We have just celebrated my daughter’s eighth birthday (her approximated age, see last column) with a glorious afternoon tea in the park. Birthdays are not a big deal in West Africa (they save the blowouts for funerals) and since starting school she has been fascinated with the flood of party invitations that has come her way, continually asking when her turn will come.
Although she didn’t realise it, out of the pencil cases, clothes, books and other sparkly pink paraphernalia, her best present was tucked away in a plastic file at home. It was a letter from Extranjería stating that her application for a NIE had been accepted. It’s the result of a long and costly process involving a specialist immigration lawyer, legal translations and a paperchase with school and medical authorities and a long list of others.
One would think that that when your child arrives, the papeleo stops. For many it does (or at least eases) but with adoption laws the way they are in Europe, expats fall into an Orwellian quagmire—which becomes even more surreal when you are non-comunitaria. Three months after arriving, when her single-entry Schengen visa expired, my daughter officially became an ‘illegal’. We had no problem getting access to healthcare, education and other services, but could not leave the country or even get a domestic flight (as I found out at Easter when we were bumped off a plane to Malaga by the world’s most hated airline) and in theory she could be deported at any moment. Subvenciones and other forms of governmental financial help were also inaccessible without a NIE.
Whilst that’s solved now, her passport will be the next issue as adopted children generally lose the right to renew their birth country passports, leaving two options: get a Spanish one, only possible if one of the adoptive parents is native, or apply for one from your own country. This is not easy, involving time, money and navigating a whole new set of adoption criteria. The handful of other expat adoptive parents I know have simply had to live with the fact that that their child is stateless for years on end.
Do I sound jaded? I am, to a certain extent. I deeply resent the fact that adopted kids are not given the same status as bio kids. I resent the late hours spent poring over visa and immigration regulations on the internet and Euros spent on lawyers, legal translations, apostilles and the other ‘requirements’ of the bureaucratic money-making machine. Both of these scant resources would have been better spent on my child and our all-important first year.
As I watched the ecstatic look on her face as she blew out candles on a cake for the very first time I knew, of course, she was blissfully unawares of all this—and that’s just the way it should be.