Spain tightens Schengen border checks for third country nationals

18th April 2022

By Brian Reyes and Maria Jesus Corrales

There was confusion at the border on Monday as Spanish police officers began to apply a stricter interpretation of the Schengen Border Code for third country nationals, including British passport holders without a Gibraltar red ID card.

The measures appeared to be applied primarily to pedestrians and not everyone was impacted, with some third-country nationals crossing without a hitch.

But there were reports on social media too that some people hoping to cross into Spain for a day trip had been turned back, even those who held blue Gibraltar ID cards alongside their British passports.

Schengen rules require third country nationals – meaning anyone with a non-EU passport, including those from countries like the UK which do not require a visa for entry – to justify their reason for travel and provide documentary proof of where they will stay, proof of their date of return and evidence that they can fund their time in the Schengen area.

The UK Government applies similar rules for non-resident EU nationals entering the UK.

While the requirements apply to all third country nationals, not everyone crossing a Schengen border will necessarily be checked as immigration guards can apply checks randomly.

The change at the border on Monday appeared to reflect a stricter interpretation of the rules than has previously been the case.

The reason for that change in stance, however, was not clear, although it comes against the backdrop of ongoing talks for a UK/EU treaty on the Rock’s future relationship with the bloc.

Negotiators had hoped to seal an agreement by Easter but that target has lapsed and the talks are set to continue in the coming days.

Contacted by the Chronicle, a spokesman for Spain’s Ministry for Foreign Affairs declined to comment.

The Chronicle also contacted Spain’s Ministry of the Interior, which is responsible for immigration controls, for clarification but we have yet to receive a reply.

A spokesperson for No.6 Convent Place said the Gibraltar Government was aware of the reports.

“The Chief Minister is vigorously pursuing this unannounced change in posture with the Spanish authorities,” the spokesperson told the Chronicle.

The Schengen Border Code is being strictly applied to non Europeans and non Spanish and Gibraltar residents.

The Chief Minister has told GBC that in the event of no treaty, the full application of the Schengen Border Code will be the default position for everyone who is not an EU national, including Gibraltarians.

Over the weekend, those not in possession of a red ID card were not being allowed to cross the frontier without a valid reason. The Chief Minister took to Twitter on Sunday to say he would be raising the matter with both Spain and the UK. However, there have been further reports today of British nationals being turned back as they attempted to cross into Spain.

Third country nationals need to justify their reason for travel and show their date of departure.

In answers to questions from GBC, Fabian Picardo says the fluid movement of persons across the border between Gibraltar and Spain remains a key part of the envisaged agreement for the future relationship of Gibraltar with the European Union.

He says until that agreement has been concluded, Spain is bound to apply the EU Schengen Border Code, which provides for a greater intensity of controls at the border on what the EU terms Third Country Nationals. The Code obliges border guards to check and stamp passports and also to question border crossers on matters like the purpose of their visit to the Schengen area and to request proof of their means of subsistence.

Gibraltarian residents of Gibraltar who hold red identity cards have been temporarily exempted by Spain from this requirement pending the negotiation of a new treaty. However, in the event of no treaty the full application of the Schengen Border Code would be the default position for everyone who is not an EU National, including Gibraltarians.

The Chief Minister says the Government has already raised the issues which arose in some instances this weekend, but sadly this must be seen against the wider context of the legal reality which exists for British Citizens as a result of Brexit.

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POTENTIAL problems for visitors trying to cross Gibraltar border have been reported as it appears that the Spanish authorities are tightening Schengen border rules.

In theory, anyone who doesn’t have Spanish residency or an EU passport who wants to go into Spain from the Rock may be stopped and asked for reasons for travel, proof of accommodation and physical evidence of funds to support them

This is not peculiar to Spain but is true for every Schengen member state although until recently this has been very much ignored and special dispensation was made for Gibraltar residents who were able to travel backwards and forwards without greater hindrance than the usual rush hour queue.

