What do you mean I am here illegally?

*Warning: this is a long-winded, lengthy post about what I had to do to maintain my residency here in Spain when I decided to renew the auxilares de conversación program for another year. It is not pretty.

Ok so here is the DL on trying to renew my residency card. To come to Spain with this program, you have come on a 90 day student visa. Once you are in the country, you make an appointment at the local police station to apply for a residency card (called a NIE in Spanish-Número de Identificación de Extranjero), since we are here longer than you can be on a visa (90 days). Easy peasy. However, for some odd reason, this year in Andalucía, a lot of the auxiliares have been issued residency cards (NIE) that expire on May 31, the exact date that our program ends. Most auxiliares are given NIE’s that expire in September, a year after we arrive. Because ours expire early, those who have elected to stay for another year are facing a mountain of problems.

On May 9th I received an email with the letter placing me at two schools in Logroño, La Rioja in the north, exactly what I wanted. Two days later I skipped work so that I could go to the police station and ask questions about renewing my NIE for the following year. I was told by them that I could renew it at that office, no problems, and that it doesn’t matter that I will be in a different region, I can just do it in Córdoba. This was the big issue, I needed to know ASAP whether or not I had to go all the way to La Rioja to renew it. They told me to come back in two weeks, closer to the expiration date on my card, and I could renew with no problems. I confirmed this with two separate people in the office. Big relief right? WRONG!

Two weeks later I went to the police station again to get an appointment to renew my NIE. I waited around and I got lucky and they gave me an appointment for that day. So I went inside and waited, standing in a tiny, overcrowded room filled. Finally they called my name, and I went into the office. I explained what I was there for, and the woman took one look at my papers and said I was in the wrong office, and that I had to go to the Foreigner’s Office (extranjería) across town to do this. FML. I found out later that they tell a lot of the foreigners wait and to come back close to when their card expires or afterward so that they will be there illegally and will get deported. Nice, right?

So I called a taxi and rushed to the other building. I was in a hurry because all government offices in Spain close at 2, and I had spent half the morning waiting around in the wrong office. I found the extranjería, went inside and got a number for an appointment. I sat around for a while before my number was called. I went up to the desk and began to explain my situation. The women took one look at my letter and said that I couldn’t do it in Córdoba, I had to go La Rioja! FMLFMLFML! Did I mention that La Rioja is on the other side of the country and 500 miles away?!?!

I tried to convince her to let me do it in Córdoba. In fact I had already checked and there are no rules against it, but she wouldn’t listen. In fact, she barely let me speak. The people who work in the government offices/police stations in Spain are hands-down some of the rudest people I have ever encountered. She then went to talk to her boss and came back and said it doesn’t matter that the school it’s in La Rioja because they would reject me anyway because the program doesn’t start until October 1, and my card expires now. I am not studying over the summer. She told me I would have to go back to America and get a new visa, which is a complete lie. I demanded to see written proof that says that I cannot legally renew and that I have to get a new visa, which she refused. I had even brought a printed copy of the rules from the government website and the law regarding foreigner’s studying in Spain and asked her to show me where it says what she was telling me, at which point she began to laugh in my face. I then asked to speak with her boss but she refused to let me talk with her. I then wanted their names so I could lodge an official complain, which she also refused (she said María and wouldn’t give me the rest. I mean my god I am sure every women in that office is called María) and then she told me she was tired of me wasting her time and there were other people in line behind me and she slammed the “next’ button for the following person and told me we were done. Typical. I am just going to add a little rant that in Spain, the worker is very, very protected, especially government workers (funcionarios). This means that it is impossible to fire them, which means, they couldn’t care less if they are nice or not, or even if they do their job properly because in their opinion, they can do whatever they want and that’s that. Customer service is not existent in Spain.

At this point I am about to cry and I run out of the office back to my apartment, so I can skype call my coordinators here in Córdoba and in Logroño in La Rioja, to see if I can sort this out. of course their offices close at 2, which meant I had to book it. My Córdoba coordinator was useless and said that if that’s what the extranjería says, it must be true. Not to mention the fact that I have read everything I could find about it, and nothing says that it can’t be done in your current region or that I have to go back home and get a new visa. Getting a new visa is expensive and takes months, which means that I wouldn’t have time to get a new one and come back by October 1 to start work. Did I also mention that the program that I am here with is one through the SPANISH GOVERNMENT? Shouldn’t they have this figured out for us? In fact this program is so poorly organized that we don’t even have names or phone numbers of the program directors in Madrid or in Andalucía or even in Córdoba to help us.

