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Spanish Embassy staff in UK go on strike over pay and work conditions

Staff at Spain’s Embassy and Consulates in London, Manchester and Edinburgh have called an indefinite strike starting on March 14th which will affect the issuance of visas, passports and other services.

Spanish Embassy staff in UK go on strike over pay and work conditions
The Spanish Consulate in London at 20 Draycott Pl. It's not the first time Spanish consular staff in the UK go on strike over their pay. Photo: Eire Vila/Flickr (CC)

Workers at the Spanish Embassy in London and the three Spanish Consulates in the UK will go on strike indefinitely from Monday March 14th as they call for an improvement of their work conditions.  

“It is possible that the provision of services by the Consulates will be affected, especially in London,” Spain’s Foreign Ministry said on Thursday. 

The Embassy and Consulates are responsible for issuing Spanish passports, offering assistance to Spanish nationals, processing visas for Britons who want to move to Spain and more. 

“In any case, the provision of minimum services will be guaranteed to offer the highest possible level of attention to the public and justified emergency situations will be dealt with as a priority,” Exteriores stressed. 

The strike group is demanding a salary update after thirteen years of reported wage freezes (equivalent to the accumulated inflation from 2008 to 2021), equal pay for all workers in the same administrative category and the option of contributing to Spain’s social security system rather than the UK’s, which since Brexit offers higher benefits than the British system.

Staff members will stage a protest outside the Spanish Embassy in London at 12.30 on Monday 14th.

According to La Región Internacional, a publication aimed at Spaniards abroad, the strike has the support of the majority of the embassy and consular workers and follows months of negotiations during which the demands of the group haven’t been met. 

As expected, the news has not gone down well among Spaniards in the UK, who have taken to Twitter to complain that the consular service offered before the strike was already subpar. 

In 2021, Spain went for six months without having an Ambassador in the United Kingdom and there have been ongoing complaints for the past years about long queues, poor service and lengthy processing times, all of which have worsened as a result of Covid-19 and Brexit. The Spanish Consulate in London in particular receives a large number of negative reviews on Google and Facebook. 

There are now reportedly dozens of Spanish nationals in the UK with expired passports who have complained that the Spanish Consulate in London offers a complex and arduous cita previa (prior appointment) system for renewing their documents.  

Spanish consular staff already staged two strikes in 2015 and 2017 for reasons relating to pay and work conditions.

More than 200,000 Spanish nationals are residents in the United Kingdom. 

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VISAS

REVEALED: EU plans digital-only Schengen visa application process

Soon those non-EU nationals requested to have a Schengen visa to travel to European countries will no longer need to go to a consulate to submit the application and get a passport sticker, but will be able to apply online. 

REVEALED: EU plans digital-only Schengen visa application process

The European Commission has proposed to make the Schengen visa process completely digital.

The special visa, which allows to stay for tourism or business (but not work) in 26 European countries for up to 90 days in any 6-month period. 

Nationals of third countries such as South Africa, India, Pakistan and Sri Lanka need the Schengen Visa to visit Europe, but they are not needed for other non-EU nationals such as Britons or Americans. You can see the full list of countries who need a Schengen visa here.

The proposal will have to be approved by the European Parliament and Council, but is in line with an agreed strategy that EU governments are keen to accelerate in the aftermath of the pandemic. 

Once agreed, the system will be used by the countries that are part of the border-free Schengen area. These include EU countries, excluding Ireland (which opted out), and Bulgaria, Romania, Croatia and Cyprus (which do not issue Schengen visas). Iceland, Norway, Lichtenstein and Switzerland, which are not EU members but have signed the Schengen Convention, will be part of the new system too.

Paper-based processes required applicants to travel to consulates to submit the application and collect their passports with the visa, a procedure that “proved problematic during the COVID-19 pandemic,” the Commission said.

Some EU countries have already started to switch to digital systems but not all accept online payments for the visa fees. 

When the new system will be in place, the Commission says, applicants will be able to check on the EU Visa Application platform whether they need a visa. If so, they will create an account, fill out the application form, upload the documents and pay. 

The platform will automatically determine which Schengen country will be responsible for the application and applicants will be able to check their status and receive notifications. Travellers will then be able to access the visa online, and if needed extend it too.

“Half of those coming to the EU with a Schengen visa consider the visa application burdensome, one-third have to travel long distance to ask for a visa. It is high time that the EU provides a quick, safe and web-based EU visa application platform for the citizens of the 102 third countries that require short term visa to travel to the EU,” said Commissioner for Home Affairs Ylva Johansson.

“With some member states already switching to digital, it is vital the Schengen area now moves forward as one,” said Commission Vice-President for Promoting our European Way of Life, Margaritis Schinas.

However, first-time applicants, people with biometric data that are no longer valid or with a new travel document, will still have to go to a consulate to apply.

Family members of citizens from the EU and the European Economic Area, as well as people who need assistance, will also be able to continue to apply on paper. 

The EU Visa Application platform will be used from third countries whose nationals must be in possession of a visa to enter the EU and is different from the ETIAS (European Travel Information Authorisation), which is currently under development.

The ETIAS will be used by non-EU nationals who are exempt from visas but who will need to apply for a travel authorisation prior to their trip. This will cost 7 euros and will be free for people below the age of 18 and above 70. 

Based on the discussion between the European Parliament and Council, the Commission could start developing the platform in 2024 and make it operational in 2026. EU countries will then have five years to phase out national portals and switch to the common online system. 

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