US newcomer Maureen Walsh reports on obtaining long-stay and student visas through the Office Français de l’Immigration et de l’Intégration for a year in Grenoble.
Arriving as newcomers to Grenoble from a small town in North Carolina in July 2010, my husband, Steve, and I were trying to carefully follow the letter of the French law regarding completing the steps necessary for our stay in France. He had recently been accepted into the AQ Bridge Program at the Grenoble Ecole de Management. This was an opportunity to spend a sabbatical year away from his position as the NC State University Director of the Engineering Entrepreneurs Program and explore new possibilities in a foreign country. So it would have surprised many of our friends to know that in our initial 2 ½ months stay in France, we hadn’t actually perfected all of the legalities. This was not malice aforethought, mind you, but only due to the timing of our arrival. Not until the middle of September 2010 did we get things settled! That was when our little yellow OFII (Office Français de l’Immigration et de l’Intégration) cards were pasted inside our American passports. We breathed a sigh of relief. We were now “bona fide”!
The process began in North Carolina. Since we hoped to stay in Grenoble for a full year, Steve applied for a student visa, and I needed a long-term stay visa in order to live in France. That involved a LOT of paperwork – there was the NC State Bureau of Investigation report, an FBI report, fingerprinting, certifications from our bank as to our financial worth, proof of health insurance, proof of purchase of airline tickets, certified birth certificates, marriage certificate, proof of acceptance into a French school, statements from me regarding the reason I was applying for entry into France along with a promise that I would not work while in France, and proof of a commitment to a residence in France (rental contract). It seemed like the list would never end.
We needed three copies of each item for both of our folders and this all had to be translated into French. In addition, there was the Long Stay Visa application form (Demande Pour Un Visa De Long Séjour) and the OFII form (Visa de Long Sejour-Demande D’Attestation OFII) with the top part filled out. A lot of trees sacrificed their lives for our trip to, and our stay in, France.
Once we had assembled all that, we made an appointment to go to our regional French Consulate in Atlanta, Georgia – a “mere” seven hour drive away. We made this appointment on-line and traveled there on an overnight trip in April. The meeting was not what we expected. I thought we would be invited into a cozy room to meet with a consulate representative to present our paperwork and be interviewed – perhaps accompanied by a glass of French wine, too? On the contrary, we arrived and soon discovered that the official Long Stay Visa application form posted on the website of the French Consulate in Atlanta that we had printed and completed, in “impeccable French” I might add, had just been completely changed the previous week. The new questions didn’t match the previous form. A sense of impending doom followed by a mild feeling of panic began to spread within the confines of my head. We stood at a narrow counter and worked to fill out the new form on the fly sans dictionnaire!
When the interview process took place, we were standing at another counter with the consulate employee sitting behind glass with a tiny slot through which we passed our massive paper pile in 8 to 10 pages stages. Time stood still. The employee would ask us questions (in French) and forget to turn on the microphone. We had to continually ask the him to repeat his questions and to turn on the sound – I thought I was living the drive-up window scene in the movie, Wayne’s World. He swiftly shuffled our papers, picked up the phone a few times to call France and kept looking at Steve suspiciously because he was applying for a Student Visa. This was the first line of defense those in America encounter in their quest for a visa to France! (Does the word perspiration mean anything to you?)
We left the office exhausted and made the return drive home. And waited … Our passports with our visas pasted in were returned to us about a month later in the prepaid FedEx envelopes that we had provided. Another hurdle passed. We were on our way to France!
Once we entered France via Switzerland, the next step for us was to find a permanent residence. We had arranged to stay in an extended-stay apartment for our first month in Grenoble, but we would need a more permanent address for the duration of our stay. In addition, we needed fixed and mobile phone numbers to put on the OFII form. Would it ever end? After the arduous work to acquire those, we sent off the paperwork by registered mail on August 4th. Timing for that was not, shall we say, optimum. We soon learned that most of France is not working in August because ils sont en vacances! Finally, we received letters telling us that our OFII forms had been received. We still had to wait to be contacted for our appointments to complete the process. A week and a half later, a letter arrived outlining what we needed to do for our appointments that were scheduled for the 16th of September for Steve and the 17th for me.
