From what I’ve heard so far this year, TAPIF (the Teaching Assistant Program in France) is swearing up and down that you’re not allowed to be an assistant if you don’t have an assistant visa.

What they really mean is that they don’t want you coming to France as a student and then working as an English (or German, or Spanish) assistant with a student visa.

visa_pagesNot only is it 1000% NOT TRUE that you have to have an assistant visa to be an assistant, there are lots of good reasons why you shouldn’t WANT to get an assistant visa.

Here are 5 reasons why it’s way better to come to France as a student than as an assistant:

1) Assistant visas are impossible to renew.

It used to be that you could renew your assistant visa for one year and stay on to teach in the same school, although new recruits were given priority.

Now, it seems that the rectorat only has to pay the tax on hiring foreign workers if they allow you to renew your visa, which means that no assistants from outside of the European Union are allowed to renew their contracts.

And because going from a work visa to a student visa is considered to be taking a step “backwards” by the préfecture, it’s not possible to switch directly from an assistant visa to a student visa once in France.

It may not be a big deal to go back home during the summer to get a new visa – in fact, you may be planning on going back to the States anyway – but you’ll have to go through the annoyance of the OFII medical visit and everything again. Oh, and if you’re planning on staying in France long-term and trying to establish residency? It’s unlikely that your year as an assistant will count if you have to “start over” the following year as a student.

2) Assistant visas can’t be extended under any circumstances.

Regardless of what the fine people running the English assistant recruitment may tell you, the consulate is not going to give you an extended assistant visa so you can finish out the school year in your university classes. Nor is the local préfecture going to be sympathetic to the fact that your visa expires before your classes end.

The teaching assistant visa is usually only valid until mid-May, a few weeks after your contract ends (or, if you’re in an elementary school with a 9-month contract, June 30). And there’s no such thing as extending your visa without renewing it.

Because your visa can’t be renewed, there’s no way to bring supplementary documentation to the préfecture and ask for a visa extension.

Travel visa extensions only apply to individuals who need a visa to visit the EU as a tourist – not to Americans or Canadians, whose visa requirements are waived.

Nor is it possible to remain in the Schengen space as a “tourist” after your visa expires. Legally, you’re supposed to leave the Schengen territories for 90 days before being allowed back in.

While you may not be fined at the airport for having overstayed your visa if you have a U.S. or Canadian passport, it IS possible to get banned from the EU if you overstay your welcome.

So overstaying your visa? Not something I’d recommend.

3) If you quit your assistant job, you’ll have to leave France.

Like with any visa, your teaching assistant visa is only valid if you’re actually doing the job it authorizes you to do – teaching. In other words, your visa is no longer valid and will not allow you to stay in France if you quit your job or your contract otherwise ends before the visa expires.

While you may not get an official order to leave France (called a QTF for “Quitter le Territoire Français), you will technically become a “sans-papiers,” and again, you DEFINITELY won’t be able to count your year as an assistant towards establishing residency in France.

4) You won’t be able to take another job while you’re in France.

As a student, there are no restrictions on who can hire you and what job you can do, as long as you respect the limits of the student visa. And, in some cases, like for being an English assistant or doing work related to your studies, you can get a dispensation from the préfecture that allows you to work more than the prescribed 964 hours per year.

So while you have complete freedom over your career opportunities as a student, your options as an assistant are decidedly more limited. For one, most departments outside of Paris don’t allow you to have a second job while you’re a teaching assistant, and Paris only allows it due to the extremely high cost of living in Ile-de-France. A rule limiting functionnaires’ income from other sources (anything outside of your teaching job) to 30% of your net salary also applies to assistants, meaning you definitely can’t get ANY declared job other than the assistant gig.

As an assistant, you may be able to get small tutoring jobs or babysit a few hours a week on the side, but you won’t be able to do anything more interesting than that.

5) If your school won’t work around your university schedule, you’re out of luck.

If you have a student visa, you can work 20-22 hours per week. You can change employers. You can even be an autoentrepreneur.

In other words, you have power.

On the other hand, if you only have an assistant visa (meaning you can’t quit without having to leave France and you can’t get another job), you’re at the mercy of your school and your employers.

(Of course, this is why they want you to have an assistant visa – so they have control over your schedule!).

It’s not a matter of threatening to quit if a few little things aren’t going your way at your school. But if there are huge personality conflicts, and the school refuses to work with your class schedule or other commitments you have in France, it’s nice to have quitting as an option.

Personally, I’m not one for giving up control over my schedule, and I always thought it was silly for me to sign my whole life away for 12 hours per week. Having a student visa rather than an assistant visa allowed me to keep my options open, leaving me able to exert control over my job and my situation. Keeping my power.

Whether you’d prefer to do the same is up to you.

Did you hesitate between getting a student visa and an assistant visa before coming to France? What did you choose? Why? Tell me in the comments!

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