Tuesday, September 30, 2014

carte de séjour "Compétences et Talents" - stop #2: the préfecture in Marseille

Because every post looks better with pictures, I'll start with this one - after your visit to the préfecture, whether to nurse your success or your not-done-yet-ness you should check out this nearby coffeehouse/café/salon de thé: Coogee. I have no idea what the name means, but it's a really great place to wile away some hours.

Okay, on to business. Again, this little series of posts (see the label "Compétences et Talents" for the rest of the related posts) is to provide a helpful account to future seekers of a carte de séjour "compétences et talents" - if that's not you, you should go to the coffeehouse link and ignore the rest of this episode in the new tragicomic series "You Can't Buy Dossiers Like this in America."

After being counseled by one American friend that one should arrive very early at the préfecture to get a place in line before it opened and by another that she never arrives before 8 or 9 am--the préfecture opens at 8:15 am--I split the difference and arrived with a friend around 7:45 last Friday morning. A line had already formed outside the building, but it was nothing atrocious and extended only in front of the building - no wrapping around the block or anything. Now, I've also been told that this part of town seems somewhat sketchy, but again, I had no problems there. The friend who accompanied me said she's seen a fight in line (fighting over spots in line) nearly every time she's gone, but everyone behaved themselves on Friday. By the time I left the building around 10:15 am-ish, there was no line, and it looked like you could just walk right in at that point.

Once the doors opened, we eventually entered the ground floor, told a woman at the door what I was there for, and waited in a short line for the first set of windows (see photo). Once it was my turn, I told the man what kind of visa I was seeking. At first he said there were no more appointments for that until Monday, but he worked it out somehow and gave me a numbered ticket anyway.

Then we climbed to the first floor (in French terms, second floor for the Americans) where we took seats in a large waiting area. I waited a pretty long time for my turn at one of the windows. I had to watch the big screens (photo below) that flashed your number when it was your turn and told you which window to go to. What's tricky is that the numbers do not appear in chronological order at all, so you have to watch the whole time because you have no idea when your number will show up. No reading books while you wait. But don't worry, there's plenty of people-watching to do.

When my number finally flashed on the lucky game show screen (my friend and I concocted an entire game show scenario while we waited, by the way - I let you know when it reaches syndication :-) ), I was greeted by a nice woman at my window. I handed her my initial paperwork (application, etc.) and explained which visa I was there for. She asked me to describe my project - which surprised me, as I'd just expected to hand over the dossier in which the project was fully described. So, be prepared with a brief verbal explanation (in French :-) ).

She took my dossier, flipped through it, and seemed to like what she saw. At this point, I thought maybe SHE was the one making a decision about whether I would get the visa or not - I hadn't expected that (I'd expected a lot more waiting for approval or denial), but her initial actions made that seem possible. I had just been expecting to hand over the dossier, not to have someone look at it and ask me questions at this stage in the process.

Well, it turns out that the woman at the window seems to be the person who checks to make sure all the basic components of the dossier are present. In my case, while I had included a written description of the project's financing, I did not include an actual budget. So I have to add that and return. She was very nice and very apologetic that she couldn't accept the dossier yet.

However, I did learn that apparently once she accepts the dossier for consideration and registers it in the system, she/someone will print out a récépissée that day that will extend my current carte de séjour by 3-6 months during which time they will make a decision about the new carte de séjour.

So there you go, an exciting up-to-the-minute report on what I know so far about this process works!

Blurry photo of the first set of windows (on the ground floor) where you're awarded your winning lottery ticket number, aka number to determine when you get to go to the next window upstairs.

Waiting room on the next floor up, with their fancy game show boards that proclaim when you're the next contestant on "See Who Will Win a Visa Today!"

Tuesday, September 23, 2014

seeking the carte de séjour "compétences et talents" - stop #1: the sous-préfecture

I'm in the process of applying for a new visa, hoping to transition from my student visa to the "skills and talents" visa. Finding much info about the process has been difficult, and I've been pretty dependent on the Jennyphoria blog for the most complete info. However, she applied for this visa in Paris, which didn't tell me how things would work way down here in the south of France. Other info I found related the process of getting the visa through a consular office outside of France, which still left me in the dark.

So, in the interest of helping other future visa seekers living in France but not in Paris, I'm adding this little record of my experience to the internet's grand collection of helpful facts.

Here's the link to the official French info about the carte de séjour "compétences et talents." With a quick Google search, you can find the same info in English on the web sites of the French consular offices in the States.

My situation: I've been living in Aix-en-Provence for two years now studying French. So I've been here on a student visa that I first received through the French consulate in Atlanta and then renewed twice, once via the sous-préfecture in Aix and once via the student renewal office set up at CROUS on the Aix-Marseille University campus at the beginning of each school year.

So my attempt at this new visa is a visa renewal but also a change of type of visa. I've been busily preparing my dossier for the past couple weeks, mostly using the two links above to guide me in what to include in presenting my project. I'm not going to get into what my project is in this post, as for now I'm just documenting the process.

You're supposed to apply for renewal for all visas, including this one, two months before your current visa expires. I'm down to about 5.5 weeks due to traveling lots this summer and not being able to work on the dossier sooner. Here's hoping it all works out!

What I did: According to all the info I could find, I was supposed to go to the sous-prefecture in Aix for this renewal. So I showed up there this morning 30 minutes before they closed, with my dossier but without any idea how this process would work.

I entered the waiting room, took my number, and waited my turn. The room was nearly empty, so I didn't wait long. The woman at the window told me that for this visa I have to go to the préfecture in Marseille. They don't process this visa at the sous-préfecture (despite the info I'd found online). However, she looked at my current carte de séjour and gave me the application form for the new visa with a couple administrative notes filled in. She also took my fingerprints and had me sign one of the forms that is part of the carte de séjour process. So in my mind, it does seem to be that the process begins at the sous-prefecture, though I couldn't actually submit my dossier and application there. If you don't go there, I don't know how else you're supposed to get the application you need. I never found it available online anywhere.

The application includes the full list of what's need to apply, which is really nice to have finally. It's mostly all the same things listed on the website EXCEPT you have to give proof of residence, either through bills or a lease if you're living on your own or through statements from the person housing you if you're living with people.

Also, the website says you need 3 I.D. photos, but the application says you need 4. The photos normally come in fours anyway, so just plan to submit all four photos with your application in order to be on the safe side.

So, here's the list of needed documents as noted on the application form for people like me who are changing their visa category (versus this being a new visa or a renewal of this same type of visa):

1 - copy of both sides of your carte de séjour (or a passport with the visa in it and the OFII stamp plus an original birth certificate that's less than 6 months old and a notarized translation - you don't need the birth certificate if you already have a carte de séjour)

2 - photocopy of the info pages of your passport

3 - description of the project you're proposing and an explanation of how it supports the interests of France and of your home country

4 - all the documents needed to prove that you have the capacity to carry out the project

5  - photocopy of your livret de famille if you have one

6 - proof of residence

7 - four I.D. photos

So there you go. I think that's all I can tell you for now. I'll try to keep posting as I go through the process.