This is the modification of the Law on Foreigners that aims to remove unaccompanied foreign minors and young people who have been released from administrative limbo

A second chance for more than 15,000 MENAS and young people who have been released from custody

AP/BERNAT ARMANGUE - In this May 19, 2021 file photo, unaccompanied minors who crossed into Spain sit outside a warehouse used as a temporary shelter as they wait to be screened for COVID-19 in the Spanish enclave of Ceuta, near the border of Morocco and Spain.

The time required to document unaccompanied foreign minors (MENAS) and accredit their impossibility of return will be shortened to a maximum of 3 months, and they will automatically be granted a residence and work permit when they turn 16. In addition, the duration of the residence permit is increased from 1 to 2 years, renewable for periods of 5 years as long as they continue to be minors. However, in the event of repatriation, the authorisation granted would immediately expire.

It was a bureaucratic labyrinth with particularly vulnerable victims

Until now, the documentation period for unaccompanied foreign minors was excessive and highly bureaucratic, according to sources at the Ministry of Social Security, Inclusion and Migration, which led to enormous legal uncertainty. With the modification of the Aliens Regulation, this period is reduced from 9 to a maximum of 3 months in order to prevent this bureaucratic labyrinth from punishing particularly vulnerable victims. 


The Royal Decree that modifies some articles of the Aliens Regulation (Art. 196, 197 and 198) and that will enter into force in mid-November 2021, simplifies the procedure for documenting minors and creates its own regime for the age of majority. Through a transitional provision that includes adults up to the age of 23, what used to be a dead end for many ex-custodians is now an opportunity to enter the labour market. Their residence permit will be extended, and they will also be able to obtain a work permit that will allow them to leave the administrative limbo to which they were condemned.

Some 15,000 youngsters will benefit from the reform of the Law on Foreigners, but there are many more

The Secretary of State for Migration is monitoring some 15,000 young immigrants, 8,000 of whom are minors. They are the main beneficiaries of this modification which, according to sources in the Ministry headed by José Luis Escrivá, will correct an anomaly that had condemned them to social marginalisation and will bring us into line with Europe. And not only that, but if until now they were required to obtain a residence permit up to 2,200 euros per month (four times the IPREM), now the Minimum Living Income (IMV) will be the reference index, that is, around 469 euros/month. In addition, any income from employment, the social system or other amounts that may be received will be considered. In addition, reports on integration efforts, training or continuity of studies will be considered. According to ministerial sources, the aim is to ensure that these young people do not end up in a situation of irregularity and social exclusion. With one exception, if they have a criminal record, they will not be able to access either a residence permit or a work permit. They would be automatically refused.

Omar has been living outside the system for 10 months

Omar's case is different. He is a minor, has just turned 16 and has been living outside the system for 10 months for fear of being sent back. He arrived by boat in the Canary Islands from Senegal and has a couple of cousins in Spain who are helping him. But it is not enough. "A work permit would be a great help", Omar acknowledges. And it is now, with this new modification of the Law on Foreigners, that he is considering regularising his situation, or at least trying to do so. But to do so, he has to show his face, abandon his fear of being repatriated and stop hiding.

According to data from the Ministry of Social Security, Inclusion and Migration, less than 10% of unaccompanied foreign minors aged 17 manage to work regularly when they turn 19. And of the young people who have been granted a work permit in the agricultural sector, around 70% are still registered with Social Security. And most of them have even moved on to other branches such as construction, industry, commerce or the hotel and catering trade.

An opportunity for 7,000 ex-prisoners like Suleimán

Suleimán is 19 years old and has never worked in Spain. He lives in a neighbourhood in the south of Madrid and tells us that, when he ceased to have the status of "tutelado", he found himself at a precipice without a net. The help he was receiving disappeared, his guardians ceased to be guardians and he came of age with no job or benefit. This young Moroccan (from Tetouan) confesses that "the modification of the Law on Foreigners is a breath of fresh air because the granting of a work permit will open doors that have always been closed to him". Suleimán - who is one of the 7,000 people between the ages of 18 and 23 who live or live badly in Spain - has the feeling that until now he has lived in a dead-end street with a wall that was too high.

A reform that brings us closer to the legal treatment given to MENAS in our neighbouring countries. It brings us closer, but it does not make us equal. The fact is that the EU does not require the possession of certain economic resources, as in Spain. Moreover, there are countries in which economic benefits are guaranteed until the age of 21 (such as France) or 27 (such as Germany). 

It is a question of moving closer to our European neighbours

Moreover, in Europe, the authorisations granted are almost always long-term or quasi-permanent and not for one year as in our country. In Germany, dual training can be undertaken from the age of 16 and the work permit is for 3 years with the possibility of extension for a further 2 years.  And many of our neighbours approach the protection of unaccompanied foreign minors from the perspective of asylum and not from the perspective of foreigners.

The Ministries of Social Security, Inclusion and Migration, Territorial Policy, Foreign Affairs, and the Interior have participated in this modification of the Law on Foreigners. The latter - Fernando Grande Marlaska's department - has been the one that has set the most conditions after the recent controversy over the dubious refoulement of minors, as denounced by various NGOs. Sources in Escrivá's ministry point out that at no time during the meetings was it raised that this modification could have a knock-on effect, and nothing was negotiated without the consensus of the four ministries. In fact, these sources point out that "we should demystify this concept (the call effect), because it has been demonstrated that there are always peaks in arrivals and that they have nothing to do with regulatory changes".

NGOs applaud after the controversy over the return of minors in Ceuta 

Different organisations have already expressed their views on the reform of the Aliens Regulation, stressing that it leads to a fairer society. For example, Caritas - which had already denounced a regulation that led to administrative irregularity - has already reacted. The Church NGO believes that this is a great step forward in the protection of the most vulnerable immigrant minors and an important aid in their transition to adult life. They also consider it very positive that what is being proposed is a transitional regime that allows the situation of those young people who, having been under guardianship, never obtained a residence permit, and those who, even after having obtained it, were unable to renew it, to be restored.

Young people like Suleimán and Omar could benefit from this modification of the Law on Foreigners and get out of the so-called administrative limbo.