Things change quickly and it could be a decision that has been implemented in order to influence the outcome of the negotiations of Gibraltar’s Schengen deal or because the Spanish are irritated with the arrival of the US submarine in particular.

At the time of writing, it is mainly those travelling by foot who are being stopped but this should be taken as a warning to those British passport holders flying into Gibraltar and then walking across the border to catch taxis or rent a car that they could well be stopped and also have their baggage searched.

The National Police control immigration whilst the Guardia Civil act as customs officers so once people get through one area of delay, they could immediately face a second.

There is a further problem which only affects residents of Gibraltar who have British passports but a blue Gibraltar residency card (rather than red which effectively denotes birth on the Rock) as some have been refused entry to Spain and the Chief Minister is trying to rectify that problem.

Border problems come and go on a regular basis but on February 11, 2022, Spanish Foreign Minister José Manuel Albares said “When we approach the end of the negotiation, which is already almost 99 per cent, more nerves enter, but for us, for the government of Pedro Sánchez, generosity will not be lacking in any practical or daily aspect”.

Perhaps those being less than generous on a daily basis now have forgotten his words.

US general stationed in Portugal blocked by Schengen controls in Gibraltar

https://noticiasgibraltar.es/general/noticias/controles-schengen-bloquean-gibraltar-general-estadounidense-destinado-portugal

Brigadier General Marcus Bryant Annibale, Chief of Staff of NATO's Naval Strike and Support Forces (STRIKFORNATO) in Oeiras, Portugal, was stuck in Gibraltar last Easter, as he lacked specific authorisation and did not meet the requirements of Schengen controls to cross the frontier into Spain.

Although the case of General Annibale is, so far, the most striking due to the high rank of its protagonist and the fact that he comes from Portugal, it is not the only one, but rather one more of the numerous movements of US military personnel stationed in the peninsular bases (above all Morón and Rota), who try to cross the Gibraltar border without complying with the European Union's border regulations or having any express authorisation from the Spanish state.

As is known, the application of Schengen controls at the Gibraltar border is affecting, for the time being and pending a conclusion to the negotiations, only those persons who cannot show identification as Gibraltarian citizens and who are therefore third-country nationals and must comply with the necessary requirements.

THE "STEROID" GENERAL ANNIBALE

The most notorious case so far, though by no means the only one, involved the Chief of Staff of NATO's Naval Support and Strike Forces in Oeiras (Portugal), General "Steroid" Annibale (see his professional biography here). The general tried, but failed, to force his way through the Gibraltar frontier, despite having been warned by the Spanish police that he did not meet the requirements.

The presence of this American general in Gibraltar coincided with the US nuclear submarine USS Georgia, which has been docked at the harbour of the Gibraltar Naval Base since 13 April, the same day that the American soldier crossed the fence.

The general entered Gibraltar in a Portuguese-registered car from Spain on Holy Wednesday. Even then, the Spanish agents stationed at the border warned him that he could not return through the same crossing point for pedestrians and vehicles, as he did not comply with Schengen rules and did not have any specific authorisation.

Nevertheless, on Good Friday, the general presented himself on his return to Spain through the same crossing point, being prevented from entering as he had been warned and generating a tense situation.

UNEXPLAINED MOVEMENTS

The Spanish authorities have been detecting, for some time now, an unusual movement of US military personnel attempting to enter and leave Gibraltar through the fence without explanation and without complying with the requirements applied by the European Union in the Schengen area.

There is not any record that the US Embassy has at any time informed the Spanish Administration of the need for such movements so that these military personnel can enjoy specific authorisation without generating unnecessary tension at the Gibraltar border.

Remember when

Joining the Schengen Area opens up new opportunities, the territory’s government says.

Gibraltar’s proposed entry into the European Union’s Schengen free-movement area offers a “historic” opportunity for the British Overseas Territory to develop its route network, according to business and tourism minister Vijay Daryanani (pictured).

A temporary agreement confirming freedom of movement between Spain and Gibraltar, located on the southern coast of the Iberian peninsula, was struck on Dec. 31, 2020—the day the UK officially left the EU. Negotiations to agree a final treaty on Gibraltar’s post-Brexit future began in October. A decision on that is due within the next three months.

