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Brits applying for Spanish citizenship face agonizing wait

Since the Brexit vote, more and more Britons resident in Spain have taken the decision to apply for Spanish citizenship, to secure their rights as a European and guarantee their future in Spain.

Brits applying for Spanish citizenship face agonizing wait
Photo: alfonsodetomas/Depositphotos

A new survey by EuroCitizens, an association formed by a group of UK citizens living, working and studying in Spain, questioned more than 500 British residents in Spain about their views on applying for Spanish citizenship.

Data from Spain’s Ministry of Justice, which deals with citizenship applications reveals that the number of Brits who have applied for Spanish nationality has multiplied six-fold since the June 2016 referendum.

During the whole of 2018, the ministry registered 209 applications from Britons, a huge rise on the 50 that made the application in 2015 and  it seems even more have applied during 2019. 


Eurocitizens discovered that the main reason cited by those considering taking Spanish nationality was uncertainty over their future status in Spain after Brexit.

Some 73 percent of those respondents who have applied for Spanish nationality said they “did so to protect their rights as European and Spanish citizens”.

Half of them expressed a desire to continue working and/or studying in Spain or other EU countries, while 20 percent said they were looking for a general safeguard of their rights.

But the process of applying for Spanish citizenship is so long and drawn-out and requires renouncing British citizenship, at least symbolically, as Spain will not allow dual citizenship for Brits, that many people have been put off the idea.

For starters, Spain requires permanent residency for a minimum of ten years before Britons are eligible for Spanish citizenship, double the length of time needed for Brits living in France or EU citizens to gain settled status in the UK. 

Then even for those who qualify, the process is slow.

“Candidates have to take two exams (on  the Spanish language and general and constitutional knowledge of Spain) and complete administrative procedures in both countries, which means that it takes approximately 9 months to get the required documentation ready before making the official application,” according to a statement from Eurocitizens. 

The survey revealed that 32 percent of respondents had been put off applying for Spanish nationality because they didn’t want to renounce their British citizenship and provoke “an unnecessary crisis of identity”.

For those that have applied, 40 percent who answered the survey said they had put in the application this year.

People also complained that the process seemed to grant citizenship to some applicants quicker than others, with no regard for when the application was made.

A whopping 77 percent of those who have applied in the last three years admit that they have no news as to the state of their application and when or even if it will be granted.

Camilla Hillier-Fry, Vicepresident of EuroCitizens, said Brexit and the application process had forced some people into a terrible limbo, citing the experience of her daughter.

“Isabel was born in Spain, has been educated here and has applied for Spanish nationality. When the Brexit referendum took place, she was just about to start university in Spain, and this year she will complete her degree,” explains Hillier-Fry.

“She wants to do a Master’s degree in northern Europe, but has not yet been granted Spanish nationality. When she applies for the Masters course, she may have fewer chances because she is not a European citizen and if she stays out of Spain for longer than a year, she could lose her status of long-term resident. She may have to choose between her future and the country where she has made her home; it is both absurd and unjust.”



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Brexit: Brits in EU feel European and don’t want to return home

The majority of Britons who live in the EU, Norway, Iceland or Switzerland and are protected under the Brexit agreement feel European and intend to remain in Europe permanently, but many have concerns about travel problems, a new survey reveals.

Brexit: Brits in EU feel European and don't want to return home

The research also shows that problems exist and “travel is where most issues relating to the new status currently occur”. For instance, border officials are still stamping passports of UK citizens with residence rights under the EU UK withdrawal agreement, even though they shouldn’t.

“There is constant confusion around passport stamping. I was ‘stamped in’ to France on a short trip… but could not find anyway to be ‘stamped out’ again. I think I can only spend 90 days in other EU countries, but have no idea how anyone can check or enforce that – until someone decides to try. It’s a mess,” was one of the answers left in an open question.

“Every time I go through a Schengen border control, I need to provide both my passport and Aufenthaltstitel card [resident permit in Germany] and watch to check that they don’t stamp my passport. As I am currently travelling a lot that’s been 20-odd times this year…” another respondent said.

The survey was carried out by Professor Tanja Bueltmann, historian of migration and diaspora at the University of Strathclyde in Glasgow, between October and November 2022. About 1,139 UK citizens replied.

Of these, 80 per cent found acquiring their new status easy or very easy, 60.7 per cent feel their rights are secure, while 39.3 per cent have concerns about their status going forward.

Staying permanently

More than three quarters (76.6 per cent) of respondents said they plan to live permanently in the EU or the other countries of the European Economic Area and Switzerland. In fact, 65.7 per cent said that Brexit has increased the likelihood of this choice.

For some, the decision is linked to the difficulty to bring non-British family members to the UK under new, stricter immigration rules.

“My German wife and I decided we no longer wanted to live in UK post Brexit referendum. In particular, we were affected by the impact of immigration law […] We cannot now return to UK on retirement as I cannot sponsor her on my pension. We knew it was a one-way journey. Fortunately, I could revive an application for German citizenship,” was a testimony.

“My husband is a US citizen and getting him a visa for the UK was near impossible due to my low income as a freelance journalist. We realized under EU law, moving to an EU country was easier. We settled on Austria as we had both lived there before… we could speak some German, and we like the mountains,” said another respondent.

Professor Bueltmann noted that the loss of free movement rights in the EU could be a factor too in the decision of many to stay where they are.

Citizenship and representation

Among those who decided to stay, 38.2 per cent are either applying or planning to apply for a citizenship and 28.6 per cent are thinking about it.

A key finding of the research, Bueltmann said, is that the vast majority of British citizens do not feel politically represented. Some 60 per cent of respondents said they feel unrepresented and another 30 per cent not well represented.

Another issue is that less than half (47.5 per cent) trust the government of their country of residence, while a larger proportion (62 per cent) trust the European Union. Almost all (95.6 per cent) said they do not trust the UK government.

Feeling European

The survey highlights the Brexit impacts on people’s identity too. 82.6 per cent of respondents said they see themselves as European, a higher proportion than those identifying as British (68.9 per cent).

“Brexit has really left me unsure of what my identity is. I don’t feel British, and I certainly don’t identify with the mindset of a lot of British people who live there. Yet, I am not Danish either. So, I don’t really know anymore!” said one of the participants in the survey.

Professor Bueltmann said the survey “demonstrates that Brexit impacts continue to evolve: this didn’t just stop because the transition period was over or a deadline for an application had been reached. Consequently, Brexit continues to shape the lives and experiences of British citizens in the EU/EEA and Switzerland in substantial, sometimes life-altering, ways.”

Considering the results of the study, Professor Bueltmann recommends policy makers in the EU and the UK to address the issue of lack of representation, for instance creating a joint UK-EU citizens’ stakeholder forum.

The report also recommends the UK government to rebuild trust with British citizens in the EU introducing voting rights for life and changing immigration rules to allow British-European families to return more easily. 

This article was prepared in cooperation with Europe Street News.