La Préfecture, the love of my life. Immigrants in France must have a very close relationship with the préfecture. It’s the place where we have to go – every 3 months, in some cases – to obtain our residency cards and make sure we are not sans-papiers. France doesn’t exactly have a “permanent resident” status for most people, so almost everyone starts out with a carte de séjour that must be renewed every single year. Well, those of us who were already living in France before the visa rules changed this past June. For the newbies, the visa serves as the carte de séjour for the first year, and then every year after that, it may be changed into a carte de séjour depending on if your préfecture likes you or not.
Anyway, it’s a rather annoying process because the préfectures are usually too inept to put the list of required documents on their website, so you must first go the préfecture and wait in line for an hour just to pick up this magic list. And then when you do return to the préfecture with all of the documents, they usually require something else that wasn’t on the list and that you had no idea you would even need, so of course you didn’t bring it with you (or its photocopy since you must have originals and photocopies of everything.)
Even if you do have all of the documents, it can take months and months to get your actual carte de séjour, so you have to keep going back to the préfecture to find out why you haven’t received it yet, or to request a new récépissé – the receipt that proves you did apply for it – or to apply again when the post office loses your carte in the mail (been there) or when you move to a different département and your old préfecture refuses to send your dossier to the new one (done that). In the 3.5 years I’ve been in France, I’m already on carte de séjours #6 and #7.
Why does it take so long to make these little cards?
I’ve already explained the first three years of my CDS adventures in the Love Affair with the Préfecture post, so here’s an update:
Technically, I applied for CDS #6 way back on June 16, 2009, right after David & I moved to Chambéry. I needed to change the address on it, which involves making a whole new card, so even though I had just renewed it in Annecy, I had to apply all over again. I did receive a récépissé on July 1st, which was good until September 30, but of course that date came and went and no word from the préfecture. I used to return every month and bug them about it, but they just kept telling me that Annecy hadn’t sent my dossier to Chambéry yet and that I would receive a new récépissé soon. That never happened. The card with my Annecy address on it is actually still good until May, so I wasn’t too overly concerned about it – especially since the only real reason I would need to have the correct address on my CDS would be for CAF, which I’m not eligible for since France thinks I’m so rich now with my 13k a year.
So, I gave up and stopped bugging the préfecture about it. Then March came and I needed to gather documents to renew my card for yet another frickin year of temporary status, and I was a little worried that they’d yell at me for something. Luckily the woman was really nice and discovered that Annecy had FINALLY sent my dossier to Chambéry a few weeks ago and CDS #6 was in the process of being made. I should receive it soon, even though it expires in less than 2 months. How amazingly useful.
Since I had all the documents and David was able to go to the préfecture with me this morning, I told the woman I was just going to do the renewal process today and get it over with since CDS #6 would basically be useless to me. She agreed. She didn’t dispute any of the documents, even though some of my “originals” were color copies of older documents (I love my printer) and some were a lot older than 3 months (2007 anyone?) and she actually remembered the communauté de vie paper that they tried to forget the last time. But it was all of the same paperwork I had given them in June, and that card was actually being made – albeit NINE MONTHS LATE – so my documents must be good enough for them.
Though of course I won’t stop feeling stressed out about it until I receive CDS #7 (that’s my renewal card, not my change of address card; are you still following me?) since we are flying back to Geneva from Croatia, which is NOT in the EU or Schengen zone yet, on May 8 – exactly one day after my current CDS expires. Plus the university cannot and will not give me my salary for the remaining months of my contract unless I have a valid CDS. So it’s not only the fact that I could be “illegal” in France; it’s also a matter of being let back into France and being able to pay rent.
I can start applying for citizenship in October, and hopefully get it by the end of 2011 or early 2012. I will feel so relieved to finally have a permanent status in this country. Except apparently even French citizens have their citizenship questioned nowadays, so that’s not very comforting.
David said that people joke about the fonctionnaires who work at the préfecture. Ceux qui ne réusissent pas le concours de la Poste travaillent à la Préfecture. I wonder how true that is…
Dr. Wagner has a PhD in Linguistics and is dedicated to learning and teaching languages online and abroad. She has studied in Quebec and Australia, taught English in France, and is currently based in the US.