How Can Sephardic Jews Receive Spanish Citizenship?
The Spanish Senate recently passed a law that aims to allow Sephardic Jews who can prove that their ancestors were expelled from Spain during the Spanish Expulsion to receive Spanish citizenship. The law is expected to be approved by the Spanish Congress and become operational in October 2015.
Historical Background on the Spanish Expulsion
The year 1492 might be known for the discovery of America by Columbus, but in the Jewish world it is notoriously remembered as the year in which the Spanish Inquisition reached its painful climax. Their Majesties King Ferdinand and Queen Isabella, the Catholic Monarchs of Spain, issued the Alhambra Decree demanding that all Jews must convert to Christianity or leave the country within three months. They forbid Jews from taking their wealth with them in the form of gold, silver or minted coins. Consequently, it is estimated that around 200,000 Jews were forced to leave Spain, some to neighboring Portugal, others to Turkey, Italy, Holland, Israel, the Ottoman Empire, North Africa and other places throughout the Arab world. Tens of thousands of Jews died on the way while trying to find safety, and the Spanish Expulsion is a vivid part of the Jewish collective memory.
Today, more than 500 years later, the Spanish government is trying to amend its history with its Jewish community and make things right. Since 1982 Jews from a Sephardic background are part of a favored naturalization process in which they are required to live in Spain only two years before receiving citizenship. In October 2015 the law is expected to pass and will be implemented for three years. Jews who are able to prove that their ancestors were expelled from Spain in 1492 can pledge allegiance to Spain and the king and obtain a Spanish passport and citizenship without renouncing their other nationality. The Spanish government has not published an official list of family names that will be able to qualify for this unique citizenship program. However, different organizations and institutions have published a list of 5,000 names of Jewish families who will be eligible. (For example, see http://www.haaretz.co.il/st/inter/Hheb/images/names1.pdf.)
The Legal Criteria Regarding Spanish Citizenship for Sephardic Jews
The law granting Spanish citizenship to Sephardic Jews states that the applicant must visit Spain at least one time during the process. Other than that, an applicant will be tested on their knowledge of the Spanish language and will be required to pass an exam regarding the Spanish constitution, as well as prove a general connection to Spain.
In addition, it is very important to obtain documents from a Sephardic rabbi or other Sephardic organization written in Spanish or Ladino (or translated into Spanish or Ladino and notarized as having been translated correctly) to confirm your affiliation with the Sephardic community. Preferably, the rabbi or organization should be Spanish or officially recognized in Spain. Another important document is the ketubah (religious marriage certificate), provided that it states that the marriage took place in accordance with Sephardic traditions. After the approval of the application, the applicant will receive the Spanish passport in the Spanish consulate in Israel.
The Spanish government officials claim that around three million Jews from Spanish descent live around the world, primarily in Israel, Latin America, Turkey, France and the United States. Once this law is implemented, Israelis with Sephardic ancestors will be able to apply and receive a Spanish passport through the Law of Spanish Citizenship for Sephardic Jews, without renouncing their Israeli citizenship. As citizens of a member country of the European Union, these Israelis will enjoy easier access to opportunities to study, work and live in Europe.
The Benefits of a Spanish Passport for Israelis
Spain is a member of the European Union (EU), therefore Spanish citizenship will allow an Israeli free access to EU countries. In addition, this new law of Spanish citizenship will provide greater access to the United States for Israelis who obtain a Spanish passport. Spain is a participant in the US Visa Waiver Program. Thus, an Israeli who also becomes a Spanish citizen can travel on his or her new European Union passport and thus avoid the need for a visa to the United States. Many young, single Israelis are often denied tourist visas to the US because they cannot show sufficient connections to Israel. This can be avoided through the Visa Waiver Program. The only requirement is to sign up through the Electronic System for Travel Authorization (ESTA) and pay a nominal fee. Under the Visa Waiver Program a stay in the US is limited to 90 days, and extensions are not possible. However, one can depart and reenter the US with the permission of the US Customs and Border Protection.
Another significant advantage to Spanish citizenship is the opportunity to obtain an E-2 investor visa to the US. The E-2 visa, also known as the entrepreneurial visa, provides an investor who invests substantial sums into a business to come to the US and direct that business. The E-2 visa is based upon treaties between the US and other countries. The US does have an E-2 treaty with Israel, but it is currently not in operation due to implementation problems between the two countries. However, that is not the case with Spain, and an Israeli who also has Spanish citizenship can invest in a US business and take advantage of the E-2 investor visa opportunity. Another benefit of the E-2 visa is that it allows the spouse and minor children to also join the investor in the US. The children may attend school, and the spouse can be granted work authorization. For Israelis interested in traveling or working in the United States, obtaining Spanish citizenship could be a significant benefit.
Cohen, Decker, Pex & Brosh law firm works in cooperation with Spanish immigration lawyers in Spain in order to assist Israelis with a Sephardic background receive a Spanish passport and Spanish citizenship through this new law.
Please contact us for more information.