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ANALYSIS

ANALYSIS: ‘I’m sad to be leaving Spain’ – Despite the efforts many Britons have not registered

Despite the bureaucratic challenges that come with getting thousands of under-the-radar Brits in Spain on the system, the UK Embassy and different support groups have succesfully helped many register. However, not all UK nationals in Spain have been able to stay, writes Graham Keeley. 

ANALYSIS: 'I'm sad to be leaving Spain' - Despite the efforts many Britons have not registered
A man walks past a closed British pub in Benidorm on February 15, 2021. Photo: José Jordan/AFP

“I am sad to be leaving but it is the right time. All the problems of Brexit bureaucracy mean it is the right time to return to the UK.”

These were the words of a British woman who had spent more than 15 years living outside the system in Spain, without ever registering with the authorities or ever opening a bank account.

When she needed healthcare, she resorted to the E111 tourist health card.

Contrary to the cliché, she was not a retiree sipping gin and tonics on the Costas, but a woman in her 40s who lived in Barcelona. She did not want to be named.

She had slipped through the net of UK nationals which British diplomats were trying to reach.

From car boot sales to pop-up events outside supermarkets or Facebook, they used every means to get the message over: if you want to stay on in Spain once the Brexit drawbridge comes down, register for residence.

It has not been an easy job.

Over the past four years, the sheer numbers of British people living in Spain have made this a marathon task.

Spain has by far the highest contingent of British residents in the European Union.

By the latest count, there are 366,000 UK citizens registered with the Spanish government, some 75,000 more than before the Brexit referendum in 2016.

A singer performs in Anti-Brexit British bar during throws mock EU goodbye party in Jimera de Libar on January 1, 2021. (Photo by JORGE GUERRERO/AFP)

Some 50 per cent of these are retired or people who have chosen to retire early to enjoy life under the Spanish sun.

This presented a problem in itself as some of these did not have a good command of Spanish or struggled with being isolated or having disabilities.

So, as the torturous negotiations between London and Brussels progressed , an equally tough task befell UK diplomats to try to prepare Britons for the afterlife – that time after Brexit.

Despite all the odds, it seems to have gone fairly well.

A recent internal Foreign Office poll found that Britons living here were among the best informed about what they needed to do to stay on in Spain, compared to other UK residents scattered across Europe.

However, the same survey also found that two other issues which concerned Britons was bureaucracy, which many who live in Spain will know well, as well as the language barrier.

Diplomats and agencies they have been working for have been trying to reach those who do not speak Spanish well or those who struggled to wade through the mountain of forms which have to be filled in to attain the Holy Grail – residency.

Hugh Elliott, British Ambassador to Spain and Andorra, said: “Spain has by far the largest number of UK residents in the EU so I, together with Embassy and consulate staff, have been working hard to make sure that all British people who live in Spain had official information and understood what actions they needed to take to protect their rights under the Withdrawal Agreement.”

Mr Elliott said the British government had worked with the Spanish authorities and 400 partner organisations, charities and community groups to get the message across.

A key player was the UK National Support Fund, which is funded by the British government, but run in Spain by Age, the Association Babelia and the International Organisation for Migration.

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Some 126,000 British nationals have taken advantage of these services which include online support or a telephone helpline.

About 3,000 Britons have been helped with their residency applications. They have submitted 1,000 applications on behalf of British residents in Spain.

Despite all this, many Britons still seem confused about what the future holds.

Since January 1st, British nationals who do not have residency – or are not in the process of applying for this – can only stay in Spain for up to 90 days out of every 180.

Without a visa, those who stay on living under the radar may face problems if they want to access public services in Spain.

A spokesman for Spain’s Interior Ministry told me that those British nationals who do not apply for residency will be “advised of the situation”.

“We will act with proportionality,” he said.

It does not seem that stories of Brits being deported from Spain are likely to happen.

Member comments

  1. I dare say the increase in numbers of UK residents is due in part to the registering of those who have been living under the radar .

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For members

ANALYSIS

Will Spain have a sixth coronavirus wave?

While Covid infections are rising across Europe, Spain has managed to keep cases and hospitalisations low so far this autumn. But there are already signs things may be changing. 

people walk without masks on ramblas barcelona during covid times
Spain’s epidemiological situation is the most favourable in the EU and a sixth wave but will there be a sixth wave? Photo: Pau Barrena/AFP

Coronavirus cases have been rising quickly across Europe since October but not so in Spain, which has maintained one of the lowest infection, hospitalisation and death rates on the continent. 

