My Experiences with La Préfecture July 2022

I would like to preface this recount with a note that these experiences were specifically mine and taken place starting 7 years ago so changes are always being made. These experiences also pertain to someone who married a French and I believe each case would be handled differently on some level depending on many factors, even what region of France you are in. However, I think the fil-rouge (common thread) is that these experiences can be more than unpleasant, somewhat traumatizing and one quickly learns how unorganized/unwilling the prefecture is to help immigrants overall. I also want to add, very importantly, that I am not sharing this to hinder your desire to move to France. The country is beautiful, rich with history, culture, amazing landscapes and equally amazing foods. As fairy-tale as that all is, there are, unfortunately, realities of living in this country starting with the administrative/immigration process, although I am hearing that other countries are worse than here when it comes to that.

 

In January 2015, I arrived in France on my US passport. This allowed me to stay for 90 days. In that 90 days, my French fiancé/now husband and I were preparing for our marriage by going to la mairie (city hall) with lots of documents needed. This was relatively easy except all of my documents needed to be translated into French and notarized. In addition, I was waiting for divorce papers from my previous marriage which took a long time to arrive so as the clock ticked on the 90 days, we managed to have ALL of our papers in order and a wedding date confirmed seriously, the day before I had to leave. Yes, I had to leave for 90 days because there were no other visas for me to apply for especially since I was going to marry a French and while that was so hard for me and Gilles, I had my eyes on the prize.

 

I went back to the US to stay with friends for 90 days and then made my final return to France in July 2015 when my husband and I married. Shortly after, (I honestly don’t remember how we started the process – if it was la mairie that helped us, which could be because there were/are so nice and helpful in our town or I was notified by mail from the start), we started the process of my first carte de séjour. This involved a lot. We had to go to OFII – the French office of immigration and integration where I had a medical exam which consisted of a quick chest x-ray, an overall summary of medical history and for me, I received an updated vaccination that I needed. The visit also consisted of a brief “welcome” video to France, an “interview” where I had to sign an entrance into France contract and instructions that each of us had to take a language class for a certain number of hours, and attend a couple of half or full-day “classes” that you learn about living and working in France as well as a brief history of France. At the end of these classes, as well as the language class, I received a certificate that MUST be kept and shown along with the entrance contract for the renewal of the carte de séjour. 

 

The first card I received in 2015 was for one year and while most people received theirs at OFII, I had to go to my prefecture for mine. So, already there was no organization. I had also noticed that NO immigration offices, whether OFII or the prefecture had signs in any language except French. I didn’t understand why an immigration office would do that. OK…

 

In 2016, before we went to the prefecture for the renewal, we went online to see what was needed in terms of documents. When it comes to the proof of living with your spouse, they start an example list (EDF, rental contracts) and end with … Literally, three dots, which means you have to come up with the ideas of what they possibly can ask for. You don’t know. In addition, no one (nowhere on the site either) mentioned that the acte de mariage, your marriage certificate is only valid for 3 months at a time. Any time you need to renew your card, you must have a renewed, stamped valid certificate. We didn’t know that at the first renewal and the woman going through my documents yelled at me like I was a criminal and made us come back with the corrected certificate. We didn’t make it back that day in time because of the closing hours of the mairie so we went back the next day. You could do that back then! I received…another one year card. I’m married to a French so why? Told that the marriage could be a fake so they go slow with the process of giving out more permanent cards.

 

Side note, our prefecture, at the time was already unorganized. Packed with people, no signs to tell you where to go, who to see when you go in and all signs in French so it was already stressful. Add to that, my FRENCH husband who had no idea how this process worked, and I were afraid that if we did something wrong, I would have to leave France so we were stressed beyond capacity and no one reassured us of ANYTHING.

 

In 2017, I think it was a bit of a blur…but I think all went ok and I received…a two year card. Sigh. Then we read on their site that in 2019, I can finally apply for my 10 year card and it was “confirmed” by the person who we had our appointment with in 2017 that I could apply for that.

 

In 2019, we went down the checklist of what was needed. I had to take a language assessment test. As I was not going to do the DELF due to level of difficulty for me and as it is not necessary for the 10-year card, I did the TCF which is in person and needed to paid for out of my own pocket. It wasn’t too difficult as the level of language needed for the card is A2. Funny thing about the TCF. In addition to having to pay out of pocket for the test , the results are only good for 2 years.

 

So, after I received the attestation for the results of my test, my husband and I began the usual collecting of our documents for the, this time, 10-year card. My husband and I had learned over the years to be ultra-organized and bring more documents than needed because one never knows what BS they are going to ask for next. We get to our rendezvous and after going through everything, the woman tells me I will be getting another 2-year card. My husband and I looked at each other and then I asked why. She said that we did not bring enough documentation to show we were living together. We had the apartment lease, we had the electric bill, some other things which I can’t remember but it wasn’t enough. We asked her what else we could show her, and she said our bank statements. I argued and asked how the apartment lease wasn’t enough proof and she said that it is possible for people to live separately even if the two names are on the lease. I asked how is the bank statements different? (Mind you, the joint bank account that we have is MINE anyway as my husband has his own but his name had to be on it for, I don’t remember why). Then my husband got firm and asked to speak to her supervisor. She refused but said she would talk to her…she left, came back a little while later and told us that they refused to give me the 10-year card and that was that. They were firm in their decision. I was so upset by this. We had done everything we thought was right. On top of it, I would now have to re-take (spend more money) the TCF for the next efforts for a 10-year card.

