About this time last year, I received a huge wake-up call.
Amid great joy at welcoming my mom to France, I got home, showed her around the house, and sighed when I saw the letter. The long-awaited letter from the French administration about my visa…
I had been denied. I was ordered to leave the country within 30 days.
In other words, I was being deported.
My chest and face felt hot, and my heart felt covered in sludge.
I felt humiliated at the rejection. I thought everything was fine, but the French administration deemed my ties to the country as insufficient. I thought I had finally found some stability in my life with my partner. But someone in an office took a cursory look at my life on paper, deemed it to be insufficient, and decided to turn me away. Whoever deemed my ties to France “insignificant” wasn’t there to see F and I, and the life we were building together. They couldn’t know that I had integrated into French life, and that I had a kick-ass community around me.
Needless to say, I was also scared shitless. This was one of my worst fears, and it had come to life.
The burning dread of deportation was softened by the steadfast support I got. I was touched and honored by the efforts of our friends, family, and community, who each contributed something to my appeal: messages, reassuring, contacting people who could help. French administration found out in short order exactly how much support I had.
In a whirlwind, the order of deportation arrived, I managed to enjoy my mother’s stay in France, we submitted my appeal, and I was finally granted my visa. In one month.
In the aftermath, I was walking on new legs. Post-rollercoaster jelly legs. I dodged a bullet and I knew it; I had begun phase two of my life in France: P.D.O. (Post-Deportation Order) And if I had learned anything, it was that my resolve to stay here was solid; I wasn’t about to go anywhere. I realized what I wanted because it had almost been taken away.
In a month, I will go back with F to submit my visa renewal application. Even if I’m confident in my case, there’s that sneaking twinge of doubt behind my ear. My chest burns again when I dare to think, “What if…?”
When dealing with someone who’s done you wrong before, you never see them the same way again. Once you get bitten by one dog, you eye all dogs with suspicion. It takes one letter to upend your life. But the road doesn’t end; you steel yourself and move forward, even if it’s one manageable baby step at a time.
Even if it’s not okay now, it will (one day) be okay again.
July is long gone, and now I’m face-to-face with another birthday.
I’m 29. One year before the big 30. On a side note: when I lived in Korea, 30 was the magic number: after 30, a woman’s shelf life supposedly reaches its expiration and you creep into that undesirable “spinster” territory if you’re unmarried. 30 is that round magical number where everything changes, and you’re supposed to have a fire under your ass, to get moving and accomplish those life goals you’ve been putting off until “later.” Well, as a 29-year-old woman, I’m acutely aware that this is the time of my life; I’m in my prime, and there is no magic switch that will be flipped in one year. I’m taking things at my speed, doing what I want to do at my own speed, with no one but myself to answer to. This is the freest and most empowered I’ve ever felt. If this feeling follows me into my 30’s, that’d be one of the greatest privileges I could hope for.
Around the time of the New Year and my birthday, it seems to be the season for reflection. Perfectly spaced, twice a year, the time to take stock.
In the past year, or indeed since I arrived in France a year and a half ago, I’ve learned to speak French, become a freelance English teacher, gotten PACSed (in other words, signed into a legal partnership), found a good job where my coworkers call me on my birthday to sing me Happy Birthday, rekindled my interest in writing and drawing, succeeded (FINALLY) at having an herb garden, and started to delve into cooking more seriously (as a seriously pleasurable hobby, that is).
I’ve also lost friendships, hit my lowest emotional point, rebounded from that point, and evolved more than I ever have before.
But most of all, I’ve learned how and where to educate myself outside of the classroom. I’ve learned that it’s okay not to be a complete island. And I’ve started to research my family history, which is so much richer than I could have imagined, as well as the complex and fascinating history of Puerto Rico and Cuba. Having an intimate knowledge of where my family comes from is both empowering and valuable. For me, learning about the history of colonization, political and even musical and culinary history is a responsibility that I hadn’t fully realized the importance of.
