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Sephardic Jews seeking access to Spanish citizenship

In October 2015, a Spanish law entered into force which allows the descendants of Jews expelled from 15th century Spain to apply for Spanish citizenship. As noted by Hans-Ulrich Jessurun d’Oliveira, the Spanish Edict of Expulsion from 1492 involved between 100,000 and 150,000 Jews out of a total population of 11,5 million. These Sephardic Jews (derived from the Hebrew word for Spain: Sepharad) would settle not only in Europe and Northern Africa, but also in South America and the Caribbean.

Maghrebi Sephardic Jews in 1919.

In 1982, the Spanish Civil Code had already included the Sephardim in a special naturalisation category for whom a residence requirement of two instead of ten years applied. Citizens from Latin American countries, Andorra, the Philippines, Equatorial Guinea and Portugal equally benefitted from this reduced residence requirement. The 2015 law subsequently removed the requirement of renouncing any other nationality for the Sephardim and specified that those of Spanish Sephardic descent possessing special ties with Spain could acquire Spanish nationality, even if resident abroad. These special ties could be proven by passing an exam in Spanish language and culture. In practice it has been quite difficult to prove Sephardic lineage, although more than 6,200 people of Sephardic descent have acquired Spanish nationality since 2015. While the possibility to apply initially expired in October 2018, the law was extended by one year until October 2019.

The number of applicants in the Americas has quickly risen since Donald Trump won the 2016 US presidential elections, with most applicants coming from the US, Mexico and Venezuela. According to Sara Koplik of the Jewish Federation of New Mexico, some of them are interested in Spanish citizenship as an insurance policy while others feel a genuine affinity with Spain based on their family history. In that connection, it is also worth noting that the acquisition of an EU Member State nationality has become increasingly popular among Israelis. In Yossi Harpaz’s analysis, close to 60,000 Israelis applied for citizenship of an EU Member State in the first decade of the 21st century – in particular the citizenship of the Central and Eastern European countries from which their families once immigrated.

Author: Dr. Olivier Vonk

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