Saturday, July 25, 2009

Update (long): autorisation de travail

In my last post about immigration, I'd just found out that I had to have my work authorization after all. I haven't written again about it because I thought it would just be too depressing/uninteresting for everybody to read about. But since I now have my papers in order for next year, I've decided to share how everything went at the department of labor when I tried to get my new work authorization. It was really an unpleasant experience that I need to record.

Gaby's mom came with me again, for which I am extremely grateful. I think that the department of labor workers tend to push around foreigners more when they're alone. I knocked on the door of the office of the woman with whom I'd talked the week before, the one who'd been so patient and polite. She didn't even look up, didn't even respond to my polite "Bonjour, madame" and just sat their for at least a full minute stamping applications as if we were not even there. Gaby's mom was shocked. (Not even a little 'bonjour'!)

I finally began explaining my situation to her and that the préfecture was asking for a new work authorization although I'd been told the week before that I wouldn't need one. She finally looked up and said she couldn't remember my case because she'd seen so many people since me. Yes, of course, I wasn't asking her to remember my case. If she'd only looked up beforehand, she would've seen that I had all my documents out for her to review. Of course I didn't say that. She took my current titre de sejour--the one she'd looked at before when she'd told me I wouldn't need a work authorization card.

She then said that she wasn't the person who dealt with cases like mine, and that I would have to talk to her colleague. Not a good sign. She kept my card and left the room to speak to the colleague and came back a few minutes later.

"You don't have the right to stay in this country for more than a year. Your work authorization card is non-renewable."

"What? But my contract is renewable and has been renewed, so shouldn't my work authorization also be renewable?"

At this point she directed Monique and me into the office of her colleague. There were no chairs to sit on, and so we were forced to stand there to make my case. I once again explained my situation.

"You'll have to go back to the United States because your contract ends at the end of August."

"Yes, I know, but it's been renewed, so the university told me I needed to renew my titre de séjour. To renew it, I need to renew my work authorization card."

"It's non-renewable because you just have a one-year contract that ends at the end of August. Renewable work authorizations are only for people currently living in France."

"I am currently living in France. I've been living in France this whole past year."

"Well, your university should have treated your case as if you hadn't been in France the whole past year. They need to treat you as if you were a new introduction into the country."

"But I'm not a new introduction to the country. I was here last year. What does that even mean?"

"It means they'll have to send your file to the Department of Labor in Nanterre so they can approve it and send a letter of approval to the French consulate in the US so they can give you a new visa. You should really go to the Department of Labor in Nanterre to see how this works."

"I did go last week. They told me to come here because it was a renewal."

The ladies both rolled their eyes and then began scolding me.

"Didn't the university explain how your contract works? (No.) Didn't the French consulate in the US tell you you wouldn't be allowed to stay beyond a year? ( You do NOT have the right to stay in this country. You have to go back to the US. Weren't you planning to go back to the US this summer?"

"Yes, but to visit my family, not for a new visa. None of my colleagues have ever needed to go back to the US for a new visa; they've all been able to renew their titres de séjours here in France."

The ladies both shook their heads.

"Well... can you tell me what documents the university needs to send for me to get a new visa?"

The lady behind the desk showed them to me.

"Oh! I have those documents--the university gave them to me. Can't I just give them to you now?"


"Why not? They're all in order; everything's signed and stamped."

"We're not allowed to take documents directly from people here. They must come from the employer or the prefecture."

"Well, the employer gave them to me to give to you. The prefecture didn't want them and told me to give them to you."

"Oh, no no. That's not how we do things. Oh, I can't believe the préfecture and the university are treating this like a normal renewal. "

Because maybe it IS a normal renewal you crazy bitches.

Monique stepped in. "Well, can't you perhaps call the préfecture then and explain that there's a miscommunication?"

"Oh, absolutely not. We do not EVER communicate with the préfecture. They don't know anything, and we just don't get along with them very well."

WHAT???? Isn't that your JOB????

At this point I began to think about the plaque that's hanging in the lobby of their building. It was put up in memory of two department of labor workers who were killed in that office for "trying to uphold the law." I won't tell you what other thoughts went through my head at that moment.

Monique continued to question them about how the whole process worked, but I was already gathering up my stuff. It was a lost cause. Usually new visa applications were turned in at the end of May at the latest. I would have to apply for a new visa at the end of July right before everyone went on vacation for the month of August. This meant my application would sit on someone's desk for a whole month and they wouldn't even look at it until September, meaning I wouldn't get my visa until mid-October and would lose at least a month and a half's salary.

