OPINION: Working in Spain – EU citizens still need to jump through hoops

OPINION: Working in Spain - EU citizens still need to jump through hoops
The author, Sara Berg, is studying Catalan in Girona. Photo: mletschert/Depositphotos, Private
The European Union supposedly gives all citizens equal access to live and work in any member state, but in reality the bureaucracy surrounding things like Spain’s NIE number gets foreigners tied up in knots, writes Sara Berg, a Swede living in Girona.

I’m an immigrant in another EU country and now it’s my turn to feel what it’s like to be on the inside, yet still outside. 

In Sweden, EU citizens often face bureaucratic obstacles when entering the labour market: employers claim (incorrectly) that you need a Swedish personal identification number before you can get a contract, while the tax agency retorts that you need a contract to qualify for an ID number. 

You find yourself in a catch-22 that effectively makes you unemployable. You’re inside, yet still outside. You have the right to be there, but no real possibility to live there. 

Now I’m here in Girona, a fantastic Catalonian town full of cafés and restaurants. I’m studying Catalan and my vocabulary is growing. And I was offered a job in a café! 

I feel ready to throw myself into the throng, making cappuccinos and pouring espressos long into the night. But the bureaucracy has put a stop to it. 

My would-be boss told me I needed a NIE number to get a contract. But I can’t get a NIE number without a job contract. It’s catch-22 for me too.

Whether or not a country is interested in taking care of EU citizens boils down to the economy. Countries make their own rules and laws that make it difficult for EU citizens from other countries to be included in society. 

This enables each nation to decide who can work and settle there, and who can’t; for whom the door is open and for whom it’s closed. 

I think it’s time for the EU to put pressure on member states to create real conditions for free movement – so we all can get housing, work, and can really live in another EU country. 

For now, your possibilities in Europe are seriously limited. It’s very probably you won’t be well received in another member state. No one will help you or care about you. To claim otherwise is false advertising. 

Sara Berg has taken a leave of absence from her job as a social worker in Gothenburg, Sweden, to study Catalan in Girona. 

A version of this article first appeared in Swedish newspaper Dagens Nyheter. Translation: The Local.