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Getting a Portuguese passport – last chance in 2023!

Michael Decker
Michael Decker

TarcisioePotira Freitas

I really recommend the law office's services. The service is very professional and efficient, the price is right. I am satisfied with the services I needed and happy to have known them.

Is it still possible for new applicants to obtain a Portuguese passport? In 2022, new regulations came into force, which set a high bar of requirements, preventing most descendants of Spanish expellees from obtaining Portuguese citizenship. In light of petitions filed in the Portuguese court against the new regulations, it is possible to try and submit citizenship applications in Portugal under the procedure that was followed in the past, until December 2023. Below, attorney Michael Decker, a partner in our firm and an expert in immigration law and Portuguese citizenship, will explain the complex legal situation regarding this issue.

Getting a Portuguese passport – it may not be too late

Until recently, many Israelis were entitled to receive Portuguese citizenship and a Portuguese passport via a relatively simple legal procedure. As part of this procedure, applicants had to prove their eligibility based on family origin from the community of Spanish expellees and present various documents and certificates (such as a certificate of good conduct proving the absence of a criminal record for serious crimes). The process was carried out in part through one of the Jewish communities in Portugal, in cities such as Porto or Belmonte. This situation changed in 2022, when the Portuguese government established new regulations that significantly tightened the conditions for obtaining citizenship for descendants of Spanish expellees.

Since the new regulations took effect, obtaining a Portuguese passport has become a very complex task for the vast majority of new applicants. The lucky ones who managed to obtain citizenship under the old procedure could still submit new citizenship applications for spouses and children, but for those who had not yet submitted a citizenship application in the past – it became an almost impossible task. Since our office deals a lot with immigration law and representing clients applying for Portuguese citizenship, we have received many inquiries from concerned clients for whom this option was closed.

Obtaining a Portuguese passport

Now, we are glad to announce that a narrow window of opportunity may open which might allow many people eligible for citizenship who “missed the train” in the past to submit new citizenship applications under the old, lenient procedure, until the end of December 2023. Although there a small amount of risk with this possibility, it is definitely an opportunity that those entitled to Portuguese citizenship should be aware of. Below we will describe the changes in the legal situation in Portugal, in a way that will help you better understand the new and interesting possibility of submitting an application for Portuguese citizenship and a Portuguese passport.

What changes were made in the legal situation in Portugal in 2022?

For nearly a decade, since the amendment of the citizenship law and citizenship regulations in Portugal in 2013 and 2015, hundreds of thousands of Israelis were entitled to receive Portuguese citizenship in a relatively simple procedure. The main part of the process required citizenship applicants to obtain a letter of recommendation from one of the Jewish communities in Portugal, along with proof of compliance with the conditions for eligibility. These conditions were minimal, and did not require proof of current ties to Portugal (such as residence in Portugal, knowledge of the Portuguese language, possession of assets in the country, etc.).

In 2022, the Portuguese government decided to make significant changes to the legal situation in this regard. This was, among other things, due to allegations that people were taking advantage of the lenient policy in place until then, including the fact that the name of the Russian oligarch Roman Abramovich, who received Portuguese citizenship based on his origin, came up in a way that alerted the authorities.

As part of the 2022 amendment to Portuguese citizenship regulations, two new requirements were defined for Portuguese citizenship eligibility for descendants of Spanish expellees: (1) proof of an actual connection to the Jewish community in Portugal; and (2) proof of an actual present connection to Portugal (for example, through frequent visits to the country or alternatively through ownership of real estate or other property in Portugal, such as ownership of a company in the country).

In practice, this change in the legal situation prevented the majority of Israelis who were entitled to this citizenship in the past from obtaining Portuguese citizenship as well as a Portuguese passport. This is because most of them have no real connection to the Jewish community in the country, or the ability to prove a current connection to Portugal. However, as we will explain below, new recent legal developments in Portugal may tip the scales, and allow many of those eligible who did not yet receive citizenship to try their luck and submit citizenship applications according to the regulations that held in the past.

What are the latest legal developments in Portugal that may reopen the possibility to obtain a Portuguese passport?

The new regulations established by the Portuguese government in 2022 sparked a wave of protests in the country. The Jewish community in the city of Porto strongly criticized the change, claiming that it is tainted with anti-Semitism and joins a series of events that directly harmed the Jewish communities in the country. Alongside this criticism, various parties petitioned the court in Portugal, claiming that the new regulations are unconstitutional and that the government should be ordered to annul or amend them. Senior jurists in Portugal believe that these petitions have good chances of being accepted.

If the petition is indeed accepted, it is likely that the Portuguese government will be required to return the situation to its original state, by canceling the strict, restrictive requirements of the new regulations on obtaining Portuguese citizenship and a Portuguese passport. At the very least, the Portuguese government will have to set lower requirements. An updating of the laws and procedures, taking into consideration the objections that were brought up, is scheduled for January 2024.

The situation described above opens a narrow window of opportunity, within which it is still possible to try and submit new citizenship applications until the end of December 2023, according to the procedure that was in effect before the new regulations from 2022. That is, the applications can be submitted without the need to prove an actual connection to Portugal or a connection to the Jewish communities in the country, but only on the basis of proving a family connection to descendants of Spanish expellees.

The submission of the new applications involves a certain degree of risk and uncertainty regarding the Portuguese court’s ruling on petitions against the regulations. However, for those who were entitled but missed the opportunity to obtain Portuguese citizenship before the new regulations came into force, this is a rare opportunity to embark on the process. We recommend that those who wish to submit an application for Portuguese citizenship under these lenient conditions consult with an attorney specializing in Portuguese citizenship, in order to understand their chances of applying successfully.

Who is eligible to receive a Portuguese passport until December 2023?

As we saw in Roman Abramovich’s story above, not every Jew is of Sephardic origin and eligible for Portuguese citizenship. Portuguese passport applicants must prove to the Jewish community in Portugal that they are of Sephardic origin several generations back – a Sephardic surname, or origin from one of the countries where there was a documented Sephardic community. These countries include – Morocco, Algeria, Tunisia, Libya, Egypt, Syria, Greece, Lebanon, Bulgaria, Turkey, Bosnia (Sarajevo), Serbia, and Macedonia. Jews with family origins in these countries will find that proving eligibility is relatively easy, even if some of the family documents were lost during the process of making Aliyah to Israel. On the other hand, Sephardic Jews from Poland, Iraq, Iran, India, and Yemen will be required to present convincing and detailed evidence of Sephardic origin.

It is understandable that many Jews from the countries of the former Soviet Union and Europe turn to the Portuguese authorities or to offices dealing with immigration to “try their luck” – perhaps they will receive citizenship, or at least a free genealogical investigation. Even if they don’t, they won’t lose anything by applying in any case. We emphasize that there is no point in submitting an application thinking “maybe I have Sephardic roots somewhere, please check for me” unless you have convincing evidence that one of your ancestors was of Sephardic origin (spoke Ladino, prayed in the Sephardic manner) and immigrated to a country where there was no Sephardic Jewish community.

Contact an attorney specializing in Portuguese citizenship

In this article we have explained the legal developments taking place these days in Portugal, which may reinstate the possibility of obtaining a Portuguese passport under the lenient conditions that were in force in the past, through the submission of citizenship applications until the end of December 2023. For more information on the subject or if you need legal advice or assistance in checking eligibility for citizenship, you can contact our office and we will be glad to help. The attorneys from our office, in Jerusalem and Tel Aviv, have extensive experience in handling applications for Portuguese citizenship. Our office collaborates with a leading firm in the field in Portugal, in order to provide our clients with professional, thorough and comprehensive legal services on the subject.

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