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BREXIT

Revealed: The ‘black market’ in residency permit appointments in France

Long delays in getting appointments for the French residency permit the carte de séjour have led to the springing up of a 'black market' in quick appointments, reports Edward O'Reilly.

Revealed: The 'black market' in residency permit appointments in France
Photo: THOMAS COEX / AFP
Those who are willing to pay fees of up to €200 are able to jump the queues, leaving others to wait even longer for their coveted appointment slot.
 
Investigations by French newspapers Le Monde and Le Parisien have shone a spotlight on the booming business of préfecture appointment-scheduling services.
 
And after spending just 10 minutes online, The Local found dozens of sites willing to take our money in exchange for arranging speedy appointments.
 
READ ALSO 
 
 
Meanwhile many people – especially Britons seeking a residency permit for the first time – have reported waits of several months just for the initial appointment. 
 
This problem has been particularly notable in the petite couronne (the three départements surrounding Paris: Seine-Saint-Denis, Val-de-Marne, and Hauts-de-Seine) and in the south near Toulouse (Haute-Garonne) and Montpellier (l'Hérault), where demand for residency permits is heavily concentrated. 
 
Traditionally, people who needed a permit would have to queue at the préfecture, and in areas where demand was heavy this often meant waiting on the pavement overnight in order to be near the front of the queue when the appointment slots were handed out.
 
More recently, many préfectures have moved the process online. And although the waiting room has changed, the process is largely the same. 
 
People who need a permit are told to schedule an appoint on the préfecture website to turn in their documentation, then often find that it is impossible to do so.
 
Attempts to sign up for an appointment are met with the laconic message: “There are no more time slots available for your appointment request. Please try again later.”
 
One reader of The Local reported having to access their local préfecture website at midnight on a Sunday – when the week's new appointments are posted – in order to secure a slot.
 
Applicants must register with their local authority, so travelling to a less busy area is not an option.
 
The préfecture makes appointments available on their websites every week, but as these disappear so quickly some frustrated applicants have resorted to paying for services that promise to obtain appointments using software that enables them to book slots as soon as they become available.
 
A simple online search returns numerous pages advertising help in acquiring the appointment necessary to file for a residency permit, with prices varying widely.
 
One page advertises “Submission of residency permit dossier at the Montpellier préfecture! Appointment for just €35!” 
 
While another page promises discounts to customers who bring in more clients: “For every friend that you invite to get their appointment, you’ll both get a discount!  A discount of 16 percent for you! And a discount of 10 per cent for your friend!” 
 
Potential clients are instructed to send a private message to page administrators, leaving the rest of the process shadowed in obscurity. But many of the sites also offer effusive testimonials claiming to be from satisfied customers.
 
One user who claims to be a customer writes: “It’s been several months that I’ve been waiting for an appointment but I haven’t gotten anything, so by browsing forums I heard about you. I decided to try it and there, incredible, I had my appointment in three days with the complete package for €24.”
 
Prices, however, vary according to the type of appointment desired, the vendor, and the location, and Le Parisien tells of students paying €120 for an appointment in Bobigny.
 
 
 
 
Public prosecutors in Bobigny and Nanterre have opened investigations into the issue.
 
Meanwhile people who have gone through the official channels have reported long waits for the initial appointments.
 
Anyone looking to get a residency permit in France must go in person to their local préfecture and present all the necessary documentation – including proof of ID and address plus information relating to work, pensions or benefits.
 
All non EU nationals who wish to live in France must get the permit, and this will include British people once Britain leaves the EU.
 
For the moment, however, the situation is complicated for Britons – many have been advised to get the permit in order to regularise their status in France, but the process has confused many local officials, who have never before encountered a carte de séjour request from an EU national – although in fact everyone is entitled to one if they ask.
 
To compound the problem, many local authorities in areas which have a high concentration of British people have found themselves swamped by applications.
 
Because of the uncertain status of the Brexit negotiations, some préfectures have stopped scheduling appointments altogether for British people, although they are working through the backlog of applications submitted earlier.

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VISAS

‘Be ready to wait’: Your tips for getting a French visa post-Brexit

Now that Britain is out of the EU, just how much harder is the process of moving to France from the UK after Brexit? British readers share their experiences of applying for visas as 'third country nationals’.

