OPINION: Neither Spain nor the EU are to blame for some Britons having to leave

Some 500 Britons are to be deported from Spain, according to claims in the British media. Sue Wilson, from Bremain in Spain responds to the phoney reports and also the false accusations that somehow the Spanish and the EU are to blame for those Britons who might have to return home (but won't be deported).

OPINION: Neither Spain nor the EU are to blame for some Britons having to leave
(Photo by JAIME REINA / AFP)

If you follow the British media, you’ll have seen numerous articles (see below) about UK nationals about to be deported from Spain or leaving of their own accord, to avoid the risk. Emphasis has been placed on the alleged actions of the Spanish authorities, or the EU in general, rather than the individuals concerned.

Firstly, who is leaving Spain, who is concerned about this issue, and what are the consequences of them overstaying? It’s a broader range of individuals, with a broader range of motivations than you might expect.

Some British people, for a variety of reasons, missed the Brexit deadline of December 31st 2020. If a UK national wasn’t in the country before the end of the transition period, they couldn’t apply for residency under pre-Brexit terms. Anyone applying for residency in this post-Brexit world must meet a more demanding set of criteria and won’t benefit from the protection of the Withdrawal Agreement (WA). However, anyone who can prove they were in Spain before the end of 2020 can still apply for residency under WA terms, even after April 1st, and regardless of whether they’ve already started the application process.

Some UK press reports have included interviews with returning Brits who applied for residency but were denied. In the vast majority of cases, no reasons for these residency refusals were given, so we can only speculate. One thing is for sure: the Spanish authorities have every right to say “no” if their requirements aren’t met.


When is the deadline for Brits to apply for residency in Spain?

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

A large group returning to the UK are the “under radars” – those living in Spain without being legally registered, sometimes for years or even decades. This group draws little sympathy from “resident” Brits who feel they have done the right thing and paid their taxes.

Meanwhile, the reaction from many “under radars” appears to be surprise or shock. There should be no surprise, as they’ve had four years to confirm the requirements and start the residency application process. However, we can’t know everyone’s personal circumstances. Whatever these may be, deciding which country to call home is a tough choice even under the best of circumstances. Now that element of choice has been removed.

Brits were always required to apply for residency after spending three months in Spain, assuming they intended to stay. While we were members of the EU, Spain, and many other EU countries, have taken little action about overstayers. Many people who will become “undocumented” on April 1st clearly think that Spain’s attitude to their presence won’t change, and they can continue to live under the radar. It’s a big risk, considering the consequences – a fine, deportation, and possibly being barred from re-entry into the EU (not just Spain) for up to five years.

Time will tell how this scenario pans out, but overstayers should be aware that they are no longer EU citizens and will be treated as third country nationals. They will face the same immigration policies that apply to citizens of America or Algeria. While third country national rules may be new to Brits, the Spanish authorities have been dealing with them for years. Despite suggestions in the media to the contrary, these rules are not new, and the Spanish, or any other EU government, are not to blame for the position we’ve been put in. They are merely enforcing rules that apply to non-EU members – a consequence of Brexit that the British government, if not all British citizens, would have been very well aware of. Indeed, the British government helped to write those rules.

For Brits in Spain who need to apply for residency, there’s still time. If you can prove that you were living here before December 31st, you can apply and benefit from the WA. You’ll need hard copy proof of where you were living – such as a mortgage or rental agreement – and to show when you arrived in Spain. Even if you haven’t started the process by April 1st, you won’t be classed as an illegal immigrant if you intend to apply for residency or your application is being processed. First-time residency applicants can start the process online, so you can put yourself in the system while awaiting personal appointments.

The British media has claimed 500 people are to be deported when their 90-day visitation period expires on March 31st.

Is that number accurate? It’s probably as accurate as the much-mooted figure of 350,000 Brits residing in Spain – clearly, this was always a significant underestimate of the true number.

With the 90-day rule being applied, and a raft of new residency applications coming forth, we might finally find out how many Brits really did make Spain their home.

A warm welcome to all the newbies!

Sue Wilson

Chair – Bremain in Spain

Member comments

  1. Bottom line is, since Brexit you need permission to remain in any of the EU 27 countries, here in France it’s called “titre de séjour ” so, if you want to become a resident get it , if not ,enjoy a 90 day stay then leave.

