I am British citizen and my partner of 6 years is a South African citizen. We have been living between South Africa and Asia for the past 3 years. We would like to move to Italy or Spain. I know that, as a British citizen, it will not be a problem for me to work in the EU. However, what is the process to apply for my partner to live and work in the same country? Would he be permitted to join me if I can secure a job before moving there? Is the process easier if we are married or if I go there and start working first?
It's certainly easier if you are married. If you, as a British citizen, are working in another EU country than the UK, your spouse has the right to join you and also to work in the same country without any other conditions (the text on the page is about “other relatives”, you have to click on the “spouse/children” tab).
He will need to apply for some kind of residence card. The exact process will depend on the country but the only requirements will be to prove that (a) he is your partner and (b) you do reside in the country and make use of your treaty rights (e.g. you are working, rules are a bit different if you are not working). This residence card should be issued free of charge.
As a South African citizen, he will also need a visa to enter either Spain or Italy. Here again, the visa should be free of charge and it should not be necessary to provide anything else than a proof that he is indeed your spouse and that he is travelling with you or joining you.
If you are not married, it would be useful to have at least some form of registered partnership. In principle, there are also some rights for cohabiting partners but it's a lot vaguer and probably difficult to use in practice.
I moved inside the (western) EU some years ago. I don't know anything about entry visas and such, but I do know a bit about the immigration process.
Different countries have different rules regarding immigration. It can easily take up to six months to get your case handled, and the answer can be negative since immigration restrictions are very tight these days.
Two things might help you.
If you're not married, you can be asked to prove that you have been a couple for x amount of years by having witness statements or any official paperwork (like domiciliation; having lived together on the same address). The more reliable those statements are, the more likely a positive answer.
The other one is if he has a job (or how likely he is to find one, e.g. degrees and other qualifications). In fact, I was told that my application would be approved as soon as I found a job and contacted immigration services during the waiting period – I had quit my previous job to move so while qualified, I was unemployed for a short time.
Immigration wants to check if the immigrant can be a valuable and contributing member of society; this requires the ability to sustain oneself economically and/or to be in a stable relationship where the other party can provide for the family. This is why you really need to prove by any means that you are indeed a family and you can make money.