How Sephardic Jews can get citizenship to Spain and Portugal

How Sephardic Jews can get citizenship to Spain and Portugal

The governments of Spain and Portugal have passed laws to allow descendants of Sephardic Jews to apply, through an expedited process, for citizenship and a passport.  It has been reported recently that over 10,000 have been successful in getting citizenship to these two countries 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.  The jus sanguinis laws in Spain and Portugal allows citizenship to be passed down to your children, grandchildren and beyond.  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.  Coming from a politically unstable country, I had the option to migrate to the UK, unlike others I knew who were left behind.

Under both programmes, if you qualify, both the Portuguese and Spanish passport can be held as a second, or additional, passport .  There are no residency requirements or need to visit the countries to get access to these very powerful European passports.  As at writing, these two passports were the 5th and 6th most powerful passports in the world.  A Spanish passport allows you to travel visa free to 161 countries worldwide and Portugal gives you access to 160 countries visa free.  

Although there are many similarities in the application process for both of these programmes, such as how you prove your Sephardic Jewish descent and documents that are needed, Portugal requires less from you in terms of language tests, cultural tests and current links to Portugal.

If you are interested in Spanish residency, you need to be quick!  You only have until October 2019 to be eligible to have the 2-year residency requirement waived.  Portugal has no deadline for their programme.

Santa Maria La Blanca Spanish Synagogue

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 boiling point when in 1492 the rulers of Spain (jointly Isabella I of Castile and Ferdinand II of Aragon) decreed that all Jews must convert to Catholicism, leave Spain or face execution in an edict known as the Alhambra Decree. Many of the refugees fled to Portugal, but five years later Manuel I of Portugal passed a similar decree and the Jewish population of the entire Iberian Peninsula was faced with increasing persecution and vilification and over the next century many Jews fled both Portugal and Spain to escape oppression. This injustice was only formally revoked in Spain in 1968, although in practice acceptance of Jewish worship had been occurring 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) as well as to North Africa and beyond to modern day Israel and the New World.

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.

Table showing where Sephardic Jews are living

Many of these communities still maintain ties to their countries of origin, with 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 with 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.

Jewish Quarter in Portugal

How Sephardic Jews can get Portuguese citizenship

So, what does this citizenship process entail? While there are many similarities there are some subtle differences and so we’ll first look at Portugal.

The law in Portugal has two simple requirements:

  1. Applicants are Sephardic Jews of Portuguese descent and are adult or emancipated under Portuguese law;
  2. 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 linage. 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 this citizenship pathway with 1800 successful applicants in 2017 alone. While the process has certainly been smoothed out from its original form, the process is necessarily vague given the historical timescales and is subject to the final discretionary approval of the Minister of Justice. Given these facts we strongly suggest using a reputable and effective local immigration partner to maximise your chances of easily achieving a successful outcome.

Our immigration lawyer in Portugal has helped many people successfully achieve citizenship through this pathway.  If you would like help with this process, then please click here.

How Sephardic Jews can get Spanish citizenship

Spain has 4 requirements (all of which need to be translated into Spanish before submission):

  1. 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.
  2. Proof of a special connection to Spain. This is a subjective measure and can be show through several ways. These include a wide range of areas including: 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.
  3. Other documents including a birth certificate and proof of a clear criminal record.
  4. 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. 

Normally there is a two-year residency requirement from this pathway to Spanish citizenship but for a short period of time this is being waived. The waiving of the 2-year residency requirement will only be valid until October 2019 and so if Spanish citizenship is of interest to you, it is critical that you get the process underway as soon as possible.

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 you. 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 clients. Please click here to get help from them.

The massive injustice meted out to the Jewish populations of the Iberian Peninsula in history cannot be erased, but the actions of the Portuguese and Spanish governments to welcome back the descendants of those impacted shows that there is at least a willingness to recognise 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 heritage and in doing so 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 and we describe some of them 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 and 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.

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Are you a Sephardic Jew Pinterest  European passport for Sephardic Jews


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Alastair Johnson

A digital nomad, born and raised in South Africa before heading off into the wider world. Developed a serious case of itchy feet and found some amazing places to live along the way including London, Sydney and now Spain. Happiest sipping a sundowner looking over the ocean talking about the day’s diving.…

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