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  • The Dream of Clouds, or: How to Become a European Citizen

    Melissa came from Mexico to Spain with one goal: to stay. But the process of obtaining citizenship in Spain is anything but easy. Nevertheless, to her European citizenship was worth the struggle.

    You can’t tell Melissa has not been sleeping for days. Her eyes are bright, her red lipstick matches her nails, and her long black hair falls casually over her white blouse. Yet she hasn’t been able to sleep properly because in a few days, she will see her family again for the first time in three years. She will be able to leave Spain for the first time in three years. She will be able to visit her former home, Mexico, for the first time in three years.  

    Her former home because now the EU is her new one. When she says this, her eyes light up. But the journey was anything but easy and still not complete. The reason for this is the numerous obstacles in Spanish migration law. However, for people from Latin America, Spain is the easiest gateway to Europe, partly because the shared language makes it easier to go through this difficult process. Most of them come to Spain without papers. Melissa was no exception.  

    Melissa has been living in Madrid for three years. That she was allowed to stay has not been easy. Foto: Jana Laborenz

    Becoming a Spanish citizen 

    After arriving in Spain, the law stipulates a period of at least two years for people from Mexico, during which they are not allowed to leave Spain. They then receive a residence permit for one year, which must be renewed after that year. Only then can Melissa obtain Spanish citizenship. The process is comparatively short for immigrants from Latin America. Most other immigrants only receive this authorisation after ten years of legal residence in Spain.  

    However, the difficult thing for many is not just the length of time. To obtain the status, they also need a permanent full-time employment contract above the Spanish minimum wage of €6.55. At the same time, most qualifications from Latin America are not recognised in the EU. And there are hardly any permanent full-time contracts, even for Spanish citizens. Such contracts normally require documents that Melissa did not have at the time. And the longer it takes to find a permanent position, the longer the gap in her CV and the harder it gets to find a job. It’s a vicious circle.  

    I am not willing to live the life of a wife and a husband 

    The only way to stay in Spain without obtaining a residence permit and citizenship through employment is to marry a Spanish citizen. Many people recommended this to Melissa to make things easier. However, it was not an option for her. “I am not willing to live the life of a wife and a husband,” she says. She decided to try the complicated way.
    “I was extremely lucky.” On the internet, Melissa found an advert for a city guide in Madrid. She had already done this kind of work in Mexico. Her future boss was in the process of opening his own tourism business in Madrid and was looking for support. “He had just as little idea as I had about how to start a business,” she says, laughing. He hired her anyway. And didn’t ask for any papers. And so, Melissa became his first employee.  

    Then came COVID 

    Slowly feeling like she was approaching her goal, the COVID-19 pandemic changed her reality. It was the worst possible time to start a walking tour business. After the periods of lockdowns in Madrid during the pandemic, when the measures allowed it again, Melissa took on two tours almost every day, right through the centre of Madrid. In the evenings, she would come “home” to a hostel. Talking about that time makes her wrinkle her nose and waves her long red fingernails: “In a hostel during Covid, the people in my dorm were absolute weirdos. During this time, I felt very lonely.” To afford the accommodation, she had to work for free at the hostel in return. Illegally. Mostly the night shifts, so that nobody would suspect anything. Which meant that she worked as a city guide during the day and cleaned at night. 

    The privilege of not leaving the house 

    “At some point, I couldn’t breathe. I couldn’t speak, everything hurt, my throat, my chest, my head, my back. I had a breakdown. Of course I often thought during this time: Why am I doing this to myself? Of course I missed my family.” But working in a hostel during the pandemic also made her realize something else. “During the pandemic, people in Mexico were dying by the dozen. There was no lockdown, there was no testing. People had to go to work. Or they starved to death because their income collapsed along with tourism”. In fact, according to the World Health Organization, Mexico is the country with the fifth highest number of COVID deaths, at 334,930. 

    “And meanwhile, people from Germany, France and Sweden were sitting across from me every day complaining. They were complaining that they couldn’t leave the house, that they couldn’t travel as much, or that they had to work on their laptops.” Every day making beds, mopping the floor, and showing European citizens around Madrid, Melissa was confronted with a life she had never had. With a life that she wanted, with the security that she was denied in Mexico. “Call it selfish, because I didn’t go back to Mexico to change anything. To do something locally. But I didn’t want this life. I wanted the European life, I wanted the European privileges, the standard of living.”  

    Here to stay 

    After two years, a volunteer lawyer who helped her with the bureaucracy, and a lot of waiting, Melissa received her papers in the summer of 2023. With this and the money she had saved, she was finally able to leave Spain without risking her residence permit. She booked flights to Mexico to visit her family again, see her sisters, nieces and parents and promised to visit more often. The only step missing for Melissa to become a Spanish citizen is renewing her residence permit after this year. Whether she wants to stay in Spain for ever, she does not know yet. “I hate the heat during the summer,” she explains. With the Spanish Citizenship, like any citizen of an EU country, she has the right to free movement and residence anywhere in the EU. Spain is her gate to Europe. And Spain is not to be her last stop. Since last year she has been learning German. And maybe in few years, she would like to live somewhere with clouds or mountains.  

    Hochschuljournalismus wie dieser ist teuer. Dementsprechend schwierig ist es, eine unabhängige, ehrenamtlich betriebene Zeitung am Leben zu halten. Wir brauchen also eure Unterstützung: Schon für den Preis eines veganen Gerichts in der Mensa könnt ihr unabhängigen, jungen Journalismus für Studierende, Hochschulangehörige und alle anderen Leipziger*innen auf Steady unterstützen. Wir freuen uns über jeden Euro, der dazu beiträgt, luhze erscheinen zu lassen.

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