Mohamed, an Egyptian, arrived in France in 2006 as a teenager. He has built his entire adult life in France. During his 15 years on French soil, the young man has "done everything to integrate." But despite working, paying taxes and owning his own apartment, he lives under the threat of expulsion.
Mohamed is Egyptian. He arrived in France at the age of 16 after crossing the Mediterranean Sea from the port of Alexandria to Italy and has been in Europe ever since. That was in 2006. His journey at sea, was "hell on a piece of cardboard," he recalls, and lasted 10 days. Mohamed fled a country that offered him no prospects, he said. After a short stay in Italy, he arrived in Ile-de-France, in the Paris region. Fifteen years later, he is still there and has built a life for himself in France. He describes his life as "decent" despite multiple failed attempts to regularize his situation. He tells his story.
"When I arrived in France, I was lucky. I wasn't left completely alone. I spent a few nights outside, it's true, but families also reached out to me. French families who, at different times in my life, welcomed me, gave me a bed, a meal.
In the beginning, I didn't try to regularize my situation, simply because I didn't know what to do, or what I had to do. It was 2006, I was 16 years old, I was a child. I knew that I wasn't legal, but I didn't know what to do.
I was afraid of police checks, of course. Or checks on public transport. I was afraid of being expelled for simply not having a ticket. At that time, to avoid the controls, I dressed well, I walked elegantly. I told myself that it would help me slip through the cracks.
I didn't speak French. I could get by in English a little bit, but I hung in there, I learned the language by reading the newspapers, by speaking. I was determined."
'I'd lay low, I'd work'
"I started working illegally at the age of 18, in construction and renovation. I had to work a lot, I didn't know much about the trade.
When I came of age, I had matured a little, I had a little more self-confidence, I decided to get myself regularized so that I could obtain a residence permit. That was 13 years ago. I went to the prefecture, but they rejected my application: they told me that I needed 10 years on French soil or a marriage contract or a promise of employment. I didn't have any of that.
I went to see the aid organizations, I was active. Each time, they told me it would be complicated. That year, I received my first expulsion order. I didn't leave, I stayed in France. I was discreet, I worked, always under the table.
Thanks to connections, a few years later I was able to rent an apartment in Paris, in the 9th arrondissement. The owner trusted me. It was the first time I had an official lease, a rent receipt."
'Is your income declared? - No, I'm working under the table.'
"I was able to open a bank account too. I remember the banker asked me for my residence permit, I said I didn't have one yet, he said: 'I'll open an account for you, when you receive your residence permit, send me a copy.'
Things were starting to move, I had an apartment in my name and a bank account. I wanted to declare myself for tax purposes. I wanted to be an exemplary person so that I could get papers more easily.
I remember calling the tax center in my city, they asked me: 'Is your income declared?' I said, 'No, I'm working under the table.' They told me that as long as I don't have pay slips, I can't have a tax number.
From then on, I tried to work legally. Sometimes it worked. Employers would declare me and give me a pay slip. They were taking a risk, it's forbidden to hire an undocumented worker. That's how I was able to declare myself and start paying my taxes.
Once, the tax department called me, they wanted to refund me an overpayment. They asked me for my residence permit, I didn't have one. They didn't reimburse me."
'My wife hired me, she pays me a salary'
"I went on with my life and then I met my wife. We fell madly in love. A year ago, in July 2019, we got married. It is possible to get married without papers. The town hall can request an investigation from the public prosecutor if there is any doubt about a fake marriage. In our case, no investigation was asked for. It was obvious that we married for love.
My wife and I started our small construction business last year. She is the one who declared the company, since I don't have papers. The K-bis number is in her name. She hired me even though it's illegal, she pays me a salary. I finally have regular pay slips. The company is doing well. We made a profit in the second year of operation.
In November 2019, we bought our apartment. Again, when you don't have papers, you have to find alternatives. I couldn't borrow money from the bank. It was impossible to have a classic mortgage. We obtained a 'seller's credit.' It is rare. But it is legal, it consists in paying the seller directly with a schedule established in advance. Everything is validated at the notary's office. The seller knew us and trusted us."
'I feel French, but I still have to fight'
"Today, I am a homeowner, married, I pay my taxes, my property tax, my housing tax. All that, without papers. My criminal record is clean.
I feel French, yet I'm still fighting. I received my fourth expulsion order in July. Each time I ask for a new examination of my file, my request for regularization is refused. Either I don't earn enough, or my life as a couple is not enough to regularize my situation, or... I don't know, I'm tired.
I have only had a residence permit once. It was at the beginning of the year 2020. The court ruled in my favor. It ordered the prefecture to issue me with a provisional permit while my file was being examined. It was only valid for three months, from mid-January to mid-April 2020. That was the only time I was in good standing on French territory. Then my file was rejected again.
There are often mistakes, too. As if the prefecture filled out my file any old way: on a document, they wrote that I was Algerian instead of Egyptian. They wrote that I had family in Russia. Incomprehensible. I have never set foot in that country and I don't know anyone there.
This summer we had our first child. I am now a father.
Today, I am waiting for a hearing notice from the tribunal of Montreuil. I will challenge my expulsion order there. And apply directly to the tribunal for a residence permit. I hope to win. If not, I don't see what I could provide as additional proof of my integration."