A new online system launched in September was supposed to make it easier for foreign students in France to renew their residence permits. Instead, some have found themselves unable to prove they have the right to study and work in France, a situation that can take a serious toll on their finances and mental health.
On October 29 last year, Bernard, a Congolese student in Paris, filed to renew his residence permit using the new online service from France's Interior Ministry, ANEF-séjour.
"At the end, I got a message of acknowledgement. And from that moment until now, I've heard nothing," he told FRANCE 24. "I'm starting to have nightmares. At night I dream that I have a residence permit. I'm so happy in my dreams. But in real life, I have no residence permit."
Unlike when filing in person, the online service does not automatically issue a provisional document showing a person has made a claim, which can be used to prove a person has the right to stay in France while waiting for their new residence permit.
Bernard is still waiting for his and, as a result, has no proof of his legal status.
"I can't do anything in terms of administration. I can't look for a job to survive. I'm not on a scholarship. I can't do anything. I had some financial aid for my housing. That's been cut so I have nothing, nothing at all," he said.
"It's very difficult. I have to depend on the generosity of my cousins, my brothers. I call them, I harass them, tell them to send me something because things are difficult, otherwise I will die. This is how I am surviving at the moment.
The Interior Ministry says that more than 70 percent of 57,000 applications for residence permits have been processed, but admits there have been delays.
“In November, the accumulation of requests meant that a certain number of students rightly spoke out because they had not received a provisional document," Simon Bertoux, from the Directorate General for Foreigners in France," told FRANCE 24.
"A message was sent to the prefectures in mid-November and around ten days later the documents were sent to the students."
The authorities say there have also been some "anomalies" that are in the process of being resolved.
But for the student union UNEF, these delays are unacceptable, and worsen the already precarious situation of foreign students in the midst of the Covid-19 pandemic.
"How is the government going to compensate these students? If the government wants to provide emergency relief, it can do so. But that won't solve the problem in the long term," said UNEF president Mélanie Lucie. "There needs to be help that is not just a one-off, these students need long-term aid. When you lose a job, it's not enough just to be compensated for the month of November.
"We were told: 'it's difficult to be 20 years old in 2020'… Well, It's difficult to be a foreign student in France in 2020."