Schengen Entry Will Boost Gibraltar Connectivity, Tourism Minister Says

Gibraltar’s proposed entry into the European Union’s Schengen free-movement area offers a “historic” opportunity for the British Overseas Territory to develop its route network, according to business and tourism minister Vijay Daryanani (pictured).

A temporary agreement confirming freedom of movement between Spain and Gibraltar, located on the southern coast of the Iberian peninsula, was struck on Dec. 31, 2020—the day the UK officially left the EU. Negotiations to agree a final treaty on Gibraltar’s post-Brexit future began in October. A decision on that is due within the next three months.

If the talks are successful, it is hoped that Gibraltar will become part of the Schengen area, with Spain taking responsibility for Schengen immigration checks. Frontex, the pan-EU border force, would carry out land checks on the ground.

Daryanani said Gibraltar’s planned entry into the Schengen Area would benefit communities on both sides of the border, enabling the territory’s people to travel freely and provide an economic boost for the Campo de Gibraltar region on the Spanish mainland.

He said an agreement would make the territory more attractive for European carriers, allowing Gibraltar International (GIB) to expand its route network.

“It is very important, not only for Gibraltar but also for the shared prosperity that might be created in the hinterland into Spain,” Daryanani told Routes. “European airlines are very interested in Gibraltar because it’s a gateway to the region—there isn’t another airport withing a 50-km radius.”

23rd April 2022

US Government protests to Spain after senior officer is blocked at border.

The presence of two nuclear-powered submarines in Gibraltar over the past week put a spotlight on the Rock’s military strategic importance in a volatile world, but out of the limelight, there was tension between the UK and the US on one side, and Spain on the other.

UK and US military officials became concerned after the programmed visit of the US Navy’s USS Georgia was reported a day before arrival in a Spanish media outlet, including the vessel’s name.

NATO allies often share advance information of submarine port calls, but the information is secret for obvious reasons.

To read it in the media signalled a leak of that information.

The arrival of the UK submarine HMS Audacious a few days later was also reported in advance by some Spanish media, again raising similar concerns.

Asked about this, the UK Foreign, Commonwealth and Development Office deflected questions to the Ministry of Defence.

“The MoD takes operational security very seriously and any breaches are dealt with accordingly,” an MoD spokesperson told the Chronicle.

“It would not be appropriate to comment on this specific case.”

A spokesman for the US Navy also avoided any comment on the leak, except to say: “Operational security regarding our U.S. Navy ships and personnel remains a top priority for us, which is why we do not discuss future movements unless previously planned and coordinated.”

Speaking on GBC’s Viewpoint on Thursday night, the Governor, Vice Admiral Sir David Steel, said “secrecy with submarine movements is pretty much paramount” but acknowledged advance information was sometimes shared between partner nations.

Sir David stressed, in any event, that the tight security surrounding all submarine surface movements meant there was little risk.

As always, the presence of the vessels in Gibraltar generated protests from Spanish environmental groups that have long voiced fears about submarine operations of this type.

But this time, there was a Spanish diplomatic protest too.

Even before the US submarine had docked in Gibraltar, there were reports in Spain that the Spanish Government had lodged a complaint with the US Government over its decision to send the vessel to the Rock instead of nearby Rota.

Sir David would not be drawn on this but said US Navy submarines “can berth anywhere they want to”, adding that “flexibility of submarine operations is where the utility lies”.

And there were other sources of friction with Spain too arising from the US submarine’s presence here.

Last weekend, a senior US naval officer deployed to the Rock from Lisbon was stopped by Spanish border guards as he tried to cross back into Spain in uniform to return to the Portuguese capital.

Despite being NATO allies, Spain prohibits any military movements over the border or over its airspace if the destination or starting point is Gibraltar.

