Immigration is an inflammatory issue in France – literally. The 2005 Paris riots, which were ostensibly sparked by police and administrative discrimination against non-white immigrants, resulted in the burning of some 10,000 cars as well as dozens of factories, schools, sports centres and religious buildings. The government has recently introduced new laws to curb non-EU immigration and is cracking down on illegal immigrants, who can be forcibly repatriated, although a controversial plan to send immigrant children ‘home’ was quickly abandoned. This makes it more difficult for non-EU citizens to enter the country, while most EU nationals barely need to wave their passport at immigration officials as they cross the border.
Immigration officials (police national) and customs officers (douaniers) are generally polite, but the onus is on you to prove your bona fides and you should remain calm and civil, however long the entry procedure takes.
Technically, any foreigner wishing to stay in France for more than 90 days must obtain a residence permit (titre de séjour) – either temporary (carte de séjour), valid for up to ten years depending on your nationality circumstances, or permanent (carte de résident), usually issued to those who have lived in France for three consecutive years and speak fluent French. Curiously, even a ‘permanent’ residence permit is valid for only ten years and must be renewed; the only way to become permanently ‘accepted’ is to adopt French citizenship.
EU citizens, however, are no longer obliged to have a carte de séjour, although this doesn’t mean that they can get away without registering their presence (e.g. to the taxman) in France.
A residence permit must be obtained from your departmental préfecture, where you must present proof of identity and status in France (e.g. a salary slip, student card or social security documentation). Permits are issued fairly quickly – within a few days in some cases.
Excerpted from “Culture Wise France ” which can be purchased from Survival Books