Hostage Taking, Piss And Maple Syrup: Immigration in France

Article published on July 3, 2014
Article published on July 3, 2014

What is it really like to immigrate to Europe? At a time when European countries impose ever stricter regulations to restrict migration, the English language editor ventures inside the bowels of the French immigration system. 

Im­mi­grant. This term has more re­cently been at­tached to cono­ta­tions of a mor­tal enemy, come from afar to steal jobs and wreak may­hem on so-called 'civilised' Eu­ro­pean so­ci­ety. The di­chotomy of the mi­grant-vil­lian has been pro­mul­gated by the fear mon­ger­ing of right-wing pop­ulist par­ties, par­tic­u­larly in the UK and France, and their fur­ther de­mon­i­sa­tion of non-na­tion­als in the media. Hard­en­ing anti-im­mi­gra­tion leg­is­la­tion is pass­ing in par­lia­ments as the gate­keep­ers of the fortress of Eu­rope bat­ten down the hatches in prepa­ra­tion for an alien in­va­sion.

Well, I am one of those aliens. I hail from the land of beavers and cari­boo, where rivers and lakes flow rich with maple syrup and salmon. Yes, we live in igloos and the tem­per­a­ture never ven­tures above -20°C. Moun­ties roam the thick forests, out­fit­ted in their red at­tire, astride on their trusty steeds, as the Chi­nook winds ca­resses their over­sized rangers. My name is Kait, I am Cana­dian, and I am here to take over con­ti­nen­tal Eu­rope (since we are al­ready run­ning sev­eral of the most promi­nent British in­sti­tu­tions, in­clud­ing the Royal Mail and the Bank of Eng­land. No joke.)

I'm an alien, I'm a legal alien, I'm a Cana­dian in France.

red tape Hostage

My jour­ney across the At­lantic is best de­scribed as a re­verse pil­grim­age. (For an ex­pla­na­tion as to why I don't have an Ital­ian pass­port, de­spite being the daugh­ter of a cit­i­zen, this ar­ti­cle sums it up.) My de­ci­sion to come to Eu­rope is usu­ally met with a look of pro­found con­fu­sion: Why would you want to come here? Canada is often por­trayed as El­do­rado, a land of op­por­tu­nity that knows not cri­sis. For the past five years, French mag­a­zine L'Ex­press has pub­lished an en­tire issue de­tail­ing how to move to the Great White North.

While Free­dom of Move­ment gives Eu­ro­peans the op­por­tu­nity to bor­der hop with ease, oth­ers like my­self are held hostage by bu­reau­cratic red tape from the mo­ment they ar­rive on these shores. The com­mon mis­con­cep­tion that mi­grat­ing to Eu­rope is a sim­ple process, this is a myth. Im­mi­grat­ing to a Eu­ro­pean coun­try is ar­du­ous, com­plex and re­stricted. But, Eu­rope is my El­do­rado, which means nav­i­gat­ing the labyrinth that is the French im­mi­gra­tion sys­tem. My first stop: OFII (French Of­fice of Im­mi­gra­tion and In­te­gra­tion).

In­fil­trat­ing OFII

So, how does a for­eigner pass the French sys­tem what de­mands does the French im­mi­gra­tion sys­tem how does a for­eigner  into the French im­mi­gra­tion sys­tem? What does a for­eigner have to do?

Step one: the med­ical exam. It is tricky to aim your pee into a small plas­tic cup, legs akimbo, while dressed to im­press the in­ter­viewer. My per­sonal favourite pro­ce­dure is the tu­ber­cu­lo­sis exam. Canada has half the cases of TB as France. Per­haps I should con­sider re­quest­ing such tests be­fore com­ing in con­tact with the local pop­u­la­tion? 

Step two: sign­ing the 'good be­hav­iour' con­tract, oth­er­wise known as the Wel­come and In­te­gra­tion Con­tract. In other words, I promise to shed my Cana­dian-ness in favour of la vie française. Hence­forth, I am obliged to ad­here to de­mo­c­ra­tic prin­ci­ples, re­spect human rights, equal­ity, es­pouse sec­u­lar be­liefs and speak French. The price of non-ad­her­ence? De­por­ta­tion.

Step three: suc­cess­fully grad­u­ate from the how to be­come French pro­gramme. The cur­ricu­lum is di­vided into four dif­fer­ent com­po­nents: lan­guage, adapt­ing to life in France, pro­fes­sional qual­i­fi­ca­tions as­sess­ment and civic in­te­gra­tion. After pass­ing each sub­ject, the good im­mi­grant re­ceives a cer­tifi­cate, which we must guard with our lives for all eter­nity in order to stay in France.

Mak­ing the Cut

I had heard tales of the in­ter­views from hell; thus, I had pre­pared my­self for a night­mar­ish ex­pe­ri­ence. How­ever, my case worker was ex­tremely kind and po­lite. It al­most seemed to good to be true. As in all sto­ries in­volv­ing French ad­min­is­tra­tion, I was miss­ing a doc­u­ment. I was ready to kneel, grovel and beg for clemency, when she of­fered to print it for me. I left with a stunned smile on my face. I made the cut and I am the proud owner of a val­i­dated visa. 

How­ever, some of my fel­low mi­grants stand to face more chal­lenges. I wit­nessed the se­ri­ous­ness with which the French of­fi­cers han­dle the in­fringe­ment of any clause by a mi­grant. Through an in­ter­preter, a mid­dle-aged woman adamantly re­fused to learn French or at­tend lan­guage classes. She in­sisted that she be ex­empt from such a re­quire­ment. The ad­min­is­tra­tor bel­lowed curtly: if she doesn’t learn French, she can’t stay. Ba­si­cally, her visa re­newal will be de­nied and she will face de­por­ta­tion for fail­ing to in­te­grate. Her warn­ing thun­dered across the wait­ing room, as the mi­grants shud­dered anx­iously. Her edict un­der­lines the tough re­al­ity that there are no ex­cep­tions to be made. In other words, in­te­grate or leave. You are not wel­come here.