20 January 2017

Naturalisation (1) — birth certificates

Walt and I packed up and moved from California to France 14 years ago. For the first 6 years we were here, we were temporary residents on a year-to-year basis. In other words, every year we had to re-apply for what is called a titre de séjour by sending in our birth certificates with translations into French, proof of our address, and, mostly, proof that we had enough money to live on here without seeking employment.

Then in 2009, I decided to find out if we could get a 10-year carte de résident which would let us avoid all the paperwork and uncertainty of the yearly application for permission to stay in France. I had read that foreigners living here legally had the right to the 10-year resident's card after five years on the year-to-year plan, but nobody in the département offices at Blois had ever explained this to us, and they hadn't automatically offered resident's status in 2008, when I thought they should have.

In 2009, I picked up the phone and called the office in Blois that regulates foreigners' immigration status. The woman I got on the phone, after it rang for 5 or 6 minutes, was helpful and polite, if sounding slightly harried. She said to me, Monsieur, do you have a retirement pension? I was 60 years old at the time. I told her that I would start receiving retirement benefits from the U.S. in two years' time, and that I would also begin receiving a small French retirement pension when I turned 65 in 2014. Write us a letter explaining those details, the woman said, and we'll see what we can do.

With some help from a neighbor who had recently been elected mayor of our commune (village), we soon had our 10-year resident's cards, which would be good until 2019. We sometimes talked about applying for citizenship, but for a while I thought I didn't see the point. Then in 2012, when it became legal, we went to New York and got married. I started thinking about what would happen if one of us died or became incapacitated and how the other one of us would manage. Who would inherit the house in France? What taxes might be assessed on the inheritance? Would the survivor's residency card be renewed in 2019?

So we started thinking about naturalization — becoming French citizens. Our marriage was recognized in France in 2013, when le mariage pour tous became law here. We were able to draft wills spelling out our final wishes and file them with a local notaire. By then, though, we had started pulling together the documents we needed for our naturalisation applications. First, we needed our parents' birth certificates. Walt's mother died when he was eight years old, and he didn't even know where she was born, except that it was in New York State and probably not far from Albany, where he and his father were born. I didn't have that to deal with, since my mother is still living, and I knew my father's birthplace.

Walt found out where his mother was born by inquiring at the NY Department of Health in 2012, where records are kept. That's when he learned that, in New York State, a child does not have the right to apply for official, certified copies of his or her parents' birth certificates — even if the parents are both deceased. The best the state bureaucracy could do was to give him copies that carried a big red stamp saying "For genealogical research only." For certified copies, he would have to go to a judge in New York and make his case for having a legitimate need for the official documents. That would mean another trip to New York, because it was too late at that point to get a court date right then.

In my case, my mother was able to go to the courthouse in the county where she lives, and where I grew up, and easily obtain copies of my (deceased) father's and my own birth certificates — no questions asked. (I figured I might as well have a new copy of mine.) But my mother herself was born in South Carolina, so we had to apply for her birth certificate down there. I read about the process on the internet, and I learned that, even as her son, I was not allowed to request my mother's birth certificate as long as she was still living. I had hoped to be able to apply for it by mailing in the application and fee.

My mother said she wouldn't mind driving to the area in S.C. where she and my maternal grandfather were born, and which is a five-hour drive from where she lives. It had been 20 years since her last visit there. We did the drive in 2013, when I was back in North Carolina for a visit, and we stayed overnight. My sister and my mother's sister came along for the ride, and we ended up seeing some of our S.C. relatives while we were there. It was fun.

When we arrived in the local county seat, however, we were disappointed to learn that birth records are not kept at county courthouses in South Carolina, as they are in North Carolina, but by the state's department of health. Luckily, there is an outpost of that agency in the larger nearby town of Rock Hill (near Charlotte, N.C.). We turned around and drove over there. And we learned that the local health department office was only able to provide us with what is called "the short form" birth certificate, which I knew would not satisfy the French authorities. Getting the long form would require a three-hour-roundtrip drive down to Columbia, the state capital. We didn't have time for that.

