Diary of a carte de séjour applicant
Many readers have contacted Connexion since the Brexit referendum vote about problems with applying for a ‘permanent residence' card in France – one of our staff members has written a ‘diary’ of their lengthy attempts to obtain one of these.
[Last updated October 2017, and, at the end, in spring 2018, see Brexit section for other articles] Connexion has been assured by the European Commission, the UK’s Foreign Office and the French Interior Ministry that Britons remain full EU members with all the rights that entails until the point the UK actually leaves, which is not expected to be before the end of March 2019.
As a result, some people have been seeking to make use of their right as EU citizens to obtain a ‘permanent residence’ carte de séjour (residence card), as a safeguard after Brexit, which was first recommended to Connexion by legal experts in March 2016. However many readers report having been given short-term cards, or told not to apply due to the Brexit negotiations, or have otherwise faced complications. Some other Britons however have received 'permanent residence' cards. Here is a previous article about how to apply for the cards.
Cards of shorter duration are appropriate for EU citizens who have not totaled five years of stable, legal residence in France. They are likely to be worth having, but give less legal certainty than a 'séjour permanent' one.
Under EU law, an EU citizen who has totalled five years of legal and permanent (other than short trips away) residence in another EU country has become a permanent resident with equal rights to nationals (apart from certain limited exceptions such as voting in national elections or becoming a huissier de justice, a mayor or an MP). ‘Legal’ residence requires both continuity and showing you had a job or other means of support plus health cover.
A carte de séjour ‘citoyen UE/EEE/Suisse – séjour permanent’ is proof of all of this. It should have wording including citoyen UE and séjour permanent, and it is renewable as of full right after 10 years (with minimal evidence, to show you have still been living in France).
It is not completely clear what value these will have after Brexit when those with only British nationality will no longer be EU citizens, barring successful introduction of MEP Charles Goerens’ proposal of ‘associate citizenship’. However it may be useful for several reasons:
- The Brexit negotiations on updating this page (as of late 2017) revolve around protecting the status quo of the rights that current expats enjoy, whether Britons in the EU or EU citizens in the UK. It is likely that immigration rules for Britons seeking to live in France after Brexit will be tougher. On writing, both sides in the negotiations want to respect the rights of people who have been living in their chosen country in a legal, stable manner for more than five years. This is what a 'permanent stay' carte de séjour proves. Both sides also say they would allow those established for less time than this to stay on to accrue the five years. The EU says this should apply to people established before Brexit day, likely to be March 30, 2019; the UK proposes a cut-off at an as-yet undefined date between March 29, 2017 (when article 50 was triggered) and Brexit day
- A card is a simple way of proving you have obtained this – imagine having to carry around a stack of EDF bills and bank or income tax statements, payslips etc whenever you wanted to prove you are legally resident (which can currently be done with a British passport)
- Arguably a ‘permanent’ residency right should be just that – permanent. The legal texts say it is only lost if you spend more than two years away from France or are a danger to the state
Those who have been in France between three months and five years can apply for a temporary ‘UE’ (union européenne) card, from one to five years’ duration, if they want something ‘official’ to show they are residents of France, but this does not prove a ‘permanent right’.
NOTE: As of May the European Parliament asked the European Commission if it can check into problems of Britons not receiving the cards they are entitled to. A Commission spokesman said in July they would reply to this but were not ready yet.
This page consists of notes by a Connexion reporter of British nationality who has been living in France, and working full-time, for over 10 years but who has found it difficult to obtain a 'séjour permanent' card so far. All of the administrative procedures required reading and speaking in French.
Carte de séjour diary
1. Researched permanent residence cards on government websites such as service-public.fr and rang the prefecture of my department to check the documents needed. Phone line open Monday to Friday 14.30-16.30 and rang repeatedly for around 20 minutes before getting through. Collected and photocopied the documents required, which for a person of working age included five years of EDF bills (one per half-year), several recent payslips, passport photos, passport, work contract.
2. Attended prefecture which had only limited opening hours on weekday mornings. Queued an hour-and-a-half at the étrangers section. Official at the pré-accueil (initial, filtering) desk looks at the documents – says the work contract hasn’t been rubber-stamped by the employer at the end, so I must come back with it another day. On asking if vital to queue again, official says I can come to the front to hand it in. But all card procedures have to be done in person; nothing by post, email or internet.
