How many Britons live in Spain in 2022?

The conventional wisdom was that Brexit would cause a mass exodus of UK nationals from Spain's costas. The reality hasn't been so simple, as the latest immigration and residency stats from the Spanish government suggest.

How many Britons live in Spain in 2022?
Britons sit in a British bar in Benidorm on January 31, 2020. Photo: Jose Jordan/AFP

In the aftermath of Brexit, it was widely reported in the British tabloids that there would be a mass exodus of Britons from Spain.

Tens of thousands would sell their properties and leave, Brits were told. British pubs and snooker bars up and down the country would be forced to close down for lack of business, it was thought. A combination of Brexit red tape and notoriously difficult Spanish bureaucracy would, the story went, force Britons from the Costa Brava to the Costa Blanca out in droves.

But the reality hasn’t been that simple. In fact, according to recent data of foreign residents in Spain from the Spanish Ministry of Inclusion, Social Security and Immigration, the number of Britons resident in Spain increased by 7 percent in 2021 compared to 2020.

How many Britons reside in Spain in 2022?

By December 31st 2021, there were 407,628 UK nationals officially living in Spain. In the previous year’s report, the number was 381,448 Britons, and in 2019 the figure stood at 359,471.

This comes as part of a broader trend in Spain’s population. The number of foreign residents in Spain stands, officially, at a whopping 6 million, a figure which represents an increase of 3.6 percent (equivalent to 207,093 people) in the last year alone. 

The latest data from Spain’s National Statistics Institute (INE) states that there were 282,124 Brits registered in Spain in 2021, more than 100,000 fewer than the Migration Ministry’s figures. This may be explained by the fact that INE primarily uses local census information from the town halls (padrón address registrations, birth, deaths etc) rather than migration documents. Either way, INE’s number of Brits in Spain by the end of 2021 is also 30,000 higher than the previous year (250,392).

The Local has analysed other data included in the ministry report relating to UK nationals in Spain to see what other conclusions can be drawn.

British growth leading the way

Of the new arrivals, Colombian nationals are the group that has grown the most, followed by Venezuelans, British and Italians. While a British exodus was expected, the group leaving Spain at the highest rate is Ecuadorians. 

Even as a third-party, non-EU country, the number of Britons resident in Spain – for many of whom their residency is secured by the Brexit Withdrawal Agreement – have experienced a rate of growth on par with the Italians compared to 2020, up by 7 percent compared to 2020.

Britons in Spain are older than most

The average age of the resident foreign population is almost 40 years old and there is, generally speaking, slightly more men than women. The sociological profile of British residents in Spain may be unsurprising to many. The average age is 54 years old, considerably higher than other non-Europeans migrant groups, like Pakistanis and Moroccans (both with median ages of 33 years). 

Around half have swapped their residency cards for TIEs

The figures show that of the Britons living in Spain prior to December 31st 2020 (and thus protected by the Brexit Withdrawal Agreement), most still have the old green residency document, but not by a large margin.

According to the data, 44 percent of Britons resident in Spain have made the swap and now have TIE cards (approximately 179,000), while 55 percent (226,000) are still using their old green residency documents. 

The UK Embassy in Madrid as well as Spanish authorities have for more than a year now strongly encouraged UK nationals protected by the WA to exchange their paper or cardboard Certificado de Registro documents for non-EU TIEs (Tarjeta de Identidad de Extranjero). There is however no deadline for the exchange and the old residency papers remain valid.   

Authorities praise the fact that TIEs are more durable, work as photo ID, are biometric and ensure easy travel across the EU, as in some cases border officials haven’t recognised the green certificates. By contrast, some green certificate holders prefer their original documents as they have no expiry date and don’t have to be renewed as in the case of TIEs.

READ: How Brits can exchange their old green residency documents for TIEs

Interestingly, the migration stats show that 2,467 Britons who haven’t been able to get WA protection either because they arrived in Spain after Brexit, or because they didn’t register previously and haven’t been able to prove they were living in the country before December 31st 2020. For this group, non-EU rules apply and access to Spanish residency can depend on work, marriage or financial means. 

British residents cluster together

Spanish Migration Ministry figures show that they vast majority of Britons resident in Spain with the new TIE card protected by the Withdrawal Agreement live in the provinces of Alicante, Málaga, the Balearic Islands, Barcelona, ​​Murcia, Santa Cruz de Tenerife, Almería, Las Palmas de Gran Canaria, Madrid, Cádiz and Granada – classic British hotspots in major cities and coastal areas. 

The Ministry has perhaps not factored in those with old green residency certificates as they are less likely to have updated their address details recently, as is required from TIE applicants. 

Britons still rank high among both EU or non-EU countries

With the number of Britons resident in Spain increasing despite Brexit, Britain sits third in the league table of total of foreign residents overall: First are the Romanians, with 1.09 million residents, then Moroccans (830,000) and Brits in third with 407,000 nationals resident in Spain, followed by the Italians (377,000), Chinese (230,000), Bulgarians (202,000), French (185,000) and Germans (185,000).

The increase in Britons resident in Spain comes despite both Brexit and the Covid-19 pandemic

Not only is the rise in Britons settling in Spain surprising when considered in the context of Brexit, but the increase has also bucked the trend and continued to grow despite the unprecedented global COVID-19 pandemic. In fact, according to figures, the number of Brits who are holders of Spanish residency permits has jumped dramatically not only compared to 2020, but also 2019: from 286,753 recorded in 2019 to 300,640 in 2020 and 313,975 in 2020 – a  9.5 percent increase.

READ ALSO: Six facts Brits in Spain became acutely aware of in 2021

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What is the latest on Gibraltar’s Brexit status?

