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US students ‘in limbo’ over delays to French visas

American students have told of their frustration at being unable to get visas processed, in spite of French government reassurances that they would be prioritised.

US students 'in limbo' over delays to French visas
US students hoping to start courses in France in September are still in limbo over visas. Photo: AFP

With people still largely banned from travelling from the USA to France, one exception to the travel ban is US students, who the French government says it wishes to welcome to start courses in September.

France is a major destination for American students and the country is keen to maintain and expand its international student programmes.

Foreign Minister Jean-Yves Le Drian said: “In view of the stakes involved in making universities attractive, international students will be allowed to come to France, regardless of their country of origin, and the arrangements for their reception will be facilitated.

“Their applications for visas and residence permits will be given priority.”

But in spite of his warm words, many American students have reported that they are unable to get visas.

Non-European students are required to get a student visa from the French consulate in their home country before they travel, so if the visa is not processed in time for term starting, they miss out.

Dozens of students have contacted The Local to say they been waiting for weeks for visas to be processed and are unable to get answers from the French consulate.

Many have had to rebook flights several times, as well as rebooking the Covid-19 tests that are now mandatory for all travellers from the USA and must be taken within 72 hours of travel.

READ ALSO Last-minute Covid tests and surgical masks – what to expect when flying from USA to France

Many students have had to rebook flights several times because of the visa delays. Photo: AFP

Faith Lewis, from California, is due to start an international business degree at Université Paris Dauphine.

She said: “I applied for my student visa at the VFS office in San Francisco on July 2nd. Of all the applicants I have spoken to, I was by far the first to submit my visa application, so it's been particularly worrisome that I have had no news.

“I have rebooked my flight three times and my Covid test twice. The cost for a one way flight from Sacramento to Paris was over $800 when I first booked (keeping in mind I can usually get a one way flight to Paris around $300 from the nearby SFO airport). It only gets more expensive every time.

“I have called and emailed the consulate in San Fransisco and Washington DC, VFS, and Campus France and no one has or is willing to give me any information. VFS and Campus France defer to the consulate. The consulate does not accept phone calls and sends out a standardised form response to any email.”

Leah Kim has a place at Campus Langues to study French starting in September.

She and many of her fellow languages students are also still waiting on visas. She said: “Clearly, there is a huge delay in this process for reasons we cannot understand.

“It's as if all our visa applications are just on hold at the consulates. We've had news of a couple rejections but zero approvals.

“Some of us have been waiting 6 to 7 weeks now with no end in sight and the fall 2020 school year is right around the corner. Due to this delay, many of us have already rebooked expensive flights and hard-to-get PCR Covid tests multiple times.”

READ ALSO LATEST: Who can travel from USA to France?

The Local has approached the French consulate in Washington DC for comment.

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FRANCE EXPLAINED

Reader Question: Is it possible to fast-track French paperwork?

Whether it's waiting for an appointment or anxiously tracking the progress of your application, most foreigners in France have wondered at some point whether it is possible to fast-track their French paperwork.

Reader Question: Is it possible to fast-track French paperwork?

You might have heard of France’s ‘fast-track citizenship’ for over 1,000 foreign-born frontline workers during the height of the pandemic or perhaps stories of other EU countries that offer faster and simpler residency in exchange for investment.

You might even have seen companies offering to ‘speed up’ paperwork for you.

Unfortunately we’re here to tell you that there is no secret ‘fast lane’ where everything is dealt with speedily, even if you were willing to pay for it.

There are, however, some things that you can do to make sure your paperwork is dealt with as fast as possible.

Be sure you are applying in the correct category 

One sure way to encounter delays is to apply for the wrong thing, so it’s really worth taking the time to do your research in advance into the different types of residency cards and visas.

If you apply for a visa or residency card type that you’re not eligible for, it’s likely that your application will simply be rejected and you will have to start all over again.

We have a guide to the different visa types HERE.

Another way to save yourself an annual admin task is to go straight onto a multi-year visa, such as the ‘passeport talent‘ which lasts for four years.

You might think that this is only available to high earners, but there are several other situations in which you might qualify. For instance, researchers, artists and those with ‘international reputation’ can qualify too.

READ MORE: Talent passport: The little-known French visa that could make moving to France a lot easier

Have a complete dossier

This might seem obvious, but a common hang-up with French administrative processes is simply not having all of the correct documents – all residency and visa applications have a list of the required documents and you should make sure that you have everything that is needed ahead of either submitting your application or heading in for your appointment. 

The documents should be up-to-date (as recent as possible – usually best to aim for within the last month or two, though your specific procedure might specify a timeline). Each document should have the same full name and the same address listed.

Consistency is key – for example, if you are applying for a new titre de séjour and you bring in a copy of your proof of health insurance (Attestation de droits – assurance maladie), but the address listed is out of date, you could risk being turned away or told to come back.

Pay attention to the details too – if you need new identity card photos, the ones you took a year ago will likely be out of date (even if your appearance has not changed).

Always bring copies of your passport, current visa or residency permit, as well as any required paperwork. Most of the time, you’ll be asked to show proof of your current address – it does not hurt to have multiple ways of demonstrating this (eg a phone bill and an electricity bill).

Bringing the wrong documents, those with mismatched information, or missing key forms will prolong the process, as you will need to make a new appointment and start the process over again. Having your documents ready to go in an organised fashion can save you lots of time!

Go in person, if possible.

In France, it is often faster to do administrative processes in person. If you are worried about your French, consider asking a friend to come along.

If an in-person option is not available, then a phone call is your next best bet.

France is gradually putting more procedures online, but the old-fashioned way of speaking to a real person is almost always most efficient, especially if you have situation-specific questions. Surprisingly, your local tax office might be one of the most welcoming places to pop in and ask a question.

READ MORE: Reader question: How can I challenge my French tax bill?

Seek expert help if your situation is complex or irregular.

If your situation is out of the ordinary, you might want to consider legal or professional assistance to be sure you are following the correct path.

However, keep in mind that even with expert assistance, you will still need to file the documents yourself at the end of the day. A lawyer can help you be sure that your dossier is correctly filled out and prepared, but they cannot make French bureaucracy work faster, unfortunately.

Citizenship

We said there is no fast-track, but French citizenship is the exception (sort of).

If you’re applying through residency, French citizenship can normally be requested after five years, but the ‘period of residency’ requirement can be reduced to two years for those who successfully completed two years of study in a French institution of higher learning or if you have rendered “important services to France” (as was the case for the essential workers listed above).

If you marry a French citizen, you can apply for citizenship through marriage after four years of marriage.

And if you join the French Foreign Legion and are wounded on active service you can apply for citizenship before the minimum five year period – although this seems a slightly extreme way to avoid waiting times.

READ MORE: Am I eligible for French citizenship?

Once you have applied, there is unfortunately no way to fast-track the process, and the average time between submitting your application and being naturalised is 18 months to two years. 

Zen

But ultimately, it might be better to accept that French admin tasks usually take a long time – and processing times can vary quite dramatically between different areas. 

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