How to Apply for asylum in Spain?

Last update : November 2023

Applying for asylum in Spain

Anyone who arrives in Spain has the right to apply for asylum. When you apply for asylum, you have access to important rights, such as avoiding deportation, or access to legal work.

In Spain there are three types of international protection: asylum, subsidiary protection and residence authorisation for humanitarian reasons. These three types of protection can be assessed through the asylum application. The Asylum and Refugee Office will automatically assess the first two. However, the third type (residence for humanitarian reasons) must be requested in writing expressly to the asylum office, either at the interview or at a later date.

Asylum or refuge is the protection given to refugees. According to the law, all persons who have a well-founded fear of being persecuted for reasons of belonging to a certain group (ethnicity, race, religion, nationality, or political opinion, sexual orientation or gender) and who are outside their country of origin are eligible for refugee status. This means that you will have to prove that your life is in danger.

Subsidiary protection is granted to persons who do not qualify for asylum, but would face a real risk of serious harm (death penalty, torture, inhuman or degrading treatment or serious threats to life and integrity due to armed conflict).

Protection for humanitarian reasons may be granted in case of situations of high vulnerability in case of return to the country of origin, most commonly due to illness and/or difficulties in accessing the health system.

Remember: The State of origin will never be aware of the asylum application and all information included in the application will remain confidential.

How, when, and where to apply for asylum?

Once in Spain, you can apply for asylum at any time, but it is advisable to do so as soon as possible. If you are in a humanitarian reception centre (⇒ ch. How did you arrive?), you can count on the help of NGOs.

You can apply for asylum in the following places:

  • The Asylum and Refuge Office in Madrid.
  • National police stations in each province, depending on where you are registered or normally reside.
  • Airports.
  • Prisons and CIEs (Centros de Internamiento para Extranjeros ⇒ ch. 13. Glossary), in case they want to deport you.

In the process of applying for asylum, there are two very important moments for which you will need to get an appointment with the police. The first is to express your willingness to apply for asylum; the second is to have your asylum interview with the police.

First appointment: obtaining your “manifiesto”

At the first appointment you will be given a first document, known as a “manifiesto”. This document informs you that you are authorised to stay in Spain until the date of the second appointment, when you will have your asylum interview.
There are different ways to request the first appointment, depending on where you are in Spain. This link contains the official contact details for requesting the first appointment:
From the first appointment, the following rights are guaranteed: non-refoulement to the country of origin, health care, lawyer, access to the reception system, etc.
It may take several months from this first moment until you have your asylum interview. During this time, the paper indicating the date of your interview serves to protect you on the street against arrests and refoulement attempts. Keep it safe and carry it with you at all times.
If you do not get an appointment, it is highly recommended that you send a letter to the Asylum Office. Ask for an appointment and inform them of the difficulties in obtaining it, for example because the police force you to log on to a website or call them by phone at a reduced timetable with very few appointments per week. If after several weeks you still cannot get an appointment, it is worth sending a complaint to the Ombudsman’s Office (Defensoría del Pueblo) or even filing a legal appeal to the Bar Association (Colegio de Abogados).

Second appointment: asylum interview

The date of this second appointment counts as the starting date of your asylum application.
The second appointment or asylum interview is when you will present information and documents proving the reasons or risks that exist in case you return to your country of origin (persecution, serious harm, lack of access to health, housing, etc.). It is very important that you prepare your story well in advance of the interview (⇒ chap. 4.4.: How to prepare for the interview).

One month after the asylum interview, the Ministry of the Interior should decide whether to admit the application for consideration or to consider that another country is responsible for processing the asylum application (⇒ ch. 9: Dublin). If you have not received a reply after one month, it is assumed that the State has accepted your application. If your application is not accepted, you have one month to lodge an appeal with the Ministry of the Interior or two months before a court, for which you should ask for a lawyer at the nearest Bar Association (Colegio de Abogados).

Documentation for asylum seekers

From the time you apply for asylum until your application is answered, you are entitled to receive a document that serves as proof that you are an asylum seeker, which you are obliged to keep and renew when it becomes invalid or expires.

