The Paper Chase

Why is it that, just when you think you know the system,
they throw something new at you?

Yesterday, I trudged back to the prefecture at Bobigny to submit an application to renew my residency permit. (You’ll recall my 10-1/2 surreal ordeal back in May just to schedule this meeting, I’m sure.) Well, this is my second time jumping through this particular hoop, and drawing on my experience from last summer, I looked ahead to yesterday’s appointment with a lot less anxiety than the first time around. This was going to be the easy part: I’d arrive about half an hour early for my 11am appointment, wait about half an hour more for my turn with an immigration agent, submit all my paperwork, and get my récépissé. (The récépissé is the little document that’s valid for three months, shows I’ve submitted a renewal application, and proves I’m here legally even after my residency permit expires in August.) I just knew exactly how it would go this time, and there was no reason to suspect that anything might go awry.

Now, despite my current neo-Bohemian “fly by the seat of your pants” lifestyle, I’m still a bit obsessed with organization. (The former-lawyer, Type-A personality never really goes dormant.) Days before my appointment, I had compiled all the required documents (with two photocopies of everything), very neatly filed away in a little binder, organized in the order in which they’d ask for them at the prefecture:

  • Completed paperwork (including two different-colored forms asking for essentially the same information)
  • Current residency permit
  • Passport
  • Attestation from Michel and rent receipt less than 3 months old proving we live where we say we do
  • Preregistration certificate from my program at the Sorbonne
  • Diplomas from last year’s studies
  • Bank statements showing I have enough money in France to support me without going on the dole here

What could possibly be missing?

As usual, Michel came along for the ride and we walked up to “Porte 2” (“Door 2”) about 40 minutes ahead of my appointment, as instructed back in May. After waiting for a few minutes in a long line that wasn’t moving, I seemed to recall that I should go directly to “Guichet H” (“Window H”) when I arrived. Some folks in line confirmed that, we spotted an exit off to our left, and we ambled right through the open door into the waiting room. We walked up to a window marked “H” with a sign noting that this was the right spot for people with appointments that day. This is where we were to pick up the infamous “you will be called under number X” ticket. Oddly, there was no one sitting at the desk behind the window … and unfortunately, there was no way to reach under the window and “self-serve” a ticket. Apparently, the agent staffing Guichet H had gone off to investigate a question posed by a woman already waiting at the window, so we patiently waited for the agent’s return … and waited … and waited … and helped an elderly gentlemen in line with us fill out his paperwork … and waited … and grumbled … and waited.

Forty minutes later …

No, I am not exaggerating — FOURTY minutes later — someone Michel had flagged down finally came over to hand out the tickets.

“You will be called under the number 0162 … there are 47 persons ahead of you.”

I glanced up at the “now serving” panel and saw that it was already lit up with “0127.” “Not too bad,” I thought. “That means there are only 35 people ahead of me now … 35 people, 4 windows. This ought to move quickly.”

Yeah, right.

“You will be called under the number 0162 … There are 47 persons ahead of you.”

What is it they say about the definition of insanity? Doing the same thing over and over again expecting different results? Uh huh. I really should have known better.

Some folks ahead of me in the queue were inexplicably taking 20 or 30 minutes to complete their business. And then, of course, the lunch hour arrived. Wait, did I say lunch “hour”? I meant to say, lunch “hours.” Between noon and 1pm, windows E and G were open. Between 1 pm and 2 pm (well, 2:15 really), it was windows D and F. The wait dragged on … and on … and on. “Did it really only take half an hour to do this last summer?” I wondered. “Had I misremembered something? Had I become delusional?” The answers to my questions: no, yes, and probably.

At about 1pm, after having waited 2-1/2 hours, I quipped on Facebook:

I’ve decided that they shouldn’t say how many people are ahead of you; they should tell you how many minutes. “There are 47 people ahead of you” really means “You’ve got four and a half hours ahead of you.”

I didn’t realize at the time how accurate my estimates were going to be.

Finally, just before 3pm, “0162” flashed on the panel overhead and I hurried over with my file to Guichet D, where I was greeted by … well … not the most pleasant person I’d ever encountered. I gradually handed over the documents she needed as she stared at me impatiently. Come to think of it, she might have been tapping her fingernails on the desk. What nerve! She was looking at me impatiently? And then, I heard it: my file wasn’t complete. Apparently, she needed a final registration certificate for my fall course.

“But registration isn’t until September.”

“Well, we will hold your file until then. You need to bring the registration certificate before it can be processed.”

“But last year, you didn’t need a final registration certificate.” Michel interjected.

“I’m not making things up. I’ve worked here for two years, and it’s always been this way.”

<sound of a deflating balloon>

So, there I was, submitting my carefully-prepared, beautifully organized, but apparently insufficient file, receiving a récépissé valid through October 10, and realizing that I’d have to come back again in two months to drop off something I couldn’t even have had that day. It was only after I’d walked out of the building clutching my récépissé that I realized that even the September visit to the prefecture (the third this year) wouldn’t be the last one of 2012. Allow me to explain …

Residency Permit expires on August 15 = 10-1/2 hours at the prefecture on May 16 asking for an appointment to renew it.