In short, it turned out that I had to go all the way to Logroño to turn in the paperwork for the renewal. Oh, and all before May 31, the day that my card expired. Now train travel in Spain can be costly, but if you book your tickets in advance, it can be more affordable. At this point though I was having to book everything last minute which meant I had to pay 100 euros for a round trip train ticket to Madrid-2 hours each way, and then for a 4 hour bus ride each way from Madrid to Logroño, plus a hostel in Logroño. Definitely not costs I had factored in. It took me almost 9 hours to get up there, just so I could wake up in the morning go to the office and turn in the paperwork, and then come back the next day. 18 hours of travel in less than 48 hours. FML again.

So I got up on the 29th and began the hellish journey up to Logroño. Luckily my coordinator there, P, is freaking awesome and superhelpful! What a change from Andalucía! 9 hours later I hopped off the bus and arrived in what would hopefully be my new city! I walked around for a while, but I was so exhausted from the journey and nervous about trying to renew my card. What if they told me the same thing there? So the next morning I got up and headed to the extranjería. I didn’t have to wait long before I went up to the desk for my appointment. After sorting through all my papers ( and I had to leave to make photocopies of stuff that I didn’t even know I needed, plus paying a tax at the bank, of course), she stamped my stuff and told me I was good to go!!! Yay!!!

BUT, and there is ALWAYS a but, I needed to get an autorización de regreso (an authorized form from the police stating that your documents/residency card is in the process of being renewed but the new card isn’t ready yet. See I was planning to leave Spain for Switzerland and then good old America on June 29th, and to come back around September 15th. Now the problem is that once I leave the EU after being here for so long, I have to be gone for 90 days or have a new NIE, visa or have an autorización de regreso. Oh, and if I didn’t get that form, I would technically be here illegally since my NIE had expired. Fantastic.

Unfortunately the police can only issue an autorización de regreso for 90 days from the day which you apply for it. This meant that if I applied for it the day I was in the Logroño, I would have to come back to Spain before August 30th (and I am working til September). F***! They told me I could apply for it in Córdoba since it doesn’t have anything to do with my NIE applications, which they had accepted in Logroño. I explained my experience in the extranjería in Córdoba and I was sure they wouldn’t let me apply for anything now, especially since I told the woman at the desk that I understand that her job sucks and she probably hates her life but that doesn’t give her any reason to be so rude and unprofessional and that she is paid to listen to me. Anyways, in short I knew there was no way in hell they were going to let me do anything in Córdoba after that fiasco. Oops.

As everything started to look dim, they told me, well if you can’t do it in Córdoba, you can always come back up here and we’ll give it to you no problem, just as long as its late June so you have the right amount of time on the form. I asked if there was any way to do it by mail or through a friend, nope! At this point, I put my forehead on the desk and burst into tears like one of my students. I lost it! The whole office was staring at me like I was nuts, but I didn’t care! I was incoherently babbling and weeping; I was defeated! I could barely afford to make one trip up there, and I was moving even farther south to Málaga in two days. How the hell could I make another trip up there to get a piece of paper??!! The director came over and awkwardly patted me on the back and everyone promised they would give me the autorización if I couldn’t get it done in Córdoba; I just had to call them and let them know when I would come by. At least they have souls in the office in Logroño.

As I left the office, I immediately went for a café and a gooey chocolate palmera to cheer me up. I started to think and plan. I already had train tickets booked for Madrid at the end of June to drop my luggage off with a friend for the summer. I could just change one ticket and then buy the bus tickets to Logroño, and I could just take all my luggage up their instead. Ok, things were looking up. I got back to Córdoba late that night, and the next morning I got up and first thing went to the entranjería to see if I could get the autorización done there. I think you can guess what happened. A different women spent about 10 minutes lecturing me about how she was sick of us Americans coming in and trying to renew the card, and that we would all be denied. She literally would not let me get a sentence. I kept trying to say that I wasn’t here about the NIE renewal, I had already gotten that taken care of in Logroño, and that I just wanted to ask about the autorización, but I couldn’t even form a full sentence before she would interrupt me. I got so angry I raised my voice to talk over her, when another guy came over and started to chastise me. They told me I was ignorant, rude, impertinent, and poorly educated! (I swear when they hire their staff the do a personality test to see who is the biggest jerk and then hire them) The whole situation was ridiculous, and I felt like I was a naughty school child, except what exactly had I done wring? Finally I asked my question about the autorización, and she told me that La Rioja is incorrect about accepting my application thus it’s invalid in their opinion, and therefore why would they give me an autorización for an invalid renewal application. I asked her why the only place in Spain that isn’t renewing NIE’s is in Andalucía, and is the rest of Spain wrong? She said yes. Honestly, I can’t make this up people! Spanish bureaucracy at it’s finest.

