Spain close to granting citizenship to relatives of Jews expelled in 1492

The law would potentially allow 3.5 million Sephardic Jews around the world to apply for Spanish nationality.

March 26, 2015 13:24
2 minute read.
Spanish passport

The cover of a passport from Spain. (photo credit: ING IMAGE/ASAP)

The Spanish government is on the cusp of passing a law that would grant citizenship to the descendents of Jews expelled from Spain in 1492.

On Wednesday evening, the Spanish parliament approved the law and it will go for a second vote in the Spanish senate, the parliament's upper chamber, according to a report by the Financial Times. If passed, the law would come into effect in May and the application process would begin at the end of 2015.

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Around 300,000 Jews lived in Spain before the Catholic monarchs Isabella and Ferdinand, ordered Jews and Muslims to either convert to the Catholic faith or leave the country as a way to establish a purely Roman Catholic monarch.

The government of Spain officially estimated that around 90,000 people will apply for citizenship, which would also grant them a passport allowing free access to live, work and travel throughout the European Union. The government said that it does not expect most applicants to move to Spain, but rather to stay in their current countries and use the Spanish passports as a secondary one.

Spanish law does not normally allow dual citizenship except for people from neighboring Andorra or Portugal or former colonies such as the Philippines, Equatorial Guinea or Latin American countries.

The law, which was first unveiled in February 2014, would potentially allow an estimated 3.5 million Sephardic Jews whose ancestors settled in countries such as Israel, France, the United States, Turkey, Mexico, Argentina and Chile to apply for Spanish nationality. The term Sephardic refers to the Hebrew word for Spain.

Gabriel Elorriaga, a senior official in Spain's ruling Popular party, called the bill "...a way to close the circle of reconciliation between Spain and the Jewish community."

“The idea is very clear: We want to reach out to those who were expelled from Spain and who have kept some form of connection with the country through all these years.”

According to a draft of the law, the application process would come in two steps.

First, applicants would need to prove their Spanish Jewish background through a certificate from the federation of the Jewish community in Spain or from the head of the Jewish community in which they reside, through their language or ancestry. It is not required for applicants to be Jewish currently.

If a direct family link cannot be found, then authorities may accept applicants with a knowledge of Ladino (the traditional Jewish language of Jews in Spain which mixes Spanish and Hebrew), a Spanish Sephardic last name or an observance of Jewish customs.

Next, they will have to show that they still have a special connection to Spain, as well as a basic handling of the Spanish (or Ladino) language, as well as a test of basic knowledge about the country.

Currently, there are no plans to extend the same citizenship opportunity to descendents of Muslims expelled from Spain.

Reuters contributed to this report.

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