Monday, 28 April 2014

Annual torture - titre de sejour

It comes around all too often. I spend six months minimum worrying about finding work so I can stay in France and at least 6 months totally stressed by the process of renewing my right to be resident in France for another year.

I recently received word from one of the university administrators that I will have my contract renewed for it's second and final year. Nothing official but here's hoping that will come in due course. Last Friday I was, for the third time this year, at the prefecture going through the nasty process of staying legal. They do everything they can, it seems, to keep immigrants and foreign workers out and in the spirit of egalite I'm treated at the level of any undesirable, dishonest, social bludger trying to get in and rip off the French social welfare system with forged papers. I do agree they need to keep undesirables out and control immigration because poor practices in the past are creating big problems in this country; religious intolerance on both sides, crime amongst unintegrated peoples, huge social welfare bill etc. But the process goes beyond reason.

JC comes with me these days because there are always problems and I end up getting teary and resentful at the behaviour of the public servants there. The first visit this year we trundled up with my dossier as per what was required last year but were turned away because the month before the State had changed the system to where one must, naturally now make an appointment via the government website. I didn't know that - it wasn't evident on the website. Finding the right place on the site is extremely difficult, naturally. Some buttons that say cancel don't actually work. Eventually I succeeded in creating an appointment time, got an emailed link I had to immediately accept (or lose the appointment) and printed it out because in France you must always prove you are right, or you're wrong.

As a precaution, I found my way back to the government site where the list of documents required said I must now provide a certain doc that proves my employer has paid in all of the social security taxes from my salary, itemised out etc. This information is on my pay slips that I receive two months after I get paid but this is not enough. I must prove my employer has actually paid them to the state.

This document does not exist. In fact, it is an illegal request by the State to ask for this from another department of the State. JC is pissed off at this stupidity and rings the uni who say they don't have these sorts of documents and certainly not for one little individual, try their accounting company. JC rings the accountancy firm and speaks to a nice lady who says she can't provide this info as all payments are made in bulk from all the employees and she can't send info on other employees, it's illegal. She will try to post me something to show we've tried to supply something that doesn't exist.What is this stupid request doing on the government website?

Second appointment went badly. We arrive at the prefecture again with my dossier which the same officious guy I encounter each year starts to go through... originals, copies. First of all he says I shouldn't be there as I'm a few days ahead of the one month before my visa expires. We explain to him it's not easy to get online appointments and that my university needs one to two months notice in order to pay me. Without a valid visa I will not be paid. He doesn't care. Instead, he looks for another reason not to accept me.

My ID photos are unacceptable. What? My hair is in front of my ears, which is no longer an acceptable hairstyle in a photo. Neither JC nor I knew of this and it's not in the instructions in the photo booths which specialise in these photos. Second error, I didn't photocopy the blank back page of my tax form. I didn't do that because it had no information on it. Dohhh!

My third error was in providing a bank statement and health insurance bill as proof of address. Both are unacceptable. It must be electricity, gas, water or phone. For both electricity and phone everything is done automatically with the bank so I don't receive bills I can photocopy. As for gas and water, there's no gas supply to my building and the water is in common as part of my charges so that doesn't help me. When supplying proof it must be less than 3 months old.

Luckily for me, a week after this fiasco, a statement arrived from EDF the French electricity supplier informing me I had to pay 36 euros because I had used a tiny bit more electricity this year. Orange, my telecommunications supplier, also sent a statement to say my mobile phone was now included in my monthly bill. Both were once a year forms so I lucked out there.

My fourth error was in not photocopying every single page of my passport - front page and visa page are now not enough. Every little entry and exit stamp must be copied. Why? Probably so more state servants can be kept shuffling paper and to see if I'm visiting terrorist states perhaps?  

I had to go away and make another appointment using the online system. Two days later I went online but try as I might the system refused to give me an appointment, I was blocked, I'd used up my quota of visits, apparently. Tearing my hair out in frustration and worry I asked JC to enquire why I was blocked. To do this he had to go to the prefecture in person as you can't argue on the phone, and he wanted to show all the screen prints I'd made as proof - remember proof?

Turns out there's only one appointment allowed per month via the software that runs this. There is no way I can get around that. Eventually the officious guy asks his superior to go and reset the system for me but refuses to give me an appointment while he's there. I do it myself the next day. Time is getting short so my next appointment will be only three weeks before my visa expires.

When I first came to France three and a half years ago the lead-in time was three months ahead, last year it was two months, now it's one month. Next year, who knows?

My third visit with JC to the prefecture was naturally full of fear and anger so I tried not to look at the guy,  say nothing and let JC say anything necessary. The guy shuffled my originals and copies from one hand to the other and back, then he got down to details. He reinspected everything, even though he knows us on sight, looking for any kind of mismatch, bad date, you name it. Aha ha, the passport, surely I might has missed a page with that, so he went through my passport pages twice, slowly, hoping to catch me out. Most folks who catch a glimpse of my NZ passport complement me on how beautiful it is. He didn't.

So on through the contract, statement of employment, pay slips, electricity bill, my current ID, tax declarations, translated birth certifcate which he ignored (but is on the official list). When it came to the documents I supplied to show I'd tried to get some proof my employer was paying the government he just shrugged his shoulders and gave it back to me.

The minutes ticked but as he moved each document from one pile to another JC reached for a brochure on passport photo requirements from a holder in front of us and started reading it. He was sharply reprimanded by the civil servant and told they were not self-service. JC's icy control remained in place but he was seething. He later told me if it hadn't been for me and my visa he'd have 'said something' but he didn't want to jeopardise my process. He was still upset hours later about the behaviour we encounter each time from this guy.

Finally I got to sign a piece of card and my temporary tds was in my hand. I said Merci and left, feeling solemn and humiliated and wondering how many months it would take France to give me the real titre de sejour. Last year it had taken 10 months and many repeat visits to the prefecture to renew each time the temporary one ran out. Despite the fact I've put my heart and soul into being in France, stayed legal despite the huge obstacles, work hard and pay taxes, this process always gets more difficult. It's not based on merit. Think I might be exaggerating the problems encountered?

Here's a link to a blog that explains a process at a different prefecture. It's impossible to know what is really required as each agent at a prefecture and each prefecture does things differently each year and there is no co-ordination between information contained on any official websites.


Anonymous said...

Yikes! Sounds like your Prefecture visits have been much more painful than mine! Looking forward to checking out more of your blog. Thanks for sharing your link with me!


Frances Harrison said...

Thanks Shannon but there are worse horror stories than mine, alas. Knowing what can happen and how to minimise problems is why we bloggers share these stories.

Anonymous said...

Hi Frances, it is a painful process and unfortunately we are at the merci of whoever is at the Prefecture cubicle when we arrive. Always the public servant is incompetent, uncaring, insensitive and bored out of their tree. I think they look for problems that aren't there just to make their day interesting. If you survive the process each year then you are that much stronger. Arggggh!! warm regards Grant Isherwood

arindam ghosh said...

All your statements are true. Worst is Nanterre prefecture.

Post a Comment

I welcome your comments, contributions and feedback.