I have been studying jazz for seven years in France and I am now getting a little bit of recognition as a saxophone player. Up to the present, I have been able to renew the student carte de séjour thanks to the various courses I have taken. Many of my classes are related to music, of course, but I have also been studying French. That said, last year I barely managed to get my student carte de séjour renewed. The préfecture kept saying I was not studying enough even though I had the same number of hours, 25 hours total per week, and they complained that I had taken the same courses two years in a row, which was not true. It is hard to document the progress made when there is no official diploma issued or grades to pass.
Now I want to change my status and earn my living as a performer. Sometimes I play in cafés and I gave two real concerts this past year at small concert halls in the suburbs of Paris. Is it possible for me to get a different carte de séjour?
To give a quick answer, yes, it is possible, but acquiring this kind of carte de séjour will require a lot of work on your part. Also, bear in mind that there are other ways of earning money as a musician, which bring in a much steadier income, although they are not necessarily better paid.
The first thing you need to understand is what happened last year with the préfecture and what could happen if you submit another student carte de séjour request this year. What the préfecture is really looking for is a student enrolled in a four-year program or so, with exams at the end of each scholastic year, in which the student passes and proceeds to the next grade and gets his student carte de séjour renewed in the process.
In such cases, the préfecture can measure the progress in the student’s studies because it is clearly visible. So the first hurdle you encountered last year (and maybe in previous years, without your being aware of it) is the question of what kind of progression one can have studying music; it is not like going from freshman to sophomore, junior and senior. There is also the question of what kind of measurable progress one can make in seven years – what more can one study? As you yourself say, “It is hard to document the progress made when there is no official diploma issued or grades to pass.”
So the conclusion is clear: you must get out of this immigration status before your request is denied. The choices, however, are complex.
The worst news for you is that a performing musician must be an employee, and an employee carte de séjour is very hard to get. An office called Main d’Oeuvre Etrangère (Foreign Labor) grants this right, but short of a full-time position with at least a six-month contract, you have nearly no chance of getting a regular employee carte de séjour.
An alternative choice is the artistic carte de séjour, which also requires something of a steady position. Again, there must be an employee contract approved by Main d’Oeuvre Etrangère, and you are approved for the duration of the contract. This means you can only be sure of getting a full one-year carte de séjour if you have a contract for a minimum of six months. Otherwise you get a récépissé for the duration of a contract and you end up never receiving the real carte de séjour – and you will feel like you live at the préfecture while hoping that when one job stops another will start. Stated differently, is it a good idea to rely on multiple miracles occurring?
Now, the carte de séjour compétences et talents would be an ideal choice, since I am sure that you do have talent. It lasts for three years, which would be wonderful for you. The problem is that you might not have the recognition to prove with documents how good you are, knowing that professional and moral references are not doing you much good. I would not rule it out right away, but do not underestimate the requirements expected to comply with the regulation.
The safest thing to do is to apply as a teacher, not as a performer. First, a teacher can be self-employed, and there are close to no barriers to getting a carte de séjour if you go that route. Second, I am sure you have enough awards to prove that you can teach music and saxophone. Third, you could also teach your native language, if there is a market for it. If you were asked to play, instead of being paid as a performing musician, you would have to agree not to be paid, to comply with your immigration status. If you are really good, the concert hall or producer could request an ad-hoc employee authorization just for the concert. Or as a self-employed person you might find something else to invoice. I need to stress that performing is being an employee, and would mean breaking the rule against working as an employee! This aspect of things should not be overlooked.
There are drawbacks related to choosing this status. Many music conservatories will not use the services of self-employed teachers. In addition, the very generous unemployment program tailored for performing artists will be out of your reach. So, for your own good, you would want to keep the self-employed status for only a short period. It becomes a trap once you are in it for several years, as the teaching almost always takes precedence over the performing. Think of it as a Plan B that can help you safeguard your immigration status and enable you to launch your career. The rest is up to you and your talent.