LONDON - Depending on country of destination, a migrant Pinoy might find it easy and quick to obtain permanent residency in Europe. But this needs a lot of patience and helpful advice from experts in immigration law.
Let us look at the experience of some of our countrymen in Spain.
Settlement in Spain
Edelson Bagting, a 30-year old Batangeño, has lived in Barcelona for the last 9 years and is now a Spanish citizen. He used to be a teacher in the Philippines and dreamt of a better future for his family.
With the help of relatives in Spain, he was able to go to Barcelona. He managed to get a sponsor, and they raised Euros 4,500 for the fee.
A cook in a Thai restaurant, Bagting said, “I was able to come to Barcelona legally, with a working visa. I managed to get the requirement which is a job contract (sponsor) in exchange for 4,500 euros which I paid to a Pilipina who has since died, and a lawyer who was killed.”
He wrestled with long hours at work, and was even sent to a remote destination in Spain. But he went through this with patience and learning the Spanish language which is one of the requirements in order to obtain citizenship.
“I found it really hard at first because I had to work in Girona, a province distant from Barcelona,” Bagting admitted. “I had to study the language, and I had to learn how to cook because my job was cooking. I worked 18 hours a day, but they gave me time to work on the requirements.”
According to Bagting it was not difficult to apply for residence and nationality before, but now you have to go through the eye of a needle. The law kept changing and it took him seven years before he was able to secure his much desired Spanish citizenship.
Now he is enjoying life in Barcelona while his child now lives with him and goes to school in the city.
Annaliza Villano, now a Residence Permit holder, was previously undocumented. She arrived in Barcelona in June 2010. When she lost her job in Dubai, she targeted coming to Spain and through the help of a friend via a circuitous route thru Denmark, she was able to join her sibling.
Villano is clear on how difficult life is without papers, as a TNT (“hide and hide”). She was always paranoid and scared to come face to face with the police.
She recounted, “Once I was caught by the police. I was on a bus outside Barcelona. When I got off the bus, the police were waiting. They took me to the precinct. I was treated like a criminal. It’s a good thing my employer knew someone inside the police station. I cried when they let me out especially when my employer hugged me.”
She accepted that it would take a while before she saw her family in the Philippines and she had to swallow her pride.
Villano said, “When I did not have papers, I was defenseless. If they get stroppy with you, you just keep quiet. Sometimes I would cry at night. But I already accepted in my mind that I would not be able to visit home for three years.”
But she knew that even if she became TNT in Spain, it was quite easy to obtain a Residence Permit in the country. Almost four years to the day she came, she has now sorted her papers and has a Residence Permit.
Villano said she felt like a freed bird. “The grandmother of the children I look after, she was the one who cried when I told her my residence permit had been approved.”
Villano now plans for her husband in Saudi Arabia and for her children in the Philippines to join her in Spain, and eventually she will apply for her Spanish nationality.
She went through difficult times, but Villano advises, “Never give up. At first I was always in tears, but I steeled myself. At first its difficult but once you get you used to it, it becomes easier. If I could do it, you could do it too.”
Support Group in Madrid
This is the same advice that Eleanor Diana de Leon, Founder and President of AFIMA or Asociacion Filipina de Madrid. I met her in Madrid. Thru my mobile phone, I recorded her story.
De Leon persevered for many years working in Spain until she was able to get her much-desired Residence Permit, followed by her Spanish nationality, as well as her husband and three children.
“When I came here I was unable to get my papers sorted out straightaway due to wrong information on the situation at the time. Although I had the chance at the time to work on my legal documents, it did not happen so I had to wait for almost 10 years eventually to obtain them,” relates De Leon.
According to De Leon, Spain is comparatively easy for Filipinos. Firstly, this is because of our close historical relationship and secondly, because they know the quality of work of Filipinos in addition to their ability to speak English.
“So long as you have already accumulated two years of legal residence here in Spain, you have another option to apply for Spanish nationality. Once you obtain your DNI or Documento Nacional de Identidad, that is the official ID which proves that you are now Spanish,” said de Leon.
