I ♥ the Prefecture!

Photo: My Carte de Séjour … valid through August 15, 2012 © 2012 Samuel Michael Bell, all rights reserved

Actually, that’s a bald-faced lie. But I figure, if I repeat it enough, I might eventually believe it and living the immigrant dream in France will suddenly become more bearable. “So, what happened?” you ask. Pour yourself a drink and sit back …

You might recall that I went to the prefecture in Bobigny back in July to renew my French residency permit. I’m still here on a student visa, so among the required documents was proof that I was registered for fall classes. Unfortunately, I was blindsided by the discovery during that visit that a pre-registration certificate wouldn’t suffice — I had to come back with a final registration certificate when I had one. To make a long story short (you can read the unabridged version here), final registration was yesterday, so I headed back to Bobigny this morning to complete my file.

Now, if you’ve followed the saga of my immigration story here, you know that a trip to the prefecture threatens to be an all-day affair, usually starting in the pre-dawn hours and often finishing just before they close shop. So, even though I had been given permission back in July to proceed directly to “Guichet H” — the service window where you get a numbered ticket (like at the DMV) to drop off documents — I was anxious about the prospect of a day-long wait, so I headed off to Bobigny bright and early. I showed up at 6:45 am and queued up outside the building with the rest of the huddled masses, waiting for the doors to open. As usual, Michel arrived a bit later with hot coffee and moral support.

“You will be called under the number 0115 … There are 15 persons ahead of you.”

Just before 9 am (and just after the police arrived to calm a dispute over a spot in line), the doors were opened and we started to file in. Apparently, the famous Guichet H was closed today, so I was given a ticket at the door. To my surprise, it looked like it was going to be my lucky day: I was number 0115 (meaning there were only 15 people ahead of me), and by the time I found a seat in the waiting area, they were already up to number 0108! On top of it, things seemed to be proceeding much more smoothly than during our last visit, and all four of the windows in the section for dropping off documents were open! I had never seen that before. “Merci, monsieur le Président!” I thought, giving François Hollande credit for a staffed-up and more efficient French bureaucracy (whether or not he deserved any credit).

Four windows open?! Unprecedented!

When my number flashed on the LED screen overhead, Michel and I headed over to Guichet E, where we were greeted by a seemingly pleasant immigration officer — a vast improvement over the last visit. Unfortunately, that’s where my lucky day started to go south.

“I have two documents to add to the file I submitted in July.”

I handed over my (now expired) residency permit so she could look me up in the system.

“Okay, do you have your récépissé?”

“Oh yes.” I said, pulling it out of my carefully-prepared dossier and placing it on the desk in front of her.

The récépissé, you may recall, is the little document that serves as proof you have an immigration file. It shows that you’re legally in the country after your residency permit expires and the prefecture is still working on renewing it.

The immigration officer found me in the system and went to get my file. While she was away, Michel and I discussed how we’d ask for a new récépissé, so I wouldn’t have to come back three weeks later on October 11 (the date my current récépissé was set to expire and, incidentally, the first day of my fall classes).

“Do you have a final registration certificate?” the immigration officer asked as she returned with my file.

I handed it over, assuring her that it wasn’t the original — just a color copy.

“Hmm. But this is only until January.”

“Yes,” I warily confirmed.

“Well, what are you going to do after that?”

Put on the spot, and not wanting to admit that I wasn’t yet certain what I’d be doing after January, I said I might sit for the DELF or DALF exam in November and apply to a university program in Paris. It wasn’t really a fib; I wouldn’t mind doing that, after all, even if it would be better for me to find a good-paying job.

“We need a registration certificate for that.”

<dum, d-dum, dum, dum>

So there I was, after thinking that everything was going so well, now having my hopes dashed … yet again. Michel interjected a quick explanation of our “situation,” explaining to my interlocutor that this was the only way we had to stay together as a couple since the French government didn’t yet recognize our marriage. To her credit, the immigration officer was very sympathetic and explained that, unfortunately, I couldn’t get a residency permit based on a registration for just one semester. She would give me a new three-month récépissé, but I would have to come back again “as soon as possible” with proof that I was pre-registered for the spring semester, and then again once that registration was finalized in January. At that point, my file would be closed for processing and I could get my residency permit … about three months later.


I was utterly deflated. First, I don’t have enough money to pay for yet another semester of French lessons where I’ve been taking them. Second, I was sick and tired of jumping through paper hoop after paper hoop, month after month, just to stay in the same country as my husband … my husband! Feeling despondent, I went home to sleep it off while Michel went into Paris to run some errands.

Brand-spanking new and good for three more months!

But don’t worry too much about me, dear readers. Just the fact that I’ve written this proves that I’m already back on my feet. This afternoon, thanks to the advice of some good friends and Michel’s quick research, I’ve discovered another program at Université Sorbonne Nouvelle that’s half the price I’ve been paying and will get me ready for the DELF or the DALF … just case my true calling is to be a French history student for the rest of my life. I’m not going to let the Direction des Étrangers get me down no matter how many times they make me come back to the prefecture. And on the bright side, I now have a brand spanking new récépissé that’s good until December 19, so at least I won’t have to schlepp back on October 11 and miss the first day of school!

© 2012 Samuel Michael Bell, all rights reserved


9 thoughts on “I ♥ the Prefecture!

    1. Well, it depends. We’re hoping for marriage recognition next year, in which case I could ask for a visa de rapprochement familial, which would be good for 3 years. I think after that, if I’m not mistaken, I could renew for 10 years, but after being here legally for 10 years, I could also apply for citizenship. Not sure I’d ever do that, but it would be an option.

      Yes, the administrative system for student visas is most definitely off the rails.

  1. What are you doing trying so hard to STAY in France when everyone else (well, some people at least,) is trying to become a Belgian citizen these days?! 🙂 — Catchy post title, by the way. I do not know many people who resist such an alluring premise! Veronique (French Girl in Seattle)

  2. Oh wow you’re the only other expat I’ve read that had to go through Bobigny as well. I live in Epinay-sur-Seine and have since I moved to France. It was such a terrible ordeal but thankfully I have my 10 yrs card now, before that I had to renew every year for 3 years. Not having to be in line by 6am or earlier is such a life saver. I had to start the process every September so it was always freezing.

  3. What do you do if you are married to a Frenchman but don’t want to live their all year round, but own a house there, but are a legal resident of USA, but want to stay more than 3 months at a time, but less than 6 months a year? I really stumped the visa people. ALso want to know what is open besides the really expensive french university classes that are offered. $1,000 for two weeks is crazy!

    1. I can imagine their heads spinning at that question!

      $1000 for 2 weeks is crazy! I’ve never seen anything that expensive. My first French courses were at CCFS (Paris 4) and were around 1600€ a semester. My next French school (DULF at Paris 3) was around 1000€ a semester. If you have a B2 or C1 level of French, you could enroll in a licence in a French university (equivalent of a bachelor’s in the US). That’s less than 200€ (yep, two HUNDRED) for an entire year. Of course, all the language programs and university programs are for student visas, and you’d need to be here full time to actually do the program.

      Good luck finding the right fit, and let me know what you figure out. For me, it’s a visa pour vie privée et familiale when I renew in November. We’re planning to stay here for two more years, though, before moving to the US.

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