The struggle of foreigners in Spain battling with the administration

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The struggle of foreigners in Spain battling with the administration

Before the coronavirus crisis, the departments managing the different administrative procedures for foreign citizens were already overwhelmed, but the post-Covid era makes things longer and more complicated. 

In Spain, the expats and immigrants who have to be in contact with the administrations are battling permanently: whether it is for an “empadronamiento” at the town hall, a NIE, a residence certificate, a TIE (tarjeta de identidad de un extranjero), a social security number, a digital certificate or a resolution which gives the right to live in Spain, the police stations’ offices, government delegations, Social Insurance or the Hacienda (the Spanish tax authorities) are just jammed to the point that most of the time it is impossible to get an appointment. Preventive measures against Covid have reduced the number of civil servants and some departments have hardly reopened to the public. Since we have been confronted with the pandemic, the government has been forced to start digitising most administrative procedures but inevitably some have to be done in person. There is a limit to digitisation.

With the end of the state of emergency and the feeble recovery of procedures in-person, the public reception capacity of the police and the administrations in general, is more saturated than ever, because thousands of procedures were on standby: now they have been slowed down or even stopped.

The untouchable appointment

In the main cities of Spain, getting an appointment has become impossible except for “gestorerias”, law firms or relocation companies, that are used to spending hours behind screens trying to get one… sometimes unsuccessfully. And this trophy (an appointment is sometimes sold at a high price by unscrupulous offices) is just a first step: indeed, certain documents as common as a residence certificate for a European Union citizen have become surprisingly hard to obtain, with requirements that are different depending on the province and sometimes totally far-fetched.

On top of this, in the 3 provinces of the Communidad Valenciana (Castellon, Valencia and Alicante), the police stations have received the order not to issue anymore white NIEs (the famous Foreigners’ Identity Number), a trophy that allows you to open a bank account, get a phone number or a social security number to be able to work… However, the softwares of ALL administrations, most banks and water, gas and insurance companies only work with a Spanish DNI or NIE and hardly ever with a passport number. As a consequence, the move of many Europeans is totally blocked. So they have to apply directly for a residency status, which requires 10 times more paperwork, to get the famous NIE number appearing on the small green card… and this is if they manage to get an appointment and have all the right documents requested by the police.

The vast majority of civil servants find this situation regrettable and ask their respective ministries for more human and material resources. But Spain is not the only country with these problems.

Therefore, the life of a foreigner (especially those from countries outside the Schengen area) is not simple: without a valid residence permit, banks block their accounts, travel is more complicated and employment contracts are harder to get with suspicious employers.

According to figures from the National Statistics Institute, more than five million foreigners live in Spain, 63% of whom are not EU citizens.

Laurence Lemoine

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