Some Spanish media, the same ones that reported on the submarine movements ahead of arrival, said the officer was Brigadier General Marcus Bryant Annibale, Chief of Staff of NATO’s Naval Strike and Support Forces (STRIKFORNATO) in Oeiras, Portugual.

On Friday, Captain David Baird, the commander of the US base in Rota, posted a message on the base’s Facebook page alerting personnel about the probles at the border and saying the US Government had taken the matter up with the Spanish Government “at the highest levels”.

But he told them too to avoid travelling to Gibraltar for now.

“I am aware that many members of our community have had difficulty in the past week entering Spain from Gibraltar,” he wrote.

“The U.S. Embassy in Madrid is fully engaged to resolve these issues, but unpredictable delays continue.”

“Until further notice, I strongly discourage U.S. members of the Naval Station Rota community from traveling to or from Gibraltar.”

“If you must travel to Gibraltar, please ensure you have your TEI card and your passport with a Valid entry stamp for Spain.”

“Please also ensure you have sufficient funds available for multiple nights of lodging should you be delayed.”

“The US Embassy is working to address these issues at the highest levels. But until we have clear resolution, please refrain from traveling to Gibraltar.”

The House of Commons' European Scrutiny Committee has launched an inquiry into the progress of the negotiations with the EU over border and trade arrangements between Spain and Gibraltar.

It says the move follows news that blue ID card holders are being refused entry into Spain without revealing the reason for their visit, where they will be staying, and the amount of cash they have.

The European Scrutiny Committee aims to assess the legal and political importance of EU documents deposited by the Government in Parliament. It is a cross-party committee with 16 members, although nine Conservative MPs make up the majority, with all of these pro-Brexit, including committee Chairman, Sir Bill Cash.

The committee says a response to its concerns over blue ID card holders from Minister for Europe, James Cleverly, appears to "downplay the scale of the problem"; in the letter, Mr Cleverly highlights that the "large majority" of the Rock's population are not affected by the issue. However, he adds that refusal of entry to some blue ID card holders is a "concerning change" to Spain's management of the border, adding the UK will continue to monitor the situation and work with Spain to support British nationals.

Sir Bill Cash says while the committee is pleased that the issue is now on the Minister's radar, this is no small matter. He adds that "with no sign of an imminent agreement", it has decided to open an inquiry into the UK's negotiations on a post-Brexit EU relationship agreement for Gibraltar, including "the importance of a fluid border" and long-standing travel arrangements at the border for British nationals, as well as the contingencies that will be put in place if a negotiated outcome is unlikely.

5th July 2022
Application of the Schengen Borders Code at Spain’s frontier with Gibraltar “is ultimately a matter for Spain,” the UK Minister for Europe and North America, James Cleverly, told the House of Commons this week.

Mr Cleverly was responding after Conservative MP Andrew Rosindell asked what steps he was taking to help people with Gibraltar blue registration cards who have faced problems at the border since Spain stepped up controls on non-EU nationals earlier this year.

His comments came as a delegation of seven MPs from the European Scrutiny Committee of the House of Commons arrived in Gibraltar on Tuesday for a three-day fact-finding mission triggered by the tighter checks.

The controls are the same as non-EU nationals might expect when arriving at any EU border or airport post-Brexit.

But they have caused serious disruption for some people who live in Gibraltar and routinely cross the border for business or leisure.

They include having to provide documentary proof of their reason for travel, where they are staying and when they are returning, as well as evidence of subsistence funds.

Red ID card holders are allowed through without those checks under interim arrangements applied by Spain pending the outcome of treaty talks, but the problems experienced by other residents with blue or purple ID cards have caused outrage.

“We are aware of reports of Spain stopping some British nationals crossing the border from Gibraltar into Spain,” Mr Cleverly said in his response to Mr Rosindell.

“The UK Government has raised this issue with Spanish authorities.”

“We will continue to monitor the situation, and work with Spain to support British nationals wishing to cross the border, however the application of the Schengen Borders Code is ultimately a matter for Spain.”

