Immigrations to France

A new Law dated 24 July, 2006, has changed certain provisions, in particular the duration of certain residence permits ( three years instead of one). However, the decrees to enact the Law are not yet published.

Short Term Visas

(Less than Three Months)
Except for nationals of the European Union (“EU”) countries and certain countries with which France has reciprocity agreements, foreigners must, prior to coming to France, obtain a visa from the French Consulate or Embassy in the country where they reside.

The applicant will then obtain a Schengen visa, if his/her main destination is France. Such visa allows him to enter France and travel to other countries of the Schengen space.

Currently, the members of the Schengen space are the following countries: Austria, Belgium, Denmark, Finland, France, Germany, Greece, Island, Italy, Luxemburg, Netherlands, Norway, Portugal, Spain and Sweden.

It is not possible for a holder of a Schengen visa to visit the other EU countries that are not members of the Schengen space.

The visa is granted for a maximum period of three months, with single or multiple entries. During the validity of the visa, the foreigner is authorized to stay in the Schengen space, for the period indicated in the visa.

The applicant must provide a return ticket, evidence of sufficient resources for the stay in France and insurance coverage.

The applicant can be required to provide a certificate obtained by the host person in France from the town hall.

The starting date for the authorized duration of stay is generally determined by the date stamped on the passport when crossing the border into France. In the absence of a stamp, the foreigner has the burden of proving his/her actual date of entry in France by, for instance, showing his/her travel ticket.

Working Visas

There are two categories of working visas:
Visas for corporate executives are processed through the Trade and Foreign Affairs Department.
Visas for employees are processed through the Labor Department (Immigration Department).

There are two types of visas for employees:
a) Regular employees
b) Temporary assignments

(i) Seconded employees
(ii) Trainees

A. Corporate Executives

1. Definition and conditions
For immigration purposes, the following persons are considered as corporate executives: the Managing Director of a French corporation (Société anonyme, S.A.) or the President and/or the Managing Director of a simplified incorporation (Société par Actions Simplifiée – SAS) or the Managing Director (Gérant) of a French limited company (SARL) or the Managing Director (Responsible en France) of a branch or a liaison office.

The above corporate executives who are not OECD1 nationals are required to obtain a special permit called the commercial card (Carte de commerçant) in order to assume the above positions in France. This is the case even if they do not intend to reside in France.

OECD nationals who are not EU nationals must obtain a visa before assuming the above positions when they intend to reside in France. They do not need any visa or permit if they reside outside of France.

2. Administrative steps
The application for a commercial card must be filed in the foreign country where the applicant resides (normally his/her home country), at the French Consulate or Embassy nearest to his/her residence.

The file is then sent by the local consulate or embassy to the French Foreign Affairs Department, which in turn forwards it to the local Prefecture (local government office) in the district where the registered office of the French subsidiary, branch, or liaison office is or will be located.

The time required for this procedure varies from three to six months, depending upon the consulate involved. The Prefecture has three months to make a decision.

When the application is approved, the local Prefecture will inform the French Consulate or Embassy where the application was initially filed. The applicant and members of his/her family will obtain their visas from the French Consulate or Embassy. Such visa will be affixed on the passport.

Upon arrival in France, the applicant and his/her spouse must go to the Prefecture where they will obtain a provisional residence permit valid for three months. Within these three months, they will be requested to undergo a medical examination with the local Immigration Office. After such examination, a one year residence permit will be issued.

B. Employees

For the following categories of employees, French labor law in relation to working hours and paid vacation applies.

1. Regular employees
Non-EU nationals who are considered regular employees of a French business.

There are two categories:
An employee who has worked for the foreign parent or affiliated company2 for more than one year and receives in France a minimum gross salary exceeding EUR 5,000. This category is known as highly skilled employee (cadres de haut niveau). In this case, the application will be approved.

For the employee who does not meet the above conditions, the employer could be requested to obtain a clearance from the National Employment Agency that there is no local candidate who is qualified to fulfill the position. This clearance is not a guarantee that the application will be approved.

2. Temporary assignments (seconded employees)
A seconded employee (détaché) is sent on a temporary basis to France (generally to an affiliate company) by his/her foreign employer for the performance of the following specific services: financial control, technical assistance or liaison service between said employer and the French host company. The transfer to France should not result in his/her effective involvement in the regular course of business of the French company.

A seconded employee remains on the payroll of the foreign employer while working in France and continues to be paid by such non-resident employer.

Generally, the duration of the secondment cannot exceed 12 months. In exceptional circumstances, it may be extended to 18 months.

The seconded employee status is normally granted to key personnel only. The seconded employee must receive, while working in France, a salary equal to the one paid to local employees holding a similar position in the same field of activity.