'Be ready to wait': Your tips for getting a French visa post-Brexit

Whether you’re moving to France to live, or you’re a second-home owner wanting to spend more than 90 days out of every 180 in France, if you’re British you will now need a visa.

You can find more on how to apply for a visa, and how to understand what type of visa you need, in our visa section HERE.

But how these systems work in practice is not always the same as the theory.

To learn more about the process of getting a visa as a UK national, The Local asked British readers for their experiences of going through the system.

The consensus among respondents was that the whole thing was bureaucratic, though there were notable differences in experiences that ranged from the “easy” to the “complicated” and “time-consuming”, while the advice for future applicants was, routinely, have all your paperwork ready – and be prepared for a lengthy wait at one of the UK’s TLS centres

Appointments

Like most visas, French visas for UK nationals must be applied for before you leave home. You can find a full explanation of the process here, but the basic outline is that you apply for the visa online, and then have an in-person appointment in the UK in order to present your paperwork. 

Sue Clarke told us: “As long as you get all your paperwork together correctly and in the right order, the time it takes to receive your passport back with the visa in it once TLS has sent it off is only a few days.

“TLS – the centre which works on behalf of the French Embassy to collate your application – is so very busy,” she added. “That part of the process took hours even when you have an appointment.”

READ ALSO EXPLAINED: What type of French visa do you need?

“The visa process itself was fairly well run, and a decision for the initial visa was quick,” wrote Ian Sheppard, who successfully applied for a visa in July 2022. 

“Although getting the follow up residence permit was a pain, [and] took longer than expected, and there was little to no communication with severely limited ways to get in touch about the application.”

Sheppard thought that, biometrics apart, the process could have taken place online, and wondered whether the follow-up residence permit application could be more closely linked to the initial visa application, “rather than effectively submitting the same application twice”.

Georgina Ann Jolliffe described the process as “stressful”. 

“A lot of the initial stage was unclear and I needed a lot of reassurance about the visa trumping the Schengen 90 days. (The Local helped on that one),” she wrote. 

“[The] lack of ready communication was very stressful. It could be slicker, however staff at Manchester TLS were excellent.”

Jacqueline Maudslay, meanwhile, described the process as “complicated”, saying: “The waiting times for the appointment with the handling agent (TLS in the UK) are long and difficult to book online. We applied for a long-stay visa and were given a short-stay visa, with no reasoning and no option of talking to anyone.  

“We had met every criteria for the long-stay visa. There needs to be a contact link with the French Consular website directly for discussing visa applications.”

Handling agent TLS’s website – the first port of call for applicants from the UK – was a target for criticism.

“The TLS system is probably the most user unfriendly system I have ever used,” wrote Susan Kirby. “It throws up errors for no legitimate reason and even changes data you have keyed in. Dates are in American format so you have to be very careful and it can be very difficult to edit.”

Bea Addison, who applied for a visa in September 2021 with a view to retiring in France, agreed that it was complicated and believes the French system is chaotic and badly organised compared to other countries. “Even staff in the French Embassy in London were not knowledgeable of the process and documentation,” she wrote.

“The renewal in France was applied for in July 2022 … we have received an attestation that we will be granted renewal visas, which expired in October 2022, but we have not yet received a date to attend the préfecture due to a backlog.

Second-home owners

Many of our survey respondents were not moving to France, but were instead second-home owners who did not want to be constrained by the 90-day rule.

They have the option of remaining residents of the UK and applying for a short-stay French visitor visa – which must be renewed every year.

Second-home owner Peter Green told us: “Our appointment with TLS was delayed by two and a half hours and the whole experience was chaotic.

“We now have to go through exactly the same process again to get a visa for 2023. With second-home owners there should be a fast track that just involves proving financial viability, nothing else has changed. The system needs to be fully computerised.”

Second-home owner Alan Cranston told us his application met with no problems, but came with “unwanted cost and effort”. 

“Our six-month visa was for our first stint at our house in France in the spring, and that then overlapped our second visit in the autumn which was under Schengen. How that is handled seems to be a muddle (we did not leave the country for a day at the end of the six months, as some advise),” he said. 

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