And then a miracle happened. The lady behind the desk asked to see my contract again.

"I'll tell you what. I'll just treat this as a renewal this time. After all, the university's like a big enterprise and not just some little employer. I'll stamp the department of labor's approval on your contract and send you your work authorization through the mail."

I couldn't believe it. Of course I thanked her profusely, but I felt more suspicious and angry than thankful. Would she really renew it or was she just trying to get us the hell out of her office? Was she really going to send my new work authorization or would she just throw my file away once I left the room? I made sure I had copies of everything as she wanted to keep my two original work contracts.

I didn't relax until Monday morning at 11:00 when Monique called to say the postman had dropped off my department of labor letter and could she open it? Yes of course, open it!! The work authorization was there and ready with all the correct information. I couldn't believe it.

We went to the prefecture immediately where I got my new titre de séjour receipt. I'll be able to pick up the real thing in September when I get back. It's amazing, really, that it is done so early. And all this based on the whim of some lady who decided to not follow the crazy bureaucratic rules that define immigration, rules that vary from department to department and even from worker to worker.

I've read countless stories online about other people's horrible experiences with immigration, and I know from experience that they're not lying or exaggerating. I hope that someday we'll do away with such ridiculous laws and that people will look back on them and realize how stupid and barbaric they really are.

Tuesday, July 14, 2009

La Fête Nationale à Poissy

This year for Bastille Day, Gaby and I decided to avoid the crowds of Paris and stay in Poissy. After all, the town had its very own fireworks show over the Seine, just down the street from our apartment. (We're rather lazy these days.) The old bridge was blocked off to pedestrians several days in advance for security purposes. I watched all day as workers raked up leaves and bits of trash and mowed the park lawn in preparation for the crowds.

I spent the early evening making fried chicken, cutting watermelon and making fresh-squeezed lemonade, food and drink that I associate with the American "fête nationale." Gaby, his mom and I walked on over to the park not too long before the fireworks were to start and were still able to find a good spot to sit right next to the Seine. To our left, small children were shooting off Black Cats and jumping jacks. To our right, a family was taking turns lighting roman candles. I couldn't keep from grinning. It felt just like the 4th of July, a holiday that I've missed far too often in recent years.

At sunset, they signaled the beginning of the show with lights on the old bridge.

A barge from which the fireworks were to be shot moved slowly down the river to position itself just to the left of the audience. And then the show began with the music of movies dealing with astronomy and space exploration, Poissy's town theme this year. As an American, I think I found it especially comforting to watch really spectacular fireworks set to the familiar scores of 2001: A Space Odyssey, Star Wars and E.T. It was a nice little remedy to any pangs of homesickness.

(Sorry for the lack of pictures--I was too busy watching the show to take any more!! I'll try to add some of Monique's shots later.)

Saturday, July 11, 2009

Fun with Immigration

In mid-June I found out that the Université de Paris X had decided to rehire me for next year. Of course I was (and still am) ecstatic. But underneath the excitement was the dread of knowing that I would have to go to the trouble of renewing my titre de séjour. Ugh.

The Préfecture has somehow traumatized me enough that everytime I go there, my heart starts pounding and my hands start shaking. No matter how simple the process should be, they always find ways to make it difficult.

This time was no different. I went there the earliest I possibly could, the morning after I got official confirmation in writing that I would be rehired. At the reception I asked if I could have some information about renewing my work visa. No. Why not? They were closed for the day. Er...really?? Could I at least have the list of documents I would need to renew my work visa? No. I would have to come back on Monday and arrive early to get an appointment. It was 9:45 a.m.

Monday morning, I arrived at 7:00 am to stand in line. Forty people were ahead of me. At the reception I asked again if I could have some information and told the lady that I was a salaried worker, as this had made a difference in the past. It seemed to make no difference this time. She gave me a ticket to stand in a waiting room with everyone else. There weren't enough seats and the sun was already shining hotly through the glass ceiling. I got squished next to a fat little Frenchman who was clearly hitting on me, although he was married to a beautiful Russian woman who was pregnant with his child. Jerk.

Two hours later, my number was up, and I went to the desk to get my information. The lady looked at my current titre de séjour and then asked to see my passport. She looked at my VISA. "Just as I thought," she said. "I'm not the one you're supposed to see. You'll have to wait until 1:30 and see if you can get a ticket for window 25 where my colleague works. She's the one who deals with this." I had been up since 5:30. It was almost 11:00, and I was tired and hungry. In spite of myself, I could feel the tears welling up. No no no. No crying. And I didn't, but I came close enough that the lady took pity on me and at least got me my list of documents needed and answered some of my questions.