The visiting MPs are led by the committee’s chairman, Conservative MP Sir William Cash, who last month announced an inquiry into the progress of negotiations for a UK/EU treaty on Gibraltar’s future relations with the EU.

Launching the inquiry secured the UK funding for the trip.

The MPs arrived yesterday morning and met with Chief Minister Fabian Picardo and Deputy Chief Minister Dr Joseph Garcia over lunch at No.6 Convent Place, where they were briefed on the ongoing treaty negotiations. The Governor, Vice Admiral Sir David Steel, was also present at the lunch.

The MPs later visited the Naval Base for a briefing with senior military officials.

During the remainder of their stay, they will meet with representatives from the business community and the finance centre, as well as learn about the University of Gibraltar and meet with Blue ID card holders.

The European Scrutiny Committee of the House of Commons has published written evidence following its meeting with a group of Blue ID card holders, during which MPs heard directly about problems they continue to face at the border.

Seven MPs on the committee met with the group during a recent visit to Gibraltar as part of their inquiry into negotiations with the European Union in respect of Gibraltar’s future relations with the bloc.

The first-hand evidence provided to the MPs left no doubt as to the “significant distress and upset” that Blue ID card holders have felt since Spain tightened checks last year, the committee said in a document published on its website this week.

Blue civil registration cards are issued by the Government of Gibraltar to British nationals resident in Gibraltar who have not yet qualified for full residence.

Spain stepped up its checks on Blue ID card holders – and other non-EU nationals who are not yet eligible for full residence - in October 2021 when the UK ceased to recognise EU ID cards as valid travel documents.

Spain has said it is applying the Schengen Borders Code on non-EU nationals as required at an external EU frontier.

Under EU rules, non-EU nationals must be able to provide documentary proof of their reason for travel, where they are staying and when they are returning, as well as evidence of subsistence funds.

At the moment, Gibraltar residents with Red ID cards indicating full residency are exempt from the checks under interim arrangements put in place by Spain pending the outcome of treaty negotiations. Unlike the UK, Gibraltar continues to recognise EU ID cards.

But the Blue ID card holders told the visiting MPs that they were frustrated by the situation and wanted “equal treatment” with holders of Red ID cards.

An agreement on mobility would address the problems at the border. However, failure to reach a deal will mean Schengen controls will apply to all residents irrespective of the colour of their residence cards.

The evidence heard by the Commons committee shone a light on the impact of the changes on people who until last October had been able to cross the border easily.

Some residents described how they had been turned back even when they had a hotel booking or when they were heading to a home in Spain.

Another resident described how their passport was now full of stamps after multiple trips across the border, leaving no option but to apply for a new one and stay in Gibraltar until it arrives.

For yet another resident, the restrictions have had an impact on their business.

“They explained that materials are cheaper in Spain—than in Gibraltar—and that being prevented from crossing the border has meant they have had to source materials in Gibraltar, at higher prices,” the committee said in the document.

“They described this situation as unfair, and as giving Spanish business selling into Gibraltar a competitive advantage versus those based in Gibraltar.”

Another resident described how a relative was turned back even though they were travelling to a hospital appointment in Spain.

Residents also spoke more generally about the impact checks were having on their daily lives and businesses, including occasional brushes with Spanish frontier guards.

“One resident explained the difficulties they were facing recruiting workers from Britain,” the committee said in the document.

“They told the Committee that British workers often live in La Línea and commute into Gibraltar but this is no longer considered viable because of checks.”

“An overwhelming majority of residents present at the meeting said they would consider leaving Gibraltar if the issues they described at the border are not resolved soon.”

“Residents told the Committee that uncertainty over how the border is being managed—on any given day—was causing them considerable worry and distress.”