[Here's a link to part two of this series.]

17 comments:

  1. I'll be very interested to hear how you have convinced the French officials to accept birth certificates that are more than 3 months old. The other thing that strikes me is how admirably organised you are, and how much it must have all cost!

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    1. I have never run into that three-month rule with U.S. birth certificates. But there is always a first time! The costs haven't been prohibitive. Organized, well... not so much me. Walt is better at it.

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  2. It's unfortunate that France makes it so difficult for a couple who are clearly committed to the country. I look forward to 'more'.

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    1. I doubt the French make it any harder than the Americans do, or maybe the Australians. The hardest part has been getting all the documents from the U.S., since we can only do it when we are back there.

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  3. Holy cow, that's a long time in the planning and organizing stages. Can't wait to hear more.

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    1. We've been working on it for five years at least, so we are hitting a major milestone right now (translations).

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  4. Your mention of short form/long form birth certificates reminds me of Trump's demands that President Obama submit his long form certificate because the short form version provided insufficient evidence that he was born in the state of Hawaii. Just typing that raises my blood pressure!

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    1. The information about parents and their addresses was what made me ask for a new copy of my own birth certificate. The old one (from 1969, the first time I applied for a passport) had my parents' names on it, but not their birthplaces or addresses, I think. Walt had a short form that was not satisfactory to the French health insurance people, so he had to go to New York to get the long form certificate.

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  5. just went thru gathering all of this for our daughter who is applying for french citizenship....everything does have to be dated within 3 mos I believe, and some need "apostilles" so y'all should check on that

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    1. My birth certificate copy dated 1969 worked fine for me from 1970 until now. And now I have a new one that was certified as a true copy in 2012. Wish us luck. We have apostilles for everything — at least nine of them.

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  6. In France also it was difficult, at one point, to get the papers of a person who is still alive. Y hit that road block when he applied for his citizenship under the Jus Sanguinis regime. Thus we drafted all the papers for the different mairies for the livret de famille, marriage certificate , and birth certificates of his parents and grand parents and got my mother-in-law to sign them before mailing them to different regions of France ( with a return envelope) . That was back in 1991.
    When I applied for mine in 2007, I needed to get all the birth certificates -that 3 months old copies "appostilés" were required - and it was easier to do it on line except for one grand-father who was born in the Franche Comté before 1900 for whom we had to send a letter.

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  7. Any idea why NY and SC prevent children from getting their parents' birth certificates without a court order?

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    1. I don't know why NY has that rigid restriction. SC would have let me have my mother's birth certificate if she was deceased, but not as long as she is still of this Earth. In France it seems people can easily obtain actes de naissance for their parents, grandparents, etc.

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  8. What a palaver. I suspect it's as complicated to apply for UK citizenship (and from all I hear the Home Office charges disgracefully high fees for the privilege), but at least getting birth certificates here is a straightforward, standard procedure - inexpensive and easily done online through a central registry (but you do have to state your relationship to the person concerned, and I don't know if they get suspicious if it's someone still alive)

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  9. When we moved to Buenos Aires, we knew we were going to become Permanent Residents, not citizens but the amount of paperwork, stamps and visits to Immigration were mind boggling. I can't imagine how much more or even possibly less work it would have been to get citizenship.
    My husband always said that he would live there as long as we wanted to, forever would be fine but he would not give up his American citizenship. for many reasons. and I agreed.
    We are / I am a permanent resident of Argentina but with no having been to visit, I might have lost my standing.
    It took years to get it, that is a shame.

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    1. PS ... my husband was born and raised in NYC ... he never had to have any problems like that .. he lived in London for years as well as in Argentina.

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  10. To paraphrase FDR, today is a day that will live in infammy!

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