Thousands of undocumented British expats in Spain are heading back to the UK as they fear being fined or deported as a result of post-Brexit immigration rules in the southern European country.
British nationals who failed to apply for Spanish residency documents or whose applications have been rejected are only permitted to stay up to 90 days in the country, following the end of the transition agreement on 31 December.
As a result, those who have been in Spain since the beginning of this year should have left the country before 31 March, as their legal status changed to undocumented immigrant after that.
Under the Brexit deal between the UK and the EU, anyone unregistered and staying more than 90 days could be fined, deported and even banned from returning.
Thousands of Brits, many of them retirees and hospitality workers, left Spain in recent weeks, according to Benidorm-based expat news site Global 24/7.
Shaun Cromber was one of them, telling the platform that, despite voting for Brexit, he did not think the UK’s departure from the EU would have an impact on his legal status in Spain.
“Yes I voted out, but I didn’t realise it would come to this, my application has been rejected and we are on our way home – the wife is in tears, she’s distraught and if I’m honest and I’m not too happy at the prospect of returning back to the UK,” Cromber reportedly said.
“I’ve loved living on the Costa del Sol and after five years I can’t believe it has come to this. We applied but got rejected and so [we] have no choice, although long term I think the Spanish will regret chucking us out of Spain,” he added.
Welshman Anthony Cook was in a similar position, as he told Global 24/7 News that his Spanish dream is over.
“It is time to go back to Cardiff, it’s been a blast but the new regulations have made it impossible to stay, I don’t have enough credentials to become a resident,” he explained.
“It was so easy before, get your funds in from the UK, do a bit of cash in hand around the likes of Benidorm and bob was your uncle, but that’s all changed now.”
“Hey, don’t be fooled, thousands of Brits in some guise or other have been doing the same thing, especially in the entertainment industry,” Cook reportedly said.
Sue Wilson, chair of Bremain in Spain, told the Local that she has been advising thousands of Brits of the 31 March deadline and reiterated advice given by the British Embassy.
Wilson stressed, however, that many British nationals living in Spain are simply in denial.
“They are burying their heads in the sand and assuming we’ll be treated differently from other third country nationals, simply because we are British.”
“I fear many that have ignored the warnings of the consequences of exceeding a 90-day stay are in for a rude awakening,” Wilson reportedly said.
A UK government spokesperson stressed that the rights of UK nationals to continue living, working and studying in Spain are protected by law.
“Anyone legally resident in Spain before 1 January [of this year] can stay but should register their residence and obtain the new TIE residency card to prove their rights.
British tourists and business travellers are able to visit Spain and other EU countries for up to 90 days in a rolling 180-day period without a visa, he concluded.