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UK driving licences in Spain: When no news is bad news

The UK Ambassador to Spain has given an update on the driving licence debacle, with nothing new to genuinely give hope to the thousands of in-limbo drivers whose increasing frustration has led one group to try and take matters into their own hands.

UK driving licences in Spain: When no news is bad news

It’s been almost five months since UK driving licence holders residing in Spain were told they could no longer drive on Spanish roads. 

Since that fateful May 1st, an unnamed number of the approximately 400,000 UK nationals who are residents in Spain, as well as hundreds if not thousands of Spaniards and foreign nationals who passed their driving test in the UK, have not been able to use their vehicles in Spain or even rent one. 

What adds insult to injury is that British tourists visiting Spain can rent a car without any issue. The fact that Spanish licence holders living in the UK can also continue to exchange their permits in the UK 21 months after Brexit came into force is equally hard to swallow.

READ MORE: ‘An avoidable nightmare’ – How UK licence holders in Spain are affected by driving debacle

The latest update from UK Ambassador to Spain Hugh Elliott on September 27th has done little to quell the anger and sense of helplessness felt by those caught in this bureaucratic rabbit hole.

“I wanted to talk to you personally about the driving licences negotiations, which I know are continuing to have a serious impact on many of you,” Elliott began by saying.

“As the government’s representative in Spain, I hear and understand your frustrations. I too am frustrated by the pace.

“We previously thought, we genuinely thought, that we’d have concluded negotiations by the summer. 

“Many of you have quite rightly mentioned that I expressed the hope to you that we’d have you back on the road by the end of July.

“Now the truth is it has taken much longer, as there have been unforeseen issues that we have been working very hard to resolve. 

“And I’m as disappointed as you are by the length of time that this is actually taking. 

“But, please, be assured that we are resolving those issues, one by one. There are only a couple of issues left, but they are complex.”

It has previously been suggested by the UK Embassy that Spain has asked for data provision to form part of the exchange agreement, and that British authorities were reluctant to share said information on British drivers’ records, including possible infractions. 

Whether this is still one of the causes of the holdups is unknown, given how opaque the Embassy is being in this regard. 

“We’re working on this every day, it remains a priority,” the UK Ambassador continued.

“There is a lot going on behind the scenes, even if it doesn’t feel like it to you. 

“I know too that you want a timescale and you want an update after every meeting.

“But I’m afraid I just can’t give you those things in this negotiation.” 

The ambassador’s words are unlikely to appease those who are still unable to drive. 

A few weeks ago, a Facebook group called “Invasion of the British embassy in Madrid for the DL exchange issue” was set up, which so far has more than 400 members. 

The group’s administrator, Pascal Siegmund, is looking to set up a meeting with the British Embassy and Spanish authorities to shed light on the impact that not being allowed to drive is having on the life of thousands of UK licence holders in Spain. 

Many of those affected are sharing their stories online, explaining how, due to administrative errors on the part of Spain’s DGT traffic authority, they were unable to process their licence exchange before the deadline. 

This contrasts with the little sympathy shown by UK licence holders who were able to exchange and other commentators, who accuse those in limbo of not having bothered to complete the process, arguing that it’s essentially their own fault.

READ ALSO: Not all Brits in Spain who didn’t exchange UK driving licences are at fault 

“Many of you also continue to ask why you can’t drive while the talks are continuing,” Elliott remarked.

“It is not in the gift of the UK government to reinstate the measures which previously allowed you to continue to drive whilst the negotiations were ongoing earlier in the year. 

“As we said previously, we did request the reinstatement of those measures several times, but this wasn’t granted.”

It’s worth noting that since the news broke on May 1st that UK licence holders residing in Spain for more than six months could no longer drive, no Spanish news outlet has covered the story again. 

Pressure from citizen groups such as the one recently set up and increased awareness about the issue in English-language news sites such as The Local Spain is perhaps the best chance in-limbo drivers have of their voices being heard and the driving licence debacle being finally fixed. 

“I’d say we’re genuinely still making progress,” UK Ambassador Elliott concluded, practically the same message as in previous updates.

“I get how frustrating it is to hear that, but we are making progress. We’re in discussions almost daily about outstanding issues. 

“And I remain very optimistic that we will reach an agreement and hope it will be soon. 

“But as I say, I can’t give you a definitive timetable. 

“And so, the advice that we have been giving all along, which is that you should consider taking the Spanish test if you do need to drive urgently, remains valid. Though we appreciate that’s hard.”