British residents flying home to Spain were prevented from boarding a joint BA/Iberia flight to Madrid on Saturday night after airline staff said their pre-Brexit residency papers were no longer valid.
A total of nine people weren’t allowed to board at Heathrow, among them journalist and photographer Max Duncan, who was told his green residency paper was no longer valid, even though both the Spanish and British governments have said both the old Foreign National Identification (NIE) document and the new Foreign ID Card (TIE) remain valid.
In a tweet from the British embassy in Madrid, Duncan was assured that the green paper was valid. “This should not be happening, the Spanish authorities have reconfirmed again this evening that the green residency document will be valid for travel to return to Spain as stated in our travel advice,” officials said via the embassy’s @UKinSpain account.
Duncan tweeted in response: “Thank you @ukinspain for confirming the green card is valid, that Spain has reconfirmed this too and that this should not be happening.”
Duncan interviewed one couple at the airport who said they were “absolutely gutted” after being told they had the wrong residency document and needed the TIE card. “We’re going home. Spain is home,” said the unidentified woman, adding that her husband was running out of vital medication.
Another couple said they were told at the check-in desk that the green NIE card was no longer valid. When they contacted the British embassy, they said staff told them they had received a lot of calls about the problem.
It was not just the Madrid flight that was affected. A person with the handle @daisyqueen tweeted: “My daughter and her partner affected. Been in Heathrow for 12 hours – refused travel initial BA flight to Barcelona then told could travel tonight so waited only to be refused as BA say passengers were returned from Barcelona.”
The Spanish government announced last year that in the light of Brexit, British residents in Spain would be given a photo ID card that would replace the former residency paper carried by EU citizens.
Tens of thousands of Britons have registered for the new card and the application process appears to have gone smoothly. However, there are no available dates to collect the card because the system is so overloaded.
The British embassy said on its Facebook page on Saturday night it had received many messages from UK residents in Spain who did not yet have the documentation they needed. It said it had “requested greater flexibility” from Spain in the cases of people who had not yet been able to collect their TIE card, students who are due to resume studies , and for those who may be caring for elderly or vulnerable family members.
There are around 300,000 British residents in Spain, although the number may be much higher as many live outside the Spanish system.