The ease of registering before a notary as a common-law couple in Catalonia has consolidated this route as the main one for the fraudulent regularization of thousands of immigrants who try at all costs to escape illegality. The Catalan territory has become a pole of attraction for groups organized to fix unions, which once formalized in the Registry of Stable Parelles of the Department of Justice have the doors open to apply for a community family residence card.
Sources from the Central Unit of Illegal Immigration Networks and Documentary Falsities (Ucrif) of the National Police confirm that after the implementation, in 2017, of the aforementioned registry, they have detected a considerable increase in requests for a community relative card by of foreign members of de facto couples. They have grown 1,400%. “Catalonia is a drain, they come from other communities to do it here. Sometimes they are citizens who know each other and in exchange for little money, or even without paying anything, they do each other a favor. But there are also people who recruit people in their countries of origin and arrange for them to come to Spain. There are Facebook and Telegram groups dedicated to this; individuals who offer their services in Algeria, in Morocco, also in Belgium and France, and then partners in Catalonia who are in charge of searching for couples,” Ucrif sources explain.
Call centers and agencies “that border on professional ethics” are part of the mechanism, which prepare clients for interviews with the police in case there is an investigation.
The couples that appear in the Justice register of the Generalitat have increased from 7,179, in 2017, to 20,385, in 2022. In parallel, applications for the residence card of a community relative by de facto couples have increased from 1,024, in 2016, at a rate of 85 per month, to 12,580, so far in 2023, 1,572 per month. They have multiplied by 18.
The creation of the Generalitat registry facilitated the process to register as a couple. It can be done by proving two years of cohabitation, a common child or formalizing the relationship in a public deed; that is, before a notary. It is the most used route: of the 120,045 couples registered between 2017 and July 31, 2023, 86.4% have done so through a notary, while the path of cohabitation and that of the child fall.
The process is quick, simple and cheap. Simply go to a notary with an identity document, declare that you are a couple and request registration in the registry, after paying between 100 and 150 euros. There is no minimum joint registration time required; In Madrid, for example, it takes a year.
79% of the couples that were formalized before a notary in 2022 are between a Spaniard or European and a non-EU citizen. A trend that continues, slightly upward, so far in 2023, according to data from the Col·legi Notarial de Catalunya.
The law does not ask the notary to verify that there is no deception, nor does it give him tools to do so, explains the dean, José Alberto Marín. However, in response to the police alerts, the Col·legi sent a circular asking its members to take extreme care and, in case of suspicion of fraud, to demand additional requirements in the opinion of the notary such as joint registration or, where appropriate, absence, that two witnesses certify the relationship.
“With the law in hand, we notaries cannot do more. Becoming a couple, like marriage, is a right that cannot be limited. If there is a punishable act, it must be the police who act, without prejudice to us acting with the means at our disposal if we detect reasons for suspicion,” adds Marín.
The Col·legi demands that the law be changed. It makes no sense, argues the dean, that for a marriage a notary is obliged to ask separate questions to the spouses, and to the witnesses that they must present, and that for the de facto couple there is no requirement.
“Before it was chaos because couples could only register in the town halls and not all of them admitted it, like L'Hospitalet de Llobregat; Furthermore, some required two years of cohabitation and others less time. Since the regulations that regulate registration came into force, it is a quick and simple process,” says Antonio Segura García-Consuegra, member of the Immigration Commission of the Col·legi de l’Advocacia of Barcelona. The marriage option is longer and more complicated, he adds.
About 75% of couples registered in the registry apply for a community citizen family card, which is renewed after five years. Ucrif researchers estimate that a high percentage of people who process the card in Immigration are fraudulent, although only a minority are hunted due to lack of means to verify if the relationship is real and if it has been paid. In Barcelona, it is the Immigration Office that sends suspicious applications to Ucrif, for example when there is a notable age difference.
The Fraud Group in the Regularization Process, created specifically by the Police for this type of crime closely linked to the falsification of the register, has investigated, between January and June, 419 couples in Barcelona. The result has been 155 fines and 20 arrests for falsifying documents, punishable by up to three years in prison. The most serious cases are those that constitute a crime against the rights of foreign citizens that favors irregular immigration, when it is proven that there has been profit, while those considered minor are resolved by administrative means.
The last major police operation culminated last spring in Martorell, Olesa de Montserrat and Igualada, with the dismantling of a gang that was looking for Spaniards willing to become common-law partners with foreigners, in exchange for between 400 and 1,000 euros, and also to owners or tenants of properties who would like to register false couples, for between 200 and 500 euros. Once they had everything tied up, they picked up the immigrant at the airport and accompanied him to carry out the procedures. Their fee for these services ranged between 6,000 and 10,000 euros. The ringleaders resided in Belgium and traveled to Catalonia to instruct their clients on what they should do. In total, 95 fictitious couples were verified and 63 people were arrested.
Not all agreements are punishable. The police investigated a couple consisting of an elderly, seriously ill man and a much younger Latin American woman. “The man was frank. He said that he did not have sexual relations with her but that he took care of him, cleaned his house and cooked for him, that she was the only person who cared about him because her children hardly visited him. That he was going to leave everything to her. We gave him a favorable report,” the investigators say.
The testimony of Carlos and Alberto (not their fictitious names), two Colombian friends, shows the other side of the coin. Alberto arrived in Spain two years ago and requested international protection, alleging that he was a victim of extortion in his country. He settled in Madrid and worked as a stocker in a supermarket chain. Everything was going well until they denied him asylum, which he appealed, and they fired him. He is now a delivery driver for a subcontractor with thirteen-hour days. He considers that finding a partner of convenience is the quickest way to obtain the papers and break the spiral of exploitation. To do this, he has come to Barcelona, where he has been introduced to a young woman who asks him for 6,500 euros, a lower rate than the one proposed in Madrid, where the process is also longer.
Carlos has been the one who put him in contact with his future partner, replicating the model that he himself followed. “We fixed everything when I was in Colombia. A relative who has been here for a while proposed to me a naturalized Spanish woman, to whom I had to pay 5,000 euros to register in her house and unite us as a couple, although I know of others who charge 7,000, "says Carlos. In the end, he assures, there was no money involved because they fell in love and have been living together for almost a year and a half.