At 1:30, I returned and asked for a ticket for window 25. Success!! One person was ahead of me. When my number was called, I had the lady look at my file, and she told me that everything was complete except for the work authorization card which I could obtain from the Department of Labor. She gave me the address. It was in a town at least 5 miles away.

Gaby's mom Monique was kind enough to drive me to the Department of Labor (DDTEFP) building where the receptionist informed me that I could only get an appointment between the hours of 9:00 and 11:30, but that I could call anytime that afternoon. Monique called because I still sometimes have a hard time talking on the phone, especially when it's for complicated stuff like this. Although Monique was very polite, the lady working yelled at her for not knowing how anything in the Department of Labor worked. As if it were just common knowledge. She then told us that we ought to go to the DDTEFP in Nanterre because they would be more "friendly" there.

I went later that week since they are only open on Tuesday mornings and Thursday afternoons, something I found out the hard way. The first guy I talked to had no idea how to renew my work authorization and referred me to his friend, Patrick. Pat told me I needed to go back to the other DDTEFP where he said they might give me some trouble about renewing my card. He wished me luck and sent me on my way.

I returned to the first DDTEFP the next morning. There was no line, and I got right in. The lady I talked to was very nice and patient and answered all my questions. She informed me that I wouldn't need to renew my work authorization card because it was something that the Préfecture would do automatically. It was a new policy that was only a few months old. Great! I thanked her and left, a weight lifted from my shoulders, my heart much lighter, my worries nearly gone.

Today I got a letter from the Préfecture stating that my titre de séjour was almost ready. Yes!!
However, before I could pick it up, I would need to send them my renewed work authorization card within the next 15 days.


Tuesday, July 7, 2009

Metro Etiquette

This post is directly inspired by my cousin Megan's blog on the metro in Singapore. I think everyone who regularly takes public transportation in a big city must have the same kinds of problems so I thought I'd do a post on how Paris' transportation system tries to handle some of them. Personally I find their signs rather entertaining, although not as good as the Singaporean rap video.

Their most recent campaign for train safety and comfort has involved these little conversation bubbles:

From the top clockwise: "Holding open the doors holds up the train." "The doors open; I let people get out." "Preparing to exit makes getting off the train easier." They are not very popular among the French who have complained about having huge guilt trips because of them. Not a problem for me or Gaby.

On one occasion we were trying to make a connection to get home to Poissy. As we pulled into the station in our first train, we could see our connecting train already stationed across the quai and getting ready to leave. Knowing the next one wouldn't arrive for 30 minutes, we ran like crazy to catch it, but Gaby still had to hold open the doors for me to get in which caused the train to have to wait a few seconds longer. Right in front of us on the doors just opposite was this sign:

"One second lost in the station = delays on the whole line." We laughed. Other people don't take it so well:
(A power outage = delays on the whole line)

I don't think those little bubbles will ever make people think twice about holding the doors open. But I don't mind; it seems to be a very small issue compared to the problem of getting out of the train. Letting others descend before getting on the train seems to be so hard for people to understand, that RATP has tried regular signs like the little one above but has also resorted to this:

Sometimes instead of arrows, they even use little footprints. I think it actually works pretty well!

Finally, the most famous sign in the Paris metro is this little pink rabbit.
The picture on the left is the original, and it's located on the doors of every metro in Paris. It says: Watch out!! Don't put your hands on the door or you risk getting pinched very hard!"

On the right is a picture making fun of the fact that the rabbit doesn't seem to have a right arm (which must have gotten cut off in the metro doors). "Obviously it's not the first time this has happened!"

There are other parodies that have nothing to do with the metro: "Watch out!! Don't look at ads: you risk getting manipulated!"
The pink rabbit warning is so famous that it even reached that stupid show Jackass.

I honestly have no idea how effective these little signs are, and of course such signs don't cover every metro offense--how could they? After all, if there were a sign for everything, (it's rush hour and a thin lady takes up 2 seats or a businessman leans against an entire pole so he can work his crossword or a teenage girl stays seated in her fold-down seat near the doors and has the gall to scowl at people when they trip over her) the trains would simply be covered in warning stickers. So I grin and bear it and remind myself that despite any inconveniences, taking the train is still much better than sitting in a car in rush hour traffic in Paris (or anywhere).