According to prestigious medical publication The Lancet, Spain could well be on the verge of reaching herd immunity, a statement the country’s Health Minister tends to agree with.  

READ ALSO: Has Spain almost reached herd immunity?

Add the favourable epidemiological indicators to the almost 80 percent rate of full vaccination of Spain’s entire population and the immunity claim doesn’t seem so far-fetched. 

But if there’s one thing this pandemic has taught governments around the world – or should have – is to not assume Covid-19 can be eradicated after a few encouraging weeks. 

Not that Spain is letting down its guard, the general public continues to take mask wearing in indoor spaces seriously (outdoors as well even though not required in many situations) and there are still some regional restrictions in place. 

READ MORE: What Covid-19 restrictions are in place in Spain’s regions in November?

And yet, Covid infections are on the rise again, although not at the pace seen during previous waves of the virus. 

On Thursday November 4th Spain re-entered the Health Ministry’s “medium risk” category after the national fortnightly infection rate surpassed 50 cases per 100,000 people.

From Friday 5th to Monday 8th, it climbed five more points up to 58 cases per 100,000 inhabitants. 

It’s the biggest rise since last July but this shouldn’t be cause for alarm, especially as hospitalizations, ICU admissions and deaths all remain low and steady.

A closer look at the stats shows that 1.52 percent of hospital beds across the country are currently occupied by Covid patients, 4.41 percent in the case of ICU beds. 

Daily Covid deaths in October were under 20 a day, the lowest rate since August 2020. 

With all this in mind, is a sixth wave of the coronavirus in Spain at all likely?

According to a study by the Institute of Health Metrics and Evaluation (IHME) at the University of Washington, Spain will have a sixth wave.

The Seattle-based research group predicts an increase in infections in Spain from the second half of November, which will skyrocket in December reaching the highest peak towards the end of the year. 

The country would reportedly need about 24,000 beds for Covid patients (4,550 for critical ones) and there would be almost 2,000 deaths. 

Increased social interactions would mean that on December 30th alone, daily Covid infections in Spain could reach 92,000, the study claims. 

If restrictions were tightened ahead of the holiday period, including the use of face masks, the sixth wave’s peak wouldn’t be as great, IHME states

It’s worth noting that the IHME wrongly predicted that Spain wouldn’t be affected by a fifth wave whereas it ended up causing more than a million infections and 5,000 deaths. 

two elderly women in san sebastian during covid times
The vaccination rate among over 70s in Spain is almost 100 percent. Photo: Ander Guillenea/AFP
 

The latest message from Spain’s Health Minister Carolina Darias is that currently “the virus is cornered” in the country, whilst admitting that there was a slight rise in cases. 

“I do not know if there will be a sixth wave, but first we must remember that immunisation is not complete in all patients despite vaccinations,” Dr. José Polo , president of the Spanish Society of Primary Care Physicians (Semergen), told El Periódico de España

“That’s because 100 percent effectiveness doesn’t exist in any drug, or in any medicine”.

Despite having one of the highest vaccination rates in the world, Spain still has around 4.2 million eligible people who haven’t been vaccinated, mostly people aged 20 to 40. 

The majority of Covid hospitalisations across Spain are patients who have not been vaccinated: 90 percent in the Basque Country, 70 percent in Catalonia and 60 percent in Andalusia.

Among Covid ICU patients, 90 percent of people in critical condition across all regions are unvaccinated. 

“Although there are many people vaccinated in Spain, there will be an increase in cases because we know how the virus is transmitted and when the cold comes and the evenings are darker we will tend to go indoors, and the virus spreads there,” Cesar Carballo, Vice President of the Spanish Society of Emergency Medicine of Madrid, told La Sexta news.

The World Health Organisation (WHO) has already warned that Europe is at a  “critical point of regrowth”  and that it has once again become the “epicentre”  of the pandemic, due to the generalised spike in cases in recent weeks.

Does that mean that Spain’s daily infections won’t be in the thousands again as winter nears? Or that regional governments won’t reintroduce Covid measures ahead of Christmas to prevent this from happening?

Nothing is for certain, but as things stand Spain’s epidemiological situation is the most favourable in the EU and a sixth wave seems unlikely, but not impossible.

The Spanish government continues to push ahead with its vaccination campaign, reopening its vaccination centres, administering booster shots to its most vulnerable and considering vaccinating under 12s to meet an immunity target of 90 percent. 

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