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Descendants of Sephardic Jews: How to Obtain Portuguese Nationality

16 de March, 2022

Descendants of Sephardic Jews: How to Obtain Portuguese Nationality

The basis of the request is not limited to the descent from Portuguese parents or grandparents but includes any direct-line family member (great-grandparents, great-great-grandparents, and so on).
Reading: 6 min

The word “sefardita” comes from “sepharad” or Iberian Peninsula, in Hebrew. The Sephardic Jews were a huge group persecuted for religious reasons since the 15th century in Portugal and Spain.

Initially expelled from Spain, they emigrated massively to Portugal. Later, in 1496, D. Manuel I created the conditions for his expulsion from Portugal, forcing them to look for other territories to live in. They spread a little everywhere, starting with the Ottoman Empire and North Africa, and later went to American territories, including Brazil.

However, the Sephardic Jews did everything they could to maintain their customs, language, traditions and rituals in the lands that received them. By way of example, “Ladino” was a typical language of the Sephardic community that mixes Portuguese and Spanish, still preserved by many families of Sephardic origin. Typical surnames have also in many cases been passed down through generations.

In this context, recognizing the historical connection between the Sefarditas Jews and Portugal, in 2015 the Portuguese legislator made a special modality possible so that the descendants of this community could acquire Portuguese nationality.

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I – Route of Access to Portuguese Nationality

Sefarditas Jews may access Portuguese nationality through naturalisation, a form of derived nationality.

The main positive aspect of this pathway of nationality is that the grounds for the application are not limited to the descent of Portuguese parents or grandparents. In this case, the foundation may derive from any family member in a straight line (father, grandparents, great-grandparents, great-grandparents) or from the family relationship in the collateral line of common parent from the Sephardic community of Portuguese origin. In short, the foundation will be in Sephardic ancestry.

Processes of this nature are dealt with at the Central Registry Office and, if the process is opened directly in Portugal, it usually takes around one and a half to two years to be concluded. The procedural costs are €250 per case.

II – Documentation for Acquisition of Nationality

In general terms, the applicant must be over 18 years of age or emancipated. In addition, he may not have been convicted of a crime punishable by a prison sentence of three years or more under Portuguese law. To this end, the applicant’s birth certificate and the criminal records of the country of nationality and all other countries in which the applicant has resided shall be attached to the application for nationality.

The fundamental element of this type of process is the proof of his Sephardic descent, which can be done through direct evidence, of a documental nature, or through indirect evidence, such as the surname, the family language, the customs, the origins. In this sense, the applicant must attach to his nationality application a certificate issued by a Jewish community, with the status of a religious corporate body, rooted in Portugal, which will translate the connection between the applicant and the organised Sephardic communities.

However, it is anticipated that the Government of Portugal will soon demand an additional requirement for granting this type of citizenship: proof of an objective connection to Portugal on the part of applicants of Sephardic Jewish descent. This additional requirement may make it very difficult for applications to be viable.
On March 9, 2022, the Portuguese Council of Ministers approved the decree-law (DL) that, among other issues, added the aforementioned requirement on the part of potential naturalization applicants. It is not yet known when the new rules will come into effect, but these changes will not have retroactive effect.

III – Certificate Issued by the Portuguese Jewish Community

The certificate that must be part of the process aims to attest to belonging to a Sephardic community of Portuguese origin, materialized in the applicant’s surname, family language, genealogy and family memory. There may no longer be an effective connection to a Sephardic community, as long as the applicant’s ancestry demonstrates an emotional connection to Portugal.

There are only two Jewish communities in Portugal with this status: one in Lisbon (Comunidade Israelita de Lisboa) and another in Porto (Comunidade Israelita do Porto). These are the only entities able to issue the certificate, after consideration by a specialised committee.

However, in view of the recent suspicions involving the granting of Portuguese nationality to the Russian oligarch Roman Abramovich, the Jewish Community of Porto (CJP) has decided to suspend its activity of certifying descendants of Sephardic Jews in order to obtain Portuguese nationality.

The application for a Certificate with the Jewish Communities must be addressed by the applicant, or by an attorney acting for the applicant, upon presentation of the following documents:

  • Copy of passport;
  • Birth certificate;
  • Proof of residence;
  • Evidence of the connection of the applicant’s family to a Sephardic community, which may be direct, testimonial or circumstantial, such as: family tree, birth and marriage certificates, surname, family records and documents demonstrating customs and traditions, statements by the rabbi in his community, oral history of the family, some level of proficiency in the ladino of the applicant or his relatives.

Regardless of the direct or circumstantial nature of the evidence provided, the decision of the Committee of Jewish Communities is always based on the elements of evidence provided by the applicant himself, considered critically together with all the relevant facts ascertained during the investigation.

IV – Alternatives to the Certificate

If the applicant does not possess the certificate issued by the Portuguese Jewish Community, the Portuguese Nationality Regulation admits that the demonstration of Sephardic ancestry can be made:

  1. Through an authenticated document, issued by the Jewish community to which the applicant belongs, attesting the use of expressions in Portuguese in Jewish rites or, as a language spoken by the applicant within that community, of the Ladin;
  2. through authenticated documentary records, such as registers of synagogues and Jewish cemeteries, as well as residence permits, property titles, wills and other evidence of the applicant’s family relationship.

In this context, if there are doubts from the Portuguese Government as to the authenticity of the documents issued abroad, the Portuguese Jewish Communities may be asked for an opinion on the means of proof presented.

V – Conclusion

According to the Israeli Community of Porto, since March 2015 about 57,000 descendants of Sephardic Jews have received citizenship since the law was implemented in 2015, according to the Ministry of Justice. In 2020 alone a total of 20,892 descendants of Sephardim obtained Portuguese nationality through naturalisation (about 65% of the applications granted since 2015). The majority of citizens applying for Portuguese nationality are Israeli, making up a total of 69% of naturalised citizens. Although the procedure is not so simple, given the careful screening by the Portuguese Jewish Community, if you have proven Sephardic ancestry, do not miss the opportunity opened by the Portuguese legislator and also seek your dual citizenship!

Author: Roberta Fraser
Citizenship & Immigration

*The information contained in this Article shall be provided in a general and abstract manner and shall not replace consultation and qualified professional assistance addressed to the specific case. The content of this article may not be reproduced, in whole or in part, without the express permission of the author.

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