAM! You’ve got a valid French visa that you can change into a CDS (Carte de Séjour). And this visa is free! There are two main types of CDS that apply to this blog post: Carte de Séjour Vie Privée et Familial (gives you working rights – you have the right to this CDS immidiately following mariage to a Français/e) and the Carte de Séjour Mention Visiteur (no working rights). There’s one label I don’t want to be attached to: mariage for legal immigration rights.

The second ‘easiest’ option is to apply for a long-stay visitor visa. There are several downsides to this option depending on your reasons for wanting to live in France. First, it doesn’t come with the right to work; however, similar to the spousal visa, with this type of visa, you have the right to apply for a CDS mention visiteur. Normally, this type of CDS will not give you the right to work, but can be renewed each year. If you marry a Français/e or PACSFrançais/e and have lived together for a year, you have the right to change the CDS mention visiteur into a CDS vie privée et familial. Second, the eligibility process for the long-stay visitor visa is long and strenuous. Not only do you have to prove that you have enough money in your account to support yourself for one year (normally, this amount is equivalent to SMIC, the French minimum wage of $23,000 for the year), but you also have to prove that you have a job in the US, to prove that you have health insurance for the year, to prove that you have a place to stay, to explain what you intend on doing, etc… Most of these requirements seem logical, after all, the French government wouldn’t want you to become a poor person out on the streets for the year that you’ll be residing there. But, for someone who has already built her life in France, this visa is ridiculous. If I were to apply for this visa, I would have no problems in the housing and health insurance department (according to French law, I’m entitled to MGEN for a year – even if I don’t have a job next school year); however, there’s no way that I have enough money in my account to fit the monetary requirement. Also, I’ve been living and working in France for the year, so, I wouldn’t be able to prove that I have steady income from the US. On the surface, it doesn’t seem like I would be approved for this visa.

The third ‘easiest’ visa option is the long stay visa for studies. In addition to studying in France, this visa allows you to work up to 20 hours a week. Unfortunately, my wallet isn’t ready for me to enroll in grad school (I’m still paying off undergrad). Though, I’m considering enrollment at the University of Cambridge Aix-en-Provence campus in order to obtain the DELTA (Diplôme in Teaching English to Speakers of Other Languages). This would open the door to many more overseas teaching opportunities and would take less time than grad school. It’s also perfect for people who are already registered teachers. If I were a Française, I would take the Capes or the Agrégation examens. These are the two main examens that all future teachers must pass. The problem with these examens is that they are very difficult to pass… Even for Français/es. Despite this fact, I’d be willing to try them if I had the option. They’re very prestigious examens, too. With either one of these examens under my belt, I would be able to teach as a normal française (and receive the same pay!). Here’s to dreaming.

Of course, the option that I prefer is by far the most difficult way to reside in France: finding a job that will sponsor a work visa for a US citoyenI’m lucky to have been accepted to work with TAPIF this school year and to have the option to renew my contract for a second time; however, before I applied for TAPIF, I spent months looking for a job that would hire me. I found nothing. Well, I found several that wanted to hire me, but none of them wanted or had the means to sponsor my visa. Thus, I’ve come to the conclusion that TAPIF is the easiest way for a US citizen to reside and to work legally in France. However, there are some stipulations: the TAPIF candidate must have already graduated university with at least a bachelor’s degree and must be between the ages of 20-30. The program can only be renewed once and program renewal doesn’t guarantee acceptance. But, thankfully, after about a month on the waiting list, I’ve been accepted to teach during the 2015-2016 school year! This time, I’ll be in secondary education, which should be interesting… if it’ll be anything like teaching in the US, I’ll probably be as tall, if not shorter, than the kids and look about the same age, too. But, if the kids turn out similarly to my students in French I and II in the US, then, it’ll be a blast! 

Throughout the past seven months, I’ve learned that sometimes independent super-heroes need to give up their powers for a day and give in to the system. Thankfully, the system allows for the option of PACS (Pacte Civil de Solidarité), or civil union.

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A vision of my petitte famille by one of my CM2 students.

So, while mon chéri and I fit the bill for mariage in the lovey-dovey sense, we come out empty handed in the financial sense. So, the PACS is our way of compromising. It’s “free” if you don’t count all of the documents a US citoyen needs and it’s similar to mariage in that the PACSé couple and the married couple is legally bound to support each other financially and must live together. Mariage has a hell of a lot more benefits than PACS; however, PACS is a safer, more cost-friendly way to “test” out the legal side of a relationship. In fact, “more than 40 percent of [disolved PACSé contracts] were not in order to break up but to permit the pacsé partners to move on to an official marriage.” Thus, PACS is more of a way to see if the couple can handle the legal side of being together.  It’s also much easier to end than is marriage. For example, to disolve the PACS contract, one of the partners simply heads to the Tribunal d’Instance and submits her/his case to end the contract. It’s free and, normally, there aren’t any lawyers involved. Mon chéri and I don’t intend to end the PACS, but it sure is good to know our rights. Also, I have the right to one of the previously mentioned CDS – depending on how long we’ve been living together. Since we’ve been living together for over a year, I have the right to a CDS vie privée et familial. If we didn’t have “un an de vie,” or a year of living together, then I would only have the right to the CDS mention visiteur. One important note: To get the CDS, you have to have a valid visa type D (longue visa).

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So, what happens if you PACS after your visa expires or if you PACS while being a 90-day visiteur? According to the Consulat Général de France à Chicago, the only option for PACSé partners is to apply for the long-stay visitor visa. In fact, the consulat advised me to get married! Saying, “le PACS ne garantissant pas les mêmes droits en matière d’immigration que le mariage” (“PACS doesn’t guarantee the same immigration rights as does mariage“) and that PACSé partners don’t have the right to apply for the spousal visa. Yet, PACS guarantees the right to a CDS. Confusing, I know! In any case, I decided to try to extend my visa in order to have the option of the CDS before my visa expires. I suggest everyone tries this option first as it avoids quite a bit of hassle in trying to decide which visa you’ll get approved for.

It’s been about 2.5 months since my file was sent from the Préfecture in Aix to the Préfecture in Marseille; however, I still have yet to receive la convocation (an appointment at the Prefecture to extend my visa). During this time, I’ve traveled to and from the US/France. According to the French consulat in Chicago, US citoyens must return to the US immediately after the visa expires. Apparently, the only way we can return in France (right away) is on a new visa. Otherwise, we have to stay in the US for 90 days before we can return to France as a visiteur. According to the Préfecture in Aix, however, US citoyens can return in France (right away) without a visa but with proof of PACS.

So, when I visited family and friends in the US for 3 weeks, I had every intention of applying for an assistant-ship work visa; however, I never received my work contract. I was told by the woman at CIEP who’s in charge of English assistants that I would receive it in Juin. Then Juillet happened… still no work contract. So, I ended up returning to France without a new visa. At border control, I anticipated being asked a billion questions – questions to which I had prepared responses. For example, border control should let me back in France because I have to attend la convocation, I’ve been PACSé and thus am legally bound to live with my partnerand for insurance purposes (I have proof of insurance through MGEN for the entirety of my pregnancy). But, I never had to beg border control to let me back in. Instead, he took one look at my passeport photo and then stamped my passeport and told me to have a nice day! So, who’s really keeping track of how long US citoyens stay in France? Maybe it’s counted but nobody cares. Either way, it worked out to my advantage. Now, I’m playing the waiting game with the Préfecture in Marseille.

So, Santé to the hope of being approved for a visa extension (once I finally receive la convocation)! ♦

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