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Portuguese Law: Sephardic descendants eligible to obtain Portuguese Citizenship

In 1492 and 1496, the Catholic monarchy expelled or forcefully converted tens of thousands of Spanish and Portuguese Jews. The Portuguese “Law of Return”, which allows the descendants of Sephardi (hailing from Spain and Portugal) Jews and Conversos (Jews forcefully converted Christianity) to obtain Portuguese citizenship, offers amends for this persecution. Upon proving Sephardic heritage, descendants of the expellees can obtain a Portuguese passport. 

Originally, there was to be a time limit on the law, like in Spain, where Sephardic descendants had a certain amount of years to apply. However, this condition is not currently implemented, though similar amendments have been proposed.

What are the advantages of a Portuguese passport?

Acquiring a European passport makes you an EU citizen, allowing you to live, travel, and work in all EU countries as well as many other countries around the world. With that, many civil liberties are granted and career opportunities arise. Whether you are Israeli, North American or otherwise a non-European citizen, a European passport provides multiple advantages. 

How do I prove a connection to a Sephardi expellee? 

After over 500 years since the expulsion, it can be difficult to prove Sephardic ancestry (through language, culture, traditions, etc) that’s required to obtain citizenship. This process has two separate stages. 

  • Proof of Descent: An applicant may provide evidence demonstrating their connection through family trees, Portuguese surnames, language spoken by family members (Ladino), birth, marriage, and death certificates, wills or deeds, synagogue memberships, or other family records to accredited Jewish communities in Portugal, either in Lisbon or Porto. The committees in each respective community will assess the connection, and if there is enough proof, they will issue a certificate that will be accepted by the Portuguese authorities. This certification from recognized Portuguese Jewish communities is critical to the process. 
  • Obtaining Portuguese Citizenship: Presenting the certificate from the Portuguese community to the Portuguese immigration authorities. At this point, the applicant is basically assured of their right to obtain a Portuguese passport upon completion of the relevant bureaucratic procedures. 

What is the process of obtaining a Portuguese passport?

Once the proof has been approved, the necessary documents must be sent to the Portuguese Ministry of Interior: a passport, birth certificate, and a criminal background check, as well as a marriage certificate and name change document, if applicable. The authorities will process the applications and issue a document which is considered a new Portuguese birth certificate. At this point, the applicant is eligible for a Portuguese ID and an official passport. The whole process can take anywhere between one to two and a half years.

Can I receive a passport if I’m not Jewish?

It is far easier to obtain citizenship if the applicant is Jewish, although as long as Sephardic lineage and familial connection to the Sephardic Jewish expellees can be proven, citizenship may be granted even to non-Jews.

Our thanks to Avigail Greenberg and Sasha Kishko for their help with writing the article. Click here to learn more from the law office of Cohen, Decker, Pex & Brosh

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