Safia El Aaddam, pictured, was born in the north-eastern city of Tarragona, and, though the 23-year-old is politically active, she will not be able to cast her vote in the European, regional and municipal elections on 26th May, either!
“I’ve lived here for years and fulfilled my duties, but I do not have the same rights,” she said.
Although Safia was born in Spain, she does not have Spanish citizenship, which is an essential requirement to vote in elections.
To be granted citizenship, according to the civil code, it is not enough to be born in Spanish territory. One parent must have citizenship, or both parents must be stateless or unknown, all of which does not apply to Safia.
In legal terms, unlike some other countries, Spain operates on the basis of jus sanguinis (Latin for right of blood), rather than jus soli (Latin for right of the soil).
According to data from the National Institute of Statistics (INE), collected in the 2018 Immigration Report by the Barcelona Centre for International Affairs (CIDOB), 520,000 people in Spain do not have Spanish citizenship, even though they were born in the country.
Safia began the process to become a Spanish citizen when she was 18, after she saw her friends going to vote, but she couldn’t. Yet the right to vote is just one of the reasons why she wants Spanish citizenship.
With it, Safia would have the same rights as EU citizens; she would be able to study on the Erasmus exchange programme, and take civil servant exams.
But even though Sofia meets the requirements needed to apply for “nationality by residence,” which, in her case, are one year of residency, showing good conduct and a sufficient degree of integration, she is still waiting to receive it.
And she isn’t alone. In 2017, 400,000 people were stuck in limbo, awaiting citizenship, according to data from the Ministry of Defence and the Spanish ombudsman.
In 2015, online registration was introduced to speed up the application process, but it hasn’t had the desired effect. The process still takes years, and not just because of technical issues.
What’s more, applicants must pass two exams to be granted Spanish citizenship by residence. One is a Spanish language test and the other is about the Spanish Constitution and culture.
It costs €200 to sit the exams, introduced in 2015. But because Safia studied in Spain, she is waiting for this requirement, proposed in a draft ministerial order in 2016, to be waived.
According to the CIDOB’s 2018 immigration report, 6.2 million foreigners (13.3% of the total population) live in Spain.
This number includes 2.1m people, who have Spanish citizenship but were born elsewhere; over four million who were born outside of Spain and do not have Spanish citizenship, along with 520,000 people, who, like Safia, were born in Spain but lack citizenship.
Only people with Spanish citizenship can vote in the elections, although there are exceptions. EU citizens, for instance, can vote in municipal and European elections, and can also be elected as mayors and local councillors.
Foreigners, from 12 countries, can also vote in municipal elections in Spain, provided they are the registered on the municipal roll and can show they have lived in the country for five, uninterrupted years.
These special agreements, signed in 2011, apply to people from Bolivia, Cabo Verde, Chile, Colombia, South Korea, Ecuador, Iceland, Norway, New Zealand, Paraguay, Peru, and Trinidad and Tobago.
But to have a vote in the municipal elections on 26th May, EU nationals and citizens of the 12 countries covered by the special agreements, have to register in the Electoral Census for Foreign Residents in Spain (CERE).
This process must be done ahead of time. Jorge Hincapié, from Colombia failed to register in time for the 2011 elections, but he was one of the 464,074 migrants who voted in the 2015 municipal election.
The 27-year-old, who came to Spain when he was eight, began the process to apply for Spanish citizenship last year, so that he can sit civil servant exams in the future.
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