A lawyer who is a specialist in Public Law and matters affecting foreigners, Ricardo Bocanegra owns the biggest gestoría (an agency which specialises in dealing with legal and administrative work) on the Costa del Sol, offering advice to people from other countries who want to settle in Spain. He has received awards from the British and Russian governments and in recent weeks he has seen an increase in the numbers of British people who are concerned about their situation in this country after Brexit.
Are more British citizens coming to you for advice because the UK is leaving the European Union?
Yes, there is more interest. Many British people come to us because they want an appointment with the police to apply for their registration certificate as a citizen of the European Union. That's the equivalent of a residence permit for EU citizens. It is essential that they have this certificate, or have applied for it, before Brexit occurs so they are covered during the transition period.
What is the transition period?
A period that expires on 31 December 2020, after which British citizens will be considered the same as those from non-EU countries. The General Law of Foreigners will apply to them then, just as it does to people from countries such as Russia, Morocco and Canada. If British citizens don't apply immediately, they will have one year to regularise their situation. If they do it properly they won't have any problems, but they do need to have the information.
Will that apply no matter what the withdrawal agreement might be?
Yes, although it is not 100 per cent guaranteed because as we can see, things keep changing. However, a regulation has been approved by the member states for this transition period. During that time, everyone who is a citizen of the United Kingdom will be able to apply at the police station for temporary authorisation to live and work here as EU citizens. It is a simple process.
Does that mean that if they do this during the transition period they won't then be subjected to the conditions applied to non-EU citizens?
No, because of two basic principles: continuity and reciprocity. Continuity, so those who carry out this simple process can continue as they have until now, and reciprocity, as long as the United Kingdom does the same with regard to Spanish citizens who live there.
And once this period ends?
From 1 January 2021, newcomers will find it more difficult.
What is going to happen about healthcare?
During the transition period the double principle of continuity and reciprocity is applied. In other words, British people with the S1 form, which confirms that they have the right to healthcare in their own country, can continue to use the Spanish system. That is subject to two conditions, that Spanish people living in the UK have the same right, and that the UK guarantees to repay the cost of medical treatment provided to British citizens in Spain. And I don't believe that will change.
What about qualifications from another country?
During the transition period qualifications will be mutually recognised. Afterwards, that will be subject to a bilateral agreement. Like the other matters, it tries to adapt these people to their new status as non-EU citizens, but without affecting the rights they have already acquired. After the transition period British people who come here will find it more difficult, and so will Spanish citizens who move to the UK.
What will be the situation for children at schools in Spain which follow the British exam system?
In 2019-2020 and 2020-2021 they will still have access to the Spanish university system.
Afterwards it will depend on bilateral or multilateral agreements. This is a particularly sensitive subject on the Costa del Sol because so many children of different nationalities, including Spanish, study at British schools. It is to be hoped that the Spanish government will want to reach a favourable agreement about this.
What might happen in future about Spanish companies contracting British workers?
Right now, it's almost impossible for someone from a non-EU country to get an employment contract in Spain. There are two possibilities but they are absolutely remote. Every three months the INEM publishes a list of jobs which are difficult to cover, and those are very rare occupations. For a worker who meets that criteria, there is some possibility of them being granted an employment permit. And there is also the possibility that if a job is advertised by the INEM and nobody else applies, it could be given to a foreigner. In practice, 90 per cent of applications for permits are turned down. The authorities are tremendously restrictive in this sense.
-That will affect British schools that employ native staff.
Yes, they won't be able to do that any more. It's the same situation as now if they wanted to employ an Australian or Canadian teacher. It's practically impossible.
Driving licences are going to be another problem.
All British citizens will have nine months after Brexit to change their driving licence. It's a very simple thing to do, just like renewing a Spanish one, which they can already do. After those nine months have passed, if they have failed to do so, they will have to take another driving test, because there is no reciprocal agreement for recognition of driving licences between Spain and the UK.
What will happen about the right to vote in local elections?
Contrary to what people believe, British citizens will still have the right to vote and to stand as candidates because a bilateral agreement has already been signed about that. What they won't be able to do is form new political parties, because only EU citizens have the right to do that.
Beyond these legal questions and the increase in consultations, are you perceiving concern among British people living on the Costa del Sol?
Yes. Many of them come for advice because they're worried, because things are not being explained to them very well. I have been looking for information and checking regulations for several weeks now, and there is a definite lack of information available to them, as well as changes and uncertainties in the negotiation process. When they come to ask, I tell them the first thing they must do is apply for the certificate of registration as a citizen of the European Union.
People are saying Brexit is the most stupid thing the UK has ever done in its entire history.
Without a doubt.
Do the people who come to you for advice share that opinion?
The vast majority of them are angry. This situation is out of their hands. The vote from the UK, where many people don't know much about the European Union and are completely apart from the reality of the modern world, has caused enormous harm. The first who are going to suffer will be those who live abroad. In Spain about 300,000 British people are registered, and an indeterminate number of others, and I would say more, are not. That's another important aspect, length of stay. The moment Brexit happens, UK citizens will not be able to spend more than 90 days in Spain.
That will be a problem for many on the Costa del Sol.
Their passports will be stamped as soon as they arrive, and they will have to leave within 90 days.
That could affect the property sector. Many British people buy property so they can spend the winter months and then go home to their own country in the summer.
It's true. Most of them do that. They won't be able to any more, unless they apply for a residence permit. Despite the pain and difficulties that Brexit causes for everyone, I want to be optimistic, because I hope that in the end the bilateral and multilateral treaties will reflect common sense.