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French Residence Permit Process Under Fire

Thursday 03 June 2021

The French ombudsman has criticised the application process for visas and residence permits issued by the prefectures.

We have previously reported on these pages on the drive by the French government to digitalise the services offered by the local prefectures, under a plan called Plan Préfectures Nouvelle Génération, dating from 2015.

The most visible of those services, which is now entirely on-line, is for vehicle registration, which must now be carried out through Agence nationale des titres sécurisés. The system has been plagued by significant system failures as we have reported in the past.

The transfer on-line of administrative services also applies to those for a French passport and for visa and residence permits, where there also appear to be problems.

With the Covid crisis, many prefectures have accelerated the development of on-line systems, but for the French ombudsman (Défenseur des droits) many are doing so at the expense of customer service. Queues of applicants waiting outside of the prefecture have now, it seems, been replaced by queues on-line.

In a formal opinion expressed recently to the French parliament, the ombudsman expressed concern about the delays and difficulties being incurred by applicants in seeking a carte de séjour, stating:

"Depuis 2018, le Défenseur des droits, et en premier lieu ses délégués territoriaux, sont destinataires de nombreuses réclamations émanant de personnes étrangères rencontrant des difficultés importantes pour déposer une première demande de titre de séjour ou de renouvellement, en raison de la défaillance de ces procédures dématérialisées imposées par certaines préfectures."

According to the ombudsman, the on-line booking system for appointments is not fit for purpose, as a lack of personnel means that there are frequently no appointments available, with no means available for the applicant to register their demand or to even go on a waiting list.

In the course of 2020, the prefectures transferred several procedures that were previously carried out via the online appointment booking module to the new platform, but its use is generally reserved for procedures that are more straightforward.

Moreover, the architecture of the websites of the prefectures is often poor, making it difficult to find solutions and with contradictory information often appearing on the site. And, of course, they are all in the French language.

The ombudsman states that: "The main problem identified is the impossibility of the technical support service to remove the blockages encountered by users, and the refusal of the prefecture to offer another method of submitting the application."

When applicants are able to reach the support service, they are often invited to contact the prefecture, with the Yossarian dilemma that then arises.

The ombudsman states that the use of on-line systems should not remove the offer of a personal visit to the prefecture, or other means of contact, such as a telephone hotline. Several court cases have previously interpreted the law in that manner.

As far as UK nationals are concerned, a distinct platform was set-up for WARP carte de séjour applications for UK nationals living in France prior to 31st Dec 2020, and the ombudsman states that he has received no complaints about the operation of the system, which is clear, simple and in the English language.

In addition, for UK nationals seeking a visa for a long stay in France subsequent to Brexit, the initial visa process is run on a separate system, where the same problems do not arise. Unlike France based systems, the application is in the English language. 

That said, UK applicants are facing different problems with the process, with sometimes tough health insurance requirements and poor customer service. 

Your mails to us also indicate prefectures vary substantially in the speed with which they are processing the WARP permits, with some getting on with it at a fair lick, whilst others are taking a considerable period of time, without the possibility of obtaining information on progress or timescale.

UK nationals without a permanent residence permit in France will later be required to use the prefecture systems in France, to obtain or renew their carte de séjour.

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