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Sephardic Jews: Acquisition of Portuguese nationality
06 Mar 2020

Sephardic Jews: Acquisition of Portuguese nationality

Since 2015, the Portuguese Nationality Law has allowed for the possibility of acquiring Portuguese nationality through naturalization by descendants (of legal age) of Sephardic Jews on the basis of proven objective requirements of a tradition of appurtenance to a Sephardic community that is of Portuguese origin, namely surnames, family language and direct or collateral descent.


Who are the Sephardic Jews?

Sephardic Jews are descendants from the ancient and traditional Jewish communities of the Iberian Peninsula (Sefarad or Hispania in Hebrew), i.e., Portugal and Spain. The presence of these communities on the Iberian Peninsula is very ancient and is considered to date back before the formation of the Iberian Christian kingdoms. At the end of the 15th century and after the Alhambra Decree, the Jewish communities were persecuted by the Spanish inquisition and subsequently, in Portugal, they were forced to convert to Catholicism, persecuted or expelled from the country. As such, the late 15th century/early 16th century saw many Sephardic Jews establish themselves in other countries, not only in Europe, but also in Africa and in the Americas, where they established well known communities and in some notable cases, founded synagogues.


Sephardic Jews in Portugal

Despite the persecutions and expulsion from Portugal, many Sephardic Jews and their descendants maintained the Portuguese language and many traditional rituals, in addition to surnames, objects and documents that prove their Portuguese origin. Furthermore, many of their descendants speak Ladino to each other, a language derived from the Castilian and Portuguese spoken in the 15th century by the Sephardic Jews.

In 2015, with the changes to the Nationality Law, Sephardic Jews who were expelled from Portugal from the 15th century onward were allowed to acquire Portuguese nationality, resulting in 466 applications. The number has increased year on year and there are already 51,000 descendants of Sephardic Jews who have applied for Portuguese nationality. According to the Director of the Central Services Office of the Registrations and Notary Institute in an interview dated 7 February 2020, Portuguese nationality has been granted to some 17,000 Sephardic Jews.


Differences between the acquisition of Portuguese nationality and Spanish nationality by Sephardic Jews

Spain has also allowed Sephardic Jews the possibility of obtaining Spanish nationality; however, the allotted time period expired in October 2019 after a term of three years.

In contrast with Spain, there is no expiry date for submission of the application in Portugal. There are also other differences in the procedures implemented by the two countries:

  1. In Portugal it is obligatory to obtain a Sephardic origin certificate from the Portuguese Jewish community, while in Spain, such a certificate could have been obtained from various other Jewish communities in various other countries approved by the Federation of Jewish Communities of Spain;
  2. Portugal does not require cultural or Portuguese language testing;
  3. It is not necessary to prove a connection to Portugal, while in Spain it was necessary;
  4. It is not necessary to travel to sign a notary certificate; a power of attorney together with the application and the original documentation can be submitted to the authorized registries.


Sephardic Jews – How to prove descent

In Portugal, proving descent from Sephardic Jews is achieved through a certificate issued by the Portuguese Jewish community (issued by the Lisbon Jewish Community or Oporto Jewish Community). This certificate shall contain the full name, date of birth, place of birth, parentage, nationality, residence of the applicant and indication of direct descent or family relationship in a collateral line with the common parent from the Sephardic community of Portuguese origin, accompanied by the supporting documentation.

In the absence of such a certificate, the law allows for other forms of proof to be submitted:

  • A certified document issued by the Jewish community to which the applicant belongs, attesting to the fact that the applicant uses Portuguese expressions in Jewish rituals or that he or she speaks Ladino within that community;
  • Certified documentation, such as synagogue and Jewish cemetery registries, residence documentation, titles of ownership, wills and other proof of family lineage in a collateral line from a common parent from the Sephardic community of Portuguese origin.


Documents required for acquiring Portuguese nationality

Applications shall be submitted to the Central Registries Office in Lisbon or to the consulates of each country and shall contain the following information:

  1. Certificate issued by the Israeli Community of Lisbon or Porto or equivalent documents, as explained above;
  2. Birth certificate;
  3. Duly certified copy of identity document;
  4. Criminal record certificates from the country of birth and nationality, as well as from those countries where the applicant has resided or continues to reside.


Advantages of acquiring Portuguese nationality

In addition to the just reinstatement of links to the Iberian Peninsula, there are many other advantages to the acquisition of Portuguese nationality by Sephardic Jews, especially for those who are not citizens of another European Union Member State:

  1. European citizenship, with all of its ensuing advantages with respect to free movement of people, goods and services;
  2. Access to European Union health and education systems;
  3. Access to the Schengen Area without requiring a visa;
  4. Dual nationality;
  5. Legacy for descendants;
  6. Possibility of living in Portugal, one of the most interesting European Union countries to live, work and invest in.