Want to Live in Spain? Opportunity for the Sephardic Right of Return Begins October 1st


Bracha Turner

If you ever wanted to live, work, and travel in the European Union and you happen to be of Sephardic descent, consider Spain’s new law which allows you to claim dual citizenship. Self-proclaimed descendants of Jews of the Spanish expulsion can become Spanish citizens even without living in Spain and without paying any taxes to Spain.

Attorney Luis Portero, an emissary of the Federation of Jewish Communities in Spain, spoke on August 27th at the Sephardic Temple Tifereth Israel, addressing a crowd of over 50 people. Following Portugal’s right of return for descendants of those expelled from the Iberian Peninsula in 1492, Spain has followed suit. This law was enacted to provide reconciliation and close the wounds for the damage caused by the Spanish Inquisition and the subsequent expulsion of a Jewish population of an estimated 50,000 to 180,000 people.

sephardic right of return

There are currently 40,000 Jews across twenty Jewish communities and 30 synagogues in Spain. Spanish Jews are fully integrated in Spanish society, but they also have established their own primary and secondary schools. Portero affirmed that Spain has a strong stance against instances of anti-Semitism, with special laws that prosecute acts as crimes, but small breakouts of anti-Semitism exist. In August, singer Matisyahu was notified that his invitation to perform at a Spanish music festival was cancelled because he refused to sign a statement that he supports a state of Palestine. He refused and the invitation was subsequently reversed.

The law allows Jews to reclaim Spanish citizenship following a three part application process. First, each applicant must submit a letter from a rabbi and/or president of a Sephardic synagogue certifying that the applicant has Sephardic heritage (both are recommended). If requested, the Federation of Jewish communities of Spain can also write up a similar document certifying this heritage. Moreover, it is not necessary to belong to a Sephardic organization in order to acquire this document.

The second document must show a special connection to Spain. This is the most flexible part of the law which is subject to interpretation. For instance, if one owns shares of a Spanish company, or owns property in Spain, or has involvement in a Sephardic organization preserving Spanish heritage, you would be able to demonstrate a special connection to Spain. It doesn’t matter if you studied Spanish in college, but if you have, ask your professor to write you a letter stating this along with the dates when you studied there. Perhaps your child studied a semester abroad in Spain or you made a donation to a Spanish NGO; all economic, social and cultural activity can be used as evidence.

The third requirement is to acquire an official document from the Institute of Cervantes stating that the applicant understands basic Spanish. Applicants are not required to be fluent in Spanish.

All three pieces of evidence submitted in the application must attach a translation by an official Spanish translator, which can be found online on the Spanish consulate’s website.

After submitting all the official documents, the applicant has six months in which they must travel to Spain to have one’s identity officially notarized by a royally certified Spanish notary. The required documents for this include the applicant’s birth certificate, criminal record, if any, and civil certificate of marriage.

Once submitted, the application process takes no more than 12 months and all applications which receive no response are to be presumed to be rejected. The application fee is only $100 but estimated personal expenses can reach up to $5000, considering travel and accommodation and the cost of hiring a translator. Portero acknowledges that the law has flaws which the Spanish Federation is seeking to amend. Currently, spouses who are not of the same status of Spanish ancestry, need to file a different application and likely need to reside in Spain for two years to be naturalized. The applicant’s children, however, can be included in the application.