So I packed, said goodbyes, and left to go down to Málaga for June, where I had arranged to stay in my friend’s apartment. I called La Rioja and told them I would be coming up there on the 22nd to get the autorización and I began to plan accordingly. They told me oh by the way, you have to be empadronada, which means registered with the town hall as living there. Double f***. There was no way I could rent an apartment for the summer there just to get registered. They said oh, don’t worry. Just lie and say you are living with a friend and forge a contract (that’s what the POLICE said!) Great. So P my coordinator helped put me in contact with the current auxiliars up there and I was able to arrange a place to crash as well as find someone willing to say that I live with him.

So on the 21st, I got up at the crack of dawn and headed up to Logroño, again. All of the escalators and elevators were working on the Madrid metro, so I was able to haul my enormous suitcase to the bus station no problem, only squishing my toes a few times. I got all my papers in order, went out for tapas with the Americans, and barely slept that night. I waited in line forever the next morning at the town hall to register. I was so nervous I thought I was going to hurl all over their desk. I was sure she could tell I was lying, or ask me for some paper I didn’t have. Gah! But no, it went smoothly, she didn’t even read my friend’s contract (thank god because it said he wasn’t allowed to share the apartment with anyone!) I ran over to the extranjería to get the autorización, waited in line forever again in a crowded room with gypsies, and went to the desk to get my paper. They gave me a hard time because usually they don’t give autorizaciones the same day, but then the director came over and told them to because he remembered me (the weeper)!! And lo and behold, at around 1:30, I held in my hands the magical autorización de regreso!!!! ¡Qué alegría! I was so happy I think I hugged everyone in the office, and trust me, Spaniards are not huggers. But whatever!! I can’t believe it worked out! Good triumphs over evil! I thought the Spanish bureaucracy had defeated me, but ha! Now I just have to guard that and my NIE like gold because they are my ticket into the country in September! I wouldn’t put it pass them to reject my NIE application this summer or something like that but for now, Liz-1, Spain-0!

Do you have any residency horror stories while being abroad?

I want to add that I was really lucky. A lot of my friends in Andalucía had planned to stay in Spain for the summer. They had planned trips and organized work, and are now being told that they have to go home and get a new visa. They are being forced to cancel everything and buy last minute flights home because of this. Something to think about.

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29 Comments on “What do you mean I am here illegally?

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  1. I am an Indian researcher here and I have a little problem. On this 28th June 2011 my student card expired. I have to renew it , but my contract changed from a student to a worker. But the commisionaria de la policia says it is not possible to renew my card there, since I am a worker according to new contract. I have to travel India on this 29th of July. I don’t know what to do.

  2. Oh you are so lucky yours expired in September. You won’t have any problems! This would never happen in the US. We may have difficult immigration policies, but it’s nothing like the jumbled mess in Spain. What kills me is that this is all their own fault, and especially the program for neither warning us nor helping us at all. They have totally screwed over a lot of people this year. I am still worried that I will somehow be rejected once I get home and can’t get a new visa or whatever. but fingers crossed, they’ll keep their word and renew it. La Rioja is so small and they seem a lot nicer up there.

    1. I disagree that this would never happen in USA. It does happen. lol But I do agree that in Spain everything is over the top messed up and rude when it comes to customer service but the wild goose chase for immigration papers and what not…Yea definitely happens and sometimes it’s worse. I’m glad it worked out for you. I’ve never renewed mine but I have the same NIE from when I studied abroad in Valencia (09-10) but this time the TIE expires end of June unlike before in September! WTH?

      1. Wow…I really laugh at the whole “That would never happen in the USA” thing, because OH YES do we have our share of problems. In fact, I’ve done the program for two years and the worst part was in the STATES trying to get my Visa to go to Spain! (The consultaes change by states too!) The worst part was the fingerprints that 1st we were told a background check would not suffice as a replacement for fingerprints (after mine got rejected THREE times and I had to wait 2-3 weeks per fingerprint) then they said it did! UGH!

        Also, I heard a horror story from a British couple living in Spain that wanted to spend 6 months living in the USA. Well, the Uncle Sam found out something about their past, pushed them against a wall, and made them wait for FIVE hours without water or anything before they finally admitted them.

        So yeah…the USA definitely has its own problems when it comes to government paperwork so we really don’t have any right to critizce Spain for its shortcomings when we have just as many. : /

  3. whew! I was all tense/agitated/worried reading this! I went through a similar ordeal when I was working near Berlin – amen to the whole ‘government-sanctioned programs getting their act together’ but that’s Europe for you eh? But I am so glad to hear it all worked out for you!

  4. Nightmare, honestly! My NIE doesn’t expire til the end of September, so I’m crossing my fingers it goes well.

    Can you imagine if this happened in the US? I mean, I know we’re not a bureaucratic dream, but if you had to go from NY to Boston to Miami to get papers?

    Crossing my fingers it works out for you (and everyone else in the same boat!)

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