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WORKING IN SPAIN

NEW LAWS: How it’s now easier for foreigners to work in Spain

Spain has amended its immigration laws to make it easier for non-EU citizens (UK nationals, Americans etc) to work in the country in a bid to address some of its most pressing labour shortages. Here are the changes, the reasons why they’re being introduced and more.

spain new work visa laws
According to Spain’s Social Security Minister José Luis Escrivá, the measures will "improve the Spanish migratory model and its procedures, which are often slow and unsuitable", admitting that they have "high social and economic costs for Spain". (Photo by LLUIS GENE / AFP)

What are the new changes in a nutshell?

The Spanish government has amended its laws relating to the rights and freedoms of non-EU foreigners in the country, as a means of resolving the bureaucratic obstacles which often prevent Spain from using its migrant population to cover labour shortages.

There are three main changes: 

  • Undocumented third-country nationals who have lived in Spain for two years or more can seek temporary residency papers.
  • Non-EU students will be able to work up to 30 hours a week while studying, and to start work in Spain at the end of their studies.
  • Non-EU nationals will be able to obtain a work visa to come to Spain more easily and take up jobs in areas facing labour shortages i.e. tourism, construction, agriculture.

Why is the Spanish government introducing these changes?

Spain may have the highest unemployment rate in the EU (around 13 percent, just under 3 million people) but it is also struggling to cover thousands of job positions.

This paradoxical situation is down to a combination of factors, not least the low wages and unstable working conditions that are pervasive in Spain’s labour market. 

READ MORE: 

Couple that with an inflexible bureaucratic system which is counterproductive to Spain’s economy and labour market and you have a situation where Spaniards would rather pass on exploitative jobs and stay at home, and foreigners who are eager to work regardless of the poor conditions/pay cannot because the law won’t allow them to.

If we take a closer look at the three main changes listed above:

Undocumented migrants in Spain, those who arrive in the country without first applying for a residency or work permit, have up to now found themselves trapped in a situation where for years they can’t apply for jobs with social security and other workers’ rights, leaving them with little option but to work in the black. 

Third-country higher education students in Spain who completed a degree, Masters or Phd up to now didn’t have their residency in Spain guaranteed after completing their studies, having to instead apply for residency and renew their permit regularly, contributing to a brain drain of talent that Spain trained and then didn’t harness. Those on student visas could also only work a maximum of 20 hours a week previously.

And as for non-EU people applying for a work visa in Spain, up to now the only way for third-country nationals to be hired from overseas for a contract job was if employers could not find an EU candidate for the position or if the job was on Spain’s shortage occupation list, which is made up almost entirely by jobs in the maritime and shipping industry. In reality, there are many industries that are central to Spain’s economy that are struggling to find workers.

The Spanish government has finally realised how these inflexible laws are proving extremely damaging to its economy at a time when employers are struggling to find tens of thousands of workers for the tourism, construction and agriculture industries. 

According to Spain’s Social Security Minister José Luis Escrivá, the measures will “improve the Spanish migratory model and its procedures, which are often slow and unsuitable”, admitting that they have “high social and economic costs for Spain”.

When will these new laws come into force?

Although the new laws were published in Spain’s state bulletin (BOE) on Wednesday July 27th, the legislation is set to come into force on August 15th 2022.  

Is there anything else I should know?

When it comes to Spanish politics, what Spain says it will do and then actually does are often two very different things. 

Take for example the alleged streamlining of degree validation for highly-skilled professionals such as non-EU doctors, dentists, engineers and other regulated professions, known in Spain as homologación

People in Spain with non-EU qualifications are currently having to wait two, three, four or even more years for Spain’s bureaucratic labyrinth to get round to validating their qualifications, even though the legal deadline is just six months and there are huge shortages in their expert fields. 

New decrees have promised to address the hold-ups but in reality nothing has changed. A lawyer specialising in helping foreigners with the homologación process told The Local that “unless Spain allocates more budget to employ more competent civil servants to address the problem, nothing will change”. 

