Coming to Spain to Work (Immigration/Visas)

Well over 10% of Spain's workforce is made up of foreign nationals - and the number is growing quickly.

Introduction

If you are a citizen of an EU member-state, you do not need any visa to work in Spain, whether it is short-term or long-term. If you are not from an EU country, whether you just want a summer job on the Costa del Sol or you wish to to settle down and work on the country for good, you’ll need a visa. Unfortunately, work visas in Spain are not very easy to obtain. There is also a lack of uniformity in the way the relevant authorities interpret and apply the immigration laws. As a result, good legal advice is a very good idea.

Short-term visits to work in Spain

For the purposes of this guide, by “work”, we mean working in paid employment in Spain. This does not include coming to Spain for business purposes (e.g. meeting clients or to discuss business opportunities). For that, see below. To come to Spain for short-term employment (less than one year) you need a short term work visa. This must be obtained, in advance, from the Consulate of Spain nearest to where you live. To apply for a visa you must have a written offer of employment (such as short term contract, training contract, or management contract). Whether it is easy or impossible to obtain such a visa depends upon what you want to do by way of work. It is relatively easy to obtain short-term visas to work in areas where there is a labour shortage. This includes harvesting olives during the short harvest period, from mid-September to mid-October. Short-term visas for office work in Spain are extremely hard to obtain. The national employment must allow for the foreign worker to be hired, or there must be proof of the worker being in certain circumstances. See this web page (in English) for more details.

How long does it take?

Obtaining a short-term work visa is theoretically doable in a month, but I highly recommend that you start the process at least three months in advance. Delays happen often.

Coming to Spain for a brief visit to do business

People wishing to visit Spain to meet clients and/or discuss business are allowed to do so as tourists. See our Guide to Coming to Spain as a Tourist.

Long-term visas to work in Spain

These visas are very difficult to obtain. There is a high level of unemployment in Spain and the government wishes to protect local jobs. However, there are some exceptions. Every year the government produces a list of job categories in which it considers there are shortages. These are, in the main, highly skilled jobs requiring high level qualifications. You can view the current list here. What is needed varies from area to area. If you have the required qualifications and a written offer of employment you may be granted a visa in this category. It will last for either one or two years and is renewable provided there is still a recognised shortage of labour in the field. Many people find it easier to get a visa to come to Spain to set up a business (and then work for that business) than they do to obtain an ordinary work visa.

How long does it take to get a Spanish work visa?

Around three months for the standard working permit – for the highly skilled jobs it can take only 10 working days.

There are several sponsor-based employment visas, which allow the applicant to temporarily live and work in Spain at the request of an employer based in Spain.

Temporary residency to work as an employee

This authorises any non-EU foreign citizen aged 16 or over to reside and work in Spain for a period between 90 days and five years if they are sponsored by an employer. The applicant must:

  • Not reside in Spain unlawfully
  • Have no criminal record either in Spain or in his previous country of residence
  • Not be listed as non-acceptable in a country with which Spain has signed a treaty to that effect
  • Not apply before the expiry of any term of commitment to not return to Spain
  • Have paid the relevant fees
  • Be eligible for employment under government regulations relating to the National Employment Situation (Article 65, Royal Decree 557/2011, of 20 April)
  • Show a signed employment contract
  • Prove the company’s solvency

Temporary residency to do scientific research in Spain

This applies to any foreign researcher who wishes to stay in Spain for a period between three months and five years to carry out research within a programme developed by a qualifying research entity. The applicant must:

  • Not reside in Spain unlawfully
  • Have no criminal record either in Spain or in his previous country of residence
  • Not be listed as non-acceptable in a country with which Spain has signed a treaty to that effect
  • Not apply before the expiry of any term of commitment to not return to Spain
  • Have paid the relevant fees

Temporary residency to work in Spain as a highly skilled worker

Foreign persons with a higher academic degree or, exceptionally, with a minimum of five years’ professional experience, can live and work in Spain for a minimum of one year if they are sponsored by an employer. The applicant must:

  • Not reside in Spain unlawfully.
  • Have no criminal record either in Spain or in his previous country of residence
  • Not be listed as non-acceptable in a country with which Spain has signed a treaty to that effect
  • Not apply before the expiry of any term of commitment to not return to Spain
  • Have paid the relevant fees

If the applicant has been authorised to work in any other EU member state, no authorisation is required.

