The governments of Spain and Portugal accelerated Sephardic citizenship applications through laws passed early in the last decade. This process allows descendants of Sephardic Jews to apply for citizenship and a passport using an expedited process. As a result, more than 10,000 Sephardi citizenships to Portugal and Spain have been issued since 2015.
But why would anyone want a Spanish or Portuguese passport? The most important reason is that they are both members of the European Union. Once you are a citizen of these countries you can freely live and work in any of the 31 European Economic Area countries. What’s more, you can pass on your Portuguese citizenship or Spanish citizenship to your children, grandchildren, and beyond. This is you can pass down citizenship according to the jus sanguinis citizenship by decent laws in Spain and Portugal. Portuguese citizenship by descent and Spanish citizenship by descent is easy to access for all your family.
You would be handing them the gift of a lifetime! To have access to live in these first world countries, their amazing cultures, economies, educational facilities, and social services. I personally feel privileged to have had dual citizenship my whole life. I had the opportunity to emigrate from a politically unstable country as a result of my dual nationality. People without this good fortune had to remain.
Portugal and Spain Sephardic citizenship
Under both programmes Portuguese or Spanish passports can be held as a second, or additional, passport. You can have Portuguese dual citizenship and Spanish dual citizenship. There are no residency requirements or need to visit the countries to get access to these very powerful European passports. As of writing, the Spanish passport was the 5th and the Portuguese passport the 6th most powerful passport in the world. A Spanish passport allows you to travel visa-free to 161 countries worldwide. Similarly, Portugal’s passport gives you access to 160 countries visa-free.
There are many similarities in the application process for both of these Sephardic citizenship programmes. Similarities include proving your Sephardic Jewish descent and the documents you need. In comparison, Portugal requires less from you in terms of language tests, cultural tests and current links to Portugal than Spain’s Sephardic citizenship process.
If you are interested in Spanish residency, you will need to wait to see if the programme is reinstated. You had to get your application in before October 2019. The original statute had an expiry date. As a result, the Spanish citizenship for Sephardic citizenship pathway is currently suspended. Still, there is hope that the program will resume once parliament sits again. In the meantime, your best route to a European passport is the Portuguese Sephardic citizenship programme. Portugal has no deadline for its programme.
BACKGROUND OF THE SEPHARDIC JEWISH COMMUNITY
The term Sephardic Jew, while there is some debate about the exact delineations, generally refers to Jews from the Iberian Peninsula (Spain and Portugal) who migrated during a period of persecution.
Jewish communities were a long and respected part of the societies of the Iberian Peninsula (now Spain and Portugal) for hundreds of years. Increasing persecution reached a boiling point when in 1492. At this time the rulers of Spain (jointly Isabella I of Castile and Ferdinand II of Aragon) passed a decree. It stated that all Jews must convert to Catholicism, leave Spain or face execution. The Alhambra Decree was the name of the law. Many of the refugees fled to Portugal. Consequently five years later Manuel I of Portugal passed a similar decree. Accordingly, the Jewish population of the entire Iberian Peninsula faced increasing persecution and vilification and over the next century. As a result, many Jews fled both Portugal and Spain to escape oppression. Spain only formally revoked this injustice in 1968. In practice acceptance of Jewish worship had been occurring in Spain since the mid-1800s.
Throughout the persecution, these refugees fled to existing Jewish communities or established new communities in Europe (especially Greece, The Netherlands, Turkey, and Italy). They also went to North Africa and beyond to modern-day Israel and the New World.
Sephardic Jews today
The table below shows the current home country of some of the estimated 2.2 million Sephardic Jews now living outside of Spain and Portugal.
Many of these communities still maintain ties to their countries of origin. Evidence of this includes language (Ladino, Spanish or Portuguese), religious practice and cultural conventions often having a direct link back to the Iberian Peninsula.
Since Spain and Portugal made their offers of an expedited citizenship process thousands of people have taken the opportunity to secure citizenship and a passport of one of these stable, welcoming Western European democracies. There have been applications from over 100 countries. To date, the most represented including the 12 Ibero-American nations (Argentina, Bolivia, Brazil, Chile, Colombia, Cuba, Dominican, Ecuador, Paraguay, Peru, Uruguay, Venezuela), Morocco, Israel, Turkey, the United States, and Pakistan.