However, the latest law change is overall good news for all non-EU foreigners who wish to move to Spain for work in the hospitality and tourism sector, construction or agriculture, including UK nationals, Americans, Australians, South Africans and any other third-country nationals.

The process for applying for a work permit should be considerably easier, but they should not forget that Spain is a country with wages that are lower than other countries in Western Europe and that it doesn’t have a good reputation in terms of work conditions. 

Therefore, their reasons for moving to Spain shouldn’t just be for a job, as this is a country which excels in many other fields (quality of life, weather, culture, people, nature) but generally not work.

READ MORE: The downsides of moving to Spain for work

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For members

MOVING TO SPAIN

Six hard facts Americans should be aware of before moving to Spain 

There are 40,000 US nationals living in Spain but the road to residency and integration isn’t always straightforward for them. Here are six practical points Americans should factor in before embarking on a move to 'España', from work, to tax and healthcare.

Six hard facts Americans should be aware of before moving to Spain 

If you’re a US national who is considering making a move to Spain, you’ve no doubt already been captivated by all the country has to offer: the food, the people, the rhythm of life, the culture, the wine (of course), the scenery, the festivals, and so on. 

There’s a long list of quality-of-life positives that come with a move to Spain which could indeed make you happier than you are in the US. 

But before you start considering a permanent or long-term move to the country of your dreams, you should first think of the practicalities and potential downsides of such a big life change. 

MAP: Where in Spain do all the Americans live?

Above all is the fact that despite the United States’s reputation as a world leader in many regards, for the Spanish government you’re a third-country national with the same rights (or lack thereof) as any other non-EU national, from a Chinese person, to an Australian or an Indian citizen.

This is the crux of the matter, and a factor which will influence most of the important points to be aware of that we will now list.

Finding work or building a career isn’t easy

You’ll no doubt already know that Spain is renowned for its high unemployment rate, unstable work market and relatively low wages, but as a non-EU national there is an added set of obstacles to consider.

Firstly, applying for residency through a contract job is near impossible. Spanish employers would have to first demonstrate that they have been unable to find a suitable EU candidate for the position before being able to sponsor/hire you. 

Alternatively, you’d have to have the skills and experience which are included in Spain’s shortage occupation list, but this is made up almost entirely of jobs in the maritime and shipping industry.

It is true that Spain is set to make it easier to recruit non-EU foreigners to cover some of its most pressing labour shortages, but these are mainly in the tourism, hospitality and agricultural sectors.

Then there’s the nightmare non-EU foreigners in regulated professions are currently enduring – think doctors, dentists, engineers, lawyers and so on – as the validation of their qualifications (known as homologación) is a pricy and convoluted process which takes at least three years. Others who need to have their qualifications verified for non-regulated professions (known as equivalencia) will have to wait two years on average.

With that in mind, setting up your own business might be one of the best bets to make a living for yourself and gain Spanish residency. This self-employed work visa is also a bit arduous as you’ll need proof of financial means and a business plan among other requirements, but on the whole it’s probably one of the most feasible residency options.

The Spanish government did announce an upcoming Startups Law and digital nomad visa in 2021, legislation which could indeed make it easier for Americans to remote work from Spain, but it isn’t clear yet when this will be approved.

A final option is that of becoming an English-language assistant at a Spanish school. It’s an easy way to get into Spain, it offers decent pay for the few hours you’re required to work and it can be a stepping stone to other work goals from within Spain.  

You need a lot of money to ‘buy’ Spanish residency

If you’re retired or don’t plan to work in Spain, then you’ll need to show you have the financial means to cover your costs. 

This can best be done through Spain’s non-lucrative visa or the so-called golden visa. 

As the name suggests, the non-lucrative visa (NLV) is a residency permit which doesn’t allow you to work in Spain or technically carry out professional activities you have abroad from Spain.

A US national wanting to apply for the NLV for the first time in 2022 will need to prove they have €27,792 ($31,390) for one year, an amount which rises if you include other family members. You’ll have to show proof of financial means when you renew the NLV again.

