Due to France’s many attractions, such as being one of the world’s culinary centers, and the romantic notion of Paris and the French Riviera, many US citizens and other foreign nationals wish to retire or take an extended holiday in the country. The last thing on their minds is the immigration rules and regulations that govern their stay. To encourage investment and business development, the French immigration service does accommodate those foreigners who wish to take up residence in France but have no intentions to work during their stay. The French immigration service is a flexible, ever-changing system that lacks clear immigration procedures. Sometimes immigration matters are taken on a case-by-case basis.
This chapter will focus on the French visa category that allows an individual to remain in France for an extended stay without filing a work permit application.
French Immigration requires that all persons (other than French citizens, French permanent residents and European Union citizens) who will be taking up gainful employment obtain employment authorization prior to entering France, with limited exceptions. EU nationals are not required to obtain work permits and are no longer required to obtain a resident permit called a Carte de Sejour. They may freely work and reside in France (an EU policy that aims to promote the free movement of people and trade within EU borders).
Citizens of the US and visa exempt nationals are not required to obtain visas prior to entering France, but must indicate to the immigration officer in the Primary Inspection Line at the port of entry that they are coming to France as a business visitor. Business visitors cannot have intent to join the French labor market. Their principal place of business and their primary remuneration source must be outside of France. Permissible business activities for a typical business visitor are business meetings, negotiations, business or professional conventions, consulting, research and soliciting of business.
Citizens who require a visa must obtain a Schengen visa or business visa prior to their arrival in France, from the French consulate having jurisdiction over their place of residence. Business visitors and tourists will be admitted into France either for the duration of their temporary visit (as indicated in a corporate support letter), or for a maximum period of 90 days within a six-month period starting from the date of their first entry into France. However, if an employee is admitted to France under a visitor status, he or she may not be lawfully employable without first obtaining a work permit. This employee will not be able to change to employment status while in France. Importantly, there are no extensions of the 90-day period unless there is an urgent reason, such as health or family emergency.
It is important to note that the 90-day time period is inclusive of all the Schengen territories which include: Austria, Belgium, Denmark, Finland, France, Germany, Greece, Iceland, Italy, Luxembourg, the Netherlands, Norway, Portugal, Spain and Sweden. Under the Schengen Agreement, time is cumulative. Thus, if an individual went to France for two months starting February 1, 2004, then traveled to the United Kingdom, which is not part of the Schengen territories, for one month, he or she could return to France for one more month during the six-month period, or until July 31, 2004. However, if after spending two months in France the individual spent the month of April in Germany, he or she would have capped-out the 90-day period and would not be able to return to France.
General visa qualifications and application procedures
There is only one French visa category that allows for an individual to reside in France and not obtain the appropriate work visa, as France does not have an investor visa. If you wish to invest in France, you will need to file a long-stay visitor visa application at the French consulate having jurisdiction over your place of residence. There is no minimum amount of investment required with this type of application. However, the French government must be assured that the investor will be creating jobs for French citizens or otherwise demonstrate a positive impact on the French economy.
You must file an application form along with evidence that you meet the eligibility requirements or proof of financial support. You must provide a support letter that substantiates your means and ability to invest as well as financial statements to support this statement. You must also obtain the appropriate letter of invitation from France. In addition, you need to provide evidence of citizenship such as a valid passport. If you are in the US in a non-immigrant visa category, you must provide evidence of valid US immigration status such as an H-1B visa endorsed in the passport, an 1-94 card, and an H-1B petition approval, 1-797. You will need to provide two passport sized photographs and a government filing fee to process the application. The consulate generally will want to see proof of residency while in France, such as a copy of a rental agreement or proof of purchase of a home, i.e. a title or deed. Importantly, the consulate will want to see proof of medical insurance while overseas. Upon receipt of the visa application at the French consulate, the processing time ranges from one week to several months.
Once you arrive in France with your long-stay visitor visa status, you must apply at the local police precinct or prefecture within eight days of arrival for a resident permit called a Carte de Sejour. The Carte de Sejour will allow you to freely travel in and out of France and to reside in France. Medical exams will be required as part of the Carte de Sejour application process. The first Carte de Sejour is issued for one year and is renewable annually under the visitor immigration status. The processing time is approximately six to eight weeks but may be longer depending on how busy the particular prefecture is at the time of submission. If you have long-stay visitor immigration status, you have few rights and this visa category does not lead to permanent residence. If you are applying as managing director of a company, it is recommended that you change status to a commercant or salarié, which will allow you to seek permanent residence status after five consecutive years under such immigration status.
Dependents filed at the French consulate
Generally, the spouse and unmarried dependent children are included on the principal employee’s visa application at the French consulate. A personal appearance may be required by the French consulate for each family member and is discretionary. Spouses must find their own independent employer if they wish to work while residing in France. Cartes de Sejour are not issued to dependent children under the age of 16.
As the French immigration system is not always straightforward, additional documentation may be requested throughout the process. It is imperative that you provide complete and thorough visa applications. If you do not provide sufficient supporting documentation, your application may be denied, potentially resulting in significant hardship to yourself and accompanying family members. An individual entering France for a short business trip or for employment must be in lawful immigration status. You should never enter as a tourist when you are representing a company.
Although historically there has been little enforcement of French immigration regulations, the climate is changing throughout the world, and we can expect to see further changes in France. You are advised to comply strictly with the law in order to avoid damaging consequences to both yourself and your accompanying family members.
Deborah B. Davy manages the Global Visa Group specializing in global visas and global compliance at Berry, Appleman & Leiden. She is skilled at managing high-volume international personnel transfers, both for short-term and long-term assignments, for large multinational companies in the high technology, manufacturing and financial sectors. She specializes in assisting global corporations in designing, developing and implementing successful international visa programs. Ms Davy has established strong working relationships with the premier service providers worldwide and has an encyclopedic knowledge of the rules and procedures associated with global visa and work permit processes. Ms Davy received her J.D. from Thomas Jefferson School of Law and was admitted to the California Bar in 1997. She was Law Review Editor-in-Chief of the San Diego Justice Journal. She competed in the Phillip C. Jessup International Moot Court Competition. She is a member of American Immigration Lawyers Association and is a frequent speaker on global visa practice issues.