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.


Cori said...

Okay, first of all, I would have been crying in the office. I hate that about myself, but I always cry when extremely angry and/or frustrated. Those people are insane! And such a good move on your part to take Monique with you----I'm sure that must have helped. Happy for you that you get to stay another year. :)

Oh, love the new layout, too.

Megan said...

That sounds awful. I'm so glad it finally worked out. What evil evil women.

Hil said...

thanks for your sympathies girls!! i'm so relieved it worked out too!! and Cori, let me tell you that i was really fighting back the tears--i too usually cry when frustrated or angry. but here, i don't dare let one tear fall. it seems the bureaucrats manage to find a little sympathy in their shriveled little hearts if you maybe LOOK like you're going to cry, but manage to hold it together. ;)

Heather said...

Oh, Hilary, that sounds terrible!! I'm glad it worked out ok, but man. It just all sounds SO unnecessary and stupid.