The official documents are:

  • The “manifiesto” (official name: “manifestación de la voluntad de presentar la solicitud de asilo” (expression of willingness to submit an application for asylum), or MVSPI): Issued at the first appointment, and is valid until the second appointment.
  • “Tarjeta blanca” (white card) (official name: “Resguardo de la solicitud de asilo” (Proof of asylum application)): Issued at the second asylum appointment or interview and is valid for 9 months. After 6 months, this document allows you to work.
  • “Tarjeta roja” (red card) (official name: “Documento acreditativo de la condición de solicitante de protección internacional” (Document certifying status as an applicant for international protection)): Issued by appointment, once the white card has been valid for 9 months. It is valid for 1 year and is automatically renewable until the application is answered. This document includes the right to work.

Remember: In case your asylum application is rejected, there is the possibility to lodge a legal appeal. Appeal the decision! During the period in which you appeal, the government will provide you with other identity documents (“Certificado de solicitante pendiente de recurso de reposición” [Certificate of applicant pending appeal for reconsideration] and “Resguardo de Prórroga de Derechos por interposición de Recursos” [Proof of extension of rights for lodging appeals]) which will prove your rights as an asylum seeker.

In addition to these official documents, there are other very important documents that can be useful to prove that you have applied for asylum, as they can protect you from being deported:

  • Email sent and reply from the police station where you have applied for asylum informing you of the date for your first asylum appointment.
  • Request for an appointment at the Asylum Office and any complaints you may have filed for not being able to get an appointment.
  • Decision granting or denying the right to asylum.
  • Appeal against the rejection.
  • Request for the “certificado de solicitante pendiente de recurso de reposición” (Certificate of applicant pending appeal for reconsideration).
  • “Auto de medida cautelar” (Order for interim measures), a judicial decision that maintains your rights while the appeal of your application through the courts is resolved.

Rights of the asylum seeker

If you are an “asylum seeker” in Spain, you have the following rights:

  • To stay and move freely within Spanish territory. You cannot travel abroad before you obtain a residence permit.
  • To have a document in your name as an “applicant”.
  • Free health care, requiring a “certificado de empadronamiento” (certificate of census registration).
  • Free legal assistance. The advice of a lawyer can be obtained through lawyers of asylum NGOs or through the Spanish Bar Associations.
  • To an interpreter in your native language during the asylum interview.
  • To work. After the first 6 months after the asylum interview and until the case is resolved.
  • Access to social services and the government support system for asylum seekers (managed by the Red Cross, ACCEM, CEAR, Cepaim, etc.) to guarantee basic needs (accommodation, food, pharmacy, clothing and other assistance (see next section).
  • Access to education and vocational and employment training. It is very important to insist that you are provided with vocational training and job orientation in order to have better opportunities in the labour market.
  • The right not to have to present legalised or apostilled identity or family documents.

Remember: Asylum can be your entry to legal work. With an official work contract you can get a residence permit “por arraigo” (⇒ chap. 5: Residence in Spain). You can also accumulate time because you have to be in Spain for 3 years before you can apply for “arraigo”.

Caution: The Spanish state requires you to fulfil certain obligations so that your rights as an asylum seeker are not affected. The most important of these are:

  • To keep and renew documentation proving your identity and legal status as an applicant. Passport, if you have one, and “applicant” documents.
  • To notify the Asylum Office of any change of address - this is very important! Decisions on your application will be sent by post to the address you have given. If you do not receive this letter in time, you may miss the deadline to appeal.
  • Remember that breaking the law in Spain, especially committing a crime (e.g. fighting, insults and threats, assault, theft, drunk driving, etc.) can make it very difficult for you to obtain your residence permit and to be granted asylum.

Access to the government support system for asylum seekers

Once you obtain the asylum application “manifiesto”, you may access the government support system for asylum seekers (“sistema de acogida en materia de protección internacional”). The Spanish government can allocate you to a reception centre, where you can live and wait for your application to be resolved. During this time, you will have your accommodation and basic needs covered, as well as access to resources such as language courses.

If you do not get the first asylum appointment you can also enter the system. NGOs are obliged to help you but, if they are not willing to do so, you can make a complaint yourself, addressed to the Ministry of Inclusion or the Ombudsman’s Office. You can also go to court, with the help of the Bar Association (Colegio de Abogados), especially if you have any characteristics that put you in a situation of vulnerability (disabilities, single woman, single parent family, old age, illness, extreme lack of resources and/or social and family networks in Spain, etc.).