3. Attended on another weekday morning, apologising to employer. People at head of queue complain I am pushing in. Handed over stamped work contract and photocopy. Directed through to main waiting area with seats. After around half an hour a second official looks at documents and says I should have brought a birth certificate dated less than three-months ago, which is needed with all first card applications. I say this wasn’t told to me before and isn’t mentioned on the government site. Official accepts this after discussing with colleagues and gives a récépissé (receipt) stating I have applied for a permanent card. Says I will receive a text when the card is ready, and will have to come in for it on a weekday afternoon. The application also required giving fingerprints in a quick process with a small scanning machine.
4. Queued again on an afternoon around a month and a half later to collect the card. It has a one-year duration as of date in May when I applied for it and is not marked ‘permanent’… Complained. Told I will have to go back on a morning if want to contest this as afternoons are just for issue of the cards.
5. Queued again on another weekday morning. Eventually speak to official who says they cannot issue a permanent one on a first request and I will have to reapply next year. I ask to speak to a superior. Second official says if not satisfied must send a complaint in writing.
6. Wrote a letter complaining that as an EU citizen I believe I have a right to a permanent card as I have shown five years of living in France and supporting myself.
7. No reply, so I write again, citing EU and French laws that I believe prove that I have a right to a permanent card, not a one-year one.
8. A message is left on my mobile phone repeating that permanent cards cannot be issued the first time so I need to reapply before the one-year expiry date.
9. I ring the helpline to check that the procedure is the same as before. When I get through, advisor says if I have only a one-year card, I need to first apply for 10-year one before can have a permanent one. I say I believe that that is the process for non-EU citizens. Official is unsure but says to try putting in an application with same documents as before.
April 28, 2017
10. I go to the prefecture half an hour after opening time. Join large queue for half an hour. Staff member comes to say no more applicants are being accepted today because there are too many and to come back another day. Says numbers of people coming to the étrangers desk have ‘tripled’ since previous year. Says I can leave a photocopy of my passport at the main information desk at the entrance as proof I visited this day.
May 2, 2017
11. I call back on another morning three-quarters of an hour before opening time. I notice that, from board outside with A4 print-out stuck over it, opening hours at étrangers service have reduced at some point – they were formerly Monday to Friday, 9.00 to 11.30 and are now 9.00 – 11.00 and closed on Thursdays. The queue outside is already large at 8.15.
We are let in at 9am and it takes until 10.55 to get to the pré-accueil desk (I have queued for 2hrs 40 mins). Official is satisfied with initial look at the papers and I go through to the seating area, but there are no seats free. A seat is free around 11.45 and around 12.20 I can see an official – over four hours wait in total. The official says the amount of visitors has been very demanding to cope with this year, perhaps because of worries about the presidential elections (eg. in case the Front National wins and the government is tougher towards non-French nationals).
The paperwork is all found to be acceptable, however the official initially supposes I am applying for a five-year duration card and is not sure I have a right to a permanent one. She talks to a superior but they do not come to a conclusion. She says they will have to consult the laws, but they will write on the application that I have asked for this.
I receive a récépissé that just says I have applied to renew my card. She says I will receive a text in a month-and-a-half when the card is ready.
July 24 2017
12. I have not had a text yet and it has been more than two and a half months. I call the prefecture hoping I can learn something (although I am unsure as the prefecture website says ‘no personal information about applications in progress will be given on the phone – to know how things stand with your application please go in person to the prefecture'). They still do not have a holding service: the phone rings for less than a minute before a message says the lines are busy and to call back. I ring five times over four minutes – and then a helpful person answers. He says he can advise me about what is happening with my application if I have my carte de séjour number or my récépissé number. However I don’t have this, the récépissé is at home. He says to call any day and someone can help with this. Progress – has the new president’s manifesto promise to improve people’s experiences of administrative procedures helped perhaps?
13. Called seven times and the phone was answered in five minutes; the advice line service has improved since 2016. Staff member says my card was ready on May 16 and they sent a text... I have to visit on a Monday, Tuesday, Wednesday or Friday from 13.00 to 14.30 to pick it up. I check my mobile, but don’t see the text. I see in its history that on May 13 I received a text with an error message (4504: Message not found) and then on May 16 there was a text from my answering service saying a 04 (south-east France) number tried to call but didn’t leave a message. I try ringing it to see if it was the prefecture, but no one picks up.