It has simultaneously cemented my heritage: I am, without question, 100% Latina. I come from a mixed lineage of Spanish conquistadors, African slaves, perhaps even French settlers and the Tainos. The first time someone told me I didn’t “belong” with my family was when I was 9 years old, and now twenty years later, I can say with assurance that I do, in fact, have a place. And it’s my job to claim it.
Now that I’ve got a clearer idea of who I am and what I want to say, it makes me more open to writing and sharing information with whoever is there to receive it.
Last night, shortly after midnight we saw the International Space Station zooming across the sky over France. A bright speck that moved so quickly from one end of our horizon to the other, that we barely recognized it before it disappeared. And I can only imagine, to the people onboard the ISS, we looked like a dark patch of night; to them, we were less than specks. Makes me think about my whole infinite-universe-gives-us-ultimate-freedom theory.
I suppose I’m a speck that accepts its speck-hood and wants to enjoy its speck-sized glory while it has the chance.
All right, time to do another visa-related post… this time, I will outline the maddening process of getting into France as an American. The path I chose wasn’t the easiest, but it was the quickest and surest way of getting here, considering my lack of other options. You who are reading this now, I assume you found me through an Internet search; welcome! Please take this information as an example, not as gospel. This is the type of blog post I wished existed when I started this process back in 2012. Be prepared to do A LOT MORE googling to get the answers you need to make your decision.
Things to know off the bat:
-I don’t have direct ancestry in Europe, so applying for citizenship through family wasn’t an option for me. If it is for you, good on you!
-I’m not a student anymore. There ARE programs that help get American students out here to work (most notably the Teaching Assistant Program in France), but you should have a good level of French first (B1-ish or low intermediate), or be below a certain age, depending on the program.
-The information I put here is specific to my situation as an American coming to live with my partner in the Maine-et-Loire department in Pays de la Loire; beware! Other regions and people of other nationalities may have a different battle on their hands.
So, you want to come to France…
A bit about me: I met F, a Frenchie, while I was working in South Korea. We both ended up leaving the country, but we wanted to stay together. There begins the adventure. In the end, I found out that coming to France, while difficult, would be easier than finding another foreign country where we could both live and work. It was definitely easier than trying to get him to the United States, especially as we were an unmarried couple trying to stay together, and trying to reunite as quickly as possible.
[Phase 1 : Job Search]
The job search: I came to France twice, to try and find a job–I’m an English teacher, and there is plenty of work here… for people who already have a visa. Without a visa, it’s highly unlikely that you’re going to get your foot in the door.
[Phase 2 : Back to School]
So, no job without a visa and no visa without a job offer… What to do? I took the advice I received multiple times from other Americans, and decided to enroll in an intensive FLE (Français Langue Etrangère/French as a Foreign Language) program; 20 hours a week/visa sponsorship. The downside? The cost. Yes, university is free here… degree programs, that is. I wasn’t prepared to go through the entire process of university admissions again, nor was my level of French good enough to get into a program here. FLE programs in France are expensive, I’m warning you now (between about 1500E-2200E per semester). The upside is, students have the legal right to work part-time, so once you arrive, as long as you’re in a decent-size city, you should be able to find some work if you dig deep enough.
[Phase 3 : PACS]
I went to my local Tribunal d’Instance and picked up the paperwork to apply for a PACS (Pacte civil de solidarité–it’s like a civil union. It counts in France to establish ties, which makes the visa application process easier, but it doesn’t count for beans in the US.) The paperwork was relatively straightforward to obtain, except for one document: I had to make an appointment at the American Embassy in Paris to sign a document that certified that I was not already married or PACSed. Pain in the butt and expensive, but necessary to get the PACS.
You can get PACSed at any time–but in order to apply for the 1-year carte de séjour (residency card for partners of French citizens), you must prove that you and your partner have lived together on French soil for 1 year.
