It was 07h40. “I’m early,” I thought, and decided to stop in for a quick breakfast. It was a patisserie on rue de la roquette, halfway between Bastille and my 08h00 appointment that morning. My thoughts flashed back to my first visit to OFII, back in 2014. What a greenhorn I was back then — worried that my French wouldn’t be good enough, or that I wouldn’t have the necessary documents. How times change.
I took my last sip of coffee after finishing off a strawberry beignet and at 07h55 casually sauntered towards OFII (L’Office Francais de l’immigration and de l’integration). There were two lines. The one on the left was for asylum-seekers. My eyes involuntarily flicked up to the 6-8 souls in line, who looked forlorn. I couldn’t imagine their individual situations and stories. Then my gaze fell on the line on the right, my line, which was already 20 deep. I wondered to myself why they had felt the need to get there early. But then I realized that some of these people may have just arrived in France, and like me in those early days, didn’t want to take a false step: cue arriving 15-20 minutes early for your appointment. Good on them! I, on the other hand, wasn’t going to get there until right about 08h00. I love my sleep and I knew this wasn’t really going to be that stressful.
I’ve written before about the dread that one might feel about entering a prefecture. How many dreams and plans have foundered and died on the shoals of French bureaucratic requirements and the moodiness of civil servants! And yet, I’ve always maintained that the antidote to that dread is to be overprepared.
But the Prefecture is the “scary” part: you are getting authorization from the French government to be here, legally. OFII, by comparison, would be giving me the bise, and welcoming me to France, which is why I wasn’t carrying a thick sheaf of papers, but rather a book to read while waiting.
Promptly at 08h00 we started shuffling forward. One guard checked the nature of our appointment to verify we were at the right place at the right time. The second guard verified by ID (I brought my passport and récipisse). We then went upstairs and got into another line, to check us in for our orientation.
The lady at the desk verified our names, checked us off her list, and verified which language we would be interviewed in after the orientation. We then shuffled in, one by one, into this room.
At about 08h20 or so we were all assembled, roughly 25 of us, and our orienter came to tell us what would be happening today. She spoke entirely in French, but not with the typically hurried Parisian cadence, but the slower measured cadence of the south, knowing she was dealing with many novices of the language.
She said there would be three parts of our day: a video, an interview, and a physical. The video also worked with individual audioguides you could hold up to your ear which would allow you to follow along in real-time in the language of your preference. One of our class requested Arabic, and another Kenyan. If you’re uncertain, be brave and ask for Anglais, svp. No one cares about your French level at this point, I promise.
The video was quite good, as orientation videos go (not too many cheesy situations or fake drama). Obviously, as a royalist, I smirked a bit as the narrator spoke about the French “values of the Revolution,” considering that France was built upon superior values that predated that revolution by centuries, if not a millennium, but today was a day for quiet learning, not for a disquisition from Stephen on the murders, excesses, and poor logic of that revolt. The video concluded with an explanation of the necessary steps of integration we would all need to go through now, namely:
- Attendance at a one-day class in French civics, with a translator supplied if requested. This class purports to teach you about liberté, égalité, fraternité, laïcité, solidarité, and any other és that I may have missed. They will also teach you the mechanisms of the French state, for example, that the President of the Republic still wields the ancient power of the Kings of France, i.e. the ability to pass a decree without legislative consent. The class is one day, goes from 09h00-17h00, is obligatory, and is scheduled during your interview. Mine was scheduled for the 30th of June, about 6 weeks from the visit I made to OFII yesterday.
- Attendance at a one-day class in “living and gaining employment in France.” As with the aforementioned civics class, this one is obligatory, is one day only, and requires you to bring your ID.
- Attendance at free French language classes to obtain a basic level of competence as determined by the French state. The course runs a minimum of 50 hours, and a maximum of 100. You simply ask to test whenever you are ready. This condition is in force unless, when you do your interview at OFII, your French is competent and clear. Then you get an attestation that you don’t have to take the class.
- Your signature on a contract which commits you to do all of these tasks within one year, and that you will integrate into French life and the French way of thinking “avec assiduité.”
I was pleased to be exempted from the French courses via my interview. If you are required to take the classes I believe they occur on either Mondays or Saturdays in your arrondissement.
She then asked if I had kept my medical exam from OFII from my 2014 visit. I laughed and told her that I kept ALL THE PAPERS, gesturing to simulate a large stack. She laughed and asked if my visa renewals were continuous, with no gaps. I replied in the affirmative. She then told me I was done for the day, as I didn’t need a new physical (which I ostensibly would have if I didn’t have that record or hadn’t kept a continuous immigration record).
She printed out my appointments, had me sign the contract, and gave me a lovely folder to put it all in.
It was 09h30 and I was done for the day!
Three things to note:
- I was the first person called after we watched the video and our orienter briefly recapitulated the important points and answered some stray questions. My being called first may only have been because they knew I didn’t need a physical and wanted to see me first. But I don’t think you need to schedule more than a half day for this appointment, even for a worst-case scenario.
- You will get the convocation to go to OFII after your second Profession Liberale appointment. If you can’t make the date they give you, reschedule as soon as possible so as not to hold up this end of the process.
- If you bypass my two-years-as-a-visitor route and go straight to Profession Libérale, you’ll be doing this appointment 90 days after you first officially move to France.
* * *
I slowly walked to Bastille after the appointment. I was in the official “immigrant” stream. The appointment went well, and I felt welcomed to my beloved France. That, after all these years of hard work, felt good.
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