Portugal and Spain gave 10,000 passports to Sephardic new citizens since 2015


(JTA) — Since 2015, Spain and Portugal have naturalized between them more than 10,000 people who applied after for citizenship based on their Jewish ancestry, officials from those countries said.

The official figures were published last week in the Spanish daily El Pais and the Lusa news agency in Portugal. Both media published articles on the effects of similar laws passed separately by both parliaments in 2015, giving the right to naturalization to descendants of Sephardic Jews.

Spain has naturalized since 2015 a total of 8,365 applicants based on their Jewish ancestry, El Pais reported last week. However, of those, only 3,843 were naturalized through the procedure devised for the 2015 law.  The rest did so through two subsequent decrees issued in 2015 and 2016 that eliminated hurdles stipulated in the law.

One of them was the need to pass a Spanish-language exam. Critics said this was unfair to elderly applicants, and even to applicants who failed the test even though they possess mother-tongue knowledge of Ladino, a Sephardic language similar to Spanish.

Anat Cohen at The Sheldon

The law stipulated a 3-year window for applying, which would have closed last month. But this year, Spain extended by decree the window by another year, until October 2019.

Of the 2,693 applicants from Turkey — by far the largest group — only 257 were naturalized through the legal procedure, whereas the rest obtained citizenship through the fast-track method established by decree.

Latin American applicants totaled in at 3,374 cases, El Pais reported. Israel, where millions of Sepahrdic Jews live, was third with only 860 cases, followed by Morocco’s 599 cases. The United States had 221 applicants in Spain. The United Kingdom had fewer than 80.

A further 5,682 applications are still being processed in Spain.

In Portugal, a total of 1,713 applicants were naturalized in 2017 based on the Sephardic roots, Lusa reported last week. They constituted the largest group of non-residents who received a Portuguese passport that year and nearly 10 percent of the total number of people who became citizens last year. The Lusa report did not contain data from 2018.

In both Spain and Portugal, the Sephardic naturalization laws were described as aimed to atone for the state-led campaigns of persecution against the Jews in the 15th and 16th century known as the Spanish and Portuguese Inquisition.

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