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IMMIGRATION

Moving back to UK: Brits in Spain with EU partners warned of immigration problems

Brits living in Spain and other EU countries have been warned of complex and drawn-out administrative processes if they want to move back to the UK with a European partner before the deadline of March 2022.

Moving back to UK: Brits in Spain with EU partners warned of immigration problems
EU partners warned of problems moving back to UK. Photo: Tatyana Kazakova / Pixabay

Brits who are living in Spain with a Spanish or EU spouse or partner might not have immediate plans to move back to the UK, but new post-Brexit requirements mean that the process is already more complicated, and is set to get more difficult still from next year.

After British media highlighted a series of stories of Brits left stranded when their EU partners could not get the necessary paperwork, campaign groups are urging UK nationals to plan ahead, in case they want to move back in the future.

Jane Golding, chair of the campaign group British in Europe, said: “Families considering a move now need to be aware that the process is time-consuming and complex, and that non-UK family members will first need to apply for an EU Settled Status family permit from outside the UK before the end of March 2022 and only when they have that and move to the UK will they be able to apply for EU pre-settled status.”

Before Brexit kicked in, Brits who had moved to Spain, fell in love, and found a Spanish partner or spouse could move back to the UK with their partner without much hassle, but that has now all changed.

UK nationals can of course move back at any time they chose, but their EU spouses or partners now face lots of extra forms and paperwork to be allowed to live in the UK.

March 2022 deadline

From March 31st, 2022, the EU spouses of UK nationals will have to apply for a full visa and go through a lengthy process, if they wish to move to the UK. This includes fulfilling qualifications around language, skills and having sufficient financial resources. Those who don’t meet the criteria may not be allowed to enter, even though they are married to a Brit.

Settled-status permits needed

But what if you want to move before the March 2022 deadline? Unfortunately, as the UK has already left the EU there is still more paperwork to fill out than before. Your EU partner will first need to apply for an EU Settled Status family permit before they enter the UK, and then once in the UK apply for EU pre-settled status.

At first, this process may appear simple, but UK media has reported many cases where the process has taken months or was rejected for seemingly false reasons. This has left families divided and wondering whether moving back to the UK really was the best idea.

Those considering moving to the UK are therefore advised to leave plenty of time for this, and not rely on doing it last minute before the March deadline.

Jane Golding said: “We are worried that there are many families across the EU who do not understand the implications of stringent immigration rules now applying to UK citizens in the EU”.

“Many of us have older relatives in the UK who may need our care, or we had always planned to retire to the UK to be near family,” she added.

“The grace period given until the end of March 2022 is simply not long enough for families to make decisions to uproot and then arrange to return to the UK. We continue to lobby for a longer grace period.”

You also need to be aware that children without British citizenship will also need to go through the whole immigration process once they reach the age of 18.

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BREXIT

Anger grows as no solution found yet for in limbo UK drivers in Spain 

British drivers living in Spain are becoming increasingly disgruntled at the lack of solutions two weeks after they were told their UK licences were no longer valid, with the latest update from the UK Embassy suggesting it could still take "weeks" to reach a deal. 

Anger grows as no solution found yet for in limbo UK drivers in Spain 

There is growing discontent among UK licence holders residing in Spain who are currently in limbo, unable to drive in Spain until they either get a Spanish driving licence or a deal is finally reached between Spanish and UK authorities for the mutual exchange of licences post-Brexit.

Since May 1st 2022, drivers who’ve been residents in Spain for more than six months and who weren’t able to exchange their UK licences for Spanish ones cannot drive in Spain.

There are no official stats on how many Britons of the 407,000 UK nationals who are residents in Spain in 2022 are affected; according to the UK Embassy the “majority exchanged” as advised.

But judging by the amount of negative comments the last two updates from the British Embassy in Madrid have received, hundreds if not thousands are stuck without being able to drive in Spain.  

May 12th’s video message by Ambassador Hugh Elliott left many unhappy with the fact that the forecast for a possible licence exchange agreement will be in the “coming weeks”, when two weeks earlier Elliott had spoken of “rapidly accelerating talks”. 

Dozens of angry responses spoke of the “shocking” and “absolutely ridiculous” holdup in negotiations that have been ongoing for more than at least a year and a half, and which the UK Embassy has put down to the fact that Spain is asking the British government to give them access to DVLA driver data such as road offences, something “not requested by other EU Member States”.

Numerous Britons have explained the setbacks not being able to drive in Spain are causing them, from losing their independence to struggling to go to work, the hospital or the supermarket, especially those in rural areas with little public transport.  

“I know personally from all the messages you’ve sent in, just how incredibly disruptive all of this is for many of you,” Elliott said in response. 

“If you are struggling to get around you may find additional advice or support from your local town hall, or charities or community groups in your area and the Support in Spain website is another very useful source of organisations that can provide general support to residents.

“And if your inability to drive is putting you in a very vulnerable situation, you can always contact your nearest consulate for advice.”

There continue to be disparaging opinions in the British community in Spain over whether any pity should be felt for UK licence holders stuck without driving, as many argue they had enough time to register intent to exchange their licences, whilst others clarify that their particular set of circumstances, such as arriving after the December 2020 ‘intent to exchange’ deadline, made this impossible. 

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

So is there any light at the end of the tunnel for drivers whose UK licences aren’t valid anymore in Spain or soon won’t be?

“The agreement we’re working towards now will enable UK licence holders, whenever they arrived in Spain or arrive in the future, to exchange their UK licence for a Spanish one without needing to take a practical or a theory test,” Elliott said on Thursday May 12th of the deal they are “fully committed” to achieve.

READ ALSO: How much does it cost to get a Spanish driving licence?

And yet it’s hard for anyone to rest their hopes on this necessarily happening – sooner or later or ever – in part because the embassy advice for those with UK licences for whom it’s imperative to continue driving in Spain is that they should take steps to get their Spanish licence now, while acknowledging that in some places there are “long delays for lessons” and getting your Spanish licence “doesn’t happen overnight”.

READ ALSO: What now for UK licence holders in Spain?

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