Living in France for the past three-ish years has required four visas, each with a different justification for my stay. Renewing them makes me feel like I’m a kid again, asking a friend’s strict parents for a sleep-over. They might let me hang around, but only after I’ve proven that I will contribute to the household chores, and that my lemonade-stand money will help pay their water bill.
My visas include, in chronological order: one student visa, two TAPIF-limited work visas, and my current long-term work visa. Each application has been an escalation of the stress of its predecessor. I shudder to think of what comes next– a five-year residency? Citizenship? I’d be crushed under the weight of the paperwork.
Here’s how it went getting the first four.
The Student Visa
The gateway was studying abroad. To string along a metaphor, imagine my friend’s parents–we’ll call them the Johnsons–are letting me come over to work on a school project for a few hours. They’ll offer me celery sticks and peanut butter, then send me on my way. Low stakes.
When you’re a student, the Powers at Be assume you’ll leave at the end of your studies, so they don’t put you through too much of a ringer. They can depend on the universities to usher you out after your last exam and on the students themselves to run out of cash.
When I was getting ready to spend a semester at the Université de Nantes in 2016, I had checklists, study abroad departments, and the exchange program to walk me through every step. Though I was panicked from start to finish, the worst that could’ve happened would be a late visa and a rescheduled flight, which, while expensive and stressful, would be manageable. That was a bureaucratic cake walk, and they sent me overseas with a lovely bundt.
The Temporary Work Visa
A year and half later, it was time for the TAPIF visa. This allowed me the visa de long séjour valant titre de séjour – mention travailleur temporaire, more specifically. Rolls right off the tongue. Let’s say my friend and I have finished our school project, so I’m asking to stay for dinner. Ms. Johnson’s arms are crossed tight over her chest.
With the VLS-TS, for short, handing in documents on one side of the border is no longer enough. I might’ve had a certificate in my passport, just like the old student visa, but it was game over if I didn’t get a stamp from the French authorities within the first three months. The French give themselves some time to change their minds.
They sent me for X-rays, interviewed me, and, assured I was free of tuberculosis and terrorism, bestowed upon me the glorious OFII stamp. I could breathe a sigh of relief, legal for another eight months. Ms. Johnson is begrudgingly plating up some spaghetti, as long as I’m back home before bedtime.
The Work Visa
After a second eight-month stay–another X-ray, another stamp, another plate of spaghetti–I gathered up my courage, and my documents, to embark on a long-term work visa. TAPIF was over, and I wanted a full-time job. Collectively, the French raised an eyebrow. So does Ms. Johnson. Who did I think I was, to take a salary away from a French person? To gorge myself on the Johnson family spaghetti and then have the nerve to stay the night?
With no more curated checklists or visa application timelines, it was the wild wild west of administrative websites. This document came out of it, a hodgepodge of every source available and their conflicting information. I had to make myself an expert of an incomprehensible process, and with every surprise document and sneaky fee, a potential employer could change their mind. Too much trouble, they’d declare, let’s hire a French person. The bureaucracy strikes again, Ms. Johnson calling my mom to pick me up.
In the end, it took forty to fifty emails to schools and businesses throughout Paris, one job offer, three visa appointments, a six month wait, and a 260 euro fee. I walked out of the sous-prefecture de Saint-Nazaire with the card that allows me to rent an apartment, get healthcare, receive a paycheck, and simply exist within the imaginary lines that define the country of France.
Ms. Jonson’s kid is vouching for me, assuring her mother in writing that she’s willing to split her chicken tenders. I’ve handed over my report cards, my siblings’ report cards, and a crayon rendering of their lovely home, to prove my dedication. Ms. Johnson has cracked the door just enough for me to slip in, and might even let me stay tomorrow night, as long as her kid makes a formal declaration that I’m worth the space I occupy.
In writing this post, I considered belaboring a hero’s journey metaphor rather than a sleepover, but it seemed more appropriate to reserve the trek across Mordor for refugees and other immigrants for whom it’s not a question of finicky paperwork. I’m risking disappointment, not peril.
So as the deadline to renew my yearly residency card approaches, I wonder once again–does Janey still have enough chicken tenders for me? Could I hope for a barbecue dipping sauce on the side? Let’s not get ahead of ourselves.
What visa(s) have you had? How you feel about the process? Let me know below!