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Portuguese Nationality for Descendants of Sephardic Jews

28 de March, 2024

Portuguese Nationality for Descendants of Sephardic Jews

What has changed in access to Portuguese nationality for descendants of Sephardic Jews? See the rules in force in 2024!
Reading: 5 min

The acquisition of Portuguese nationality for descendants of Sephardic Jews is still possible. However, changes in legislation, occurring in 2022 and 2024, have caused doubts for many people. Sephardic Jews were expelled from the Iberian Peninsula during the Spanish and Portuguese Inquisitions. The nationality application through this route is not limited to descent from Portuguese parents or grandparents but extends to any direct or collateral family member, making this route attractive for those seeking dual citizenship. It’s worth noting that Spain no longer directly grants Spanish citizenship to individuals with Sephardic ancestry.

Given the recent changes in the Nationality Law, it’s important to explain how this process currently works. Who is eligible? What are the requirements for obtaining Portuguese citizenship through Sephardic ancestry? How to initiate the application process? See here the updated rules in 2024!

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Sephardic descendants can still apply for Portuguese citizenship?

Yes. Although the regime of nationality grants was initially expected to end on December 31, 2023, this did not happen. The Portuguese Nationality Law continues to provide this possibility for descendants of Portuguese Sephardic Jews in 2024.

This right is established in Article 6, no. 7 of the aforementioned law, by demonstrating the tradition of belonging to a Sephardic community of Portuguese origin. In 2024, the requirements have changed, as we will explain next.

Do Sephardic Jews gain Portuguese citizenship by origin or derivation?

The nationality in question is by naturalization, or derived nationality, which means that it will only take effect upon its grant and cannot be automatically transmitted to adult children. However, adult children of citizens who obtained nationality through Sephardic ancestry can also apply for nationality this way, as long as it’s possible.

For minor children, there are two possible situations: if the child was born before the ascendant obtained Portuguese nationality, they may apply for nationality, demonstrating effective ties to Portugal. If the child was born after the ascendant obtained nationality, they may apply for origin nationality, without the need to demonstrate effective ties to Portugal.

For spouses of Portuguese citizens, it is also possible to transmit derived nationality, following the legal requirements of the nationality process through marriage, as provided by law.

Kadoorie-Mekor Haim Synagogue, inaugurated in 1938, in Porto. It is the largest synagogue in the Iberian Peninsula.
Kadoorie-Mekor Haim Synagogue, inaugurated in 1938, in Porto. It is the largest synagogue in the Iberian Peninsula.

Advantage of this Access Route to Portuguese Nationality

The main positive aspect of this nationality route is that the basis of the application is not limited to descent from Portuguese parents or grandparents. In this case, it can be based on any direct relative (parents, grandparents, great-grandparents, great-great-grandparents) or collateral relative (descendants who have a common ancestor). In summary, the basis will be Sephardic ancestry.

Processes of this nature are processed at the Central Registry Office, and if the process is opened directly in Portugal, it usually takes at least 2 years to complete. The procedural costs are €250 per process.

Certificate from the Jewish Community

The fundamental element of this type of process is proving Sephardic ancestry, which can be done through direct proof, of a documentary nature, as well as indirect evidence, such as surnames, familiar language, genealogy, customs, origins.

In this sense, the applicant must attach to their nationality application the certificate issued by the Lisbon Jewish Community, which is currently the only entity qualified to perform this activity in Portugal. This will translate the connection between the applicant and the organized Sephardic communities.

Changes in the Law in 2022

In September 2022, the process of acquiring Portuguese citizenship for descendants of Sephardic Jews became more stringent. With this change in the law, it became necessary to prove a “real and measurable connection to Portugal.” This connection should be demonstrated through:

  • Ownership, inherited, of real estate in Portugal or other personal enjoyment rights, or participation in companies in Portugal;
    or
  • Demonstration of regular travel throughout life to Portugal, demonstrating an effective and lasting connection to Portugal.

New requirement in 2024: residence in Portugal

In 2024, new changes were introduced. As of April 1, 2024, the Portuguese Government began to require an additional requirement for granting this type of citizenship. Applicants must now prove that they have legally resided in Portuguese territory for a period of at least three years, consecutive or interspersed.

The requirement of CIL certification is also subject to final approval by an evaluation committee appointed by the government.

Requirements for Sephardic Nationality in 2024

Thus, the requirements for acquiring Portuguese citizenship for descendants of Sephardic Jews currently are:

  • Being over 18 years old or legally emancipated at the time of application.
  • Absence of final convictions for crimes punishable under Portuguese law, with a prison sentence of 3 years or more.
  • Not posing a threat to national security or involvement in terrorism-related activities.
  • Having resided legally in Portugal for at least 3 years.
  • Demonstrating the tradition of belonging to a Sephardic community of Portuguese origin, based on proven objective requirements of connection to Portugal.

It is important to note that each case is treated individually, and the final decision depends on the interpretation and evaluation of the evidence by the judge responsible for the nationality acquisition process. In other words, granting Portuguese nationality to descendants of Sephardic Jews involves discretionary analysis by the process judge.

Transitional rule for citizenship applications initiated in 2022

For ongoing citizenship processes of Sephardic individuals, which were initiated after 09/01/2022 and before the entry into force of this law, a transitional rule was created that requires valid residence in Portugal for at least 1 year.

Is it possible to prove descent without the certificate?

If the applicant does not have the certificate issued by the Portuguese Jewish Community, the Portuguese Nationality Regulation allows proving Sephardic descent through:

  • An authenticated document issued by the Jewish community to which the applicant belongs, attesting to the use of Portuguese expressions in Jewish rites by the applicant or, as a spoken language by them within that community, in Ladino;
  • Through authenticated documentary records, such as synagogue records and Jewish cemeteries, as well as residence permits, property titles, wills, and other evidence of the applicant’s family connection.

In this context, if the Portuguese Government has doubts about the authenticity of documents issued abroad, it may request the Portuguese Jewish Communities to provide an opinion on the means of proof presented.

Conclusion: Portuguese citizenship by Sephardic ancestry

The law allowing the acquisition of Portuguese citizenship for descendants of Sephardic Jews was implemented in 2015, and since then, about 300 thousand people have benefited from it. The process is complex and has become increasingly difficult, but it is still possible.

It can be an advantageous route for those who already reside in Portugal, as it reduces the minimum residence time in the country from 5 to 3 years. Understanding the requirements and procedures involved in the process is essential for those seeking to reconnect with their Sephardic roots and acquire Portuguese citizenship, gaining access to all its advantages. If you meet all the requirements and wish to contact one of our specialists, make your request here.

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Author:

Atlantic Bridge

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