Every week in Fact/Fiction, The Big Issue examines spurious claims, questionable studies or debatable stories from the press to determine whether they are fact or fiction. This week The Big Issue looks at claims up to 500 Brits are due to be deported from Spain as their residency status changes following the UK’s departure from the EU.
How it was told
Remember Spain? It’s been a while – a seemingly never-ending winter packed with Covid-19 lockdowns – since the prospect of a trip to the European country was on the cards.
But for Brits who reside in Spain, living there has been right at the heart of the news agenda in recent weeks.
The fallout from Brexit is starting to be felt by Britons on the continent, and that has led to swathe of reports centred around the most recent deadline. March 31 marked 90 days since freedom of movement ended on December 31 last year and for some Brits living in Spain this was the first time their visa-free transitional period could end.
That led to warnings in the UK media that Brits who have not got their affairs in order could face deportation.
The Sun led the way with the headline: “TOUGH BREX UP: Hundreds of Brit expats living in Spain fear they could be forced to return to UK under Brexit rules”.
The Daily Express also ran several stories on the subject. “Spain visa: British expats face ‘deportation’ from Spain, what visa do you need?”, “‘I don’t want to get deported!’ UK expats declare Spanish dream ‘over’ as rules change” and “‘If you don’t consider Spain your home, return to UK’ Britons told amid ‘deportations’” all warned of the threat of being ejected.
City AM also covered the story in the week after the deadline, reporting: “British expats flee Spain to avoid deportation as post-Brexit rules turn them into illegal immigrants”.
But are Brits being deported from Spain? What do the rules say?
There is no imminent threat of deportation for Brits engaging with the process to confirm their residency in Spain.
Nor is there evidence that the much-cited plan for “500 Brits to be deported in the coming weeks” is true, and the source of the claim is unknown. But that hasn’t stopped it being repeated as unconfirmed reports in several stories.
British nationals in Spain have been urged to to apply for residency status or a visa as the UK is now a third country as of December 31 last year, according to the Schengen Area which allows free movement inside the EU.
If they were a resident before January 1, they would be allowed to stay subject to their application being approved and would be issued with an ID card to prove those rights.
While residents are covered by the Withdrawal Agreement, tourists and temporary visitors may only stay in Spain for 90 days in any 180-day period or risk overstaying. March 31 marked the first time that the rolling 90-day period was up for some Brits.
Overstaying or failing to register residency means Brits would technically be classed as an undocumented migrant and face the possibility of deportation.
However, due to the unprecedented challenges of both the Covid-19 crisis and Brexit, both the UK and Spanish governments have made it clear that Brits whose status has yet to be determined will not face deportation.
Brits hoping to stay in Spain are still advised to register by proving they were residing in the country before January 1. While British nationals from any EU member state are advised to check their country’s Living in guide for official advice.
A UK Government spokesperson said: “The rights of UK nationals to continue living, working and studying in their EU Member State are protected by law. Anyone legally resident before 1 January 2021 can stay but should register their residence.”
This too has been reported in the press – but that has not stopped the sensational headlines.
Reading the replies to this tweet shows the damage done by bad journalism over the past days. 🧵
1) we do not call ourselves 'expats', that is a loaded term designed to divide us from EU citizens in the UK. We refer to ourselves as British nationals living in the EU/EEA/CH… https://t.co/KFAeFupva4
— British in Europe (@BritishInEurope) April 7, 2021
The Guardian reported: “Brexit: Spain denies reports it will round up and deport Britons without visas” ahead of the March 31 deadline, while Politico also explained the situation in “Brits in Spain spooked by post-Brexit status”.
Spanish news outlet El País also reported the UK embassy’s “concerns over media reports” around deportation, while a Spanish Ministry of Inclusion spokesperson told ex-pat paper The Olive Press: “The Spanish government has no plans to deport British citizens who have made Spain their home.”
But that’s not to say that all things have been progressing smoothly. It has been widely reported that the pandemic has led to a backlog in clearing applications. And it is true that some Brits who chose not to apply for residency or make their presence known to authorities have decided to leave Spain.
Meanwhile, the confusion over new rules did see 40 Brits refused entry at Alicante Airport by border staff on March 30.
But the continued warnings of Brits being rounded up and deported seem far-fetched in this case – at least for now.