When I was surprised by the revelation that it was possible to extend your TAPIF contract for a month, I was super excited about the chance to spend more time teaching English and getting paid to live in France. There was just one problem: my visa was going to expire.
My temporary work visa would expire on May 19- 11 days before the end of my new contract . Now, as an American I am legally allowed to stay for 90 days without a visa- but I would have to leave the Schengen Zone for 48 hours and re-enter to get my passport stamped as a tourist. Additionally, living as a tourist would pose problems in my ability to get paid, health insurance, and other situations. So I would need to extend my visa.
To do this, I had to struggle- a lot – with the infamous French bureaucracy, but it worked out in the end. I had to go through my local Prefecture, or I guess the American equivalent would be the county office? Its a little different as there are no differences in authority between the region, department, and the country, but the prefecture is the assigned representative of the French government in one of the 101 departements of France. Mine was Ain.
Through the website, I had to go through several pages- as a non-EU citizen, with a valid visa, who would like to extend it, who is not Algerian, who has a work visa. Whew. After that, I found what I was looking for- the correct procedure to follow! Even though I did get the run-around when attempting to speak to someone on the phone at the Prefecture about my situation, I was kindly told I could mail in my application and required documents instead of appearing in person twice, seeing as I lived over an hour away by bus from the Prefecture in Bourg-en-Bresse. (The run-around was because, as it is in France, the Prefecture is only open when it feels like it. Which means open Tuesdays and Thursdays, before 11 AM. But if you want to call on the phone, thats only on Mondays or Wednesdays between 3 PM and 5:15 PM. But if you are a foreigner, then its only Wednesdays. It was a nightmare getting some information, because I had classes to teach! Oh well).
In order to renew a work visa I had to submit:
-copy of my current visa
-copy of my current OFII vignette I had received in November
-copy of my passport
-official birth certificate
-proof of residence
-3 ID photos
-receipt that I paid the tax for OFII (or in the case of TAPIF assistants, that we were exempt from said tax)
-original work contract
-new work contract
Okay. That was all fine. After going over all my required documents to make sure I hadn’t missed anything (about four times), I mailed in my dossier, or file, to the Prefecture in the beginning of March, after I had received my new work contract for the month of May. I had to submit this 2 months prior to my initial visa expiring, so I had over 2 weeks of leeway time between that deadline. Fine.
I went away for April break, still waiting on a response from the Prefecture. I had no reason to think they would reject my application, but on the off-chance they did I had to have a flight home after my April 30 contract ended, and I didn’t want to pay through the nose for a flight home. I was waiting to receive my convocation to the Prefecture to get my new visa. However, when I went to get my mail upon returning from London, I did NOT have my convocation (this is end of April), but they had returned all my documents saying that I was missing files and to return it immediately.
Fabulous. Now, at this point I was sure I wasn’t going to get my new visa in time and I would be deported, fined thousands of dollars, and banned from returning to France ever again. (I was a little paranoid, I admit). The list of documents that I had not supplied (which they had not originally asked for), was very short.
-a copy of my American drivers license
-An attestation from my employer saying that, in fact, I worked there and was not forging my work contracts.
-All of my previous pay stubs.
Fine, those were easy enough to obtain (for the attestation I just asked the director to write out a short statement saying that yes, I showed up to work regularly, blah blah blah. He had no idea what I was talking about when I first asked him for the attesetation. He said he thought the Prefecture made it up.) So I had to mail back all my original documents plus these new ones that they hadn’t asked for the first time around, and hope that I was all set.
Fortunately, a few days after mailing the new and improved dossier to the prefecture, I received my very official-looking summons to appear at the Prefecture in nearby Bourg-en-Bresse on May 18. Didn’t my visa expire on May 19? Yes. So if I got rejected, I was SOL. (Sorry, Mom).
For my Very Important appointment, I had to bring
-my new certified work contract (that they already had)
-originals of all the documents that I had submitted 2 months ago (that they had)
I had to call the Prefecture and tell them that, as much as I would like to bring all my original documents to my appointment, they already had them since I had sent them 2 months ago and would that be a problem? I was assured that non, non, c’est tres bien, and to show up with my convocation and passport.
To be safe, I brought along a copy of every piece of paper I have ever received in France.
As is my luck, the day I was scheduled to appear at the Prefecture there was a massive train strike in all of France- so I was fortunately able to crash last-minute with my friend Kaitlin so that I wouldn’t be stranded by striking SNCF workers, miss my appointment, be deported, fined thousands of dollars, and be banned forever from France. (That’s not actually the punishment from overstaying a visa- I think it is an 800 euro fine, and a ban from entering France for 18 months. Still, I didn’t want to risk it).
The appointment itself was one of the easiest I have ever had in France- I showed up early, they took me 45 minutes early. I was fingerprinted. There was one hairy moment when they said I absolutely had to have the originals of all my documents, but I had to say they actually had the originals, I had spoken to so-and-so, and it was fine. I received my new recipisse and was on my way.
This recipisse is not actually a new visa. It doesn’t fit in my passport. Its a ridiculously large piece of paper with my photo, ID information on it, and an expiration date sometime in August that I will have to present as proof of my legal status in France when I’m at the airport. This is only because I will only be in France for a few more weeks so there’s no need to give me a whole new visa. And there you have it! After much angst and anxiety, I am legal in France until August, I wont’ get deported, fined, and banned from France, and more importantly (and realistically), I can get paid for the month of May.
Have you dealt with the French bureaucracy? Let me know your thoughts in the comments below!