What is the History of Portuguese Passports for Sephardi Jews?
For Jewish people with Sephardi roots, a Portuguese passport has long been desired and reasonably attainable. Legislation from 2013 allowed hundreds of thousands of Jewish people the eligibility to apply for a Portuguese passport if they demonstrated a familial link to those who were expelled from Spain and Portugal over 500 years ago. These applicants can be citizens of any country and need not be Halachically Jewish, merely those able to demonstrate Jewish origin.
This legislation was quite lenient compared to the citizenship process of other countries in the European Union, thus tens of thousands of applicants acquired a Portuguese passport according to this citizenship program.
However, this lenient legislation is about to change soon. Portugal has recently decided to significantly limit the amount of Sephari Jews eligible to apply for citizenship under this rule. As such, the regulation will become much much stricter on September 1, 2022.
What Are the New Provisions for Citizenship?
Under the new citizenship provisions, applicants will have to meet several additional requirements in order to receive a passport. The main requirement for eligibility will become the ability to prove a current concrete connection to Portugal, such as submitting proof of owning assets. These assets may include real estate, a company, or other commercial matters.
However, many Americans seeking a Portuguese passport do not own Portuguese assets, or have the means or desire to travel to Portugal frequently, if at all. Thus, these new regulations are expected to prevent the vast majority of Israeli applicants from acquiring citizenship.
What are the Preexisting Provisions for Citizenship?
However, all applications submitted on or before August 31, 2022 will be considered under the previous regulations, which consists of only two stages.
The first stage is proving Sephardic origins. This is most commonly accomplished through submitting a letter of recommendation from a Jewish community in Portugal who can attest to the applicant’s Sephardic heritage. Secondly, the applicant must submit a formal request to become a citizen before Portuguese authorities.
Therefore, anyone interested in acquiring Portuguese citizenship must act now, as the chance to do so under lenient regulations may not return after the fall.
Applying for a European Passport Based on Family Heritage
Aside from Portugal, many other countries in the European Union have programs to provide citizenship based on Jewish heritage that are able to be utilized after the Portuguese laws are changed.
For example, Austrian legislation stipulates that applicants who can prove they are the descendants of Holocaust survivors who fled Austria before 1955 are eligible to apply for Austrian citizenship. Similar laws exist in Germany, namely the 2021 Fourth Amendment to the Nationality Act of Germany, as well as Romania with the Romanian Citizenship Law of 1991.
Anyone applying for a Portuguese passport, or is interested in any other EU citizenship is encouraged to contact Advocate Joshua Pex who specializes in immigration law.