A key part of the Webmaster’s plan to work in France as a freelance battlefield tour guide was obtaining the “Skills and Talent” residence permit visa. Per the France in New York website: “If you have a project, the three-year, renewable “Compétences et Talents” card allows you to exercise the professional activity of your choice in connection with your project.”
However, at the Visa Section of the French Consulate-General one will not find a life coach who will guide one through the process. Rather, one finds several pages of instruction in the Visa section of the website; and that is all the guidance one is given. Communication with the Consulate-General outside of the online appointment booking is essentially non-existent. One only has the opportunity to state his/her case at the visa appointment. The Webmaster hopes that the comments below assist others planning similar adventures in France.
Read, read, and re-read.
The Consulate-General location required for one’s visa application depends on one’s state of residence. (For NJ residents, it is NYC.) Readers should print out the visa application portions of the website FOR THEIR CONSULATE-GENERAL; and they should pay 100% attention to the wording of the process, the timeframe, and the required documents an applicant must produce.
Don’t give them a chance to kill the application.
The professionals at the Visa Sections process scores of applications daily. Therefore, they are not willing to make any exceptions. Visa applications can be invalid / delayed if the photos were not taken correctly, if one is missing a key document, etc. It is imperative to review and double-check everything.
Watch the deadlines.
Per the website, one is not supposed to apply on-line for an appointment more than 90 days before planned departure. Also, one is not supposed to apply until one has all the required documents in hand—including the FBI Identification Record. That is cutting it close; especially if there is a multi-week waiting period for a visa appointment.
In the author’s case, he paid for and used an “expediter” to handle the FBI background investigation—otherwise the projected completion time for the investigation was 14 weeks. It was expensive, but completed in about a week. His background check was completed on 7 February; and he received the required documents a few days later. On 27 February—or about 2.5 months prior to his planned 14 May departure—he applied on-line for a visa appointment. The first available date was 24 April: HEART ATTACK TIME!!! That was VERY, VERY CLOSE to his planned departure date. What if something went wrong?
Two lessons learned: 1) Using and FBI expediter is the only reasonable way to complete the background check. 2) The Webmaster should have applied on-line for a visa appointment much earlier, and then he would have had the luxury of picking an earlier date within the 90-day window.
Build a “dossier” to document one’s knowledge; even if the documentation it is ultimately not used.
One of the requirements for the “Skills and Talent” residence permit visa reads: “To exercise an independent profession (liberal professions, artists, writers, athletes, etc.)” one needs “documents establishing the applicant’s reputation.”
In addition to his detailed CV, the Webmaster provided summaries of his http://meuseargonnerg.wpengine.com webpage and FB group posts, proof showing that he published two chapters in Ed Lengel’s “A Companion to the Meuse-Argonne Campaign,” a letter of support from the WW1 Centennial Commission, a language evaluation from his French tutor, and proof that he was a copy reader for Mitch Yockelson’s book, “Forty-Seven Days.” During the interview these were barely looked at; but they were available if needed!
Be ready to emphatically state one’s qualifications in about two minutes.
At the first window, the Webmaster’s application and passport were checked. When the Webmaster indicated that he was applying for a “Skills and Talent” residence permit visa, he was told that he would be “interviewed” by the official at the second window. REALITY CHECK: Having made three copies of his application he assumed he would appear in front of a “panel” of officials, and that he would have 15 – 30 minutes to state his case and show his expertise. Instead, at window 2 an initially formal female official asked, in French, what he wanted to do in France. Answer—in Franglais: “He wanted a card of competence and talent to be a freelance battlefield tour guide for the American battlefields.” Her reply—in French and then in English: “But we already have these in France.” BOOM! Was that it? Quickly, the Webmaster blurted out in Franglais: “That he knew the American battles very well; That he had been studying the American and German armies for 30 years; That he knew the region well; That he has visited the region 22 times since 1986; and that he spoke all three languages—English, German and French.” As he was saying this, she was thumbing quickly through his support documents. Evidently, that was enough. His quick thinking and choppy response in Franglais was enough to obtain the visa! (Actually, he had rehearsed a few responses. This was a mish mash of those responses.)
The French government has a very stringent requirement for medical insurance: “You need to provide a letter (+1 copy) from your medical insurance company stating that you will be covered for an amount not less than 45,000 US$ during your stay in the Schengen Member States area, for any medical, hospitalization and repatriation / medical evacuation expenses. Applicants need to make sure they follow this rule and that they have medical insurance for their entire trip. The author purchased insurance from Travel Guard, a subsidiary of AIG.
Find helpful and moral support.
The Webmaster is indebted to historical photographer Brian Grogan, whom he met in France last year and who has given him helpful tips and support. Brian was the recipient of the same class of visa.
The Webmaster likewise had family and friends who provided moral support during the process.
The process is not one that the Webmaster wants to repeat; but it was necessary. Applicants need to proceed with confidence, all the while they are building their “dossier” of paperwork to defend their application. Being able to speak some level of French or “Franglais” is also a must.