*Red ID card holders will face same problems as Blue ID card holders face no if no Gibexit ‘deal’
*Blue ID card holders problems summarised by Commons’ Committee
*Red ID card holders presently voluntarily privileged
*Privilege ends if ‘no deal’
*Barriers faced by Blue ID card holders now would be faced by Red ID card holders
*Gibexit treaty could cause UK Nationals difficulty in employment or businesses in Gibraltar

FRONTIER DIFFICULTIES FACED BY BLUE ID CARD HOLDERS

The evidence heard from Blue Gibraltar ID card holders by the European Scrutiny Committee of the House of Commons indicates the issues that will be faced by Red Gibraltar ID card holders should there be no Gibexit ‘deal’ between the UK and the EU over Gibraltar. Those Blue ID cards are held by British nationals who have yet to qualify for full residence.

That Committee published on its website a summary of the written evidence given to it by Blue Gibraltar ID card holders. It sets out the difficulties faced by them. Those are the difficulties that Red Gibraltar ID card holders will be met with if there is no Gibexit ‘deal’.

Red Gibraltar ID card holders are for now being privileged by interim arrangements being followed by Spain who has volunteered to treat those cards as EU ID cards whilst negotiations to lead to a Gibexit treaty continue. The arrangements mean that those card holders enter and exit Spain (and so Schengen) as if Brexit had not happened. It is undoubted that the privilege will end dramatically if no Gibexit treaty is agreed.

Additionally, UK nationals wishing to work or establish businesses requiring their presence in Gibraltar could be disadvantaged absent appropriate Gibexit treaty provisions.

COMMONS COMMITTEE IDENTIFIES PROBLEMS

Members of that Commons Committee recently visited Gibraltar. They heard about the challenges faced now by Blue Gibraltar ID card holders which Spain says are caused by the application of the Schengen Border Code.

That code requires non-EU nationals to satisfy immigration on entry into the Schengen area of various matters. Those are documentary proof of the reason for travel, proof of accommodation, of date of exiting the Schengen Area, and of sufficient funds to live on during the stay.

Blue Gibraltar ID card holders need their passports stamped in and out of Schengen at each visit. The frequent need for a new passport is obvious.

Certain businessmen in Gibraltar who previously sourced cheaper materials for their businesses in Spain are being affected by having to buy the more expensive materials in Gibraltar. The effect is to make their business uncompetitive as against Spanish competitors selling into Gibraltar.

Employers are also finding it increasingly difficult to recruit UK workers, as those often live or wish to live in Spain and commuted into Gibraltar, as rental and other costs in La Linea, the border town, are much lower, making it much more attractive for UK workers to seek jobs in Gibraltar.

Incidents of Blue Gibraltar ID card holders being turned back despite having hospital and medical appointments were reported also.

Many Blue Gibraltar ID card holders talked of the uncertainty at the border caused worry and distress, saying that they would think of leaving Gibraltar if a timely solution was not found to those concerns and difficulties.

RED ID CARD HOLDERS AND ‘NO DEAL’

Leaving Gibraltar permanently is not an option open to many Red ID cardholders were they to face the situation now being faced by Blue ID cardholders. If there were to be no Gibexit ‘deal’ those issues would indeed confront them. Most of us would simply have to lump it.

Right now, we are in a honeymoon period, which would only be prolonged if the marriage were to continue without a divorce. That divorce would be the breakdown of Gibexit talks without a treaty being formalised.

NO CHANGE FORESEEN FOR BLUE ID CARD HOLDERS

The Commons’ Committee may have published the problems of Blue ID card holders, but it has not suggested any solution for now. None would seem to be available, unless a Gibexit treaty were to be reached. Even then, that circumstance needs careful thought and solution within any such treaty.

A solution would need to be found otherwise the holders of those cards on arrival in Gibraltar, or indeed any UK National not having a Red ID card would have their passports stamped by Frontex Officers at our airport and port. That would give them access into the rest of Europe but only the ability to remain (inclusive of in Gibraltar) for 90 days in every 180 days.

It is a situation that, were there not to be a solution, would not encourage UK Citizens who are resident in Gibraltar already to continue in employment in Gibraltar or to run businesses requiring their continuous presence in Gibraltar. Further, UK nationals not having a Red ID card would not be permitted employment or permanent residence in Gibraltar to run businesses requiring their continuous presence.