Thursday, July 7, 2011

Visas, Residency, Titres de Séjour and the Préfecture

Last week I had my annual torture session visit to the sous-préfecture to renew my titre de séjour, only 3.5 months after I went in to schedule an appointment, and only 1 month after my previous titre de séjour actually expired...but who cares about that.  Lionel took the day off as required and we dragged our butts out of bed far too early to drive over there (at least this time we had a car and didn't have to take the buses!).  As we pulled into the parking lot at 9:15 I gasped in shock as I saw the line for the accueil of the Bureau des Etrangers.  Usually the line winds around a bit inside the building and then heads outside along the front of the building.  But this year, it not only went along the front of the building, but around the side and to the back, effectively covering about half the exterior of the place.

I looked at Lionel with anger flashing through my eyes as I realized we might be in for a very long day.  Then I left him in the line and fought my way through the crowds of foreigners to get inside, clutching the paper stating that I had an appointment for 9:30 and praying that, for once, guichet 2 - the window that is supposed to be for people with appointments or who are just there to pick up their card (and therefore allowing us to bypass the long welcome line) - would actually be open and have a person working it.  Afterall, why should I have to stand in a 3-4 hour line when I have an appointment for a specific time (new this year)?

As I shoved my way past crowds of angry people, people who really need to buy deodorant, hot, crying babies, and strollers and finally got into the actual office/waiting area, I was shocked, first by the number of people already waiting for their numbers to be called only 15 minutes after the place had opened, second by the fact that not a single number had yet been called for any service, third by the sign stating that from June 22-July 15 the office was reducing their already non-existant hours and only staying open until 3:30, except on Thursdays when they would be closing at 12:30 and finally by the fact that guichet 2 was actually open (with a line of people waiting for it!).  Still, thrilled to be bypassing the horribly long line outside in the hot, 35 degree sun, I quickly got in the much smaller line.  Only 15 minutes later it was my turn and I went up to the window, showed my paper for my appointment and got my number: S107.  Excellent, I thought!  Only 7 people ahead of me for the S numbers and the line went faster than imagined!  I glanced back at the screen and realized that in all that time, they still had not called a single number and I gulped thinking, well I hope they get to us rendez-vous people first. 

I headed back outside to bring Lionel in to wait and then finally they started calling numbers, but nothing with S.  By this time we were roasting alive in the hot, over-crowed waiting room which was designed for about 30 people and was accommodating about 100 with no air conditioning on one of the 3 hottest days we've had all year.  So we decided to go outside and wait near a window where we could still see the numbers being called, but have a little air and not have to listen to the crying babies.  And wait we did, in the very hot sun.

Finally, about 10:15 they called the first S and my hopes went up.  I started thinking they would just zip through all the Ss and we would be free!  But no, that was only a dream...from 10:15-10:30 they called S100, 101, 102.  And then stopped.  Until 11:15 when they called S103, 104, 105.  They called those three all at the same time, so I thought they must be trying to hurry up and finish with S before lunch.  Nope.  They stopped again.  Then finally at 12:15 they called S106 and I started to get excited.  Freedom was in sight.  Finally, at 12:30 my number was called and in we went, pushing through the hoards of people, noticing that the line was not getting any smaller and there were more and more people waiting in that tiny room.  But we were the lucky ones, and we went straight back to guichet 7, where the S people were all going.  And then my smile dropped as I recognized the evil witch at the window.  But oh well, I fought through it, we handed her all the papers, she looked everything over, I got my stupid récépissé (again, because it wouldn't be better to just process new cards before the old ones expired therefore eliminating the need for the récépissé altogether), and then I asked my question:

Me:  When will I be able to apply for the 10 year carte de résident? (knowing full well that it is after 3 years of marriage, but after hearing rumors through a Russian friend that her other Russian friend was able to get it after 2.5 years of marriage because it was in the year when she would reach 3 years, I thought I would give it a shot anyway).

Evil Sous-Préfecture Woman:  What?

Me:  When will I be able to get the carte de résident?

ESPW:  What?  The 10 year card?

Me:  Yes

ESPW:  After 3 years of marriage.  So apply next year.

Me:  Can I apply in November when we reach 3 years of marriage?

ESPW: (sighing) You can apply next year...if the law doesn't change before then...(cue ominous music...what scares me is that I've heard rumors that they are thinking of doing away with the 10 year card altogether, therefore requiring yet another temporary, 1 year card and I fear this will somehow end up screwing me over...)

Me:  Okay..........thanks........(for nothing, I mumbled under my breath).

So there you go, I spent about 3.5 hours at the stupid sous-préfecture, roasting alive, miserable and suffering for a whopping 15 minutes at the window.  I was finally seen only 3 hours after my scheduled, time-specific appointment (why even bother to give appointments if they can't even come relatively close to respecting them...they used to just give us a day and say to arrive between 9 and 12), and then finally, at 12:45, we were free...until, of course, I have to go back and pick up my card...probably anytime between now and the end of September seeing as we are entering the vacation period.

However, I must say I am far luckier than my 2 friends.  My Russian friend has been here for 4 years with her Russian husband.  When they came to France he had secured a job here and she was coming as the spouse of a Russian man with a work visa.  Not knowing any French, she decided to spend her first year studying the language, then spent years 2 and 3 completing a Masters in Paris.  Since then, a year later, she has been desperately trying to convince France to let her have the right to work, to no avail.  She isn't married to a Frenchie, therefore she can't work unless she can find a company that will sponsor her.  She's going insane because all she wants to do is be able to have a job and contribute financially to her couple and economically to the country.  Instead, France would rather give her and her husband the CAF.  Seems like it would be cheaper to let her work too, allowing them enough money to pay their apartment by themselves, and letting France collect taxes from her as well...instead, she is constantly fighting with the préfecture, preparing documents and investigating laws to try to find a way to work, and is constantly getting refused.

My friend, Amy, is in even more dire straights as she was just informed, by letter, that she had 1 month to leave the country because France refuses to renew her student card as she did not complete her exams last year due to a death in the family.  She decided to return home for the funeral, and since it was just before Christmas, she stayed home and came back in January, missing her exams in her expensive, private, French language school.  Since she was not doing it for a degree, but only to learn the language after completing a degree in interior design in Paris, she didn't think it was too important.  Since then, she has signed up for the a different, cheaper school, found an internship and been fighting with the préfecture to be allowed to stay.  After months of fighting about paperwork and a million trips to the préfecture she finally got the letter rejecting her request to renew her student card and has to leave the country by July 15.  France said she wasn't "serious about her studies" but she gave them a copy of the death certificate and the papers showing she had already signed up and paid for another 6 months of French language classes, as well as the fact that she found an internship if she could just get the renewal, and they still refused.  Seems a little ridiculous to me for a 6 month student card...

But I guess that's the prefecture for you...here to make foreigners' lives miserable!

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