Temporary residency to work in Spain on a fixed term contract

This applies to non-EU foreigners over 16 years of age, who wish to live and work in Spain for a third party engaged in seasonal activities (such as tour operators), campaigns, services or training and internships. The applicant must:

  • Not reside in Spain unlawfully
  • Have no criminal record either in Spain or in his previous country of residence
  • Not be listed as non-acceptable in a country with which Spain has signed a treaty to that effect
  • Not apply before the expiry of any term of commitment to not return to Spain Have paid the relevant fees

The duration of these permits varies.

  • Seasonal or campaign activities: no more than nine months. Extensions can be obtained lasting for the duration of the work or an extra 12 months, whichever is the shorter.
  • Services: no more than 12 months in most cases. Extensions can be obtained lasting a further nine months.
  • Athletes, artists, performers and CEOs: typically, 12 months. Extensions can be obtained lasting the duration of the work or an extra 12 months, whichever is the shorter.
  • Training and internship activities: typically 12 months. . Extensions can be obtained lasting the duration of the work or an extra 12 months, whichever is the shortest.

Temporary residency to work as part of transnational services procurement

This visa is granted to workers employed and transferred to Spain by a company located in a non-EU country in any of the following cases:

  • When the employee is to render services established by a contract between the transferring company and the transferee company active or located in Spain
  • When the receiving company is the same company or forms part of the same group of companies as the transferring company
  • When the transferred employees are highly qualified workers transferred to Spain for the purposes of supervising or advising on works or on services to be carried out by a Spanish company abroad

The visa does not extend to transfers for training purposes. The visa authorisation is geographically limited, for one occupation and for a maximum of one year. The applicant must:

  • Not reside in Spain unlawfully
  • Have no criminal record either in Spain or in his previous country of residence
  • Not be listed as non-acceptable in a country with which Spain has signed a treaty to that effect
  • Not apply before the expiry of any term of commitment to not return to Spain
  • Have paid the relevant fees

Temporary residency without a requirement for an authorisation to work Certain workers are exempt from obtaining work authorisation to reside and work in Spain. There is a long list. It includes:

  • Civil servants and military officials of foreign governments who are carrying out activities under co-operation agreements with the Spanish Administration
  • Foreign media
  • Members of international scientific missions
  • Artists and sports people who come to Spain to perform for less than five consecutive days or 20 non-consecutive days in a period of less than six months
  • Religious ministers

Temporary residency for highly qualified workers

Companies that need foreign professionals to perform various tasks can apply for a residence permit, which will be valid throughout Spain. These tasks include:

  • Management of very large companies
  • Management of a business project involving activities considered and certified as being of public interest.
  • Graduates and postgraduates from prestigious universities and business schools.

Temporary residency to work as part of an intra-corporate transfer

Foreign nationals who are posted to Spain within the framework of an employment or professional relationship, or for professional training purposes, within a company or group of companies established in Spain or in another country, must apply for both:

  • The relevant visa
  • A residence permit, which will be valid throughout Spain

Permanent settlement in Spain

There are many different categories of settlement visa. The rules can be confusing. worse still, the rules do not contain all the ‘rules’! There are various requirements in the rules that are no longer followed in practice; and there are ‘unofficial’ requirements with which you will have to comply despite the fact that they are mentioned nowhere in the immigration rules.

There are five main groups of visas allowing permanent settlement in Spain:

  • Settlement to join existing family members
  • Settlement to work
  • Settlement to engage in business
  • Settlement based on investment in Spain
  • Settlement on retirement or for people who are ‘not economically active’ (not working, basically)

If you have been living and working in Spain for at least five years your temporary long-term work visa will be converted into a permanent work visa. Taking legal advice from an immigration expert is highly recommended. It is almost certain to save you both money and time. It could also open your eyes to some possibilities you had previously not considered.

Conclusion

Getting a visa to work in Spain is tricky, but in some cases it is possible. See a specialist immigration lawyer as early in the process as possible to increase your chances of success.

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