[Phase 4 : Visa vie privée familiale]
Service-Public. fr (French) – Start here for information about the partner visa. Then, be sure to visit the webpage for the département where you live, and get the necessary information.
Maine et Loire (French) – The list of forms for different types of visa applications for the Maine-et-Loire department.
I’ll update this section when I get the results of my application–I’ve applied for my partner visa, and I’m awaiting the results. Hopefully I’ll update with good news within the next month or so…
[UPDATE: November 21, 2015]
Well, things weren’t as easy as I had hoped. Just over a month ago, I received an OQTF (Obligation de Quitter le Territoire Français), which is an official order to leave the country. I will write another blog post about that experience soon, but I did make a couple mistakes that ended up making the process much longer and stressful than it should have been.
First, I was applying to a Préfecture that, as it turns out, is very much wary of handing out visas to foreigners. There were several factors that counted against me in the rejection letter:
-F and I weren’t PACSed for long enough before I submitted the application to change my visa status. One year is preferable. Keep in mind that as a foreigner, obtaining documents for the PACS takes time, so if you’re under pressure
-I wasn’t in France long enough to have established “deep and long-lasting” ties to France. I listed my parents and siblings as residing in the United States, which also counted against me. So, if you are in a similar situation as I am, get as much supplemental proof as possible. If you are employed, get your employer to write a letter. Ask your partner, your French friends, teachers, in-laws, and anyone who can vouch for your ties to France to write you a letter of support. I had to do so during my appeal, but I believe that would have helped if I had it from the start.
-Third, you should know that there are lawyers, associations, and in my case, local politicians who will be sympathetic to you in case your application is rejected. My rejection letter took nearly 6 months to get to my door, and by that time, I had an expired visa with no other recourse except to appeal the decision.
There are 3 steps to appeal a decision from the Préfecture:
1. Recours gracieux (resubmit your application with more information and additional proof, and hope that they will accept your claim the second time around)
2. Recours administratif (appeal to the higher-up of whoever issued the decision)
3. The Tribunal (going to court. This requires hiring a lawyer, some of whom accept governmental aid, if you qualify for it)
So, I finally got my visa. Lesson learned: navigating French administration is not for the weak-hearted.
- France Diplomatie – Coming to France (English)
- OFII/Office Français de l’Immigration et de l’Integration (French)
You. Must. Learn. French. If you’re hell-bent on coming here, it’s really a non-negotiable fact. Many of the documents you need to understand are in French, and there is business you’ll have to take care of in French. I started learning French when I had nearly zero in my bank account back in the States, so it doesn’t have to cost an arm and a leg to get started, either. Here’s what I used:
- Alliance Française – find your local Alliance Française and see what they have available. My local chapter had classes, as well as free conversation sessions at a coffeeshop twice a month. Seek out the francophiles around you!
- Duolingo – A free, cute, fun interactive program (or app on your smartphone) to start getting those basics down.
- Coffee Break French – A great podcast, free on Itunes. Short, manageable episodes that build gradually and leave little gaps where you can repeat aloud.
- Comme Une Française – More geared toward the ladies headed to France, but this website/Youtube channel has great little videos that explain bits of French culture and language that you can’t find in textbooks. You know, the useful stuff you wish someone would tell you before you make an embarrassing mistake.
- Expat Blog post – This is advice given to an Australian about getting the vie privée familiale carte de séjour. It was posted in 2014.
- PACSing and the right to a carte de séjour in France – A blog post that set me on my current path. It’s from 2008, so it may not be 100% up-to-date.
- Expat Forum – France – This forum is chock-full of information, and people who can offer some advice/wisdom. Do a thorough search of the archives before you ask a question; there’s a very good chance someone’s already asked!
- Honest advice about moving to France – A post on the FUSAC (France-USA Contacts) website that lists advice collected from Twitter. As the title claims, it’s honest and useful.