EXPAT PERSONAS IN SPAIN

A while back, I received a private message from a young Turk who followed my blog. He was asking about professional opportunities in Spain for those who didn’t want to do manual labor such as running a kebab restaurant or a hairdresser. His comments helped me accept that I was rather dramatizing about immigrant stories and elaborating on the cases of the most unfortunate ones who were making it from the bottom. He wanted to know what Spain had to offer to people like him, university graduates who were fluent in multiple languages and who considered themselves as global citizens.

In this post, I will dedicate a few words to address this situation, using personas based on a large number of expats I know who are based in Spain, especially in Barcelona. Before anything else, however, I must add that this post is for non-EU citizens because unless you’re a British citizen with a complicated Brexit situation, you have it easy in Spain with an EU passport. Apart from learning Spanish (only if you want), familiarizing yourself with the culture, and getting a NIE, you don’t need to do much more. In other words, for EU citizens who move to major cities in Spain, the situation is akin to those of provincial Spaniards moving elsewhere within their country for work.

Persona 1

Peter is an Ivy-league educated American citizen who moved to Spain for the love of the Catalan culture. When he was a teenager, he participated in an exchange program and lived in Barcelona over the summer. Since then, he knew he wanted to make it back to Spain and stay there in the long term. He perfected his Spanish and Catalan, and found a job in Barcelona that accepted to sponsor his work visa. He applied to the Spanish Embassy in his home country, but his request got rejected. Peter reasoned that unless the annual gross salary offered to a non-EU citizen was extremely high, the working visa would likely to be rejected. Still, he really wanted to live in Spain, so he tried to get the visa once again through another job. But no favorable again. At that point, he gave up on the work visa thing and applied for a master’s program in Barcelona. Getting a student visa was a thousand times easier than a work visa. Soon after, he was back in Barcelona as a grad student and did pareja de hecho (a legal domestic partnership) which then entitled him to live and work in Spain for as long as he wanted. He now works as a freelancer for multiple global companies and enjoys living in the city of his dreams.

Persona 2

Fatima was an industrial engineer with 5 years of work experience in her native Morocco when she moved to Spain as a PhD candidate. She got accepted with a full scholarship that covered her expenses during the first year of her studies. Under student visa, she was entitled to work a few hours per week. So that’s what she did, working here and there, mostly as a waitress, babysitter and as a receptionist in a hostel. Later, she discovered that if she could demonstrate to the authorities that she had lived in Spain for the last 3 years, she could apply for a work visa. Since her PhD was programmed to last at least 5 years, she easily completed that 3 years limit, and applied for jobs. However, it was not easy to move from manual labor to office work that sparked her interest. She had to accept various unpaid internships and rely on her savings to pay the rent and invest in building her CV. Luckily, upon completing her internships, one company offered her a full time contract. She still works there but she is not sure where her Spanish experience takes her.

Persona 3

In her native Kishinev, Daria met a Spaniard who was into ex-Soviet countries. They dated for some months, but then when their long-distance relationship passed a one-year hallmark, the couple decided to get married and live together, either in Moldova or in Spain. Given that Daria’s country is significantly less developed then Spain, the couple decided to settle in the latter and visit Moldova every now and then. It is important to note that Daria didn’t struggle as much as Fatima or Peter did when handling her paperwork. Her case was different because she didn’t have to earn her place like the first two, whether with a student visa or a working visa. Instead, her husband, a Spanish citizen, had the right to a family reunion, so for being with him, Daria was entitled to live and work in Spain for as long as she wanted. She didn’t need to get sponsored to work. Daria struggled to get a job but later ended up working in a kindergarten. She feels happy in Spain despite pressures on her marriage for being a reunion of two individuals from widely different cultures and for having relied on her husband for almost everything in her first trimester in Spain. Still, Daria is grateful that she has a family here, and she feels strongly attached to Spain.

Persona 4

Mehmet has 15-years-experience in aerospace engineering. In his native Turkey, he had a high paying job in a prestigious airline company. Inspired by his success, a Spanish company reached out to him with a job offer. Because his salary is high enough to ensure a sustainable living not just for him but also for his wife and two kids, getting a work visa from the Spanish Embassy wasn’t ever a problem. It goes without saying that Mehmet had to grow professionally in countries like Turkey and UAE before entering into Spain’s saturated job market without an EU passport. Compared to others, Mehmet might appear as the most prepared kind of expat in Spain, the most welcomed one for being who he is and respected for what he does. But then he struggles with anxiety because it is not easy to over-perform professionally day after day.

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