France reopens visas to students and researchers from India after three-month suspension

Students and researchers from India can once again apply for visas to France after a three-month suspension of applications due to the pandemic.

France reopens visas to students and researchers from India after three-month suspension
Passengers from red-zone countries register for Covid tests upon arrival at Charles de Gaulle airport. Photo: Ian LANGSDON / POOL / AFP.

The Local has spoken to many Indian students and researchers stuck in limbo, with jobs or study courses lined up in France but unable to apply for a visa since the suspension began on April 27th.

However on Friday, France’s ambassador to India announce that applications were now open for student, researcher or ‘talent passport’ visas.

The French government has also loosened restrictions on arrivals from red list countries, including Indian, for fully-vaccinated people.

Fully vaccinated travellers no longer have to provide an ‘essential reason’ for travel, although they do still need a negative Covid test and to quarantine on arrival.

At the same time, it was announced that France would begin accepting the Covishield vaccine, the version of the AstraZenica jab which is manufactured in India and widely administered in India and Africa, for travel purposes.

“Some of us may have regrets”

Aviral*, from India, was one of many left in limbo by the suspension of visa applications.

He was due to begin a Phd research programme in Toulouse in May, but was unable to travel, and says the anxiety of not knowing what will happen has taken a toll on his mental health.

“We rejected other opportunities in order to study in France,” he said. “Some of us may have regrets about this choice.”

Those with funded research programmes risk losing out on income.

“Many of us have to support our families, and many of the post-docs even have children and spouses to support so it’s very difficult for us if we’re not being paid because we’re not accepted by the universities unless we go there physically,” said Priyanka, from Mumbai, who is expected in Paris in late August to begin studying for a PhD at Sorbonne university.

A health worker prepares to inject a student with a dose of the Covishield vaccine in Amritsar. Photo: NARINDER NANU / AFP.

“I really do feel that India is being treated unfairly compared to the other European countries,” John*, who is due to move to France from Chennai in August to begin a PhD in geology, told The Local.

“I understand we had a really bad second wave of Covid in April, and it made sense for them to impose a travel ban in India, but right now the situation is much better.”

In India, there are currently 24 confirmed daily cases of Covid per million inhabitants, compared to 117 in France, and 665 in the UK, according to figures from Our World in Data.

France’s traffic light classification system lists red zone countries as areas where the virus is actively circulating and variants are a concern. Since the delta variant first identified in India is now widespread in France, the researchers who shared their concerns with The Local said they thought India was still suffering from bad publicity dating back to the peak of the second wave earlier this year.

“If people from the UK can come, people from India should be able to come,” added Sam*, originally from Kolkata. Sam was able to travel to France in February, before the travel ban, but his wife had to give her notice period before joining him, and is now unable to enter the country.

Above all, those affected want France to acknowledge the importance of education and research. “We are all coming here to work, we aren’t coming to see the Eiffel Tower,” Sam said.

John added: “Research and education should be considered essential travel.”

“In a way, we’ve already lost out,” Savio, from New Delhi, told The Local.

Savio is due to begin his MBA at the INSEAD business school in Fontainebleau in September, but he has already had to miss an intensive language class this summer since he was not allowed to travel.

Pranav is supposed to be joining Savio in Fontainebleau, and he admits to feeling powerless.

“We have been working towards this for years,” he said. “There have been multiple hurdles we’ve already cleared, and to have something stopping us from clearing the last hurdle, and to see that you come from a certain country which is why you don’t qualify, is mind-numbing.”

READ ALSO France to require 24-hour test for UK and some EU countries over delta variant fears

Those studying at INSEAD have already handed over a €15,000 deposit towards their tuition fees, and they already have housing lined up for August, explained Mahika, a student from India. “We didn’t have the option of not taking up housing, because even to apply for the French visa we had to show housing arrangements for at least three months.”

* Names have been changed.

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Reader question: Are there private beaches in France?

Amid accusations of racism at fancy seaside resorts and legal controversies surrounding US statesmen, we take a look at the law surrounding private beaches in France.

Reader question: Are there private beaches in France?

Question: I read that all beaches in France are public property, but down here on the Riviera there are a lot of ‘private beaches’ – how do the rules actually work?

In France, everyone has the right to a dip in the ocean, though it might not seem that way when walking through certain areas.

There are 1,500 of these “private beaches” in France – the vast majority of them located on the Côte d’Azur.

They have become a source of controversy recently, after two private beaches in Juan-les-Pins were accused of racism and discrimination following an investigation and video circulated by French media Loopsider. The video (below) shows how a white couples receive different treatment than North African or Black couples.

So what are these ‘private beaches’ and are they even legal in France?

In reality, none of these beachfront hotels, resorts or beach operators actually own that land, as the sea and the beach are considered ‘public maritime’ and are therefore the domain of the French state.

This means that technically there are no private beaches in France, as no one is supposed to be allowed to own the beach, though there are some caveats to that rule.

Since 1986, the State has been able to grant ‘concessions’ to allow for parts of the beach to be temporarily rented. Thus, hotels, resorts or beach operators can request a temporary rental of the beach for a specific period of time – the maximum duration being twelve years, which is renewable. If the local town hall agrees, then the renter will pay a fee (typically between €15,000 and €100,000 per year). 

This might seem like a de facto way of allowing beaches to be privatised, but the few who manage to ‘rent the beach’ are still subject to some constraints. For instance, they are only allowed to occupy the beach for six months of the year (sometimes this can be extended up to eight months with the permission of the town hall, or twelve months in less common circumstances).

At the end of the season, they are required to dismantle their installations, so permanent private structures on the beach are therefore not allowed.

So you might see a waterfront resort, but they do not technically have ownership over the beach.

What about private deckchairs or sun beds next to the water? 

This is another rule that is not always perfectly respected. Legally, any organisation that rents a part of the beach is required to leave a strip of “significant width” along the sea.

This is usually about three to five metres from the high tide mark, where members or the public can walk along the water or bring down their own towels or deck chairs down to the beach.

If a ‘private beach’ has deck chairs or sun-loungers right up against the water, there is a good chance the renting organisation is not following the rules.

Beachfront property

As the public has the right to be able to access the beach, homeowners are not allowed to block passage and can even incur fines for doing so. 

The public must be able to pass through land to get to the beach, and cannot be blocked from the beach in front of a property.

Public access to the beach came into the spotlight due to a controversy surrounding a property of former American presidential candidate and statesman, John Kerry.

Kerry’s family owns a villa in Saint-Briac-sur-Mer in Brittany, and has fought a three-decade legal battle to be able to block the coastal trail on the property, which by French law, should be accessible to the public. 

Despite the family siting potential ‘security threats’ should the beach front path be open to the public, local authorities backed plans to continue allowing public access in 2019.

What about building a waterfront property?

First, keep in mind that building in general in France is a heavily regulated process that requires planning permission.

You will not be able to build within 100 metres of the shoreline. If you buy a pre-existing coastal property, you will need to remember the three-metre rule discussed above and, as the Kerry family discovered, you are not allowed to block public access to the beach. 

For ‘coastal zones’ specifically, there are more strict regulations and most plots of land by the sea are listed as protected natural areas, and therefore are not allowed to be built on.

Can access to the beach ever be forbidden?

Yes, as per the Coastal Law of 1986, local authorities can forbid access to the beach for “security, national defence or environmental protection.” During the Covid lockdowns several local authorities banned access to beaches to avoid illicit partying.

There are also several rules about what you are allowed to do – and not to do – while visiting French beaches, and some of them might surprise you. 

READ MORE: The little-known French beach rule that could net you a €1,500 fine