Spanish language tests are to become compulsory for expats wanting to join their husband or wife in Spain, it was announced yesterday.
People who are married or engaged to a Spaniard or a Briton already living in Spain must prove they have 'conversational' Castellano before they can settle in the country.
The test will become part of the marriage visa application process later this year. Last year, 38,000 immigrants were granted spousal visas lasting two years. Another 21,000 were given the right to stay indefinitely.
Ministers hope the change will help combat bogus marriages and ensure new arrivals integrate into Spanish society.
In 2003, it was estimated that the number of Spanish properties owned by the British was 600,000. Figures from 2007 indicated there were 761,000 British residents in the country, most of them highly concentrated in pockets (urbanizaciónes or newly-built developments) where English has become the main language.
To pass the test, applicants will have to be able to speak, read, and write Spanish as well as a seven-year-old at primary school.
Home Secretary Maria Teresa Mayo said: "This is only the first step. We are currently reviewing Spanish language requirements across the system with a view to tightening the rules further in the future".
In the wake of rising problems, expats will also have to prove they can support themselves financially and that their relationship is genuine. If they comply with all the requirements, they will be issued with a two-year visa.
Don Andrés Verde, chairman of think tank Cuidado Inmigración España, said: "This is an essential step forward if new spouses and partners are to play their full part in our society, but the level of Spanish specified is at the very bottom of the scale. It will have to be moved up before long if this measure is to be effective".
[From El Correo Diario, a right-wing Spanish paper]