Appointment to submit renewal application on July 11 = 4-1/2 hours at the prefecture submitting an incomplete file because a required document won’t exist before mid-September, but you have to do it anyway so you won’t become an undocumented alien on August 16.

Final registration at the Sorbonne on September 19 = another trip to the prefecture on September 20 to complete the file = another 4-1/2 hours? Likely.

Récépissé expires October 10 = there’s no way the residency permit will be ready 20 days later = back to the prefecture on October 11 to ask for a new récépissé = 6-1/2 hours, provided you can even get a ticket the first time you show up. Worse things have been known to happen.

And then I’ll have to go to the sub-prefecture in Saint-Denis to pick up the new residency permit when it’s ready in … December? January?!

So, after making that prognosis, all I can say is:

Come on, France. There has got to be a better way to do this.

© 2012 Samuel Michael Bell, all rights reserved

7 thoughts on “The Paper Chase

  1. You poor man. I’m in a small panic as I start my Carte de Sejour process tomorrow. I hope, as we’re in France Profonde, that the wait won’t be quite as daunting, but who knows? On verra! Cheers.

    1. Oh, don’t sweat it! I’m sure it will be better where you are. From what I’ve gathered from other sources, we have the bad luck to live in the département with the worse experiences. Even in Paris proper, the system is more streamlined. You’ll be fine! (But please share regardless!) Bonne chance!

  2. I shared your latest blog with my boyfriend, as I believe (with a few physical exceptions – I am gay, black..etc) we are twins! I arrived here in May 2011. I am 40 and had never taken a French class. I first attended Alliance Francaise (off of my Passport Visa).

    Alliance Francaise was not a good match (for me) so we found another school in Paris that seemed to work. January 2012, I began my process with the Prefecture. I turned in all of my documents 3 months in advance and never heard….ANYTHING FROM NO ONE.

    So finally, we went to the Prefecture (Stood in line at 4:30 AM just to been seen that day) and was told….”Oh, your’re not in our system, OFII never entered you as being in France”….WHAT….so I had the OFII Stamp in my passport but, they didn’t care…I need to be in the database. Several trips between OFII and the prefecture and that as finally resolved.

    Then they told me that the school I was attending was not recognized by the state (come to find out, the (second) school I attended is under investigation by the Prefecture de Paris – for fraud….GREAT!

    My Prefecture told me that in order to receive a Carte-Sejour, I would have to obtain a pre-Inscription from the Sorbonne. By then my Passport Visa expired and they gave me a Récépissé that expires next week. So, I went to the University of Paris – Sorbonne an I obtained my pre-inscription for courses in October (I have to take a test in September).

    So I went about two-weeks ago just to see if they were processing my Carte-Sejour….NOPE.
    I was told that I have to bring the registration certificate before it can be processed.”

    So….that means I have to obtain another Récépissé that will expire in October and then get the Carte-Sejour. I was told that because the school (Sorbonne) is on a semester system, I would have to reapply for a renewal in January…….which is retarded….the Carte should be vaild for one year….

    I am a huge support of Francois Hollande. We recently heard on the news that changes are going to be made to the appointment system at the Prefectures…..They should also offer their employee’s a day off so they don’t come off as rude to the customers….oh wait, that’s very American of me…..

    Questions:

    Do you go to the University of Paris 3 – Sorbonne Course?

    If so are they good…I need to go back to A1

    Are the certificates automatic at the end of the courses.

    Any advice you can offer is appreciated…..

    ” Bewitched….Bothered and Bewildered “

    1. Kemo, it does sound like we have a great deal in common! Thanks so much for your detailed comment. It’s interesting that you were told you’d have to come back in January to renew yet again. I’m afraid of that as well, because this time, I’m only registered for one semester. Of course, last year, I was only registered for one semester as well, and they gave me a carte de séjour for a whole year. Who knows the rationale?

      As to your questions:

      (1) I actually go to the Cours de Civilisation Française de la Sorbonne (It’s associated with Paris 4, but is not technically part of the Paris University system.) Nevertheless, it is a very well respected French language instruction program and I’ve never had a problem with any administrative aspects of my education or visa status because of them. I highly recommend them, but they are not cheap. I believe Paris 3 is at most a quarter of the cost.

      (2) Unfortunately, that means I don’t anything about the inscription certificates for Paris 3. All I know is that, like you, I will need to come back in September with my final inscription certificate to complete my file for processing. But also like you, I will certainly have to come back for another récépissé in October.

      Let’s both hope that things go more smoothly for us both in the future. I hope Hollande’s reforms will be for the best. Personally, I’m waiting for marriage recognition so I can finally apply for a family visa!

      Please do keep in touch and don’t hesitate to write me at jeparleamericain@gmail.com if you have any questions, updates, advice to give. And maybe one day, we should grab a coffee or a drink to commiserate!

      Bonne chance!

  3. What a timely post, I’m in the middle of my carte de séjour process too. Of course, “in the middle of” is a bit vague, since it feels sometimes like it lasts all year! I’m asking for vie privée this year for PACS, and learning that now, I not only have to organize my documents but also my spouse’s! For an organization freak PACSed to someone entirely bordélique, that can be pretty frustrating. GAH.

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