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

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 partnership with her French partner, feeling somewhat unwanted and unloved by France.

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

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 partnership – NOT 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 [email protected]

 

Member comments

  1. PACS is not civil marriage. PACS is civil partnership. Civil marriage is the legal aspect of actually getting married. This is actually a very important distinction

  2. I spoke French even before I arrived in France. I have been here 6 years and I am specially made to feel I will never be accepted , every single day. As an educated young professional in this modern world I believe I shouldn’t be judged and overlooked because I am from a different nationality . But that has not been the case. Extreme isolation has affected me severely . The isolation has gotten only worse with time.

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HEALTH

Mutuelles: Why is French health insurance getting more expensive?

France’s top-up health insurance 'mutuelles' have been getting steadily more expensive in 2020. Here’s a look at what’s changing, why and who is the worst affected.

Mutuelles: Why is French health insurance getting more expensive?
A dentist is checking the teeth of an elderly lady in a nursing home in Paris. Photo: AFP

“The prices have never been so high in France,” said Fabien Soccio, spokesperson for the company Meilleure Assurance (Best Insurance).

His company this week revealed the results of a new study of France's private health insurance fees, mutuelles, to French media.

After comparing 55 different mutuelles health insurances, Meilleur Assurance concluded that there had been a general spike in the average cost.

What is a mutuelle?

France has generous state health care that covers a lot of medical expenses, but not all costs are reimbursed.

In France you pay upfront for your doctor's appointment, prescription or procedure and then the government reimburses the costs to you. Depending on the procedure and your situation, usually about 80-90 percent of the cost is reimbursed.

If that cost is a €25 appointment with your GP that's not such a big deal, but with more expensive treatments the costs can mount up, which is where a mutuelle comes in.

The mutuelle is a 'top-up' insurance – not obligatory, but recommended – which covers extra costs that are not covered by the state. How much a mutuelle covers will depend on the kind of insurance, where you live and the expenses in question.

If you are an employee, your employer must pay for at least half the cost of your mutuelle

Who was affected by the price increase?

The 2020 price hike touched the country as a whole, however some regions and population groups were harder hit than others, Soccio told Le Parisien.

To compare the costs for different socio-demographic groups, Meilleur Assurance created three different types of profiles; a 25-year-old employee with a “classic” mutuelle; a couple with two children, also on a “classic” mutuelle and a 60-year-old couple with “strengthened” guarantees in their mutuelle.

Seniors hardest hit

Retirees tend to go for fuller versions of mutuelles because these cover additional costs (such as dental and optical treatments). 

Seniors on extensive types of mutuelles were those suffering the steepest price increases this year, Soccio said. 

“In 2020, fifteen départements exceeded a threshold of €3,000 in annual fees for a senior couple with extra guarantees,” Soccio said.

“That’s an average increase of more than €176 in one year,” he said.

For the couple with a child, the increase was slighter ( an extra 4 percent), whereas the young employee saw health insurance bills largely unchanged.

READ ALSO Brexit: Do I need a mutuelle to get residency in France?

 

.. along with Parisians

The study also revealed large price differences between different regions, with inhabitants in the Paris region Ile-de-France paying the highest bills for their mutuelles.

A retired couple would pay on average €528 more if they lived in Paris compared to if they lived in a more rural, cheaper département like Mayenne.

Similarly, employees would pay 30 percent more on average in Paris than in Pays-de-la-Loire.

Parisians also saw the steepest price increases since last year, by 14.6 percent on average for the retired couple with a mutuelle covering extra costs.

On a national level, the average price increase for the same couple was 12.1 percent. 

.. but everyone was a little worse off

However the country as a whole saw a price increase last year, with even those opting for the cheapest kinds of health insurance affected by the general price hike.

In one year, from 2019 to 2020, the cheapest type of health insurance had increased by 13.7 percent, according to the study. 

Why the increase?

Prices generally increase a little every year, but this year was unusual, Soccio said.

“Today, we are in an uncertain and troubled situation,” he told Europe 1, listing several factors that had contributed to the price increase: the Covid-19 pandemic, the government's new health reform known as “100 percent Santé”, and a new health tax known as the “Covid surtax”.

When the French government presented their new budget for 2021, centred on their dazzling €100 billion relaunch plan, they promised not to increase taxes for the French. Instead, to top up their savings a little, the government introduced a new tax, the “Covid surtax”, which will be paid through the mutuelles and other health insurance companies.

This tax will provide €1 billion in total to the state in 2021, and €500 million in 2022, according to French media.

What about the future?

Soccio said he worried the trend of prices increasing would continue in the next couple of years, leading to steep prices for even those opting for the cheaper mutuelles.

“It's safe to bet that the national average costs will pass €3,000 in the next two years,” he told Le Parisien.

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