More than 430,000 foreign nationals residing in Spain have been waiting for years for an answer to their petition for Spanish citizenship. The backlog is almost four years and some 10,000 new applications roll in every month, all from people seeking the blessing of the Justice Ministry to receive a Spanish passport.
Behind every petition lies a human story. The concession of Spanish nationality opens the path to jobs, the right to vote or to travel freely without the restrictions placed upon holders of passports from other countries.
Heading the list of applicants are immigrants from Morocco, Ecuador, Colombia and Peru.
During the last two months a fleet of trucks accompanied by a police escort has been transferring the paper mountain from the headquarters of the General Directorate of Registries and Notaries to a 1,800-square-meter floorspace at the Spanish Registrars College as part of the Justice Ministry's plan to clear the backlog. There, with the help of 1,000 registrars, a team of 60 people will take on the mammoth task of digitalizing all the documents and placing them on a fingerprint-recognition database.
"These are confidential documents that consist of around 40 pages. It takes about three hours to process each one and send it to the server at the Registrars' College as a signed electronic document," explains the chief registrar assigned to the project. The agreement between the Justice Ministry and the hired, unpaid registrars ends on December 31.
"Our work is bureaucratic and enormous," says Alfonso Candau, dean of the Registrars College. "We check that the application meets all the requirements, that the documentation is complete and we make a recommendation. The final decision lies with the Ministry. There is no margin for discretion."
Although the Interior Ministry says that there is a standard script for the questions police ask applicants to complete a report on their roots in Spain, several people consulted by this newspaper say they had to respond to questions such as: "Who governs better, the Popular Party or the Socialists? Does the right or the left create more jobs?"
Hopefuls also have to attend an interview with the Civil Registry judge where the application is filed.
Joaquín Rodríguez, director of the General Directorate of Registries and Notaries, says that the method in Spain is counter-productive.
"We want to establish an objective and unique system of interviews and to avoid different questions being asked in each case. In other countries, where the requirements for nationalization are very clear, there are books applicants can read. In Norway, you have to be able to speak Norwegian. In Germany, you know what you are going to be asked. It all has to be better organized here. Now, the registrars will send us their recommendation and we will make the decision. The way the paperwork was moved before was madness," Rodríguez says.