Added de Leon, “Usually there are no problems with Filipinos. So the processing of nationality for Filipinos is quite fast. They will register your Filipino birth certificate in their official civil register, then send you the duly translated and registered Spanish birth certificate. With that you are now able to go to a police station to get your DNI card with the picture and at the same time you can get your passport. That’s automatic already.”
Settlement in UK
Let us look at the story of a compatriot in the United Kingdom.
Marivic Salvador came from the Middle East, brought here by her employer. They have been barely two weeks in the UK when she escaped with two co-workers and went to stay with a Pinoy. It did not take long before they were all able to find new employers.
Salvador related, “I was able to come here, having started in the Middle East, when my employer brought me here, and we were here about two weeks. And then one week we ran away. There were three of us friends in one house. So we ran away and then a Pilipino helped us. We were out of work for about two months and then after that we were able to find work.”
She also told us how they gathered enough courage to leave the employer who brought her to London.
“Our employer was kind, he was kind,” Salvador conceded. “But the salary if you would compare it was like £100 a month. I like it here better because it is nice here, there were plenty of opportunities. But,” she laughed, “I really went through a lot here. I like it here now, the salary, people are kind, very humble, very friendly. Very different compared to where we came from. There we could not just go out, our work was 24 hours, you have to stay awake while the bosses are awake.”
Salvador worked hard over the last five years until she became entitled to apply for Indefinite Leave to Remain or Settlement status, which she now has. Her family is now also with her.
Salvador adds, “My status now is Indefinite. My employer supported me as in. It’s difficult if your employer will not support you. When I received it I was so happy, I cried when I received my Indefinite. It means I am free now, I do not need to renew my visa. This is important because every year I spent £1,200 to renew. If you are on Indefinite leave to remain, you have no more problem, no more to pay, nothing more to worry about…”
Now Salvador is only waiting for her son to be given British citizenship. After this she is confident that her next child will automatically have British citizenship because she now has Settled status. And in a few more months, she would already be entitled herself to apply for British citizenship.
Her husband is now also in full time employment and after three years he should be able to apply for settlement visa.
Roberto Salvador, who used to work in Abu Dhabi, proudly said, “A of course you cannot discount the happiness brought by being together with your family even if far from the Philippines. I did not realize we would be together in London. Because before we were separated, I was with our son in the Philippines, and my wife was here working. But now we all live together…”
The story of Salvador is typical among the many Filipinos who came here from other countries, especially the domestic workers who, once they entered the UK, were able to see the much higher salaries here, and that they have human rights which get respected here.
Like the many who were courageous enough to leave their employers, they have not made a mistake because the UK previously protected domestic workers under the leadership of the Labour Government.
But times changed and even domestic worker visas were removed from the Immigration Rules from 5 April 2012. However if an applicant was already in the UK at the time they introduced the legislation, or had a visa even before that date, they could still fight for the right to obtain residence and eventually British citizenship.
If you are working in Spain and does not yet have a Residence Permit or nationality despite many years of living there, take the opportunity to consult a lawyer or go to AFIMA as soon as possible. Filipinos are given special treatment nowadays and just two years of legal residence could be your route to obtaining a Spanish passport.
Whatever type of visa you were able to get and you wish to live permanently in Europe, the first thing you need to do is to approach an immigration adviser or lawyer to find out if you have any rights or if there is anything you can do to obtain the right documents.
Do not engage in a guessing game, and do not just keep quiet in a corner, because fortune might pass you by. As they say, this is almost like a lottery. If you do not purchase a lottery ticket, then you have no chance of winning at all. And who knows where your lucky numbers might fall?
(With Ryan Chua in London, and Daniel Infante Tuano in Barcelona)
Immigration 101 is one of the segments on TFC’s Juan EU Konek, a once-month special, on TFC. It is presented by immigration adviser Gene Alcantara.
In the same episode to be aired on August 3, ABS-CBN Europe senior correspondent Rose Eclarinal will feature the biggest Filipino event in Europe and Europe and Middle East bureau chief Danny Buenafe will look into the lives of Filipino retirees in UK and Spain.
Juan EU Konek airs every first Sunday of the month, 10:35 p.m. (UK, EU) and 11:35 p.m. (Saudi Arabia, ME), with replays on Thursdays at 8:05 a.m. (UK, EU) and 8:45 a.m. (Saudi Arabia, ME).