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Thursday December 5, 2013

The end of an identity crisis for British expats in Majorca?

When shopping in the UK I often absentmindedly produce my foreign resident’s identity card for inspection at the till hastily returning it to my handbag when I’m met with a blank stare. In Majorca it’s essential to have such identification, not just to prove who you are but for the important little NIE number – número de identidad de extranjeros –which a foreigner is issued with for residency status in Spain. The NIE is necessary for connecting to utilities and for property transactions. The irony of my using this little card with mugshot is that it’s only a replica of the original and is five years out of date. So why do I carry it?

Until 2007 British residents in Spain were issued with a plastic, wallet size residency card with photo. It included the NIE number and was accepted as identification in place of a passport or driving licence in stores, post offices and government departments.

Then some bright spark apparently complained to the EU about Britons having to carry such documentation and it was made obsolete and replaced with an A4 size green resident’s certificate without photo. Not only was it a pain to carry about but was utterly useless because without an image, no store would accept it as proof of identification. The only option has been to carry a passport or driving licence but this doesn’t help when one needs to show proof of NIE nor is it helpful to those who don’t possess a driving licence. And in truth who wants to risk carrying a passport about all the time?

To get round the problem, many residents, when forced to hand in the old photo card in exchange for the new green foreigner’s certificate, simply colour photocopied and laminated the original and continued using it as before. In truth I have rarely been questioned about this duplicate card but a few sharp-eyed shop assistants have occasionally mentioned that it’s out of date to which I express surprise, thank them, and promise to get it renewed. Other expat chums haven’t faired so well.

The whole issue became such a cause célèbre that various expat lobby groups in Majorca campaigned vociferously in the corridors of power at regional, national and European level to have the old card returned. It’s been a long and arduous battle driven primarily by EporE (Europeos por España) with the support of others such as expat newspaper, the Majorca Daily Bulletin and Calvia Council. Minor success came with the introduction of a smaller resident’s certificate but it has finally been agreed that a brand new, wallet style card with mugshot and NIE number will be reinstated in the early part of 2014.

I wonder whether this has been a problem mostly affecting British expats in the Baleares where showing proof of identification and NIE is the norm. On the mainland I’ve hardly ever been asked to produce such documents in shops and for services – a welcome change. So although all this could be viewed as a minor storm in a tea cup, for many British residents in Majorca the return of the old card is a major political victory and a welcome decision.

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