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My French story: Having my visa rejected makes me question if I belong in France

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My French story: Having my visa rejected makes me question if I belong in France
Photo: AFP
11:44 CEST+02:00
Being told abruptly by a French immigration official that she could stay in France but would not be allowed to work has left American Courtney Anderson, who is in a civil marriage with her French partner, feeling somewhat unwanted and unloved by France.

Champions du monde

Everyone came to the Champs Elysees to cheer in the streets after France won the world cup; red, white and blue streamed across the sky and every face passing by. The French colors were vibrant, along with the French pride -- something I am struggling to identify with after my visa application was rejected. I am American and my partner is French. I can stay, but I can't work. As I am overjoyed France won, I feel like I lost.

My story is little to nothing compared to the mass issue of immigration in France, the US and most industrialized countries.  Nonetheless, it is an example of how strict immigration laws can divide humanity.

My partner and I waited four hours in the immigration office to hear if I could stay and work in France.

We held hands until the immigration employee came back to tell us the verdict. She sat down and opened up our folder with all the documents that proved our relationship was valid over the past year.

She didn’t look up.

She said it's possible to stay but not possible to work.

She said it's possible to apply for a student visa.

She didn’t know I don’t have enough money for that.

She asked, with no intonation, why we were both crying.

I try to be up-to-date on immigration issues, but there is a level of understanding of the complexities and endless energy required to deal with the system that can only come from experiencing it. And as frustrating as I find my experience, it is only a hint of the barriers immigration laws can invoke. I am privileged. I am white, and I have a safe community to go back to.

My partner and I met in Colombia two years ago. The full story unfolds like a Nicholas Sparks book I wouldn’t read because it’s too cheesy.

I came to Paris over a year ago because I wanted to be with him, learn another language and experience the culture. The first visa was challenging, but manageable. I decided to be an au pair because I wanted to teach English to kids and it was a way to obtain a visa while being financially independent from my partner. Turns out, an au pair means being something between an exchange student and a servant -- but that's another story.

That au pair visa was valid for one year. So my partner and I decided to apply for the carte de sejour, vie privée et familiale, which would allow me to live, work and even pay taxes in France. To receive the vie privée et familiale, the applicant must prove that they and their partner lived together for one year in France. We lived together for a year, but had to prove this to get the visa. We also were "PACSed" (civil marriage) to prove we were serious about being together.

We did it all. Once I realized I wanted to stay another year, we got to work. We put our papers together for over six months. Stacks upon stacks of papers fluttered around our apartment. Pictures of us on trips, train tickets, plane tickets, joint bills and our PACS papers were all neatly prepped and placed in a thick two-ring binder for a government employee.

She didn’t look inside the binder.

She asked for document after document. She asked for our birth certificates, my visa, our PACS, a bill with both of our names on it. She took them without making eye contact.

We were told we have a weak file. We needed to have both of our names on an apartment lease or an apartment utility bill from exactly one year ago. We had utility bills in our names, but they were from six months ago. We had testaments from our roommates confirming that we lived together, our PACS, and a year-long joint cell phone bill.

She said to wait in the lobby while she and her superior deliberated.

One year ago, I had just arrived in France. I was seeing if it was a good fit. We were celebrating me receiving my first visa. It never crossed our minds to start preparing for the second, not until six months later. We should have made a joint utility bill or put our apartment lease in both of our names from the moment I arrived in France.

After several hours, we were called up again to the government employee’s desk. We sat in our exact same seats, and looked across at an empty chair, squeezing each other’s hands until she came back with verdict.

She walked over, sat down and didn’t outright say the visa was denied.

She told us that I qualify for a long-stay carte de sejour visiteur, a visa that allows me to live in France for one year but not work, making it next to impossible financially for me to stay.

She started filling out the paperwork for the year-long visitor visa. My French partner asked if we could have some time to think about the options that would define our condition for the next year.

She said that she had laid out our options. After some negotiation, we were allowed 20 minutes.

We cried in the stairwell, unsure of what this meant for our relationship. We decided to take the visitor visa.

I’m not sure I’ll ever understand the relationship between my partner and I paying utilities together and my eligibility to work in France. But I did begin to understand the pressure many immigrants feel to work illegally.

In that stairwell, I felt like France is for the French. That no matter how many French classes I take, papers I fill out or bisous I make -- I will never really be French. It made me feel like the bureaucratic mess is a strategy to keep foreigners disempowered.

When someone constantly fights for the right to exist in France, they begin to question if they will ever belong. For now, my partner and I are trying to figure out an alternative. Canada seems like a good option.

If you have a story about a particular aspect of your life in France that you'd like to share with readers then please get in touch. Email ben.mcpartland@thelocal.com

 

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