Corporate strategy: When to hire locally and when to import non-EU talent (while surviving the immigration bureaucracy)?

Is your international company recruiting in Spain? We’ll discuss in this article when it is worth the bureaucracy and trouble to hire a non-EU talent, and when the selection process should be limited to professionals with EU passports, or non-EU nationals that already have a work permit in Spain, because going through the immigration process for non-Europeans is simply not worth it.


Why is it challenging to hire non-EU workers?

First, Spain’s labor immigration policy is based on the idea that you should hire Spanish nationals or residents in the first place. Therefore, generally, in order to bring in a foreign worker from abroad, you will need to prove that the position that you are hiring for could not be covered by an unemployed worker in Spain. There are ways around this in certain cases, but in those cases where you actually have to prove that the specific foreign worker you want to hire is essential for your company, that extra procedure will imply a longer process and a delay in the incorporation of the worker in your staff and it’s important to be aware of this from the start.

Second, in order for you to cover the position in an effective way, it is important for you to be aware of what procedure to follow and plan for realistic processing times so that you do not have to leave a position uncovered for longer than expected. Or, there may even be times where you would very much like to hire a specific person for a position but once properly informed about the options you may just realize that this is not viable because the processing times are too long or the outcome too uncertain. In either case, this article aims to help you in getting a basic understanding of what type of position you can relatively easily process work permits for, for your new non-EU worker, and in what cases you should find European workers to do the job.


Fast track for Highly qualified employees

The Spanish administration is more inclined to process residency and work permits for highly qualified workers hired for positions of a certain relevance, than other types of workers and positions. They have even created a special fast-track procedure for these cases.


Who is considered a highly qualified worker?

The worker must hold a university degree or have an equivalent work experience relevant to the position offered of at least 5 years and the position you offer them must match their competence, which means that the tasks must be of a certain responsibility and the salary set accordingly.


Application process

This procedure starts with you as a company submitting an application in Spain. If your worker is already at the time of application legally in Spain on a tourist or another visa, they can stay  and start working once the application is approved. This may seem logical, but it is a major advantage in comparison to other application procedures that usually imply the worker staying in their home country until the permit approval and then getting a specific visa, thus delaying their effective employment.

There is also the option of applying with the worker still in his or her home country. In this case the worker has to apply for a specific entry visa at the Spanish consulate once the permit is granted, though this procedure still has its advantages: the processing times for the visa are quicker than usual.



The processing times for the application is around 30 days. Do keep in mind that if the worker is not in Spain at the time of application the procedure of obtaining an entry visa from the Spanish Consulate and enter Spain will add at least some 15 days to the procedure.


The catch

The catch here is that only companies of a certain dimension or operating in certain sectors that Spain considers strategically important can apply though this procedure. To find out if your company qualifies to go with the fast track of highly qualified employees, read our article “How to bring non-EU world-class talent to Spain? Secrets of the fast track.” [Link to article BC8].

H3: Highly qualified workers to be hired by small or medium-sized companies

So, what option does a small or medium- size company have to hire a highly qualified worker, if it does not comply with the requirements put out for the above “fast-track” procedure? As you will see, you can still process a residency and work permit, but you will want to keep in mind that the effective employment of the worker will take longer due to longer processing times.

The most interesting option might be the residency and work permit designed for workers hired for a position of confidence or a directing position. For this option, some extra requirements will be added, focusing mainly on the position itself:

  • In the case of a position of confidence we need to prove that the specific worker we want to hire is essential for the activity of the company (due to his or her specific skills or experience in the specific activity of the company).
  • In the case of a directing position: the worker must have the qualifications and experience for his or her hiring for the position to prove logical and reasonable, and he or she must be granted a general power of attorney with powers broad enough to direct and handle the business.

Note that in this case we do not have the privilege of quicker processing times, nor that of the worker being able to be in Spain at the time of application and start working immediately upon approval. The application is submitted by the company in Spain. Once the permit is granted, the worker must, in all cases, obtain a special entry visa from the Spanish consulate in their home country. The processing times depend on the specific Immigration Office and Consulate processing the permit and visa, but you should count with a procedure of 2-3 months in total.


How to hire non-EU workers for positions that do not require a highly qualified worker?

Does the worker you need for your project not fulfill the requirements to be considered highly qualified, or do the tasks and salary of the position you need to cover not amount to what is required for a highly qualified position? Of course the worker may still be essential to your project and there are still options to obtain a permit for them, but this is the scenario where you should ask yourself: could I find a person for this position locally? And if the worker is so essential to the company that you decide to go ahead and apply for their work permit, do consider what staff planning you may need to do, given that it will take several months until the worker can start.

The standard procedure for processing a residency and work permit is essentially the same process as for positions of confidence and directing positions above: application submitted at the local Immigration office in Spain and then the worker applying for an entry visa at the Spanish consulate. There is, though, an important difference: it requires the previous step of submitting a job offer before the local employment agency. This agency will check for local candidates with the required skills and you can only proceed with the application once they have issued a report stating that no local unemployed workers would cover this position.

A few notes on how this process actually works (because it is not about handing in an offer to the employment authorities, reject any candidate they may send you and a month later pick up your report stating that there were no suitable local candidates):

First of all, in the job offer submitted before the employment authorities, you need to specify what studies, skills and experience are necessary for the job. And each of the items you include must be motivated by the need of the company for exactly that skill.

For example, say that you want to hire a person from Turkey, so you decide to include fluent Turkish as a requirement for the position. The employment authorities will likely not let you put down this as a requirement unless you can show that it is actually needed. Your company’s activity is importing goods from Turkey? That’s great, Turkish seems like a logical requirement for someone working with that. Now, say you run a café in Barcelona. The fact that you may theoretically at some point have Turkish customers is hardly enough to motivate that you put down Turkish as an essential skill for a waitress.

Then there is the salary. We are in the field of not highly qualified positions, so you should be allowed to put offer any salary if it meets the minimum salary requirement. Not exactly. In our previous example, the company importing goods from Turkey will be able to put down Turkish as an essential requirement, but the employment agency will require this additional skill be compensated by a higher salary. You surely understand the dynamics: you want to include a maximum of specific skills, but this means that the employment agency will require us to offer a higher salary.

So why do we want to make the job offer so specific? Because the employment agency will send any candidates meeting the requirements for interviewing and the company must see them and inform the employment agency of the reasons for their rejection. In the end, what you are looking for is to reduce the number of candidates sent, to improve your chances of obtaining the report from the employment agency stating that there were no unemployed job-seekers in Spain that could cover the position.

By now you have seen the reason for which we mentioned at the beginning that you need to plan strategically in this case. The additional process before the employment office means that you may well be looking at a total duration of the procedure of up to 4-5 months.

To finish, please note that there are exceptions to the requirement of submitting a job offer to the employment agency, due to certain circumstances of the worker: as an example we may mention that if the worker is a Peruvian or Chilean citizen or a grandchild of Spanish citizens, this step will not be necessary.


And to sum up…

By now, you will have seen that bringing workers from abroad to Spain is all about having the facts and applying them when making the decision on whether to hire locally or bring in non-EU workers – possibly more skilled- from abroad. Generally, we might say that as long as the worker’s and the company’s profiles fit in the category of highly qualified, the administrative procedures should not be too big an obstacle, as long as you have the tools to plan efficiently. For lower positions, you may want to give it a thought and weigh the value of the worker against the time you will have to wait to actually hire them and the cost and work that the procedure will entail.

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