Visa delays hit UK students heading to Spain to study

By Branwen Jeffreys
Education Editor

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Laurie outside the Spanish Consulate

Students due to start a university year in Spain within weeks are facing visa delays, with some unsure whether they will be able to take up their places.

Spain has overtaken France as the top destination for UK students wanting a year abroad, with 4,500 going annually.

But Brexit means they now need visas. And some have waited more than a month for a visa appointment.

Spanish authorities said time was needed for universities and students to adapt to the new system.

They said student visa are a priority for all Spanish Consulates.

But, Universities UK International has written to the Spanish embassy and the Foreign Office, asking if students can apply in Spain.

A UK government spokesperson said visa applications were a matter for Spanish immigration authorities, but added it had raised the issue with the Spanish government.

Ella Perret is due to travel to Madrid next week to spend a year there as part of her law degree.

But she says: "I haven't booked a flight or accommodation because I don't know if I'm going."

Like most students, Ms Perret began the process in June, as the visa documents have to be issued within 90 days of departure.

Now the UK is no longer in the European Union, students wanting to study in Spain have to compile a dossier of documents, including:

  • a medical certificate
  • proof of income
  • a criminal-record check
  • proof of acceptance at a Spanish university
Image caption,
Ms Perret is due to travel to Madrid next week

Documents have to be translated and go through a legal process called a Hague apostille to verify them for international use.

Ms Perret says it has cost hundreds of pounds but she feels no nearer to her dream of studying in Spain.

"So many times I've been tempted to just say I'm not going," she says.

'Looking unlikely'

Sam Downes, an economics student with a place to study in Granada, southern Spain, has heard nothing since he asked for an appointment in June.

"I paid September's rent for my accommodation and my deposit - but it's looking unlikely that I'll be going in time," he says.

The university in Granada has said it cannot offer Mr Downes online learning if he does not arrive in time.

"So in the next week or two I might have to decide whether to cancel the whole year abroad," he says.

Save up

After weeks of sending emails, with no replies, some students have been turning up at the consulate in London and queuing for hours in the hope of securing a firm appointment.

Among them this week was Laurie, who did not want to give his surname because he was worried it might affect his visa application.

He has a flight and accommodation in Spain booked from 6 September but does not yet know if he will have a visa in time to travel.

Laurie took last year out so he could work and save up for his year studying abroad.

But the process has been exhausting and frustrating.

"Jumping through all these hoops is difficult and annoying enough but to not get a response from the consulate is dreadful," Laurie says.

After speaking to staff at the Spanish consulate, he is hoping to receive email confirmation of a visa appointment soon.

Tourist visa

Vivienne Stern, of Universities UK, said: "Delays in visa processing this year are causing real anxiety among students who are due to travel to Spain soon."

She has written to the Spanish embassy and the Foreign Office asking them to work together to resolve the issue.

One temporary solution her letter proposed would allow students to travel on a tourist visa for the start of term and submit their paperwork in Spain.

A spokesman for the Ministry of Foreign Affairs of Spain said: "This is the first academic year that student visas are needed after Brexit; therefore, British students and universities need to get used to the new regulation and the necessity of applying for a visa, and some adaptation time is still needed.

"All Spanish Consulates are offering all the facilities in order to speed up the visa procedures."