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BREXIT

Residency in Spain for UK nationals: Can a lawyer fix application problems and speed up the process?

Several of our British readers have contacted us to say they're having problems getting their residency in Spain, and questioning why there are so many delays. We’ve spoken to several lawyers to find out what most the common residency issues are, how to correct them and why getting legal help might speed up the process.

How lawyers can help with residency issues in Spain
Pascal POCHARD-CASABIANCA / AFP

Gerard Martínez from Balcells Group in Barcelona explained to The Local that the vast majority of residency problems they are seeing now involve foreigners not knowing the best path to residency and not being sure about what their options are.

Most British people who weren’t able to settle in Spain before December 31st 2020 are unaware of how they can legally gain residency in Spain now, he told us.

Mark McMillan from Sun Lawyers in Alicante on the other hand said that most of his clients were those still trying to apply for their TIE residency cards. “If a British citizen obtained their padrón certificate before the end of 2020, the door is still open for them to submit a residency application under the Withdrawal Agreement,” he told The Local Spain.

“But problems arise when people do not provide enough evidence of legally residing in Spain before the end of 2020,” he explained. McMillan added that the padrón certificate is the most widely accepted form of evidence.

READ ALSO: Empadronamiento in Spain: What is it and how do I apply?

But what about those who did not get their padrón certificates for whatever reason before the December 2020 deadline?

Diego Echavarria from Fairway Lawyers in Marbella told The Local that the majority of their time is currently taken up with applying for appeals for those people who have had their residency applications rejected, specifically for not providing enough or the right kind of evidence. 

“The most common rejection reason I see is because people did not have medical health insurance in Spain issued before 2021,” he explained.

“Or maybe they were asked to send extra documentation as proof that they were living here before 2021 and they didn’t,” he said.

Echavarria went on to explain that many British people were trying to apply for residency whilst they were still in the UK and were not actually legally living in Spain at the time, so are therefore not covered under the Withdrawal Agreement.

“Many of these people don’t qualify and get rejected,” he told us.

READ ALSO: How much money do Britons who don’t fall under the Withdrawal Agreement need to move to Spain?

“Documents such as rental contracts do not work as evidence because of cases such as these. You must prove that you were physically in Spain by providing evidence such as transport tickets, mobile phone contracts, credit card receipts from petrol stations, and receipts from supermarkets and restaurants,” he explains.

Photo: PHILIPPE HUGUEN/AFP

“The first thing I do when I get a new client who is having issues with gaining residency under the Withdrawal Agreement, is ask them to provide me with their bank statements over the last six months, so we can get all this paperwork together”.

READ ALSO: Brexit Q&A: What happens if I didn’t register as a resident in Spain by December 31st?

Why are the residency applications taking so long to be processed?

“There are several reasons, but basically all are related to Covid,” explains Martínez.

“First of all, during the first months of lockdown in Spain, the Spanish administration had trouble reorganising itself and figuring out how to manage all the procedures that were carried out in person before. That generated the severe delays that we are still seeing now,” he tells us. 

“Furthermore, due to all existing restrictions, it is harder to get an appointment to get your residency card, hence the whole application process lasts longer”. 

As well as the pandemic – public servants falling ill or having to work from home – Echavarria believes that many of the delays were caused by the fact that everyone was trying to apply or exchange their residency cards at the last minute, all at the same time, and that authorities didn’t have the resources to keep up with the demand, creating a huge backlog in applications.

READ ALSO: BREXIT: What Britons need to know about visas for Spain

So how long are residency applications actually taking to be processed right now and what can you expect?

Martínez from Balcells Group says that on average, residency applications for his clients are taking between three to six months to be processed from start to finish.

Echavarría from Fairway Lawyers agrees, saying that his clients average around four to five months to get their residency cards. “It takes around two months to be approved, then you have to wait and arrange your appointment for fingerprinting, followed by waiting for another appointment to pick up your card when it’s ready,” he said.

Can getting legal help sort out these issues and speed up the residency process at all?

“Yes, we have a tried and tested system to be able to assist our clients to obtain their TIE cards,” says McMillan. “Our law firm has extensive knowledge to assist residency applications and we speak multiple languages, allowing for the process to go more smoothly,” he adds.

“At our office, we try to devote as much time as needed for the client to fully understand all the options they have, and then, after analysing their situation, we devise the best possible alternative to help,” explains Martínez.

“Yes it definitely speeds things up, not only because foreigners save a lot of time when it comes to knowing what documents to prepare and actually preparing them, but also because we submit all applications online through a platform enabled by the Spanish government, which is just for lawyers,” he adds. “We also know how to get appointments faster, even during these times”.

Echavarria tells us that hiring a lawyer can definitely help because they know all the correct paperwork to provide with each application and exactly what evidence to gather, from lots of experience. “Getting a lawyer can also help avoid rejections and having to go through an appeal,” he explains. “But most lawyers cannot help speed up the actual process once the application has been submitted,” he warns, saying that it will still take four to five months to get the residency card in your hand.

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BREXIT

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.”

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