We were nearing the finish line! We needed to have a un examen radiographique, un photo tête nue, un examen clinique général and beaucoup d’argent. For the money part, we visited the Préfecture for taxe perçue à l’occasion de la délivrance du premier titre de séjour. This meant we had to buy des timbres á la caisse de préfecture in advance to cover the fee for the OFII validation. The timbres look like postage stamps and are similar to the stamps paid for when you complete a purchase on a house. For Steve that amounted to 55€ ($71.75) and for me, 340€ ($443.57) (exchange rate: 17/09/2010). We understand that in the U.S. the amount can be closer to $1,000.00 per person, so we think we got a bargain.
As a student, Steve had to first go to the Centre de Santé which is located near the train station in Grenoble and have a basic physical. Then, two days later, he needed to board tram C and head off to the Domain Université Centre de Santé to get a chest x-ray at one of those mobile units set up in a parking lot. A week later he returned to the first Centre de Santé to pick up his certified medical certificate. Finally, he was instructed to go to the OFII office with all his paperwork to complete the process. He was told they take a limited number of applicants each day. Since they don’t make specific appointments, show up early and try to get in the door – at 6’2″ and 90 kgs he was ready for action. He arrived an hour before the opening and was the first one in line. He presented all his pieces to the puzzle, and they pasted a card in the passport and covered it with a film cover. One down, one to go.
My requirements were a little different. As I am not a student, I was instructed to report to the OFII office at 13h 30 for my x-ray, and my medical exam would be at 14 h. I was pleased. It seemed that I had an appointment and would escape the running around that Steve had had; it would be “one-stop shopping”. Wrong. I arrived at 13h25 (the bureau is closed from 12h until 13h30 for lunch) and found a long line of people waiting for the opening. I joined the line, and I glanced at the paper the person in front of me held. It looked just like mine. Exactly! We ALL had the SAME appointment time.
The overworked employee at the desk dealt with people speaking many different languages. Some were anxious (like me), and some became belligerent when they were told their dossier was incomplete and that they would have to return with some other required paperwork. After sitting in the too-small waiting room for a half-hour, I was called back for the exams. The x-ray tech showed me to a dressing room and told me to disrobe to the waist. I looked around for the usual jacket I always get to put on when I have any upper body pictures taken. Nothing. Leave your modesty at the door. That done, I moved on to the nurse. She weighed me, stuck me for, as she said, “le sucre” (diabetes test), took my blood pressure, and then we proceeded to the height and eye charts.
If you know the French alphabet pronunciation, you remember that vowels and some consonants are pronounced differently from their English look-a likes. (i is “e”, e is “ai”, g is “jay”, j is “gee.”) We had to remind ourselves of that when responding. As a side story, we have an Australian friend who told us of her experience at OFII. She didn’t know any French when she arrived, and when she read the eye chart, she answered using the English (Australian) pronunciation of the letters. The medical people all thought that she was legally blind!
Getting our OFII stamps has given us the freedom we need to fully enjoy our experience here in Europe. Until we got that, if we had left France, we were told, we would not have been allowed to re-enter through the borders without returning to the U.S. and reapplying for a new visa. With our OFII stamps and our American passports, we can pursue our wanderlust. It didn’t take us long to pull out the map and start eyeing all the possibilities that became open to us with just that “little yellow card.”
To see our further adventures, please visit our blog: walshesingrenoble.wordpress.com
examen radiographique: xray
un photo tête nue: photo of a head without a covering
un examen clinique général: medical exam
le taxe perçue à l’occasion de la délivrance du premier titre de séjour: the charge collected at the issue of the first residence permit
le caisse de prefecture: prefecture cashier
centre de santé: health center