Portugal’s two recognized Jewish communities, Oporto and Lisboa, have been flooded during the past few months with applications for a Jewish Certificate from Sephardic descendants around the world.

The certificate is a mandatory requirement for citizenship applications available to Sephardic Jews under a nationality law dated from 2015. Another requirement for the application process is a family tree prepared by a genealogist. The government has a specified format. Sephardic applicants need the family tree to go back four generations.

During the past few months, the number of American applications has swelled. Previously, most applicants were from Turkey, Brazil, Israel, Cape Verde, and Venezuela. There were over 41,000 applications in 2018 and nearly 80,000 in 2019. The exact number of American applicants is not yet known.

As a professional genealogist, our genealogy company, Sephardic Genealogical Journeys (www.sephardicgenjourneys.com),  has been handling applications for people in the community. Due to our attention to detail, the family trees our company has prepared have contributed to 100 percent approval of all applications our clients have submitted.

Many of the applicants want dual citizenship. And since you do not need to live in Portugal after receiving citizenship many people are applying. Some applicants also are interested in investing in the Portuguese economy. Medical cannabis is an especially popular area for Israelis who want to invest in Portugal. Many are drawn to the cheap land prices and off-grid living, with hundreds of Israelis buying small farms in areas around Coimbra and the Alentejo region.

Background

Both Spain and Portugal passed legislation in 2015 to grant citizenship to descendants of Sephardic Jews expelled from Spain in 1492 and those forcibly converted in Portugal in 1497. Since Spain’s three-year legislation expired in October 2019, applicants are turning to Portugal. Jewish applicants do not have to prove they ever lived in Spain or Portugal, only that they are descendants of Sephardic Jews.

There were about 300,000 Jews who lived in Spain before 1492. As a result of the Spanish Expulsion in 1492 by King Ferdinand and Queen Isabella, it is estimated that about 90,000 Jews expelled from Spain ended up in Portugal.

More than 500 years later, both Spain and Portugal attempted to correct a moral wrong by allowing descendants to apply for citizenship. Citizenship in either country allows for access to the entire European Union, and a coveted passport.

Qualifications

The Jewish communities of both countries have guidelines for applicants. To obtain the Jewish Certificate, applicants need to provide proof of being Sephardic, have a family tree that goes back at least four generations to a Sephardic ancestor, some Jewish documentation (such as a ketubah), and a good letter from an Orthodox rabbi. The letter must be on letterhead and needs to provide the rabbi’s training and background, how he knows the applicants, and it must certify the applicant is a Sephardic Jew.

As a Portuguese citizen, you do not have to live or work in Portugal. You only need to pay taxes if you actually earn income in Portugal. Only those over 18 may apply, but children under 18 can apply when their parents become citizens.

The nationality law allows applicants to obtain a Portuguese passport and health insurance, open a local bank account, and study, live, and work anywhere in the European Union. A similar law was in effect in Spain from 2015 to 2019, but with much stricter requirements for residency and language, and with a clear end date. There is no end date for the Portuguese nationality law.

SIDEBAR: Three Steps to Obtain Portuguese Citizenship

  1. Obtain a Jewish Certificate by providing evidence you are Sephardic.
  2. Civil Application for Portuguese Nationality – a Portuguese immigration attorney must be hired for this step. Once the citizenship is approved, the government will issue you a Portuguese birth certificate.
  3. Apply for a passport – use the birth certificate issued by the Portuguese government to obtain a passport from the Portuguese Consulate.

Sarina Roffé is president of Sephardic Genealogical Journeys (www.sephardicgenjourneys.com). She is a professional genealogist and has worked on over 100 applications for community members applying for citizenship in Portugal. She has completed dozens of Sephardic genealogies. Sarina can be reached at sarina@roffe.com.