Spain: British expats face threat of return to UK warns expert
The plight of British expats is currently under the microscope, with strict immigration rules in relation to non-EU citizens now applying to people from the UK in the wake of Brexit. Regulations state that people can visit visa-free for no more than 90 days out of a consecutive period of 180 days.
For British citizens unable to prove they were resident in the relevant EU27 country prior to December 31, this means they would face a 90-day deadline to leave.
Leon Fernando Del Canto, of Del Canto Chambers, in Spain, said the rules had major implications for anyone owning a property in his country or elsewhere in the bloc.
He told Express.co.uk: “The news that Spain is reopening its borders to the UK from June has been met with a great deal of excitement by the 18 or so million British citizens who travel to Spain each year.
Ursula von der Leyen’s EU could face a legal challenge over the rules, said Mr Del Canto
The EU27 country with the most British expats is Spain
“However, the reopening of the borders will throw up Brexit-related red tape nightmares for the thousands of British citizens who have been enjoying the freedom of splitting their time between living in Spain and the UK.
Many of these Britons have failed to register their residence in Spain and have been enjoying flying under the radar.
However, the reopening of the borders marks an end to Britons’ ability to live fluidly between two countries with and Brexit’s restrictions being taken very seriously by the Spanish authorities.
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Pedro Sanchez, Spain’s Prime Minister
Mr Del Canto warned: “Prolonged illegal stay in a Schengen zone country could mean not being allowed to return for over three years.
“Information on anyone who overstays in one of these countries will be logged into the immigration database and will therefore be easily noticed.
“This rule is a rigid one and there will be very little leniency by authorities towards those failing to abide by it.
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“There will be no mitigating circumstances (even for family emergencies) that will allow for the relaxation of these rules.”
The rule changes were especially problematic for Brits who owned a second home abroad, Mr Del Canto acknowledged.
In total, more than 500,000 UK citizens own a holiday home in an EU Schengen zone country, most commonly Spain, which they bought before December 31, 2020, he said.
The top 10 countries for British expats
However, Mr Del Canto also offered these people a potentially crucial – and little-known – lifeline.
He explained: “Crucially though, individuals who own a home abroad may find they have grounds on which to mount a legal challenge against the 90-day restriction.”
The European Convention on Human Rights (ECHR), to which the UK remains a signatory, contains three distinct rules (as established in its first Protocol, Article 1):
- a) the general principle of peaceful enjoyment of property
- b) the rule that a deprivation of possessions should be subject to certain conditions
- c) the rule that states are entitled to control the use of property in accordance with the general interest by enforcing such laws as they deem necessary for this purpose.
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Mr Del Canto said: “Irrespective of whether the country in question is a person’s main residence, restricting them from peacefully enjoying their property would appear to directly contravene the right enshrined in Article 1.
“Not only is the UK still a signatory to the ECHR, but an individual doesn’t need to be a national of one of the States bound by the Convention if the violation has been committed by one of those States within its ‘jurisdiction’.”
Speaking last month, pensioner Eric Anderson feared his time in his second home in Spain would be severely limited in accordance with the new rules.
The European Court of Human Rights administers the ECHR
He said: “I feel badly let down. We paid a mortgage for 20 years to have a holiday home and a retirement bolt-hole for the winter.
“We’re limited to just 90 days now, and that’s not just for Spain, but anywhere we go in Europe on holiday.
“Say we cross from Newcastle to the Netherlands, that’s counted.
“So you’re already being restricted by time to come back into the UK.”