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In 2015, the government of Portugal enacted a “law of return” allowing the descendants of Jews deported from Spain and Portugal in 1492 and 1496 to gain Portuguese citizenship.
Our law office helps the descendants of Sephardim Jews receive a Portuguese passport. Who is eligible for Portuguese citizenship, how long does the application process take, and what are the costs?
What are the advantages of a Portuguese passport?
Why should you apply for a Portuguese citizenship? In addition to the right to live, work, and do business in Portugal (a first-world country with a lovely climate, a developed economy and incredible landscapes), you will receive the passport of a European Union member state.
Once you receive a Portuguese passport, you can live, work, and conduct business in all EU countries, including the United Kingdom (at least until the end of the Brexit process). In addition – not everyone knows, but a Portuguese passport also allows you to enter the U.S. without having to receive a visa in advance.
Portuguese citizenship opens doors across Europe and the world, and allows you to enter the United States without a visa.
I know that descendants of the expellees are eligible for a Spanish passport – why apply for Portuguese, rather than Spanish, citizenship?
Portugal has all the advantages listed above in common with Spain, and does not have the same disadvantages. Applicants for Spanish citizenship are required to fly to Spain during the application process, pass a complicated test of their knowledge of Spanish language and culture, and swear allegiance to the King of Spain.
Also – our office has reliable professional contacts in Portugal. We work with a local immigration law firm that handles the final stages of the citizenship application process, we have contacts with the Jewish community in Porto that issues the necessary approval, and we’re trusted by key members of the immigration authorities.
Who is eligible for Portuguese citizenship?
Anyone who can prove that at least one of their ancestors was a Sephardi Jew – descendant of Spanish and Portuguese deportees – is entitled to receive citizenship of Portugal. Not all descendants hail from the Middle East! Most of the eligible are indeed of “Mizrahi” descent, such as Moroccan, Tunisian, Algerian, Libyan, Egyptian, etc. But the expellees from Spain and Portugal settled in “Ashkenazi” countries such as Poland, Romania, the Netherlands and even in the New World, including the US and Canada. Therefore, no matter where you were born, if one of your ancestors was of Spanish descent, you should check your eligibility.
How can I prove my eligibility?
Many assume that it is necessary to prove that one of their ancestors was deported from Spain or Portugal in the late 15th century, and that there’s no point in even trying to prove eligibility that far back. No such requirement exists, obviously. Proof of eligibility is based on three separate factors:
- The surname of the applicant (and / or their ancestors) is included in the list of Sephardic surnames.
- There is evidence that at least one of the applicant’s ancestors was a Sephardi Jew – had a Spanish name, spoke Ladino, belonged to a Sephardi community or a Sephardi synagogue, dressed in traditional Sephardi attire, was buried in a Sephardi cemetery, etc. The applicant can utilize the services of an expert genealogist (we can recommend a trusted professional) to uncover concrete evidence based on research.
- Confirmation by a rabbi of a Sephardi community that your ancestors were of Spanish descent. Ideally, this is the rabbi of a community to which your family has belonged to for many generations, or at the very least, a community you’ve belonged to for years.
However, Jews from the Former Soviet Union or descendants of families who never set foot in a synagogue are not automatically out of luck. Many rabbis are willing to issue the necessary letter based on the proof detailed in sections 1 and 2 above, even if they do not know the applicant.
Based on at least two of these factors, you can apply to the Jewish community in Portugal, obtain a certificate stating that the applicant is a descendant of expellees, and use this certificate to apply for Portuguese citizenship.
How long does it take to obtain Portuguese citizenship?
This is a very common question. While there is no short and definitive answer (the procedure length varies from case to case depending on the circumstances), on average the procedure takes about a year and a half.
Can I apply for citizenship on my own, without the help of a lawyer?
In practical terms, undertaking the application without expert assistance will require you to produce the required documents proving your descent (and translate them into Portuguese), obtain an apostille certification, contact the Portuguese Jewish community and carry out the complex bureaucratic procedure vis-a-vis Portugal authorities.
What about the applicant’s family?
After the applicant obtains the much coveted passport, the applicant’s children and spouse are also eligible for Portuguese citizenship. In addition, after proof of eligibility, the path to obtaining citizenship for extended family members (descendants of the same Spanish Jew) is much easier. Our office provides a discount for handling multiple citizenship applications from members of the same family.
How much does the whole application cost?
The associated costs can be divided into three sections:
1. Payment of fixed fees to the Jewish community and authorities in Portugal.
2. Finding, translating and verifying the relevant documents.
3. Attorney’s fees, specific to the case.
Ready to start?
Contact us by phone or email below to make an appointment at our office in Petah Tikva or Jerusalem or schedule a remote consultation. We would be happy to advise, explain, translate documents and manage the application process for obtaining a Portuguese passport.