Portugal offers citizenship to the descendants of Sephardic Jews

The historical relationship of the Jews with the Iberian Peninsula Countries can hardly be called “good neighborly relations”. One of the blackest pages in the history of the Jewish people is connected with Spain and Portugal – the exile, which brought pain and tears, and destroyed many lives. Let’s remember how it was.

Jews settled in the Iberian Peninsula during the Roman Empire. By the end of the fifteenth century, Spanish and Portuguese Jews (later called “Sephardim” from “Sfarad”, the Hebrew name for Spain) formed numerous and powerful communities in the territories of both countries.

In 1492 the prosperity of the communities came to an end. The Royal couple of Ferdinand II of Aragon and Isabella I of Castile issued the “Alhambra edict”, ordering the Jews of Spain to convert to Christianity, and if they refused to do so – to leave the country.

In an effort to keep the faith of the elders, many Spanish Sephardim migrated to neighboring Portugal, because the king of this country Manuel I guaranteed them a quiet life and freedom of conscience. But in 1496 the situation changed, and Manuel offered the Jews the same choice – baptism or exile. Some Jews remained in the Pyrenees, adopting Catholicism, but most left their homeland and went on wanderings, abandoning their homes and possessions accumulated by generations. In our time, the descendants of the Sephardim live in different places of the world, including Israel.

Law 30-A, passed in 2015, is an attempt of modern Portugal to “apologize” for the historical injustice. Its principle is the same as that of the Israeli Law of Return. Descendants of Sephardic Jews have the right to return to their historical homeland and become full citizens of the state. A few years earlier, Spain had passed a similar law.

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Who is eligible to receive the Portuguese citizenship under the law 30-A?

The law applies not only on Israelis. No matter what country the descendants of the Sephardim live in, they have the right to become Portuguese citizens.

Two conditions are required:

  • Majority age. According to Portuguese law, a person acquires full legal capacity at the age of 18. It is required age limit.
  • No criminal record in the country of residence. It takes into account only criminal record, resulting in sentence of imprisonment for a term exceeding three years. Persecution by the law, as a result of which the punishment was not imposed, or its term was less than 3 years, is not an obstacle to obtain citizenship.

Requirements for documents accompanying the application

Besides the birth certificate, passport, certificate of criminal record (it is issued by the authorities of the Ministry of Internal Affairs at the country of residence), applicants are required to present a document proving the Spanish-Portuguese origin of the family.

All submitted documents need to be translated into Portuguese and certified by an international notary.

What documents prove the Spanish-Portuguese origin of the family?

The story of the Sephardim is the story of five hundred years of exile from their native land. Despite this, many families have preserved the ancient culture of the Jews of the Iberian Peninsula. These people practice ancient ceremonies, carefully preserve traditions, speak Ladino – the language of the Pyrenean Jews. To obtain citizenship, it is all required to prove.

Ministry of Foreign Affairs of Portugal considers three types of documents as an adequate proof of Spanish-Portuguese “roots”:

  • A certificate issued by a Jewish Community legally registered in Portugal. The relationship is proved through the language skills, surname and documents of the family archives in Ladino or family memory. Application is signed by the Rabbi of the Community. In the event that Portuguese government authorities have doubts about the authenticity of the evidence, they can request additional documents.
  • An application approved by the Jewish Sephardic Community of the candidate’s country of residence. This document must confirm that the candidate knows Ladino, uses Spanish or Portuguese language, practicing Jewish ceremonies.
  • Official archival documents of the family, confirming that the family ancestors lived in Spain or Portugal: synagogue certificates of birth, marriage, burial, real estate statements and so on.

The applicant must submit at least one document from the list. The more of them, the chances of a quick review of the case and the adoption of a positive decision are higher.

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The application procedure

  • It is necessary to collect, translate and certify documents
  • Then they are transmitted with the application to the Portuguese Embassy or Consulate.
  • The registration office verifies the authenticity of the documents and then makes a decision
  • The process may take about six months

Why does a Jew need the Portuguese citizenship?

Law 30-A/2015 allows Sephardic Jews and their descendants to restore family history, learn more about their roots, return to the land where their ancestors once lived.

In addition, it is a great opportunity to get a passport of a European country and with it all the preferences that the country’s membership in the EU provides. Portuguese passport gives the right to live, work and move freely in countries that have signed the Schengen Treaty.

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