The Central Government Delegate to the Balearics, Aina Calvo, told the Bulletin last week that the Spanish government, in close cooperation with the British Embassy in Madrid, is trying to do everything it can to help British residents complete the necessary paperwork before the UK finally leaves the European Union at the end of this year, despite limited resources.
Calvo, a former mayor of Palma and Director of the Spanish Agency for International Development Cooperation, is a self-confessed Anglophile. This stems back to when she studied in Glasgow, first as a graduate student with an Erasmus scholarship and later as a professor at the University of Strathclyde, where she worked for six months.
“I still have a lot of Scottish friends and I have a deep respect for the British democratic system; just the simple fact that MPs are allowed to vote against their own party. In Spain, party members get fined for not towing the line when it comes to voting on motions. While I don’t agree with her politics, I have to admit that right now the politician in the UK I most admire would be Nicola Sturgeon. Through the pandemic in particular, I think she’s done a very good job in the fight to keep Scotland and the population safe,” Calvo said.
And the pandemic has certainly challenged Calvo and her team. She was appointed to the position in February and shortly after the country was confined by the pandemic.
“I could not believe what was happening. Now, when I look at it in perspective, I can say that I am very grateful to colleagues at the Delegation, to the Colonel of the Guardia Civil and the superior chief of the National Police for the work that was done.
“What is just as important is that the behaviour of the Balearic population at large has been exemplary. They have been behaving very well for the most part. For some people, in particular the younger generation, it’s obviously all very frustrating. It’s to be expected that a minority will push the boundaries a bit and break the rules. We need collaboration and understanding to get through this pandemic. We can’t start accusing young people of being the cause, they need our help, otherwise we’re going to lose a generation and we can’t afford that.
“On the whole, everybody has done and is doing what we’ve asked and, fingers crossed, it seems to have worked. We are starting to see a few green shoots, such as a vaccine and international travel being permitted again with PCR tests coming into force from Monday. We have done our best to inform the travelling public that arriving with a PCR test result is vital. Failure to do so will result in passengers having to take an antigen test at airports and, should they test negative, be fined 600 euros. Should they test positive, it’s a 3,000 euro fine and quarantine. What we’re waiting to know here in the Balearics is who is going to cover the cost of quarantine - the local authorities or the individual. The important thing is that we’re opening the borders, but we can by no means afford to let our guard down.
“So, it’s been a hectic period since March and the battle continues. This position is certainly very different to being the mayor of Palma. As a mayor, one has a closer connection to the general public and is responsible for the municipality while having to deal with opposition parties on a daily basis.
“As government delegate, apart from being responsible for the state security services, immigration and acting on behalf of the central administration, we have to take care of the four islands. And that makes helping British residents through the Brexit transition a little bit more complicated. The three regions with the largest British populations are Alicante, Murcia and the Balearics. But unlike Alicante and Murcia, the Balearics is an island community which we are responsible for.
“So, for example, someone in Palma wanting to make an appointment with the immigration office could be offered the earliest appointment in Minorca, and they are more than welcome to take it or wait for one to pop up in Palma.
“This is why, with the clock counting down quickly to Brexit, we have set up a special Brexit fast-track system at the immigration office for Britons to get their resident permits in order and also devised a new system for people who have to exchange their UK driving licence for a Spanish one. We have three people dedicated to Brexit clients at the immigration department, while the traffic department’s new process has also been devised to make the whole procedure easier.
“But one thing I would ask for is patience. We’ve processed over 3,000 and have a further 2,000 appointments still to deal with. Since the start of July, the immigration department has received 950 applications for resident permits from Britons, 910 of which are for temporary residency. So, we’re busy, but we’re on it.
“Just follow the instructions and the steps, apply for appointments before the end of the year and all will eventually resolved. That is why there is a six-month period of grace post-Brexit to allow time for everything to be completed.
“While we are still waiting for the British government to clearly state what it intends to do with regard to Spaniards and other EU nationals in the UK, the Spanish government has been clear from the start that it wants a smooth transition period. There certainly has been no talk of work visas being required for Britons wishing to come and work here for the summer or on short-term contracts.
“We highly appreciate the importance the British community plays in Spain as a consumer body and also as an employer. The British community plays a very important part in the country’s economy, not to mention the tourist industry and the second home owners, so we don’t want to complicate their lives,” Calvo said.
“We’ve introduced the new TIE cards, a proper form of photo identification for residents, but those Britons who currently hold a valid green residency card don’t need to rush and get the new TIE card just yet. The idea, hence the fast-track system, is to issue new applicants with the TIE card and then existing residents can easily obtain the new card in the New Year. There is no need for residents to panic and think they also need a TIE card before the end of the year, that’s not the case,” Calvo stressed.
“With regard to the Brexit smallprint, we’ll have to wait and see, but as far as the Spanish government is concerned, we want the strong relationship with the UK to continue."