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I have been offered a funded position to undertake a PhD, with two years in Spain and one in Italy. Both my partner and I are Australian citizens, and while we are not married I don't think we would have any problem proving the relationship.

Is it likely that we would be able to get a visa for my partner which would enable her to work while in Spain? If so, which visa category should we apply for?

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I asked in a comment (now deleted):

Have you asked the administrators of the PhD program? They must likely have someone who handles immigration formalities and would know the answer to your question.

That's because, according to the Spanish government's brochure on family reunification, foreigners may generally sponsor relatives for family reunification only after having lived in Spain for a year.

There is an exception for "beneficiaries of the special regime for researchers," however, and I suspect that you may be such a beneficiary.

The person most likely to know is the person who handles immigration matters on behalf of the PhD program. This would be the person responsible for arranging the documents that the program needs to provide in order to serve as your sponsor. Such a person is most likely to be familiar with immigration laws as they apply to your position, since they have probably helped others who have been in the exact same position you are now in.

As you are not married, and seem not to be in a formally registered partnership, you will have the additional burden of proving the nature of your relationship. Even if you have no problem to do it, as you assume, it will still be more work than you'd have if you were married, and the possibility of failure is probably somewhat higher. Unfortunately, I do not know the criteria by which the Spanish authorities judge unmarried partnerships, so I can't comment further. That would probably make a good question in its own right.

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You need a work visa. For that your partner should accept a position then the company should apply to work permit. After the necessary documents are completed, she should apply for work visa before her arrival in Spain.

Embassy:

Australian Citizens wanting to work or reside in Spain must apply for the appropriate visa from the nearest Spanish Embassy or Consulate. You should apply for the relevant visa from outside of Spain, if you do not, you will be issued the standard ‘Schengen Visa’ upon arrival which does not grant you the right to reside or work in Spain. Spanish immigration authorities will not generally grant a work or residence visa to Australian citizens who enter Spain on a ‘Schengen Visa’.

Work in Spain Guide:

In most cases, you’ll need to get a work permit if you are hired as an employee in Spain; see below for exceptions to this rule. Before you can get a work permit, you must first get a job.After you have secured a job, your employer must request authorisation – a work permit – for you to legally work in Spain. This will be granted if the job is listed as a Shortage Occupation or if the vacancy has been advertised and there are no other suitable candidates from Spain or the EU. Once authorisation to work has been granted, which will be combined with your residence permit, you can apply for a visa.

If you were married, it would be easier since, she could get a resident permit through you, and then a work permit when she takes the job.

Phoog mentioned that, unmarried couples can use the right of unification, however you would need to have a residence permit dating back at least a year which would extend for at least a year.

Re-unification:

unmarried partners are also eligible for family reunification, but foreigners can only serve as sponsors for family reunification after living in Spain for one year, and then only if they are authorized for at least another year of stay.

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    According to extranjeros.empleo.gob.es/es/InformacionInteres/…, unmarried partners are also eligible for family reunification, but foreigners can only serve as sponsors for family reunification after living in Spain for one year, and then only if they are authorized for at least another year of stay. – phoog Mar 9 '16 at 16:30

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