With 2023 approaching and negotiations between Gibraltar, the UK, EU and Spain dragging on for yet another year, what is the latest on Gibraltar and Brexit? Will they reach a deal before New Year and how could it affect life in Gibraltar and Spain?

What is the latest on Gibraltar's Brexit status?

As British politics tries to move on from Brexit, the tiny British territory at the southern tip of Spain, Gibraltar, has been stuck in political limbo since the referendum all the way back in 2016.

Gibraltar, which voted in favour of Remain during the referendum by a whopping 96 percent, was not included in the Brexit deal and has instead relied on a framework agreement made between the UK and Spain on New Year’s Eve in 2020.

After that framework was laid out, it was hoped that the various parties – that is, the Gibraltarian government, Spain, the EU, and the UK – would build on it and quickly find a wider treaty agreement establishing Gibraltar’s place on the European mainland in the post-Brexit world.

It was thought that Gibraltar could enter into a common travel area with the Schengen zone, limiting border controls and essentially creating a custom-made customs arrangement with the EU.

But since then, the negotiation process has stopped and started, with no deal being made and uncertainty dragging on through 2021.

Despite all parties still being relatively optimistic in the spring of 2022, no resolution has been found and 2023 is approaching.

Relying on the framework agreement alone, uncertainty about what exactly the rules are and how they should be implemented have caused confusion and long delays on the border.

The roadblocks

Progress in the multi-faceted negotiations to bash out a treaty and determine Gibraltar’s place in the post-Brexit world have repeatedly stumbled over the same roadblocks.

The main one is the issue of the border. Known in Spain and Gibraltar as La Línea – meaning ‘the line’ in reference to the Spanish town directly across the border, La Línea de la Concepción – the subject of the border and who exactly will patrol it (and on which side) has been a constant sticking point in negotiations.

Madrid and Brussels have approached the British government with a proposal for removing the border fence between Spain and Gibraltar in order to ease freedom of movement, Spain’s Foreign Minister José Manuel Albares said in late November 2022. There has been no immediate response from London.

The Gibraltarians refuse to accept Spanish boots on the ground and would prefer the European-wide Frontex border force. The British government feel this would be an impingement on British sovereignty. There’s also been the persistent issues of VAT and corporation tax considerations, as well as the British Navy base and how to police the waters around it.

Though there had been reports that the ongoing British driving license in Spain fiasco had been one of the reasons negotiations had stalled, the British ambassador to Spain Hugh Elliot categorically denied any connection between the issue of Gibraltar’s Brexit deal and British driving licence recognition earlier in November.

READ ALSO: CONFIRMED: Deal on UK licences in Spain agreed but still no exchange date

On different pages?

Not only do the long-standing sticking points remain, but it also seems that the various negotiating parties are on slightly different pages with regards to how exactly each seems to think the negotiations are going.

Judging by reports in the Spanish press in recent weeks, it appears that many in Spain may believe the negotiations are wrapping up and a conclusion could be found by New Year. This perception comes largely from comments made by Pascual Navarro, Spain’s State Secretary to the EU. Speaking to reporters in Brussels, Navarro claimed that negotiations have advanced so well that they were now only working ‘on the commas’ of the text – that is to say, tidying it up.

According to Gibraltar’s Chief Minister Fabian Picardo, though negotiations are ongoing, “we’re not there yet”. (Photo: JORGE GUERRERO/AFP)

“No issue that is blocked,” he said. “All of the text is on the table.” A full treaty, he suggested, could be signed “before the end of the year.”

Yet it seems the Gibraltarians don’t quite see the progress as positively as their neighbours. Last week the Gibraltar government, known as No.6, acknowledged Navarro’s optimism.

According to Gibraltar’s Chief Minister Fabian Picardo however, though negotiations are ongoing, “we’re not there yet”.

No.6 remains positive and hopes for a deal, but in recent weeks has also published technical contingency plans for businesses to prepare for what they are calling a ‘Non-Negotiated Outcome’ – effectively a ‘no-deal’ in normal Brexit jargon.

The UK, however, seem to be somewhere in the middle. Like Navarro, the British Foreign Secretary James Cleverly recently suggested at a House of Commons select committee that only “a relatively small number” of issues remain to be resolved.

However, he also acknowledged the possibility of a non-negotiated outcome. “I think it’s legitimate to look at that [planning for a non-negotiated outcome] as part of our thinking,” Mr Cleverly said. “But obviously we are trying to avoid an NNO.”

Election year

If no deal is found by New Year, that would mean that negotiations drag into 2023 – election years for both Picardo and Pedro Sánchez, Spain’s Prime Minister.

Gibraltar is expected to have elections sometime in the second-half of the year, and Sánchez has to call an election by the end of 2023.

In many ways, Spanish domestic politics has the potential to play a far greater role in Gibraltar’s fate than British politics. In fact, the shadow of Spanish politics looms over these negotiations and the future relationship between Spain and Gibraltar, the UK and Spain, and the UK and EU.

If Sánchez’s PSOE were to lose the election, which according to the latest polling data is the most probable outcome, then it would be likely that Spain’s centre-right party PP would seek to renegotiate, if not outright reject, any deal made.

READ ALSO: Who will win Spain’s 2023 election – Sánchez or Feijóo?

If PP are unable to secure a ruling majority, however, they may well be forced to rely on the far-right party Vox, who have often used nationalist anti-Gibraltar rhetoric as a political weapon. If Vox were to enter into government, which is unlikely but a possibility, it’s safe to say any agreement – if one is even reached before then – would be torn up and the Spanish government would take a much harder line in negotiations.

As the consequences of Brexit churn on in Britain, in Gibraltar uncertainty looms.