What happens when migrants turn 18?

The age of the person who arrives in an autonomous community, according to the report Unaccompanied minors and former guardianship youth with residence authorization, from the Permanent Immigration Observatory, plays a crucial role. Before the reform of the immigration regulations of 19 October 2021, unaccompanied minors who obtained a residence permit before turning 18 faced two common difficulties: entering employment when they reached working age and avoiding being in an irregular administrative situation when they reached the age of majority.

But since the reform came into effect, unaccompanied minors aged 16 and 17 can now work even if they have a non-lucrative residence permit. These authorizations are gradually disappearing, as holders are interested in obtaining an authorization that facilitates the search for employment.

In relation to the second difficulty, the document from the Observatory, dependent on the Ministry of Inclusion, Social Security and Migration, highlights the risk they have of falling into irregularity when they turn 18 and abandon the protection system. Previously, even if an authorization was issued before reaching the age of majority, it automatically expired upon reaching the age of 18, instead of respecting the regular one-year validity period for initial authorizations.


The Immigration Observatory highlights the risk, upon turning 18, of falling into irregularity


Administrative practice has changed towards a more guarantee interpretation

At the end of 2023, 15,045 ‘menas’ or former guardians had a residence permit in Spain

This situation had the consequence that many young people found themselves in an irregular situation almost immediately upon reaching the age of majority. However, gradually, administrative practice in this area has changed towards a more guarantee interpretation, issuing authorizations for their regular period of validity. This means that some young people in care can maintain a foster child authorization even several months after reaching the age of majority.

As of December 31, 2021, the Central Registry of Foreigners (RCE) had a total of 11,280 people between 16 and 23 years old who had residence authorization as unaccompanied minors or formerly supervised youth. Two years later, as of December 31, 2023, this number had risen to 15,045 people, which implies an absolute growth of 3,765 people.

Where do they work?

Depending on the sector to which they belong, minors under 16 and 17 years of age usually find work mainly in the hospitality industry and agriculture and fishing. And young people who have left the guardianship system, that is, who have already reached the age of majority, have a greater presence in hospitality, administrative activities and fishing and agriculture. In any case, the main occupations continue to be hospitality (15%), administrative activities and auxiliary services (9%), as well as agriculture and livestock farming (8%).


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