Immigration – Obtaining the Right to Live & Work in France after Assistant Contract has Expired

Expatriate ExitQUESTION:

I am an American living in the U.S.A.. Over the years I have visited and worked in France (as an assistant de langue), and I am very interested in moving back soon.

I just earned a master’s degree in political science, speak French fluently, and very much want to move back to France (where my girlfriend resides) as either an employee or an intern. I nearly had an internship lined up in Germany and at the last minute it fell through because of visa problems. I am aware that being an American makes the visa issue quite tricky.

As of right now, I have applied to be a lecteur de langue in several universities, and am waiting to hear back. I would love to eventually work for a humanitarian NGO based out of France, and have applied for several internships and positions in these organizations but I get the impression that they are not looking to hire people from outside of the E.U..

I would greatly appreciate any advice you have.


The main issue I see here is that it seems there is some inconsistency between your long-term immigration goals and the type of immigration status that you plan on seeking in the short term. To put it differently, for right now it is “How do I obtain the right to get into France and the right to work?” and for the future it is “How do I keep the right to stay, work, and live in France?” The first one should strengthen the second one.

One point illustrates this very well. The immigration status for a lecteur in France, in English – the position of teaching assistant – is very easy to get, but the foreigner must leave France after two years, and it is virtually impossible to change this status. In my view, choosing this route would mean losing two years in your longer-term immigration plan.

One way for you to stay in France and continue to have the right to work is to obtain a carte de séjour mention vie privée, based on your relationship with your girlfriend. Either you could marry her, or you could get PACSed and live together for at least a year, if she is French or an E.U. citizen. Then you would comply with the requirements for regularization under this status. If you choose this option, you should start preparing your request for the change of status immediately after arriving in France, since proof of living together for a long time is crucial. Then you might have a decent chance of having the right kind of file for this procedure.

But assuming you are prepared to work hard pretty much from the beginning of your stay in France to secure this change, why not put the same amount of energy right away into securing a more definitive status, so that your romantic relationship is not the only thing that enables you to stay in France with the right to work? In other words, the better alternative, in my opinion, is to prepare, while still in the U.S.A., a request for a working visa. This entails drafting a personal and professional plan, with goals and steps, so that once you acquire the right to live and work in France, you can carry out your professional plan and have a chance of being successful.

As you can see, these are two very different procedures and you need to choose between them. There is virtually no way you can successfully change your mind once the process has been launched.

However, there might be a more “middle of the road” way to address this issue. You could first acquire the right to live in France, with a visa/carte de séjour mention visiteur, and once in France add the right to work afterward.

These are the requirements:

  • Financial means = I believe that the minimum should be $22,000 in any type of account; if necessary, your girlfriend can vouch for you for part or even all of it.
  • Lodging in France = you can live with her and she vouches for you, this is very simple.
  • Health coverage in France = the cheapest policy I know costs about $500 a year, but once you work you are covered by your job, even if you are self-employed.

This requires some serious planning, since it pretty much means that you would not have the right to work for about a year and you must be able to fund your stay in France. Living with your girlfriend can lower the cost some.

A side issue is that getting and keeping  position as a salaried employee is difficult for non-European foreigners: it is a huge challenge to acquire a carte de séjour mention salarié. However, self-employed status is easy to get and fairly easy to maintain.

There are two other forms of status you should not overlook, given your profile: compétences & talents and scientifique. Yes, both require a lot of work at first, but both confer the cherished right to work as a salaried employee, and allow the holder to change easily to something else. Bear in mind that the compétences & talents card is valid for three years and can be renewed once, so you would have potentially six years in France before having to change your status.

With all these options, make sure that you document your relationship so that it has legal validity and you have proof of living together. Indeed, you never know what lies ahead, so you should be in a position to prepare a request for a change to a carte de séjour vie privée if need be.

Your question also raises a different and potentially major problem: each E.U. country has its own regulations on immigration, so if you think you can acquire the right to live in France by getting a job and immigration status in Germany or some other E.U. country, you are quite wrong.

Holding an American passport grants you as much right to be in France as residency in another E.U. country would, so you would not gain anything by this. Should you submit an immigration request at the French consulate in an E.U. country, you would be seen only as an American and face the same challenges described above. Living 500 or 600 miles away from Paris so you can be closer to your girlfriend is not close enough to do you any good. You have absolutely no reason to choose this solution.

Finally, regarding your statement that French-based NGOs did not seem interested in you: if you approached them with an American profile, this could alienate them. On the other hand, some French groups are now as big as multinationals, with representation all over the world. Thus, your profile might interest them if you can adapt to the French way of working. I always say that looking for work or building a business in France means functioning the French way if you want to be successful. The sooner you can do that, the sooner you will succeed.

But it is a lot easier said than done, and that is a huge understatement.

Good luck!


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