Italian consulate in Barcelona overwhelmed: "It is impossible to make an appointment"
Only 24 workers to attend over 100,000 Italians officially residing in Catalonia
BarcelonaWhen Rai, an Italian citizen settled in Barcelona, began procedures to renew his passport, it was still seven months away from expiring. He has lived in Barcelona for over ten years and knows that the procedures at the Italian consulate in Barcelona are always slow. "I thought it was better to be cautious and do it with plenty of time, because I needed my passport for some business trips and I didn't want to take any risks," he explains. Despite this, he was unable to travel: the passport did not arrive in time. "Not only did I miss the trip, but last week I was forced to go to my home town in Italy, using my ID card, which has not expired, to renew my passport there". The slowness of the Italian consulate in Barcelona has cost him dear: €230 for the trip home, which he obviously paid out of his own pocket, and the trip he missed because his passport did not arrive on time. But he is far from being alone.
The consulate, which depends on the Italian government, has been struggling for years. This does not only affect citizens who want to renew their identity card or passport. A dozen witnesses consulted by this newspaper report similar situations in different procedures. "They never pick up the phone, it is impossible to talk to them because there is only one phone and one specific time of day for the public to call, and the line is always busy," Rai explains. "It's crazy," Francesca complains. Her daughter was born seventeen months ago and she still hasn't been able to get an appointment to register her birth. Rai knows of a similar case: "I know a couple with a young child who have had to wait months to be allowed to travel and meet their close family because they could not get an ID card for the baby," he explains and adds that this mismanagement has a direct impact on their personal lives.
The fact of the matter is that without these basic legal documents the over 114,000 Italians officially settled in Barcelona and its surroundings have impediments not only to travel but also to open a bank account, rent an apartment or even get married. "Getting paperwork is an odyssey and the lack of information is total," Ruggero confirms, who has waited months to get the paperwork he needs to go to the Registry Office. He, moreover, recently became a father and for two years he has not been able to add in his daughter on his tax returns because he has not yet been sent the paperwork he needs to do it. "All this is having an economic cost for me, of course," he says.
The complaints against this administration have been around for years. A simple internet search gives an idea of the magnitude of the administrative chaos. Most of the more than 600 reviews of the consulate are negative: "This is the fourth time I have tried to make an appointment without success. This is a shameful service for a European Union country," says one of the comments. "Those of us who have to renew any paperwork are hindered because of a consulate that does not even deign to answer emails," laments another user. "We should unite and make a formal protest," suggests another of the messages.
There are even dozens of tutorial videos explaining "tricks" to get an appointment. "What you have to do to get an appointment," says a youtuber specialised in the subject in one of his videos, "is to enter the website a few minutes before midnight, put your mouse over the button to request an appointment and when it is exactly 12 o'clock click on it very quickly, because there are thousands of people doing the same thing and the few appointments run out in a matter of seconds", he instructs.
The situation has reached such a desperate point that, according to some internet fora and also some of the witnesses consulted, there now are people who specialise in obtaining an appointment for paying customers. "They are people who are only look for appointments. I have even seen them work with three computers at a same time to get them," Rai says.
The Italian consul in Barcelona, Emanuele Manzitti, makes no excuses and admits to ARA they are overwhelmed. There are about 90,000 Italians registered as living in Barcelona alone, while the Italian official registry of residents abroad (AIRE) there are over 114,000 Italians living here. The consulate, moreover, not only serves Italians living in Catalonia: the Barcelona office also serves Italians living in Andorra, Aragon, Valencia, Murcia and the Balearic Islands, and the avalanche of applications has saturated the consulate.
"In the office there are 24 employees counting myself," the consul says, who admits they lack resources. "No doubt it would be beneficial for there to be more of us. We are working in this direction and it would be an important step to offer an increasingly efficient service," he admits.
Manzitti explains that, since he became consul last September, the waiting list for processing the most basic documents, such as identity cards and passports, has been cut. "We have gone from seven months waiting time to five months for passports, and we will continue to reduce waiting times," the consul says. The Barcelona office has also made an investment in ID department, according to Manzitti, to be able to handle more applications. "We now make about 1,000 ID cards per semester, a very similar figure to last year, but in the same period we have almost doubled the number of passports issued compared to 2021: we have gone from 2,600 to 4,500," he defends
Even so, he does not hide that the situation is complicated, because with the return to normality after covid restrictions, requests are constantly growing. In addition, the consul admits that the interruption of activity during the health crisis caused an "accumulated backlog" of procedures which the consulate is finding hard to clear. He also recalls that, nevertheless, the consulate also manages "a very wide range" of activities, including navigation, studies, fiscal codes or assistance for tourists.
Be that as it may, administrative delays has ended up inflaming the spirits of Catalonia's Italian community, which is already trying to organise online and on social media to denounce what they consider the Italian government's neglect of its duty to its citizens abroad. "Sometimes I think about obtaining Spanish nationality just to avoid all this," Rai confesses.