I am an American and have lived in France for almost ten years, first as a student and then as a professional with the related status at the préfecture. The last time I went to renew my carte de séjour, the préfecture gave me a negative answer and asked me to leave the country. I was shocked. This is so unfair. About five years ago I fell in love with another foreigner, and it went as far as planning a wedding in his home country where I would have moved. Then I got pregnant almost four years ago and he left me when he learned about it. So I gave birth to a little girl, and all by myself I pulled myself out of the mess I was in. As a self-employed person the two years following the birth were awful, including from a business point of view. Since I hold a professional carte de séjour, the préfecture denied me a new card because I billed less than 4,000 euros in 2009.
Aside from the fact that I anchored my life in France many years ago, there is a new man in my life who has been very present in my daughter’s life since her birth. After all these years, I want our relationship to be official. So now moving out of France is unthinkable for even better reasons, and this negative answer is breaking my heart. Until now I have not allowed him to move in with us, but if I PACSed him would it help my case? He is also American and holds a carte de résident. Can he become the father of my daughter?
The first answer is that a good man can come into one’s life when he is least expected.
Now, regarding your immigration issue, the only way out of this bad situation for you is to obtain a carte de séjour based on your private life as the préfecture understands it – not just your romantic life, as the term carte de séjour mention vie privée might suggest – and it would be compatible with your professional status. But it is going to take a huge amount of work and an iron will to reverse the decision you received from the préfecture and once again obtain a carte de séjour. This could take a long time.
Let me explain where you are right now, and why the carte de séjour mention vie privée is the only solution:
ILLEGAL STATUS MEANS GETTING A NEW VISA
Getting a negative answer from the préfecture with an order to leave France means you have lost the right to stay here. The only official way for you to obtain legal residency is to go back to the USA and ask for an immigration visa. But it is hard to know which one to apply for, since your business is not strong enough to be a good reason for the visa.
As a reminder: there are eight categories of visa linked to a carte de séjour, with several subcategories for each. The categories are visiteur, étudiant, salarié, commerçant/artisan, vie privée, compétences et talents, scientifique et artistique (visitor, student, employee, business/crafts, private life, expertise and talent, scientific and artistic.
A REGULARIZATION PROCEDURE MEANS ACKNOWLEDGING ONE’S ILLEGAL STATUS
Since your situation meets none of the eight visa categories, the only viable solution is to stay in France, violating the préfecture’s order – which is not a good start, to say the least, but you have no other choice. The private life visa category is based for the most part on provisions of the Code de l’Entrée et du Séjour des Étrangers et du Droit d’Asile (Article L. 313-11, paragraphs 1-13). None of them perfectly applies to your situation.
Parent of a French child:
While paragraph 6 mentions being the parent of a French child, a person born in France of foreign parents is not automatically French: the request for French nationality cannot be made until the child is 13, about 10 years from now. So this is not a good solution.
Parent of a foreign child who has lived in France for five years:
The provision that most closely matches your situation is one interpretation of paragraph 7. The provision is very confusingly drafted and hence somewhat difficult to use. In short, the foreigner must prove strong, lasting ties with France, with the proof depending on the nature of the ties. You would have to prove that you have had family ties in France for at least five years. Since your daughter was born in France, you would have a good chance of getting this card when she is five years old. This would mean waiting two years or so – still unacceptable, considerably less than paragraph 6 would require. To prepare the file for such a case, be very practical: create one small file per year, putting in it any documents strictly related to your daughter and her presence in France, such as daycare center bills, kindergarten statements and medical visits. Create similar files for your presence in France, with things like copies of all your cartes de séjour, income tax statements, proof of medical coverage, utility bills, bank statements, pay slips and so on – anything that has a date, the name of the organization and your name and address.
Foreigners who have lived in France, legally or not, for more than ten years:
Now, consider the intricacy of the préfecture procedures. Since 1997, a foreigner who has lived in France for ten years straight (fifteen years for someone who held student immigration status, as you did) is entitled to a private life carte de séjour. This 12Bis 3 provision was nixed about four years ago. Nevertheless, it is common knowledge that the préfecture will accept requests grounded on having lived a minimum of the previous ten years in France (the request must be made while the applicant is still living in France). In preparing such a file, the hardest task is to come up with enough documentation for each year, proving permanent residency in France. The fact that you held a carte de séjour for each of those years will make things considerably easier. So, you wait a few months until you reach the ten-year anniversary. To prepare the file, use the same method as above: create a small file for each year containing documents such as those listed above.
When you have the meeting at the préfecture to officially submit the request, you should present the request on two grounds: the length of your stay in France and the birth of your child in France, grounding the request on Article L. 313-11, paragraph 7. It is clear that this provision is open to interpretation and your case could be evaluated more leniently than the guidelines from the government would suggest.
One last thing – regarding your current partner – according to what you have said, there are no legal ties between the two of you and therefore your relationship cannot be used as grounds for requesting a carte de séjour. Even if you were to get PACSed right away, the préfecture would demand proof of five years of cohabitation. It is impossible for him to be the father of your child: she has a birth father who has parental authority over her. This aspect of your life should be explained by a lawyer specialized in family law.
Nevertheless, anything you can put in your file showing how anchored your life is in France is good, so create a special folder pertaining to this relationship and how close he is to you and your daughter. Have him accompany you to the meeting at the préfecture when it is time to submit your request. Legally speaking he does not represent anything, but the civil servant can evaluate the depth of the relationship and maybe take it into account.
There is nothing certain about this aspect of your case, but you have nothing to lose by doing this and you might gain quite a lot in terms of how the file is reviewed and interpreted.