Arranged with work that I can visit the prefecture today (Friday). Arrived at 12.50 for the 13.00 opening and joined the queue of people collecting cards. I was seen at 13.55. My card is a five-year one, expiring in 2022 - still not séjour permanent.
I decide to apply to the EU's 'Solvit' service to see if it is possible to get to the bottom of the problem. This service is to help EU citizens who think they are not obtaining their EU rights from a public body in the country where they live (outside the one of their nationality).
I hoped I would finally be issued with a permanent ‘EU’ card this summer… I feel that modernisation would help (as has been promised by President Macron) with more procedures able to be done by email or internet, or even just recorded delivery post, and with longer opening times, including Saturdays. The prefecture staff were polite but seem to have very large numbers to cope with and the waiting times are very long.
In the light of Brexit, a more concerted effort by central government to make sure prefectures are all following the same standard rules and staff are all briefed on rules for EU citizens (and that British people remain full EU citizens) might have helped. The French and EU laws Connexion has seen do not say a permanent card cannot be issued to EU citizens on a first application.
The problem is perhaps partly arising because in the past most EU citizens did not apply for such cards, with exceptions like some early-retirees who wanted to prove a ‘permanent residence’ right after five years so as to show entitlement to the French health service as opposed to private health insurance policies.
Ten weeks have passed since I applied to Solvit, which is their usual target for resolving problems. I have had various exchanges with the Solvit team in both the UK and France and they say French officials are still looking into my case.
I receive a letter from the prefecture asking me to go on a Monday, Tuesday, Wednesday or Friday from 9.00 to 11.00 with two passport photos. This sounds positive!
I go to the prefecture at 8.10. The queue is already long, but there is a complication today: on previous occasions the queuing area outside the building was split into two halves (leading to two different entrance doors) and the much-busier left-hand one was for 'foreigners' applying for residence cards, whereas the right-hand one (comparatively empty) was for other matters. Today a small sign says that both sides are for all matters, however most people guess that the left is still for residence cards and I join them in the queue there as it feels awkward to walk past them all to the front of the other empty side.
During the wait for the doors to open various people are confused about which side to join and try going down the other side and then change their minds and try to rejoin their place in our queue.
An elderly Tunisian man in the queue says he’s been coming to renew cards since the 1960s (only every 10 years now), but he says that back then you would have about four people waiting to sort out a card, not hundreds like now… He says he thinks it’s due to unrest and Islamism in North Africa – "People just want to live somewhere where you can live peacefully, find work and you don’t worry about your safety every time you go out of the door."
Eventually the other side of the queuing area also fills up. At 9.00 staff start letting in the left-hand side queue but then also start letting in the right-hand one. Oh well. It doesn't take too long to get inside.
Once inside I join the long queue that has formed for the foreigners' desk. After about a quarter of an hour I reach a point where a staff member is speaking to people in the queue to see if some of us have simple and quick matters to resolve. She takes my letter and my two passport photographs. It's good that they tried to stop people with very simple matters having a lengthy queue inside the building. I leave and hope for the best.
[Note: I obtained my card in spring 2018 following further mediation by Solvit as well as contact with the British consular service. There was another visit to the prefecture to ask about progress with my being issued the new card (when I was told senior staff were still considering my case), a further visit after Solvit told me it was confirmed that I could attend to request the permanent card and a follow-up visit - when I was able to go to the front of the pré-accueil queue - to take in additional paperwork that was asked for in order to resubmit a specific application for the permanent card. During the latter visit I was initially asked to return when my five-year card expired until the official obtained clarification on my case from her supervisor. I was also asked for another photograph, which I wasn't expecting, but fortunately I had one with me. A month later, in spring 2018, I got a text to say my card was ready and I visited again to collect it.
During the first months of 2018 the French Interior Ministry also confirmed, in a National Assembly hearing and in discussions with expat rights campaigners, that it is now highly recommended to seek a 'permanent' card for those Britons with a right to one and they said further communication had been made to France's prefectures who, they said, had generally not been used to dealing with EU citizens as they have not been obliged to have residence cards in France since 2004.
I am worried for the many older Britons in France who will be going through these processes and hope that prefecture staff have now generally been more fully briefed on how to deal with the British community and our rights. I am also concerned at the pressure on the Nice prefecture and hope that the national government is considering the situation, especially if it is similar elsewhere].