HOW SEPHARDIC JEWS CAN GET PORTUGUESE CITIZENSHIP
So, what does the Portuguese Sephardic citizenship process entail? While there are many similarities with the Spanish citizenship process there are some subtle differences and so we’ll first look at Portugal.
The law in Sephardic citizenship Portugal has two simple requirements:
- Applicants are Sephardic Jews of Portuguese descent and are adult or emancipated under Portuguese law;
- Applicants not have been convicted, pursuant final judgment of sentence, for committing a crime punishable with a maximum prison sentence equal to or exceeding three years, under Portuguese law.
To demonstrate the first requirement applicants can submit evidence including family surname, family language, family history and/or documented family trees showing descent. You should work with the Jewish community to issue a certificate of Sephardic Jewish lineage. This certificate is then submitted, along with other documentation including criminal checks, birth certificates etc to the Portuguese immigration office.
There has been a strong uptake of the Sephardic citizenship pathway with 1800 successful applicants in 2017 alone. The Minister of Justice has final discretionary approval over the process. Portugal’s Sephardic citizenship process has been streamlined from its original form. In spite of this, it is still necessarily vague given the historical timescales. Given these facts, we strongly suggest using a reputable and effective local immigration partner. This will maximise your chances of easily achieving a successful outcome.
Our immigration lawyer in Portugal has helped many people successfully achieve Sephardic citizenship through this pathway. If you would like help with this process, then please click here.
HOW SEPHARDIC JEWS CAN GET SPANISH CITIZENSHIP
Unfortunately, Spain had a deadline of October 2019 to apply for this programme which has now expired. There are expectations that this might be re-introduced soon. Spanish parliament was still dissolved at the time of updating this post. We will update this post as soon as this programme is reinstated. Below however is a bit about the Spanish Sephardic citizenship process as it was prior to expiry. Accordingly, we expect a similar process on resumption.
Spain has 4 requirements (all of which need to be translated into Spanish before submission):
- Proof of Sephardic status. This status must be certified by a recognised Jewish authority and can be based on ancestry, surname, language usage (ladino or “heketia”), religious tradition, and/or any other circumstances or evidence that clearly demonstrates status as a Sephardic Jew.
- Proof of a special connection to Spain. This is a subjective measure and can be shown in several ways. These include a wide range of areas including the study of Spanish history, marriage to a Spaniard, holding shares in Spanish companies, owning real estate or other assets in Spain, living or having lived in Spain, showing evidence of charitable, economic or cultural activities to the benefit of Spanish persons or institutions, language usage (ladino or “heketia”) and many others.
- Other documents including a birth certificate and proof of a clear criminal record.
- There are two tests that must be passed:
- A basic Spanish language test where you need to prove knowledge of the Spanish language to DELE level A2, or higher.
- A test that covers some basic information on Spain’s Constitution, culture and society.
Again, given the complexities of the process, we strongly recommend the use of a reputable local immigration partner to ensure the best possible outcome for your Spanish Sephardic citizenship application. As Jewish publication, Hamodia says “Most who have been successful have employed the help of an attorney in Spain to navigate the bureaucratic hurdles“. Our immigration partner in Spain has had a lot of experience and a track record of success for their Sephardic citizenship clients. Please click here to get help from them.
Sephardic Citizenship in Europe
The massive injustice meted out to the Jewish populations of the Iberian Peninsula in history cannot be erased. However, the actions of the Portuguese and Spanish governments to recognise citizenship by descent of those impacted shows that there is at least a willingness to acknowledge those wrongs and, in some way, to right them. Thousands of people from across the world are taking the opportunity to reclaim a formally lost part of their European heritage. In doing so they are opening up a world of opportunity for them and their families
Spain and Portugal are not alone in taking steps to address historical injustices. Other countries have taken similar measures. To this end, we describe some of the citizenship by decent programs available in our blog post on European Residency as well as other ways to European Residency that you may not know about.
This article is for informational purposes only. It is not intended to be exhaustive in relation to the matters covered here. Please contact an immigration professional to find out exactly how your case will be handled.