You can find more in-detail information on the NLV’s financial requirements as well as a breakdown of the pros and cons in the articles linked directly below:

As for the other main option for those who won’t work in Spain – the golden visa – the main options are buying a property (or more) worth €500,000+ (the option most applicants choose) or investing €1 million in a Spanish company or having €1 million in a Spanish bank account.

READ MORE: What foreigners should be aware of before applying for Spain’s golden visa

So all in all, applying for Spanish residency as a US citizen who can’t or doesn’t want to work in Spain involves having a lot of money saved up.

Public healthcare is the standard in Spain, but access to it as an American is subject to conditions

As you hail from a country where healthcare is notoriously not available to all, you may have assumed that here in Spain, where the approach is starkly different, anyone can walk into a public hospital and receive treatment. 

And there would nothing wrong in thinking that initially, but the truth is that access to Spain’s sanidad pública is based on social security contributions, which are paid through your taxes as a contract employee or self-employed worker.

What this means is that if you’re a US national residing in Spain you won’t automatically get access to Spain’s public healthcare system. 

In fact, if you’re applying for the NLV or golden visa, you will have to take out comprehensive private health insurance for your application to be accepted, something which can be difficult and costly if you have pre-existing conditions.

You should also keep in mind that there’s a scheme called the “convenio especial” (special agreement) which allows foreigners who have been registered as residents in Spain for a year to pay a monthly sum into the country’s public health system to have access to it.

Under 65s pay a fixed monthly fee of €60 per month and over 65s pay €157 per month to obtain full cover through Spain’s public health system.

You’ll have to resit your driving exam again

The US is for the most part a nation of drivers. In Spain, if you live in a town or city you will be able to move around easily on foot or by using the country’s efficient public transport network.

However, if your intention is to buy a car and continue driving in Spain, keep in mind that after six months of residency in the country you will need to resit your driving exam again in Spain and get a Spanish driving licence.

Unfortunately, Spain and the United States have no mutual licence exchange agreement or recognition scheme.

READ MORE: How much does it cost to get your driving licence in Spain?

It’s certainly frustrating to think that you will have to cough up a considerable amount of money for something that you already know how to do, but on the plus side you’ll get to understand Spanish roads and driving, and possibly learn how to use a stick (gearbox) as most cars are manual in Spain.

You have to commit to living in Spain

Keep in mind that when you obtain Spanish residency, it won’t necessarily entitle you to enter and leave the country for the rest of your life, especially if you spend extended periods of time outside of Spain. Permits have to be renewed and their conditions respected.

At first you will be given temporary residency (which lasts five years) and with this permit you risk losing residency when you leave Spain for more than six months in a period of one year.

In the case of sporadic absences from Spain, the sum of these periods outside of the country during those five years of temporary residence must not exceed ten months if you intend to apply for permanent residency. 

Permanent residency is valid for ten years (you can then renew it or apply for Spanish citizenship), but you can lose your residency if you’re outside of Spain for more than 12 months continuously, or for more than 30 months during the last five years.

Only the golden visa offers more lenient rules in terms of time spent outside of Spain. 

None of this means that you can’t spend several months at a time back home in the States – in fact extenuating circumstances such as caring for a sick family member, work or study allow for a bit more time outside Spain – just keep in mind that you have keep tabs on long absences outside of Spain as a non-EU citizen.

You have to pay taxes in Spain even if you’re not working here

As a Spanish resident (someone who spends more than 183 days in a calendar year in Spain), you have to pay taxes here.

Foreign residents in Spain pay tax on their worldwide income at personal tax rates which are progressive, from 19 percent to 45 percent.

Fortunately, there is a treaty between Spain and the US which helps determine which country to pay taxes to and the tax deadlines.

Equally, if you live in Spain and own assets abroad worth more than €50,000, you have to declare all this to the Spanish taxman, through the Modelo 720.

There are plenty more tax matters to keep in mind if you have assets and/or income sources on both sides of the Atlantic (it may be worth consulting a tax expert), so just keep in mind that if you move to Spain you will have to deal with all of this complex scenario.

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