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Portugal Passes a Law Offering Portuguese Citizenship to Sephardic Jews

Joshua Pex
Joshua Pex

Why Is Portugal Offering Portuguese Citizenship to Sephardic Jews?

In 2015, Portugal enacted the new Decree-Law 30-A/2015. This law offers Portuguese citizenship to Sephardic Jews. You might be wondering what all the hubbub is surrounding this law. A look into the history of Sephardic Jews may enlighten you.

Sephardic Jews inhabited the Iberian Peninsula for generations dating back to the Roman Empire. The Iberian Peninsula is the region that covers Spain and Portugal. Jews from this area got the name Sephardim from the Hebrew word for Spain, “Sepharad.”

In 1492, the King of Spain enacted the Alhambra Decree. The Alhambra forced Jews to choose between converting to Christianity and exile. Many of them chose to flee to Portugal. At first, King Manuel I of Portugal promised to provide Jews with a safe refuge. But by 1496, he had changed his mind. Manuel also began to expel Jews who refused baptism to Christianity. Some Jews converted and remained in Portugal. Many Jews escaped to other regions and countries. Today, their descendants can be found in countries around the world, like Israel.

In 2015, Portugal enacted a new law to correct this moral and historical wrong. This law of return paves the way for descendants of Sephardic Jews to become citizens of Portugal.

Who Is Eligible to Apply?

The law offers Portuguese citizenship to Sephardic Jews. Descendants of Sephardic Jews are eligible to apply, provided they receive the endorsement of a Sephardic community.

Applicants must meet two conditions. First, they must be at least 18 years old or emancipated under Portuguese law. Second, they must not have any serious convictions on their criminal record. Those convicted of crimes punishable by three years imprisonment under Portuguese law are ineligible.

What Are the Application Requirements?

Applicants must be able to prove ties with a Portuguese Sephardic community. They must include a birth certificate, passport copy, and criminal record in the application.  A criminal record must be submitted for every country of nationality and residence. Applicants must also submit a document which shows their Portuguese Sephardic ancestry and tradition. Documents should be translated and certified.

How Can Applicants Prove Their Portuguese Sephardic Ancestry?

Portuguese Sephardim share a difficult history of oppression and exile. Even so, many of their descendants have managed to preserve Portuguese Jewish culture. For example, they continue to speak Ladino and practice old traditions and rituals. Applicants must give evidence of this connection with their Portuguese Jewish ancestors and community.

There are three documents accepted as proof of Portuguese Sephardic ancestry and tradition. Applicants must submit one of the following:

Option one: A certificate from a Sephardic community recognized under Portuguese law. For example, the community of Porto or Lisbon. This certificate confirms the applicants’ ties with a Portuguese Sephardic community. It does this using family name, language, lineage, and family memory. To obtain this certificate an applicant must provide evidence of relationship with that community. For example, a rabbi’s declaration, recordings or texts in Ladino, etc. If the government of Portugal suspects misrepresentation, it may request further evidence.

Option two: A certified document from the applicant’s Jewish community. This document proves that the applicant uses Portuguese Sephardic languages, expressions, and rituals. They must be languages and practices used in the Portuguese Sephardic community, like Ladino.

Option three: Certified documents which attest to the applicant’s family ties with Portuguese Sephardim. For example, property deed, will, record of family lineage, marriage certificate, death certificate, birth certificate, circumcision record, synagogue record, cemetery record, etc.

The Application Process

This law has been in force since early 2015. Those interested in applying must spend time and effort preparing their application. They must collect evidence of their ancestry and connection to a Portuguese Sephardic community. After an applicant submits the application, the Central Registry Office will review it. The review process usually takes about six months.

How Do Descendants of Portuguese Sephardim Benefit?

This law presents a great opportunity for descendants of Sephardic Jews from Portugal. It creates a pathway for Portuguese citizenship to Sephardic Jews. It paves the way for descendants to develop a connection with their family history and legacy. Approved applicants get the same benefits granted to citizens of European Union member countries. They will have the right to live, work, and travel freely in the Schengen Area.

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Our law firm has experience in immigration law. If you have any questions, please do not hesitate to contact us. We would be happy to assist you in your application for Portuguese citizenship.

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