Anyway, the half-day at the OFII is the first step in the immigration process once you arrive as a “new” immigrant in France. I received my convocation in the mail about two weeks ago, quickly gathered the few papers they asked for (as well as about 20 others they didn’t ask for, just in case) and purchased (online this time as France has finally entered the 21st century) my 241 euros of timbres fiscaux for a première demande de titre de séjourvie privée et familiale. Though as a sidebar, why oh why do I have to keep being considered as a première demande (I know it’s because I’ve put myself in the miserable position of starting all over again, but still, it’s frustrating!).
So Monday morning, off I headed on my first trip on the Bordeaux tram system, into the center of town to go to my meeting at the OFII. I arrived at 8:30am and naturally there was a long line of other new immigrants waiting on the sidewalk. As soon as they opened the doors we all rushed inside and were greeted one by one and asked a few quick questions to get an idea of our level of French and our situation (Where/When/How did you learn French? How long have you been in France? Why are you here? Etc.). Then we were all brought into a room where they explained, in the most painfully slow French ever, all about the contrat d’accueil etd’intégration that we were expected to sign - what it entails, what formations we could possibly be prescribed, and what we would be doing that day. Next we were forced to watch a film called Vivre ensemble en France about the contrat d’accueil et d’intégration as well as about French society, culture and values such as liberté, fraternité et égalité and laïcité.
Last time I went to the OFII I didn’t have to sit through this talk or watch the film as I had been exempted from signing the contrat d’accueil et d’intégration because I had previously studied for one year at a French university. But this time the OFII seemed to want to battle with me over my desire to be exempted. More on this later though...
After the film we were each called separately to either do our interviews and sign the contract or to start different parts of the visite médicale. I was called in first to see the nurse, who was rather unfriendly, and then I had my lung x-ray with a very nice technician. We chatted for a few minutes afterwards and she told me she was from Paris but hated it there so she moved to Bordeaux. She assured me that Lionel and I would love life in Bordeaux and that it was so much better than Paris. Next I went to see the doctor, who was also pretty unfriendly, but at least she was fast.
After my visite médicale I was brought back out into the waiting room until the visa lady was ready to see me to officially validate my one-year visa by putting a vignette in my passport. Unfortunately I had to inform her that they had spelled my name wrong on my paperwork, so I still don’t have my vignette. She had to request a new one and she is going to call me when it is ready so I can come back in and pick it up (as if I just have so much free time to spend flitting all around Bordeaux to pick up vignettes because they couldn’t be bothered to double check their paperwork before finalizing it). At least she was nice about it though and apologized for the mistake and the inconvenience.
Next was the real battle. I was called in for my interview and to sign the contrat d’accueil et d’intégration. Overall the man was nice, especially at the beginning, and we chatted a bit and I answered his questions about how long I had been in France, whether or not I had a job, where I learned French, etc, etc, etc. Then he started to go into the information about the contract and the different formations that I could possibly be prescribed. He decided that I didn’t need French lessons (no shit) and he decided that, since I was just waiting for the traitement de mon dossier d’auto-entrepreneur, that I wouldn’t need the half-day bilan de compétences professionnelles either (thankfully because that would have been pointless). He also told me that, because I had already lived in France for, in total, 5 years of my life, I wouldn’t be forced to do the one-day formation about life in France designed to help you enroll your kids in school, find housing, look for work, learn about French traditions, etc. Excellent.
However, he regretfully informed me that, despite the fact that I had previously lived in France, I would still have to sign the contract and participate in the obligatory one-day formation civique about French institutions, the government (for example, why France has a president) and state programs (like the Sécu). This is where I kindly informed him that I saw no reason whatsoever why I should sign this contract and lose a day of work (and therefore pay) when I was already exempted from signing in 2009 and I had already lived long enough in France for the formation civique to be of no use to me. I explained that I had done a year of studies at a French university and produced the justificatif I had used previously to be exempted in the Val de Marne (i.e. my student ID). I also showed him the attestation I had received from the university in order to get my student visa in 2005. He said that this in fact proved nothing as I could have easily enrolled, gotten the student ID and then not taken any courses. In order to prove that I had actually done a year of school in France I had to either produce a diploma (which I don’t have because it was an exchange for the first year of my Masters at an American university) or at the very least my grades from that year.
While I agreed with his overall point that a student ID doesn’t prove that you actually went to school, I still pointed out that fact that, regardless, the Val de Marne had considered this sufficient the last time and so I saw no reason why I should sign the contract this time around. We argued a little more, and I believe I even called the entire thing incredibly stupid at one point, but finally he reluctantly said that I didn’t have to sign because he didn’t care one way or the other but that it would be my problem when I tried to renew my titre de séjour in one year and the Préfecture asked me to justify my non-signature du contrat d’accueil et d’intégration by showing them proof that I had indeed attended a French university. He then snidely stated that I had clearly never renewed a titre de séjour in France before and that’s why I didn’t understand that I would have a problem when renewing and I would just be sent back to the OFII at that time to sign the contract. I not so politely informed him that I had, in fact, renewed multiple titres de séjour before and that, oddly enough, the Préfecture had never once asked me to justify my non-signature, not to mention the fact that it is not even on the list of documents needed to renew. I also pointed out that, should the problem actually arise, I would then have one of two options - either try a different fonctionnaire at the Préfecture who would not ask for any proof (and I would most certainly be able to find at least one) or just simply call the university in France and request a copy of my grades or some other proof that I had in fact studied for the entire year. Either way, I seriously doubt that I will have any issues renewing next year and I don’t expect to hear anything about any of this ever again. At this point he finally let me go and you could tell that we were both fuming a bit. But whatever, I got what I wanted and I don’t have to lose a day for the formation civique! And in France, it’s all about winning the small battles.
However, after this entire experience, there are two things I don’t understand. First of all, why is it that the only way you can be exempted from signing this contract is by having done at least a year of university studies in France? I personally think one would learn a lot more about France, the French system and the culture by actually living here for a few years than coming and doing one year of studies in a French university, especially if said studies were say, for example, a business or science program entirely taught in English. I think they need to rethink their process a little because it doesn’t make any sense. Not to mention, how much money is the government wasting on forcing people with one-year visas to go through all these state-funded formations which even include, for the one-day programs, a free lunch at a restaurant? Now, don’t get me wrong, I suppose I can see the purpose of some of these formations for a new immigrant here who has never spent any significant amount of time in France, but for someone who has already lived here for years, it just serves no purpose whatsoever and wastes money. Though I still think this kind of civic education system for immigrants is more appropriate for someone requesting a ten-year card or citizenship rather than just a one-year visa.
The second thing I don’t understand is, why did I have to prepare all these documents, including, of course, a justificatif de domicile, if no one ever even asked to see them? Not to mention the fact that no one ever asked for the document proving that I had purchased my timbres fiscaux online (the site didn’t ask for any ID information when purchasing which confused me because they tell you to have your passport ready but don’t ask for any information). Guess that was a waste of money. Maybe they were just so perturbés after the mistake with my name and my fight about the contract that they forgot to ask for all of my papers?
Phew, sorry that was so long and rant-y, but by now you know that French administration gets me worked up! At least I survived it and came out winning the fight and getting the result that I wanted. Now that that is done, Lionel and I are starting to work on my file for citizenship. I have absolutely no intention of ever finding myself in a situation where I have to deal with this stupidity again (and I look forward to the day when I no longer have to go to the Bureau des Etrangers à la Préfecutre as well). So I’m sure I’ll be posting more about the process of naturalization through marriage in the near future for anyone who might be interested.