The state has handed over responsibility for the reception system to NGOs. The way to access it depends on where you are, but normally you will have to communicate it verbally to the NGOs that manage the reception programme. In each region (Comunidad Autónoma) a different organisation does this (for example: Madrid, Red Cross; Galicia, ACCEM; Comunidad Valenciana, Red Cross; Cataluña, Red Cross; Sevilla, CEAR; Cádiz, CEAR) (⇒ ch. 12: Contacts).

This support system is made up of three phases that can only be accessed if you have the documentation that proves that you are an applicant for international protection (both the “manifiesto” and the white card). Reception lasts for a maximum of 18 months.

First reception (phase 0): This is a first reception of 30 days and is usually in collective centres (hostels, etc.). The time spent in this centre does not affect the total duration and, from here on, the reception will last for 18 months.

Temporary reception (phase 1): These are homes or centres run by NGOs. You will spend some time here until your asylum decision is resolved. If asylum and subsidiary protection are denied, you have 15 days to leave. If you are granted refugee status, or subsidiary protection, you will be entitled to access phase 2.

Autonomy phase (phase 2):This phase is only for people who have been granted international protection (asylum or subsidiary protection). It is a financial assistance set up to support you with rent in the region of your choice. At this point you will no longer be under the control of an NGO, as in phase 1, but you will be monitored.

Attention: If your application is successful, but you are granted “protection because of humanitarian reasons” (third case explained above), you will no longer be entitled to remain in the support system for asylum seekers (“sistema de acogida en materia de protección internación”).

How to prepare for the interview and share your story?

At the second asylum interview with the police you will have to tell your personal story, why you should be granted protection in the Spanish state. The credibility of this story is very important. It must be very detailed and give exact places, names and dates of the events that caused you to leave the country, up to your arrival in Spain.
Facts relevant to the application
Events concerning your personal persecution (attacks/threats against you because you belong to a certain political, ethnic or religious group or because of your sexual orientation), armed conflicts or diseases that cannot be cured, are relevant for your application to international protection.

Attention: situations of widespread poverty or lack of freedom are NOT relevant in this case.
Valid proof
Be sure to back up your story with evidence. This will give your story much more credibility with the authorities. This evidence can be:

  • Photos that show certain situations/places in your story.
  • Letters, emails or facebook messages, whatsapp messages, etc. that confirm your story.
  • Newspaper reports about events you mention in your story or where you appear (terrorist attacks, political resistance etc.).
  • Testimonials from other people who have known what happened.
  • Any other evidence you have.

During the examination of your asylum application you may have to go through several interviews. The most important thing is that your story has no contradictions and that you always say the same thing, because the police record all your statements. That is why it is very important to write down your story in detail and study it very well before the first interview to avoid making mistakes with dates or forgetting something.

Remember: There are many social organisations that can support you in preparing your story. Contact them! (⇒ ch. 12: Contacts).

Attention: Be careful about using publicly known facts in your story if you are not very sure about the details of what happened. A slight difference in what you say from the version known to the institutions may cause doubts in your story.

What answers can there be and what do they mean?

a) Positive decision
If you are granted asylum, subsidiary protection or residence for humanitarian reasons, you will have the right to reside and work legally in Spain.

  • If you are granted refugee status, your right of residence will be permanent.
  • If you are granted subsidiary protection, the right of residence will be for 5 years and may be extended if the situation in your home country is maintained.
  • If you are granted protection on humanitarian grounds, your right of residence will be for 1 year and may be extended on a case-by-case basis.

b) Negative decision
If your asylum application is rejected, immediately contact a lawyer specialised in asylum law. This is important, because they will know what is best in your specific case. In general, you have two options:

  • Within 1 month of the negative decision, you can file an appeal for reconsideration, “recurso de reposición” (administrative option). This allows the Spanish administration to review the decision on your case. During the time your application is being reviewed, your rights as an applicant will be maintained, you will be able to renew your document and work legally. To do so, you must apply for the applicant’s certificate after 1 month without a response to your appeal. From this moment on you will be able to apply for re-entry into the support system for asylum seekers, if you have not already used the 18 months.
  • Within 2 months, you can also ask for a lawyer at the Bar Association to file an appeal in court (judicial option). In this case it is more difficult for you to continue working legally during the appeal.

Remember: In any case, if you have been in Spain for more than 2 years and you can prove it (with “empadronamiento” certificates, certificates of work or trainings), you may be able to apply for residence permits based on “arraigo” (⇒ ch. 5: Residence).