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Spanish & Portuguese Citizenship for Descendants of Sephardic Jews

By: Sarina Roffe
Brooklyn, NY, USA
June 2015

Introduction
Spain
Portugal

Introduction

Spain and Portugal have passed legislation to grant citizenship to descendants of Sephardic Jews expelled in 1492 and 1496, respectively. The application process in each country is different.

In 1496, King Manuel of Portugal, forcibly converted the Jews of Portugal, most of whom had come to Portugal as a result of the Spanish Expulsion in 1492 by King Ferdinand and Queen Isabella. It is estimated that about more than half of the Jews expelled from Spain ended up in Portugal. More than 500 years later, both Spain and Portugal passed legislation that would offer citizenship to descendants of Sephardic Jews.

In anticipation, the Jewish communities of both countries offered guidelines on applications. The governments both want a certificate from the Jewish community before considering the application. Applicants do not need to be Jewish.

Potentially 3.5 million descendants of Sephardic Jews who settled in across the world may apply for dual citizenship although it is estimated that only 90,000 people will apply. Spanish law does not normally allow dual citizenship except for people from neighboring Andorra or Portugal or former colonies.

The Spanish application process is more arduous than the Portuguese process. Obtaining citizenship in a European Union country opens up many opportunities. Please note that residency is required for health care and other benefits.

Spain

On June 11, 2015, Spain passed legislation to grant citizenship to descendants of Sephardic Jews show can show their name is of the families expelled in 1492. The law becomes effective in October 1, 2015. The new law permits dual citizenship. Having a Spanish passport permits the holder the right to work and live anywhere in the 28-Member European Union.

Prospective applicants must certify their Sephardic background, and also demonstrate a link to Spain (i.e. donating to a Spanish charity or buying Spanish property), including by passing a language test and showing knowledge of the country's culture and constitution. The culture test will be developed by the Cervantes Institute, which promotes Spanish language and culture abroad.

Applicants will have to have their Jewish heritage vetted by the Spanish Federation of Jewish Communities or by rabbis where they live—they do not have to be practicing Jews. To apply, interested parties will have to go to Spain at their own expense. The requirements for application are similar to those of anyone applying for Spanish citizenship. The Spanish law expires after three years and there is a fee of 100 Euros. Sephardic surnames are an additional mean of evidence, but not a crucial one. Applicants must file an application within three years after the enactment of the new law.

Click here for the Spanish Federation of Jewish Communities website.

Eligibility can be demonstrated by means of:
  1. A certificate issued by the Chairman of the Jewish Community of the place of residence or the birthplace of the applicant.
  2. A certificate from the rabbinical authority legally recognized in the country of residence of the applicant.
  3. The family language (Ladino/haketia), the certificate of birth or the wedding certificate in which the celebration according to the Spanish Sephardic ritual is stated.
  4. The inclusion of the applicant or her/his ancestors in one of the special lists produced by the Spanish authorities in 1924 and 1948.
  5. The family ("blood") connections with the people indicated under 4 above.
  6. The realization of studies about Spanish history and culture.
  7. The realization of charity contributions in favor of Spanish individuals or institutions provided they were conducted regularly.
  8. Any other circumstances that demonstrates beyond reasonable doubt that the applicant is eligible.
  9. A certificate issued by the General Secretariat of the Spanish Federation of Jewish Communities.

Portugal

The Nationality Law of Portugal establishes that the Government may grant Portuguese nationality to the descendants [Jews or non-Jews] of Portuguese Sephardic Jews, based on objective requirements of a connection with Portugal, such as surnames or family language.

There are a few steps to obtaining Portuguese Nationality and a Passport.

  • The applicant for Portuguese Nationality must first obtain a Certificate from the Portuguese Jewish Community which attests to his/her ties to a Sephardic Jewish Community of Portuguese origin. A request for this Certificate must be addressed to the Jewish Community of Oporto or to the Jewish Community of Lisbon
  • From December 15, 2014, the Jewish Community of Oporto began receiving requests from descendants of Portuguese Sephardic Jews who wish to obtain a certificate issued by the Portuguese Jewish Community attesting this status.
  • The request for a Certificate issued by the Committee of the Jewish Community of Oporto should be addressed by the applicant, or an attorney acting for the applicant, by digital means via email, together with the following documents:
    • Contact details
    • Copy of passport
    • Birth certificate or similar document that contains applicant’s date of birth, place of birth and names of parents
    • Proof of residence Contact details
    • Payment of the Committee’s fee and Contact details
    • All of the supporting documentary evidence as may required for a proper evaluation of the matter and decision. Evidence of the applicant’s family history of connection to a Sephardic Community of Portuguese origin may be direct and circumstantialContact details

  • Payment of the Committee’s fee to review the request, in the amount of €150 (one hundred and fifty euros), must be made by bank transfer to the account of the Jewish Community of Oporto. For more information, please visit their website.

Important Notes:

  1. The email address portuguesenationality@comunidade-israelita-porto.org may not be used to ask for clarifications or questions of any type. The Committee of the Jewish Community of Oporto shall only evaluate requests and attached documents, as in legal proceedings, but it may ask the candidate questions by email or telephone.

  2. Once the certificate is issued, the applicant fills out an application for Portuguese Nationality and for obtaining a Portuguese Passport. Please visit the official website or blog of the Jewish Community of Oporto.
  3. In Portugal, the Jewish Community of Oporto, founded 90 years ago, is the organization that unites local communal groups of the city of Oporto and its environs, while the Jewish Community of Lisbon, recognized 102 years ago, is the organization that unites local communal groups of Lisbon and its environs. (For more information about the Portuguese communities, please visit the website of the World Jewish Congress).

Last Update: 31-August-2015   AG
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