 

Then COVID hit and la prefecture decided to do something. They decided it was time to make all démarches online via their site…except their site is not equipped to do it, really. However, let me rewind a little as that, luckily, didn’t happen just yet for us. As my husband and I were preparing for THIS 10-year card effort, we became aggressive and a bit snarky/sarcastic in our gathering of documents for my rendezvous. We gathered originals and copies of things they wouldn’t even ask for including my paystubs, his paystubs, one year worth of tax records, among god knows what. Because, if I forgot to mention, and you have read up to now, you have to bring originals AND copies of everything! So you need a pull cart for the documents, really.

 

Then the fun began. Making the appointment online. The previous years were a little tough but my god, we could NOT get through on the site at all to make an appointment. When we contacted the prefecture about it, they insisted we were trying too early (ha!) So…after more than 2 months, we got an appointment in September of 2021 knowing I was not going to have my card in time for anything but there is always the récépissé – the temporary paper needed if you want to work, mainly so I didn’t think too much about it.

 

We had a real appointment, not online but it was……odd. First, the prefecture did away with their “welcome” desk. The welcome was the security gate. We showed our confirmation letter to the guard and he let us in. No staff except for 2-3 people and NO ONE in the waiting area. What’s more is that there were signs on all the doors to instruct everyone to do their things online only with a link to the site. We get called and it was the same woman that refused to give me the 10-year card previously. She asks for the documents, all of them. As we are getting them, she gets up and leaves. A young man comes back and sits in her place and asks for the documents. The woman comes over and tells us he is taking over and she is going on her break….OK….so he wants all the documents at once. In the past, they would ask for certain ones at a time and check them off their little list until all were there. Not this time. He took the entire pile “in the back” and shortly comes back already argumentative saying I didn’t have the TCF attestation. I argued back to check again because it was there. And it was. Then….because our snarky pile of documents wasn’t ENOUGH, we had to mail him the last 5 years of our tax records. We had to mail them letter recommandé (basically return receipt signed) and the 10-year card progress would begin once he received them.

 

We mailed him the damn documents (see? It’s never enough) immediately when we got home and then we had to wait…and wait….and wait. The récépissé has a 3-month expiration date from when you receive it so when it was close to the date of expiration, we contacted the prefecture for the status of my card. No response. No response. No response. Months and months of phone calls and emails left un-responded to and my poor husband trying every waking moment to get a live person was so angry about all of this, he was going to contact our mayor to see if anything could be done. By this time, we saw what was going on with the prefecture in terms of everything being done online only and my husband contacted, instead of the mayor, CIMADE – one of the main immigration organizations who fights for the rights of immigrants and they told him that things are really bad this year with the prefecture with their BS online tasks as well as their lack of organization/lack of responding to the needs of us. The woman on the phone also said to be prepared if the prefecture didn’t even treat my file at all. Meanwhile, there was a way to renew my récépissé online via their site. I did it and never received the renewal. I lost work because I didn’t have any legal document to work. As there is no longer a welcome desk at the prefecture, the only way to see someone is to make an appointment so we did under any heading we could just to talk to someone. We did and we got answers, finally and a copy of my récépissé. This was now May 2022. Remember, my appointment was in September 2021. The response to why I don’t have my card yet…because in addition to the online-only way to do things (which is in the process of being fought) they decided to change the process to a lengthier one of how the documents get validated. The documents one submits goes through THREE different hands to get stamped and validated. THREE times they are looked at one by one and validated…you know, in case the first 2 people that did the validation was smoking funny cigarettes. The third hand is the sous-prefect himself. He gives the final OK. Oh and this only applies for the first demand of the card. So because of the three hands, the process takes forever. Imagine all of the people here that are applying for their cards the first time and not understanding any of that?

 

I now have my carte de resident after almost a year of crying, stressing (which included panic and anxiety attacks), loss of work, loss of financial aid from Pôle Emploi (another story) and more. They made the process of even going to the prefecture to pick up your card a hard one. People crowding the security gate with either confirmation letters in hands or on their phones. They push each other out of the way to yell to security that they have appointments. I was hit and shoved several times myself (I have a cane) so that inconsiderate people animals could get ahead of me. I blame the prefecture and their lack of organization that promotes more of that animalistic behavior in man.

 

 I am 53 years old and read that I can apply for a carte de resident permanente  as I will be over 60 years old the next time and it should all be done online. Permanent…god willing I will never have to do this again after that. I thought I paid my dues in life with a lot of difficult and challenging situations but no, the prefecture is there to remind and humble us all that no one is immune to n’importe quoi. So, if you made it this far, to the end, keep all of this in mind when you move here. Is it worth it? For me, yes. I am in a beautiful country with my beautiful husband who I love to the moon and back. He has been my support and he has helped me with every single administrative task I have had to do between the prefecture, Pôle Emploi and other things. And then there are the croissants and the fromages.