Visa Vistas (part two)

If I thought moving to England was stressful, that was just a warm-up for this move to France. No joke, if you look up the word bureaucracy in the dictionary…well the French invented the word so there you go. I write this in hopes that it may help someone in the future avoid some of my mistakes, and I realize that  everyone has their own experience so some people may have no troubles at all.

Getting a job in Paris is a dream come true, especially at the world-renowned LLACAN laboratory of CNRS. And luckily, since President Macron has mad love for American scientists, we even get to apply for a special << Talent Visa >> . Further, from spending so much time in West Africa, I have some language skills. I often think about how hard it would have been to get to where I am now if I were coming from a different background. That being said, this move was like being reborn, or what I imagine it is like to enter the world anew.

The first step was for CNRS to create a document called the “Hosting Agreement” which is signed by the lab’s director, and then sent to the prefecture of the suburb in Paris where the lab is located. The prefecture sends the document back to CNRS, who then send it to me. Naturally, this takes months. By the time I got the paperwork, I was just about ready to travel to Senegal. Further, you can’t just rock up at the French consulate in D.C., nor can you send your paperwork for visa processing like most countries. Instead, you have to book an appointment according to your area of the US and then travel to that city (for me it was Atlanta) with all your documents and submit them there. However, these smaller consulates cannot actually give you a visa; they must then submit your application to D.C. But, again, you cannot actually submit your application to D.C. directly. Of course, this meant there was not enough time to process my visa application before I was due to leave but I tried anyways. They told me, after waiting several hours with other applicants, that I was crazy to even think they could give me my visa in time.

Somewhat serendipitously, I got sick and could not travel to Senegal, so I booked another appointment at the consulate in Atlanta. However, because I then fell into the August rush of students applying for visas to study abroad in France, the process is temporarily taken over by VFS Global. As my appointment fell on the second day of the hand-over, it was chaos. My appointment letter told me to go to the consulate, which I did, arriving very early and feeling very prepared except that one is unable to enter the consulate until ten minutes prior the appointment time whereupon they instructed me to go across town as quickly as possible as they were no longer handling visa applications.

After another wait of several hours, I was seen, my application was submitted, and my biometrics were collected. However, I received a call just after hours informing me that I had to return on Monday as they literally lost my biometrics. Third time was the charm I suppose and in fact my visa came in my passport quite soon after in the mail.

Now, remember that Hosting Agreement? Because you cannot submit my documents directly to the consulate in D.C. and by the time I submitted them, I did so via a literal third party, there was no way not to submit the original form. Apparently, however, this form that originates with CNRS, is sent to the prefecture to be signed, is then sent to me, submitted to the consulate, and then was supposed to be stamped and signed by the consulate and sent back to me so I can take it back to CNRS who then submits it back to the prefecture. Maybe the consulate also thought this was absurd because, well, they didn’t send it back. So, although I have a temporary visa in my passport, it is insufficient to obtain the residence card needed to live and work in France, and also to leave the country and re-enter.

Thus, after many failed attempts at contacting anyone in any consulate in America, the fine folks here at LLACAN performed heroic actions and persuaded many higher-ups to intervene on my behalf to convince the prefecture to give me a residence card without the original, signed by the consulate, hosting agreement. HR also got in touch to make me a special appointment, which was great because otherwise you have to stand in multiple lines for hours through various stages of processing. The woman with whom I was meeting even called me while I was on the way to let me know that I need special stamps for (another) special temporary visa I need to leave the country and re-enter because I will not yet have a real residence permit, only a temporary one. The special stamps are to be bought not at the prefecture, but at a Chinese-run tobacco shop. Go figure.

So I got my special stamps and now I have a special visa, a talent visa, and a temporary residence card. I feel very special. I was feeling so special, in fact, that the other night I went out to celebrate. I bought a Navigo travel card for the metro so as to avoid all those little individual tickets and perhaps save some money on travel before I can get my bike here. Although there are two components to the Navigo card, one for travel and one for your identity, I thought the latter was optional to carry. Sadly, I was mistaken and was accosted by three RATP agents who shook me down for €50!

I’ll update this with a really positive experience yesterday. I was getting a bit nervous about my medications expiring before I went to Senegal and I still can’t apply for insurance until I get my resident permit. So I asked what to do, as now I’ve learned that’s the better way than trying to find out on my own, and learned of a fantastic website http://www.doctolib.fr/ where I found a doctor close by with immediate availability, and within no time and very little money, had a new prescription! That could never happen in the US without insurance! So thank you France for the kindness.

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