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International students in Spain in limbo with residency permit delays

Many international students in Spain have been left without access to basic rights such as the ability to rent a flat or open a bank account due to bureaucratic delays that have doubled the wait time for residency permits.

Madrid, the nation's capital, is where most applications are filed. Photo: Unsplash

Some have blamed short-staffing of key departments for the issues

International students from outside of the EU must apply for a permit to study in Spain, and with many thousands of students from around the world choosing the southern European nation as an education destination, the backlog could be significant. Delays are currently at six months – twice the three month wait time promised.

“I’m stuck in Spain until this gets resolved”

A 2017 report by the Spanish government’s export department found nearly 50,000 students from US institutions in the country in one year, and at least 130,000 students from outside the EU.

However, according to local media, many students – especially from the US and China – are being left without access to their money in Spanish bank accounts, and unable to travel outside of the European Union.

One US student told Spanish daily newspaper El País she has been unable to visit her home country since October.

“I’ve been here nearly three years, the renewal had never taken this long before. I haven’t been able to leave the European Union. I’m stuck in Spain until this gets resolved,” she said under the condition of anonymity.

One saving grace is that The PIE News has not received reports of students being unable to attend classes or progress through their education because of these delays.

But that does not mean living without a residency permit is easy. Another US student said they were forced to wait five months for a renewed permit, which severely restricted their actions and livelihood.

“During that time I was unable to have private medical insurance or go to public hospitals. I couldn’t apply for a driver’s license and my bank threatened to close my account,” they said.

“There’s been a lack of foresight and organisation”

Some students have had bank accounts closed, or suspended, by Spanish banks. One Chinese official said the issue was not so much with the delay, but that banks had not accepted the paperwork provided which proved Chinese students had applied for renewal.

“We are critical about the fact that banks are not accepting the document proving that their client is getting his or her residency permit renewed. We feel discriminated against,” Zhu Jian said. This comes in the context of wider protests by the Chinese community in Spain at concerns the Banco Bilbao Vizcaya Argentaria [BBVA] was unfairly targeting Chinese account holders in its money laundering crackdown.

But some have blamed simple short-staffing of key departments for the issues.

As El País pointed out, the issue first arose in September, when laws on extending students’ period in Spain were relaxed to allow for more generous post-study work allowances.

However, this led to a large increase in applications, all dealt with by the existing teams in so-called ‘foreigner’s offices’ across Spain. No extra staff were recruited, which reportedly led to a more than doubling of work loads for the government staff.

The newspaper revealed that in Madrid, the capital region which receives more applications than any other, only nine people are employed to process these bids.

One immigration lawyer, Vladimir Nunez said the policy was planned to allow new graduates from the Spanish education system to continue contributing to the economy.

“But there’s been a lack of foresight and organisation,” he lamented.

“I find it hard to grasp why nobody foresaw that the supporting structure needed to be resized to accommodate the changes.”

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