booksIf you’ve always dreamed of learning French by taking language classes in Paris, you may be thinking about using Paris Unraveled’s Intensive French Language Class Service to enroll you in a language class in Paris.

But one of your major concerns is probably whether or not you can afford to come to Paris for long enough to enroll in classes – and that definitely means being able to work a bit while you’re here.

And it used to be that anyone who came as a student could automatically get a student visa, enroll in classes, and work on the side.

Unfortunately, the terrible economy (with up to 30% youth unemployment, depending on who you ask) has made it a lot tougher to work in France, no matter what your reason is for coming here. Teaching assistant visas are no longer renewed. Préfectures ask for more and more proof that students actually attend and pass classes in order to renew their student visas (to prevent students from arriving in France with a student visa to work instead of study).

You don’t want to do anything nefarious.

You don’t intend to subvert French employment law.

You just want to learn French, and manage to pay your rent, too.

So the fact that French consulates around the world are now cracking down on giving student visas to certain types of students dubbed “not serious enough” is worrying. While it’s not a universal phenomenon, students enrolled in French language classes, cooking classes, and the like have received long-stay visitor visas instead of student visas, meaning that they aren’t actually allowed to work while in France.

So how do you make sure that you can be a student AND earn some money on the side to pay your living expenses while in France?

Follow these tips to improve your chances of getting a student visa for your French language classes:

1) Sign up for French classes at a university or a school that’s accredited for the TCF, DELF, or DALF exam.

There are a lot of language schools in Paris, and some are more serious than others.

From abroad, it’s hard to tell, since you don’t know how to distinguish one company from another other than by using online reviews. (That’s why you may need Paris Unraveled.)

One of the ways to tell that a school is serious about having its students learn French, though, is whether or not the school is accredited to offer the TCF (Test des Connaissances du Français), DELF, or DALF exam. These language exams are offered by public and private institutions throughout the world, and offer students the opportunity to have their level of French independently assessed on the standardized European scale. The results, which are valid for several years depending on the test taken, range from A1 and A2 (beginner and advanced beginner) to B1 and B2 (intermediate and upper intermediate) to C1 and C2 (advanced and fluent), and can be used to apply for jobs in France that require French, as well as university programs.

Enrolling in a leveled language class that’s part of the French university system is another way to show the seriousness of your studies. University language classes like the Sorbonne’s Cours de Civilization Française or even the Institut Catholique (with which many American university programs have agreements) are typically more rigorous than private school classes, and students generally go on to enroll in degree programs in France. You’re far more likely to get a student visa if you’re in an academically challenging semester-long course than if you’re in a private school course.

2) Make sure you’re enrolled for the maximum number of credit hours.

A little-known rule about student visas is that you typically have to validate (or pass) a certain number of credit hours per semester in order to renew your visa for the following year. A semester in a licence or master’s degree program is usually 30 credits, and passing 20-24 credit hours and showing proof of enrollment in exams is enough to renew a visa.

While this rule doesn’t overtly apply to visa applications, the number of credit hours you’re enrolled in during the semester will definitely impact how seriously the consulate views your visa application, meaning the more hours of classes you’re enrolled in, the better.

An au pair is required to attend 12 hours per week of class to maintain the au pair visa, and students should expect to spend at least 20-25 hours per week in class (the maximum offered by the Sorbonne’s courses) in order to be considered a full-time student. Anything less, and they’ll probably consider that you’re on a vacation with language classes.

3) Apply conditionally to a degree program in a university.

If you’re taking the maximum number of credit hours in a serious academic institution, you may be doing so because you’re considering furthering your education and even getting a master’s degree in France.

Even if your level of French isn’t quite up to snuff to enroll in a degree program in a public French university, showing your intent to enroll and become a full-time student in a master’s program could help you obtain a renewable student visa rather than a long-stay visitor one.

In this case, what you may want to do is apply to French degree programs conditionally, showing proof of enrollment in intensive French classes as proof that you’ll obtain the level of French necessary (B2 or C1) to enroll in the degree. Taking these intensive French classes during the summer or the month of September before regular classes begin in late September or early October is one option; another is taking a full year of intensive French classes and deferring enrollment in the degree to the following fall semester.

Have you thought about spending time in France learning French? What’s held you back?

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