An American in France : « What did I do to deserve deportation ? »
This story was initially published in French. Julie Smith – pseudonym – translated it for our english-speaking readers.
Here is my story of being an American immigrant in France, the story of many as immigration policy has tightened under Interior Minister Claude Guéant. This policy destroys the lives of many foreigners who have been settled in France and have built their lives here for years. It deprives France of their real contribution to the economy and is applied in a completely illogical and unjust manner.
After obtaining a bachelor of arts in political science from an American university, I graduated from the international program of the Institute for Political Studies (Sciences Po) in 2000. I came back to Paris in 2005 as part of a double degree in economics and finance from another American university and Sciences Po.
After graduating, I was offered a position in a French company specialized in financial consulting. With this permanent contract, I got a residence permit for employees from the French immigration authorities, a permit that I have regularly renewed without any problems.
I thought it would be automatically renewed
In March 2010, I decided to create a company using the French « auto-entrepreneur » (self-employed) laws : I wanted to give English classes and translation services to individuals and businesses. I registered with the tax authority for small businesses and got a business number in April.
I also inquired about how to obtain a residence permit corresponding to the self-employed status. I was directed to the « Merchants » section at the immigration office and did all the steps required to obtain this permit.
January 2011. Five months later, still no definitive answer. My employee permit expired in August 2010, leaving me with just a receipt from the immigration authorities. I was then contacted by a headhunter, so I signed another permanent contract with another consulting firm specializing in finance.
For foreigners, there is no « employee and merchant » residence permit. However, French law does allow its citizens to work as employees and have their own businesses on the side. Having received no answer for the « merchant » permit, I tried to renew my employee permit to accept the new contract and carry on my business on the side, as permitted by French law.
I had renewed the employee permit many times without any problems. My new contract was almost identical to previous contracts. I thought it would be automatically renewed. I was wrong.
One month to leave the territory
In February, the immigration authorities refused my request. Two weeks later they sent me a deportation letter, an « obligation to leave French territory within one month », saying that my request was :
« A delaying tactic to stay unduly in the territory. »
I showed this letter to all my friends, to those who did not believe me. The reaction was always the same : shock and incomprehension. What had I done to deserve deportation ? Friends even came with me to the immigration office to see for themselves what is happening to immigrants.
I’ve been in France for six years, I rent an apartment in central Paris, I have always worked, contributed to the social system and paid my taxes. My entire professional network and my friends are here. I am fully integrated into French society. And all that I had built after years of work was suddenly destroyed by the immigration authorities.
I was supposed to start my new contract on March 1. But since receiving this letter, I live a life of poverty, struggle, and terror. I have to refuse offers of work. I must soon leave my studio but without a residence permit and work contract, it is impossible to find another place to live.
My life in France is all I have
Only friends’ sofas remain. I do odd jobs but as an undocumented immigrant, I risk not being paid for my work. I live daily with the ongoing effort to keep my shelter and find food. All because the immigration authorities decided my contract was a delaying tactic to stay unduly in France.
I refuse to give in to such injustice. And I have no choice : my life in France is all I have. In the United States, in an economic crisis, I would be unemployed, without health insurance, depending on my parents, I cannot ask them to support me financially.
So I started a legal process against the immigration authorities. I won my first hearing which suspended the deportation order and forced the immigration authorities to reconsider my request. So I was called back to the immigration office in May where I presented all my documents again, including my contract At the end of September, immigration called me to tell me they had never seen my contract.
But I had given them three copies : in February, April and May. So I sent the contract a fourth time by registered letter. Soon I will have a final court hearing : my last hope to finally obtain my papers.
This Monday, October 24, good news : my deportation order has been cancelled, a recognition of the illegality of the decision. The immigration authorities must again decide on my case.
To want to work, pay my taxes, a crime that warrants deportation ?
I have learned several things from this experience :
- how to survive alone in terrifying financial circumstances ;
- the State is not always there to protect you. On the contrary : it is sometimes necessary to protect against a state that does not respect its own laws.
For many of us, the French immigration services are a nightmare. The laws of the Republic are applied randomly and sometimes not at all. As an immigrant, I cannot vote but I pay taxes to the State. These taxes support the welfare state and pay the salaries of those who deport me.
Before becoming one myself, I was a volunteer for undocumented immigrants at an association in Paris. I helped people who had arrived in France in difficult circumstances. I do not deserve to stay more than them. I also know that I am lucky to be American and educated. But what have I done to deserve deportation ? To want to work and pay my taxes is a crime that merits deportation ?
I want to live in this country that I love
France loses when it kicks out immigrants who participate in the economy. It loses our taxes, our domestic consumption and productivity in French companies.
I love France, its culture, language, history, and its respect for human rights. In the United States, more and more, rights (health insurance, education, etc..) have to be bought : those who cannot afford to do so go into debt to survive. This is not the case in France.
I am just asking for the right to work in this country in solidarity with its citizens, to participate in society and the economy, to offer my skills and pay my taxes in this country that I love. Thank you.
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