Ana Garicano Solé is partner at Sagardoy Abogados, one of the leading law firms in Spain, She leads the immigration practice, consisting of a team of 20 professionals. Specialised in immigration law, she graduated in law from the Complutense University of Madrid and holds a postgraduate degree in immigration law from the Autonomous University of Madrid. She has lectured on transnational labour issues at Carlos III University of Madrid, and is a frequent speaker at conferences including those held by the International Bar Association (IBA) and the American Lawyers Immigration Association (AILA).
What inspired you to pursue a legal career?
My father is a general practice lawyer. This allowed me to grow closer to the profession, which drew my attention in childhood. During my law studies, our household assistant requested my help to apply for Spanish citizenship. This was the starting point of my interest in immigration law and citizenship, an unknown field in Spain during the 1990s.
What started without any real intentions – offering services to family members and friends – has today become a strong practice with corporate clients, and around 20 lawyers and consultants managing more than 2,500 applications a year.
What do you enjoy most about practising immigration law?
The thing I enjoy most in this field is how dynamic it is: the relationship with clients and the diversity of the sectors involved, as well as the interaction with other legal fields, such as employment, social security and taxes.
In Spain, it is not only applicable law that evolves within the area of migration, but also the related interpretative criteria. In relation to the legislative amendments, we are always vigilant with the transposition of EU legislation to national law, and the signing of international agreements that directly affect migration as well as those without a direct impact – such as the agreements relating to social security and tax matters.
Dealing with clients has turned out to be a challenge, in such a demanding and changing industry, while we aim to improve the SLA. It is also challenging to have knowledge of the key points of every industry with a potential impact on the legal migratory procedure, and to maintain a migratory strategy that is balanced in each case between employment, social security and tax matters.
How has the practice of corporate immigration law developed since you first began practising?
I started practising in 2000, the year the Organic Act 4/2000 on Immigration came into effect; its implementing regulation, Royal Decree 557/2011, only came into effect in 2011.
At that time, foreign nationals were allowed to personally submit their applications for work and residence permits, regardless of their legal status in Spain (either regular or irregular). The company/employer had very little involvement in the process; its role was limited to the provision of identification documentation and job offers.
It is worth highlighting the creation, in 2007, of the Unit for Large Companies and Strategic Economic Sectors (UGE-CE), a fast-track unit in charge of processing work and residence permit applications for companies and organisations meeting certain criteria (such as the number of employees) or operating in strategic sectors that need to bring non-EU staff with specific skills to Spain (mainly highly qualified and senior management professionals). With the UGE-CE Spain made a clear distinction, for the very first time, between the treatment of economic migrants and the attraction of foreign talent to Spain.
Starting in 2011 with the coming into force of the Royal Decree 55/2011, the irregular status of foreign nationals in Spain was established as grounds for denial of work and residence permits. Also, for the very first time, the direct involvement of the company/employer in the process was required, which necessitated the company’s legal representative to submit an application, in person, in favour of the foreign national.
It is important to highlight the coming into force of Act 14/ 2013, known as the Entrepreneurs’ Act, which established a very quick process for highly qualified professionals, workers subject to intracompany transfers, entrepreneurs and investors.
What are the main challenges currently facing immigration lawyers in Spain?
I would highlight two challenges. First, the labour market test, preventing the approval of permits affecting third-country nationals who don’t have preferential status or access to Act 14/13. Second, the delay and changes in relation to Act 14/13, implying variable criteria and delays in the decisions of up to two months, instead of 20 working days as established in the Act.
On a broader level, and as a phenomenon affecting the entire legal sector in a comprehensive way, I would highlight the challenge that will emerge over the next few years: the way in which law firms are able to adopt technology advances, and adapt our business models in accordance with new and innovative formulas, which will create changes in the way legal services will be offered and provided in the near future.
How do you envisage your practice developing over the next five years?
I think the advice will be more holistic. Clients are increasingly demanding immigration firms to provide a more global assessment, including employment, social security and tax matters.
What is the best piece of career advice you have received?
Work hard and be honest.
What has been the highlight of your career to date?
Being invited to take part in groups of immigration experts managed by the European Commission, and work groups to undertake discussions with the authorities in relation to immigration matters, as well as the establishment of the firm’s immigration team.