Even though the foreign employer has no presence in France and the employee’s salary is paid outside France, French labor Law applies.

3. Temporary assignments (trainees)
The trainee, like the seconded employee, is sent to a French business operation (generally an affiliate company) for a specific purpose, which in this case, will be for temporary training.

The duration of the training period cannot normally exceed 12 months, but in exceptional situations may be extended to 18 months.

The trainee is required to become an employee of the French company and be paid by such company. The salary must be what is normal for the level of the employee’s education.

4. Administrative steps for the above three categories of employees
4.1 Procedure for obtaining a visa
The French enterprise should file an application with the Labor Administration (Direction Départementale du Travail et de l’Emploi) in France.

The application, when approved by the Labor Administration, is then processed by the Immigration Office (Agence Nationale de l’Accueil des Etrangers et des Migrations – ANAEM), which in turn will forward it to the French Consulate or Embassy nearest to the residence abroad of the non-EU national.

The employee and his/her family members who accompany him/her will then be able to collect their long stay visas from the above consulate or embassy.

The above administrative proceedings take approximately four to six weeks, except for the highly skilled employee for whom the time requirement is about two weeks.

4.2 After obtaining the visa
When the employee and his/her family (if any) arrive in France with the visa, him /her (they) must undergo a medical examination with the Immigration Office.

Upon presentation to the Prefecture of the visa and evidence of the domicile in France, the employee and his/her spouse (if any) will receive either a provisional residence permit valid for three months (récépissé) or a one year residence permit (titre de séjour). They may also obtain directly a one year residence permit depending on the Prefecture involved.

For the employee, the residence permit operates both as a residence and work permit.

In principle, the spouse of the employee is not allowed to work in France. However, the spouse of a highly skilled employee may obtain permission to work if he/she finds an employment with a monthly salary exceeding EUR 2,000.

For the seconded employee and the trainee, in addition to the residence permit, they must obtain from the Labor Administration, a work permit (autorisation provisoire de travail) which is valid for nine months.

The one year residence permit and the work permit (where applicable) are renewable as long as the initial conditions are met (except for the temporary assignment which is limited to a maximum of 18 months). Such renewal must be requested three months prior to the expiration date.

The Ten Year Resident Permit

It is possible for non-EU nationals, after five years of residence in France, to obtain a ten year residence permit (Carte de resident), if they can prove that they have a regular business activity in France (as corporate executive, regular employees or otherwise) from which they derive sufficient income and declare that they intend to reside in France for a long period or on a permanent basis.

The non-EU spouse of an EU employee working in France is entitled to obtain a ten year residence permit.

The ten year residence permit enables the holder to assume any position (employee, corporate executive or self-employed) in France. This permit is automatically renewable. The holder who is absent from France for up to three years keeps the benefit of such permit.

Special Provisions

There is an obligation for children to request a residence permit (titre de séjour) after their 18th birthday.

Children of non-EU nationals residing in France must secure a residence permit when they are 18 years old, for the same duration as that of their parents. Such residence permit does not allow the children to work.

In case of a change of address, non-EU national who moves from one residence to another must notify the local Police department (Commissariat de Police) of his/her new residence.

French Citizenship Under the Standard Regime

An application for citizenship must meet two basic types of criteria that will be evaluated by the Minister in charge of naturalization: (1) eligibility and (2) approval criteria.

A. Eligibility Criteria

To be eligible for filing a request for naturalization under the standard regime, the applicant must be a resident of France when lodging the request and must have continuously resided in France during the five years preceding the filing of the application.

There are two separate aspects to this residency requirement, residency during five-year qualification and residency at the time of the application for French citizenship.

Residency during the five-year qualification period may be achieved by living in France under any of the valid residency categories, including as visitor, as student or as regular employee or corporate executive in France.

Having residency at the time of the application implies having established France as “the center of the applicant’s interests”. To determine whether France has become the center of the applicant’s interests, a number of factors will be taken into account, i.e. the “permanence” of the applicant’s immigration status, the applicant’s family ties in France, the assets the applicant owns in France, and the origin of the applicant’s financial resources.

Assuming that the applicant meets eligibility criteria, the applicant must still meet the approval criteria.

B. Approval Criteria

Approval criteria includes assimilation into France (knowledge of French, insertion into the French community), health (absence of long life term illness or chronic condition), morality (no criminal record indicating a unlawful act in France or abroad), and an acceptable professional and financial profile.

C. Administrative Steps

The application is filed with the Prefecture which will gather information and transmit such information to the Ministry. From the date the application is filed, a waiting time of at least two years is expected before receiving a final (appealable) decision. The government is presently working to reduce this time period.

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