I’ve received new visas for each of the periods I’ve worked in France, so I’ve been to OFII (Office Français de l’Immigration et de l’Intégration) for the “visite médicale” four separate times. I’m a pro at this point and, to OFII’s credit, the process now looks like a well-oiled machine when compared to my other experiences with French bureaucracy. Here are the basic beats of the process:
1. Send in the paperwork. Like, yesterday. Temporary workers need to validate their visa with a “titre de séjour” from OFII within the first three months of arrival in the “Schengen Area,” a sort of internal border zone within Europe comprising more than twenty countries. Without the sticker, you may have trouble returning to the area if you leave it after the three months are up, even if your visa lasts longer than that. To complete the titre de séjour process, you need a medical check-up at the local OFII.
To initiate the titre de séjour process with OFII, you have to send them the completed “demande d’attestation OFII,” a form which should have been stamped by your local American consulate before departure, and copies of passport identity pages, visa, and entry stamp obtained at the customs counter of whatever airport was your Schengen Area entry point.
2. Over the next few weeks (I’d say between 3 weeks and 6 weeks later, in my experience) OFII sends two notices in response: one confirming receipt of the demande and the other enclosing a “convocation” a few weeks after that specifying the date, time, and required materials for the medical appointment.
3. Collect the documents you need. Make sure you have everything OFII lists on the convocation ready and neatly copied (and don’t forget the passport-sized photo). The problems I’ve most often witnessed are with proof of residence (this must be something addressed to you at your French residence within the last three months, or, if you’re staying chez someone else, a document signed by them confirming the situation). I’ve watched a number of people get sent away for failing to produce an adequate such document, so I usually bring a couple of options (even if OFII administration hates them both, I think presenting a CHOICE sort of makes complete rejection feel less appropriate).
4. Show up at the appointed time. Don’t try to squeeze into your friend’s appointment window so that you can make an outing of it, don’t show up half an hour late, don’t show up half an hour early– show up ten minutes early, at most, with your convocation letter, which you will need to get into the medical appointment area. They REALLY do not like it when you don’t respect the time assignment. At OFII last week, I saw a nurse come all the way out to the reception area to yell at someone who’d managed to initiate her appointment early before anyone noticed. (It didn’t help that another Anglophone in the waiting area hissed, “oooo you’re gonna’ get dePORTED,” and we all laughed. OFII staff were not amused.)
5. Listen carefully for the butchered approximation of your surname announcing your turn.
6. Check your modesty for Part I of the medical examination. In Lyon, they take your weight and height, give you an eyesight test, and ask a few basic questions. Then comes the topless x-ray party. At the doctor’s office in the U.S., we go so far as to wear paper gowns to simulate modesty. In Europe, however, where people are generally more comfortable with the naked body, you will be sent into a closet through one door and take off everything above the waist as a door on the other side whips open, exposing your bare chest to a cold, airy room and an aloof nurse, who will direct you to smush your breasts against the plate of a cold x-ray machine, criticize the angle at which you’re holding your head, and then get a quick picture of your lungs. This is obviously more traumatic for the ladies than the gents.
Apparently the purpose of the x-ray is to screen for tuberculosis (although I don’t know how much good a screening for a highly contagious disease does three months after someone’s already been galavanting around the country potentially infecting people…)
7. Go back to the waiting room to wait some more. Sometimes it’s quick (30-45 minutes), sometimes it’s not (1.5-2 hours). Unless you want to stare at your hands while you wait, bring something to read or expect to make small talk with others in the waiting room. In Lyon, the waiting area is quite small and most people are in the same boat, so conversations are easy to come by.
8. Steel yourself for Part II of the medical examination. I say “steel yourself” because there’s a good chance they will tell you that you’re a fatass and lecture you about junk food. If you’re female, you’re likely used to being told what you’re supposed to look like and hopefully have managed to develop a thicker skin over the years, but there’s still nothing quite so heartwarming as a doctor grimacing at the number from the scale and then listing the many possible foods that might have caused it. Be prepared for a blunter, more openly judgmental treatment of weight than one sees in American medicine (where doctors are almost too much the other way, so worried about causing offense, aggravating an eating disorder, or getting sued that they sometimes skirt weight-related health concerns completely). Try to laugh off the tactless method and remember that although weight can be an indicator of fitness, it is not a definitive measure of fitness.
One other tip about this part of the process: consider bringing a vaccination record with you. If you don’t, it’s not a big deal, but you may get SCOLDED, French-style.
9. Document submission. (See Step #3.) If everything is in order, you will immediately receive the special OFII sticker entitling you to free movement in and out of the Schengen Area (yay!)
This month is a big one for teaching assistant and lecteur/lectrice medical visits, as their three-month windows begin to close and holiday travels approach. The visit can be stressful if you don’t know what to expect, but if you come prepared at your assigned time with all of your documents in hand there’s really nothing to worry about.
As French red tape goes, OFII may be my favorite office. It’s relatively straight-forward and there’s not much that can go wrong if you follow the instructions. Bon courage!