French visa… twisted system
Now that I am safely united close to my girlfriend, I would like to share an experience that hopefully will be helpful to many.
As for almost every trip, one has to get a visa before traveling, which is more often than not associated with administrative headaches. In many cases, justification is given as safety related issues (which I completely understand and accept); but in many cases some rules are more than questionable. My first experience was when I was in Libya and my boss asked me to go to the French Consul and inquire why a visa from one of our client had been refused. The rules are quite strict, and so opaque and after many tries I discovered a rule that says that if you get a Schengen visa (meaning you can go anywhere in the EU), from the French Consul, you MUST enter the EU from France. One guy planned his previous visit in Europe starting in Italy, therefore any the following request was refused. I don’t even know if he is banned for life from getting a visa through France, but it is a detail to know (and that should be made clear when handing out visas if yo ask me). Another example was for one of my colleagues who was at the Sales Department and had traveled throughout Europe many times on business trip; in his case they didn’t want to give us any explanation for the refusal, saying “he knows very well why his visa request got rejected”… In the end my boss had to meet with the Consul himself to fix the issue, because visa request were taking way too much time and effort for an organization that put in at least 5 request a week and with a clear standard procedure, providing all requested documents in time and waiting the regular 10-14 days should be more than enough…
Now that I’m gone for more than a year, I helplessly witnessed the complications of the system helplessly! My girlfriend asked for a visa 3 weeks ago, making sure to have a list of required documents to get her visa on time. She filed the request and went a week after to check on the status (to be safe) and of course something new came up: “you must go to the bank and change the equivalent of 2000euros and bring us the receipt” (supposedly as proof of fund for a 2 week trip…), after discussing she managed to settle for 500. And when she went back something new came up: “you need to show us a letter of invitation or a hotel reservation confirmation”! She asked if having it faxed was enough, and they said it would be, so I followed the procedure, sent by fax a letter mentioning she would be under our responsibility (housing and all costs…). And of course that wasn’t enough! They asked for a letter stamped by the Mairie in France, and that the original be sent by DHL. At this point, it was 5 days before her departure (we had bought the plane ticket when the Visa section told her she would just need to come back and collect her visa the Sunday a week ago. At this point we wanted to be safe and followed the Mairie’s advice to get an official “housing certificate” which of course takes 3-4 working days to produce! Last week, they even told her to come on Thursday, and instead of actually helping her, they made her wait from 8am to 4pm in front of the Embassy without even letting her in, only saying “The consul is busy, in a meeting” until 4pm when they told her the working day was over!
Bottom line is that despite asking for her visa 3 weeks prior to her planned departure, she had to postpone her trip by 3 days and get through huge hassles.
The lesson being that even if you know a French person who will be entirely responsible for your stay, you are GREATLY ENCOURAGED to simply make a hotel reservation, send it by fax, and simply cancel it once you get your visa. A friend of mine actually told me they learned their lesson a long time ago, and his uncle actually goes around the hassle with the hotel trick.
Now somebody please explain the logic. It is way easier for someone who goes as a tourist in France, than someone who actually knows somebody (even family!) to get his visa. My issue is that if they really care about safety and illegal immigration, to my logic they should encourage visitors who know locals to put them as legally responsible, so that if they end up disapearing and being suspected of illegal immigration they can legally go after somebody. In fact, they are encouraging the exact opposite, just say you don’t know anybody and that you are just going as a tourist!