The coronavirus crisis has proved to be an exceptionally busy time for the British embassy and Consular network in Spain. Only a few months after the collapse of Thomas Cook led to the biggest repatriation effort since the war, tourism effectively closed down and hundreds of thousands of British citizens made their way back home.
First published in Gazette Life, June 1st 2020.
On Lanzarote, we’ve been represented by Charmaine Arbouin, the British Consul for Andalucia and the Canary Islands, while Vice-Consul Jackie Stephenson has offered valuable support in Las Palmas.
We contacted Charmaine and Jackie, as well as Deborah Christophers, the Consular Communications Officer at the Embassy in Madrid, to answer some of the most important questions concerning the crisis.
WHAT HAS THE MAIN WORK OF THE CONSULATES BEEN?
Our top priority has been to get UK nationals home and to support those unable to return to stay safely in the Canaries. We estimate that the FCO has helped around 200,000 British nationals to return from Spain to the UK.
We are supporting those who have not yet returned to the UK by providing up-to-date information, regularly reviewing and updating our travel advice, answering questions on social media and providing consular support for the most vulnerable. Some have decided to remain in their property here in the Canaries and, for those that do not have their own home, the Spanish government is ensuring there is limited hotel availability.
We are in regular contact with the travel industry, including airlines and ferry providers, and are working together to provide up-to-date information.
For the latest information we encourage UK nationals to sign up for email alerts to our travel advice for Spain on gov.uk (www.gov.uk/foreign-travel-advice/spain), so that they are kept up to date. The Las Palmas consulate remains open for those who need support and can be reached on +34 92 8262 508 / www.gov.uk/contact-consulate-las-palmas.
WE STILL OCCASIONALLY HEAR FROM BRITISH PEOPLE WHO SEEM INTENT ON COMING TO LANZAROTE REGARDLESS OF TRAVEL DIFFICULTIES OR QUARANTINE
REGULATIONS. ARE THERE ANY RULES FORBIDDING NONESSENTIAL TRAVEL?
The FCO continues to advise British nationals against all but essential travel. At the current time, only Spanish citizens, those who are legally resident in Spain, frontier workers or those who can prove they need to enter Spain for essential reasons will be allowed to enter the country.
If you want to return to your home in Lanzarote, you must have a green residency certificate to prove your residence there. Anything else, such as a certificate of empadronamiento, will not be accepted and we would advise you not to try.
It is for the Spanish authorities to determine who can enter the country and there is no guarantee that you will be able to enter Spain.
SEVERAL BRITISH CITIZENS WHO DECIDED TO REMAIN ON LANZAROTE HAVE BEEN EXPERIENCING FINANCIAL DIFFICULTIES. THEY INCLUDE THOSE WHO WERE WORKING WITHOUT CONTRACT AS WELL AS THE SELF-EMPLOYED AND CONTRACTED WORKERS WHOSE ERTE PAYMENTS HAVE BEEN DELAYED. WHAT ADVICE CAN YOU OFFER THEM?
We know that the lockdown has significantly affected the ability of many UK nationals on Lanzarote to work, and thus reduced their income. At the consulate, we’ve been working to support those who have become vulnerable as a result of the crisis.
We have provided emergency loans, which must be repaid, to enable individuals to return to the UK if they wish, and have signposted people to organisations that can provide additional support. Voluntary organisations across the Canaries have done an extraordinary job – helping people to get medication, shopping and food, and assisting with electricity and rent payments – it’s a great example of the community coming together.
While the Embassy cannot offer financial advice, and encourages individuals to seek guidance from their employer, a gestor or the Spanish authorities, as appropriate; we have provided a summary of the Spanish Government’s package of economic measures on our social media channels, to help direct people to further support.
IT SEEMS CLEAR THAT CANARIAN AUTHORITIES ARE NOT EXPECTING THE RETURN OF INTERNATIONAL TOURISM UNTIL LATE JULY OR EVEN LATER. DOES THE BRITISH EMBASSY HAVE A POSITION ON THIS?
There are a number of different factors that will determine when British tourists return to the Canaries,. They include when the British, Spanish and Canarian authorities deem it safe to allow international travel; when tourists feel comfortable travelling overseas again, and when airlines increase their services between the UK and the Canaries.
We need to see how the situation evolves, both in the UK and Spain. At the moment, both countries are advising against all non-essential travel, but Lanzarote has always been a favourite destination of British tourists and we are sure it will continue to be so in the future.
MANY BUREAUCRATIC PROCEDURES HAVE BEEN SUSPENDED SINCE THE CRISIS BEGAN. WILL SPANISH AUTHORITIES MAKE ALLOWANCES TO GIVE BRITISH CITIZENS TIME TO REGISTER DURING THE TRANSITION PERIOD?
UK nationals who live in Spain, but who do not currently possess a residency document, will be able to obtain this document once the restrictions are lifted and appointments resume. As long as a UK national is living in Spain and can prove that they satisfy the legal conditions of residence (access to healthcare and sufficient income) by 31 December, they will fall under the Withdrawal Agreement, even if they have not been able to get the physical document before the end of the year.
Nonetheless, we continue to advise anyone who doesn’t currently have a residency document to take steps to obtain this once the emergency restrictions are lifted and appointments resume. Please visit https://sede.administracionespublicas.gob.es/icpplus/ for further information.
WHAT GENERAL ADVICE DOES THE EMBASSY AND CONSULATE OFFER BRITISH CITIZENS ON THE CANARIES.
At the current time, our advice is to make sure that they abide by the restrictions in place and follow the advice of the local authorities. The most important thing is to take care and stay safe.