Spanish citizenship For Members

Spain has kept 11,000 foreigners waiting for 5 years for their citizenship to be processed

The Local Spain
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Spain has kept 11,000 foreigners waiting for 5 years for their citizenship to be processed
As well as administrative hoops and financial barriers, Spain is keeping thousands of foreigners in legal limbo by forcing them wait years for their citizenship applications to processed. Photo: JOSE LUIS ROCA/AFP.

As well as administrative hoops and financial barriers, Spain is keeping thousands of foreigners in legal limbo by forcing them wait years for their citizenship applications to processed.


At the end of 2022, there were over 11,000 applications for Spanish nationality through residence that had been pending for at least five years. 

In total, the number of pending applications at the end of last year exceeded 276,000, and in many of those cases, the legal deadline has already been exceeded. This sluggish response, something that many would say is typical of Spanish bureaucracy, comes on top of several administrative and financial barriers that make the process even more difficult.

The maximum, by law, that it is supposed to take is one year. According to the official law:

"In accordance with the provisions of paragraph 3 of article 11 of the Regulation regulating the procedure for the acquisition of Spanish nationality by residence approved by Royal Decree 1004/2015, the period to resolve and notify the resolution will be one year since the request has been entered in the General Directorate of Registries and Notaries."

Yet for thousands of people, their applications have been pending for at least five times that. For most people, the general requirement is ten years of residence before they can apply for Spanish citizenship, apart from those from Spanish-speaking Ibero-American countries (who can apply after two years). So if you add the ten-year requirement to the administrative backlog, becoming eligible and applying for Spanish citizenship could theoretically take you 15 or more years from start to finish.


Fat-track citizenship 

The fastest way to get Spanish citizenship is by getting a 'carta de naturaleza', essentially a fast-track citizenship. This allows foreign nationals who have done something “exceptional” for Spain to become Spanish citizens immediately, with the waiting times that all other applicants have to endure brushed aside.

READ ALSO: How foreigners can get fast-track citizenship in Spain

Some famous names to have been ‘awarded’ express Spanish nationality include British pianist James Rhodes and footballers Lionel Messi and Ansu Fati. 

These instant citizenships are controversial in Spain, with critics saying that they are reserved for celebrities and elites while normal people have to join the (very long) queue like everyone else. The stats seem to back this up. According to Civio, of the 426 cartas granted in the last 30 years, 108 were for athletes - many of whom then went on to play for the Spanish national teams.

Online vs paperwork

But if you aren't one of the lucky (or famous) ones, you can be left in legal limbo for years and years. In fact, almost a hundred applications were still awaiting resolution at the end of 2022, an entire decade after their application was first submitted. 

Taking into account the one-year deadline set by law, there are over 100,000 applications (as of 2022) that are over the legal limit, and the 276,000 total figure for outstanding applications, though high, is actually an improvement on the past: in 2018, for example, there were more than 355,000 outstanding. And very few of these were resolved within a year.

A report from Spain's Tribunal de Cuentas states that the "very small percentage of files resolved at the end of 2018 suggests that when the pending files are finally resolved, practically 100 percent of them will have... done it outside the established deadline."

Since 2015, applying for nationality (for those who meet the requirements of continued residence, background and demonstrating integration) is something that can, in theory, be done entirely digitally. This is something that many citizen's organisations recommend, preferring the online application to doing it in person where paperwork can get lost (or slowed down) by Spain's infamously inefficient bureaucracy.  


"It is not recommended because then it's a more tedious process for the administration and... [therefore] with more delays," immigration lawyer Vicente Marín, of the 'Parainmigrantes' group, says. "The applications by public registry have taken much longer to be resolved than those we present electronically."

Citizen's organisations like Parainmigrantes help and guide applicants when carrying out the bureaucratic procedure because many applicants would be otherwise forced to depend on (and pay) a lawyer to take them through the process.

Application barriers

Yet digital applications can, of course, be a barrier for older applicants or people without the technology to do the process online. Though they may have quicker turnarounds, for some it is impossible.

READ ALSO: Do you really have to give up your original nationality if you become Spanish?

Tech is not the only barrier. Finance also plays a role in dissuading some people from applying. The application fee alone is over €100. Demonstrating your cultural integration into Spanish society comes at a cost too as applicants have to pay for the constitutional and sociocultural knowledge test (CCSE) and, for non-native Spanish speakers, also pay the Spanish as a foreign language exam (DELE).


READ ALSO - Quiz: Can you pass the Spanish citizenship test?

Lawyers' fees can run into the hundreds, just for submitting an application, and the CCSE costs €85. Depending on the fees and whether you have to take the language exam, the application alone could theoretically cost €1,000 or more. 

Before 2015, there was no fee for the citizenship application. The Tribunal de Cuentas points out that there have been no significant improvements to the administrative process since then, despite the fact €24.7 million has been collected in fees.

For those who are lucky enough to actually get their application processed, some have waited five or even ten years, only to have their application rejected. However, according to Civio, for around a third of denied applicants, by appealing, they successfully get their case overturned and citizenship granted.


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