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It's a question that has long exasperated foreigners trying to become resident in the Spanish state: why is it so difficult to obtain an appointment with the Spanish National Police to get an NIE - a foreigner's identification number? On internet forums, frustrated new arrivals frequently vent their anger about the difficulty in this essential first step to residency - and speculate about its causes: inefficiency, corruption or outright xenophobia?

Some light has been shed on the question in recent days, at least for anyone who has been having the problem in Tarragona. Spanish National Police have arrested an employee at the Tarragona police station who was allegedly manipulating appointments for foreigners applying for their NIE in order to make money.

The man, a Spanish national, who had been linked to the National Police for years, is said to have been operating fraudulently with two others, both foreigners, to illegally process the appointments for those trying to obtain a Número de Identidad de Extranjero. All three people were arrested and charged last week, and have been released.

National Police worker involved

According to the information provided by the National Police, the three people arrested - among them an employee at the Tarragona police station, not a police officer but a Spanish civil servant - are accused of bribery and forgery. Allegedly, they manipulated the system of making a prior appointment (a cita previa) that migrants and foreign residents must make, usually online or by phone, in order to obtain the ID number which is an essential requisite for living and working in Spain.

According to the investigations carried out by the Spanish police themselves, the Spanish citizen arrested and the other two people, both of Moroccan nationality, fraudulently obtained appointment times and put them up for sale to foreigners who needed to legalize their presence in Spain. 

Get a 'cita previa' and skip the queues 

The rumours of dodgy dealings in connection with citas previas have always existed; now, in the case of Tarragona, it appears that a corrupt operation has existed that includes someone on the inside. The sums charged by the members of the alleged mafia have not been disclosed, but judicial police investigators have evidence that they connected with people who wanted to skip the queues.

With their inside information on when new appointments were activated online, they were able to take advantage to put appointments on sale, at the same time making it more difficult for ordinary applicants to get access to them.

After being arrested, the three suspects went before a judge and were released on bribery and forgery charges. Sources from the National Police have explained to that the police station worker involved in the plot, who has been removed from his responsibilities, had already been investigated for similar incidents a few months ago, also in the management and processing of prior appointments for NIEs.


Main photo: A Spanish National Police van outside a police building in La Verneda, Barcelona / ACN