Thursday, February 2, 2012

American Privileges?

*This post was started on November 29, 2011, but not posted until I obtained my Spanish residence card.*

Let me first say that I do not intend for this post to be arrogant in any way.  I am only telling the way I have experienced bureaucratic happenings here.

Citizens of many different countries must obtain visas in order to enter Spain.  For a stay of fewer than 90 days, US Citizens do not need a visa.  I'm here for a year, so I need a visa and a residence card.  (Let's not talk about the hell you have to go through to get a long-term, Spanish Schengen visa that no one ever takes the time to check.)  After the visa expires, but before the residence card is ready, you're sort of in limbo.  Well, not quite - they give you un resguardo, a little receipt showing that your card is being processed. This time gap should not occur, but it does because the process of getting a residence card is slow beyond belief.  Things get tricky when you try to travel outside of the Schengen countries, like I love doing, and cannot present a residence card upon your return to Spain.  When all you can show is an expired visa and the resguardo, you may be sent back to wherever you just came from or to the country of your nationality.

If you want to travel after your visa has expired and before your residence card is ready, you have to get another document, called Autorización de Regreso, which grants you permission to return to Spain after your vacation.  For US citizens, the Autorización de Regreso is mostly not required because we don't need a visa to enter Spain.  No one is clear on whether or not you need this document - not even the police.  Many officials just tell you that with a US passport, you can go anywhere and do anything, and  that no one will look at you twice.  Apparently, having a US passport gives you special being allowed to re-enter countries at will with expired visas. 

November 28

Last summer, when I obtained my visa for an extended stay in Spain, the consulate told me I absolutely must have my residence card by November 30th, because my visa would expire on November 22nd.  Never mind the week between those two dates...
Comisaría at Aluche
This police station looks like a weird castle.

In September, shortly after arriving in Spain, I applied for all the necessary appointments.  Initially, I was given a fingerprint appointment in April, but somehow it got moved up.  So, on November 28th, I went to the police station to get fingerprinted for my residence card.  You would think it would be easy to digitally fingerprint people, print their cards, and be done.  Nope.  I was told to return in 40 days (early January) to pick up my residence card.  Clearly November 30th wasn't going to happen...

November 29 

In two days, I'm leaving to go on a tour of Marrakesh.  Tomorrow it will be December, and I´m still waiting for my residence card.  I don't mind waiting.  It's not that big of a deal as long as no one tries to deport me when I return to Spain next week.

I have heard of people being sent back from Spain to either where they had just come from or to their country of nationality.  I would really not prefer to be sent back to Morocco alone.  I suppose I could live pretty cheaply there, but I really don't love the mint tea...not to mention the more serious issues.  When people get deported, they usually worry about if it's safe to go home and where they're going to live.  In contrast, being deported to the US would really not be that big of a deal.  Actually, my beloved beagle would be thrilled to see me.  But really, who gets deported to the US?

At this time, there is no way for me to get documented permission to return, so I will have to rely on the lucky, yet semi-unfair privileges of being from the US.  The only remaining doubt now is whether or not the one person in Madrid Barajas Airport who has to stamp my passport next week is aware of the US exception.  Wish me luck!  I´m leaving for Marrakesh tomorrow!
Photo from - This is not my passport.
December 6, 2011

We flew from Marrakech to Madrid, and headed over to the immigration counter at Barajas Airport soon after landing.  The immigration official asked me if I had a residence card.  Nervously, I said, "no."  He glanced at my passport, shrugged, stamped it, and let me back into the country.  Oh, Spain...

Away from the counter, I breathed a huge sigh of relief.  I had actually been having nightmares about this.  Apparently, those nightmares were unnecessary.  Growing up, I always knew the US was different from most other places, but I never believed my nationality would bend rules for me.  

December 24, 2011

Over winter vacation, I traveled outside of Spain again, this time going to Amsterdam and Paris.  Holland and France are both part of the Schengen agreement, but I didn't know if this would help me or hurt me.  Again, I traveled with my expired visa, but without the Autorización de Regreso.  The strangest part was that while boarding the plane to Amsterdam, one passenger was prohibited from entering the plane because he did not have the proper documentation to return to Spain, the Autorización de Regreso.  I didn't have it either, but I was already sitting on the plane.  It seems that officials here do a serious amount of profiling - Once I showed a US passport, no one even bothered to check for a visa, never mind that it had expired over a month earlier.  No one asked for my documentation, a residence card, or anything else.  They must have merely assumed I was on vacation - which would have been perfectly legal.

December 29, 2011 

Flew from Paris to Barcelona.
No valid visa.  No Autorización de Regreso.  No residence card.  No questions asked.  

January 5, 2012

My residence card was supposed to be ready today.  Like anyone trying to obtain this card, I went to the police station and eagerly waited in line to pick it up.  Person after person received a residence card after getting their passports checked very carefully.  When they got to me, they quickly glanced at my passport, but then told me that they had made a mistake printing my card and that they had sent it back to be re-made.  For some reason, the process of re-printing the card would take an entire extra month.  Isn't that special?  

With both an expired visa and an expired resguardo, I really hoped they would hurry up and fix their mistake.  But I knew they wouldn't.  Given that I applied for my residence card shortly after arriving in Spain, I had done everything possible to comply with their November 30th deadline.  The Spanish government, on the other hand, seemed to be enjoying an extended siesta.

Bureaucracy + Siesta = No residence card

February 2, 2012

You will not believe this.  I hardly believe this.  Today, finally, after six months (twice the legally allowed time), I got my residence card!  It's sort of cute.  Very legit souvenir.  One caveat - Since it took so long to obtain, the residence card is only valid for a few more months.
It will expire before I leave Spain next summer.

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