Residency for Brits in Spain: ‘We’d encourage second-home owners to register’

With the Brexit transition period slipping away Michael Harris, from Madrid-based Eurocitizens group, outlined to a British parliamentary committee on Tuesday some of the problems that Brits in Spain and notably second-home owners are facing.

Residency for Brits in Spain: 'We'd encourage second-home owners to register'
Photo: Deirdre Carney
Michael Harris was one of three members of the British in Europe citizens' rights group which gave evidence to the parliamentary committee on the Future Relationship with the European Union.
Their input focussed on how the Brexit Withdrawal Agreement agreed between London and Brussels was being implemented across Europe, or more to the point how it still hasn't been in most places.
The committee heard how most EU countries were lagging behind the UK when it came to ensuring the rights for Britons in the EU that protected by the Withdrawal Agreement are written into national law.
Indeed out of 27 EU countries only Italy, the Netherlands and Malta have begin implementing the citizens' rights part of the agreement, agreed by both sides in March 2018.
Harris, from the Eurocitizens group and British in Europe, spelled out the issue facing Brits in Spain with only six months of the transition period remaining.
“Transition is disappearing, it's slipping away. Time is of the essence and also the anxiety levels of people are very high,” he said.
Harris said the pandemic and the severe lockdown had knocked the Spanish government's efforts to implement the Withdrawal Agreement well off course.
“Things were going fine in Spain until the lockdown… we had meetings with the Spanish government,” he said.
“Since then everything has gone haywire. We have had a very severe lockdown and things are only beginning to move now.
He said the Spanish government is announcing details of ID card Brits will need next month.
Michael Harris from Eurocitizens gives evidence to the parliamentary committee.
We at least know that Spain has opted for a so-called “declaratory system” meaning the rights of British residence are in theory guaranteed without any application process – in contrast to the constitutive system France is employing. 
But even without the obligatory application process Brits in France are facing, it doesn't mean everything will be straightforward for Brits in Spain and in particular those British second home owners who are not residents.
“Because Spain is a declaratory system it doesn't mean everything is plain sailing,” Harris said.
“There's no legal deadline, there's no legal cliff after which people will become illegal, but in practice you will need to demonstrate your new status after December 31st to be able to travel in and out of the Schengen zone and to access services in Spain.
“To get this documentation you'll have to go through the system, and Brits will no longer be in the more benevolent EU system but the more cumbersome, more difficult third country system.
“That's something we are worried about. There may be people who can't demonstrate they have the rights under the Withdrawal Agreement.”
Harris also encouraged second-home owners who spend a lot of time in Spain to register as residents or face only being able to spend 90 days in Spain out of every 180-day period after December 31st.

“If you are spending up to six months a year in Spain we would encourage them to register in order to access healthcare but also to meet their fiscal obligations,” he said.
“Really under EU law after being three months in a country you should register, so we think people should register if they want to spend that amount of time in Spain.”
You can watch British in Europe's evidence to the parliamentary committee by clicking HERE.


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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.