Still possible for Sephardi Jews to obtain Portuguese citizenship, but process is more difficult

Since 2015, more than 137,000 Jews applied for citizenship as permitted by law. So far, over 57,000 of them have received it.

 Flag of Portugal (illustrative). (photo credit: Wikimedia Commons)
Flag of Portugal (illustrative).
(photo credit: Wikimedia Commons)

Portugal has recently tightened regulations permitting Sephardi Jews and their descendants to get Portuguese nationality, following complaints concerning the bestowal of Portuguese citizenship on Russian oligarch Roman Abramovich.

The changes will apply as of this month.

 But according to Itai Mor, founder of The Portuguese Passport Club that helps Sephardi Jews through the process, “despite the new requirements, it is important to point out that it is still possible for Sephardi Jews to obtain the nationality that is rightfully theirs,” he told The Jerusalem Post on Monday. “The current process may be harder but the advantages of having a Portuguese passport remain the same,” An Israeli attorney, Mor has assisted many Israelis to obtain Portuguese citizenship.

Since 2015, more than 137,000 Jews have applied for Portuguese nationality as permitted by law. So far, over 57,000 of them have received it. These new Portuguese citizens can thus reunite with their historical and cultural heritage.

They are also allowed to work and live in Portugal, a country that has seen major growth in several sectors in recent years, especially in tourism and technology, and in cooperation with other countries that are integrated in the European Union.

Portugal's President Marcelo Rebelo de Sousa gestures near national flags of Israel and Portugal upon landing at Ben Gurion International Airport to take part in a Yad Vashem Holocaust memorial event (credit: CORINNA KERN/REUTERS)Portugal's President Marcelo Rebelo de Sousa gestures near national flags of Israel and Portugal upon landing at Ben Gurion International Airport to take part in a Yad Vashem Holocaust memorial event (credit: CORINNA KERN/REUTERS)

Mor explained that the decree contemplates some changes and stipulates: “Portuguese nationality may be granted to descendants of Sephardi Jews expelled from Portugal in the 16th century, as long as ‘a tradition of belonging to a Sephardi community of Portuguese origin is demonstrated, based on proven objective requirements of connection to Portugal, namely surnames, family language, and direct or collateral descent.’”

In addition, the person applying for Portuguese nationality must not have been given a sentence of three years or more for a crime punishable under Portuguese law.

“The applicant needs to apply to the Ministry of Justice in Portugal and then to the Jewish community in Lisbon, which is currently the only community that gives an authenticated document as to Sephardi origins,” Mor said.

“The community experiences a heavy workload, so it is best to apply to the Ministry of Justice first and complete the authentication process afterward,” he said. “In this way, the request isn’t delayed.”

After September 1, the new conditions under which nationality can be granted include a certificate proving “regular movements throughout life,” when “such facts demonstrate an effective and lasting connection to Portugal. It also requested [that applicants] bring a document of ownership, transmitted ‘mortis causa’, of real rights on real estate” in Portugal, and of “other personal rights of enjoyment of shares in commercial or cooperative companies.”

Mor explained that “these changes have been much debated in Portugal because of their fast application. It is not yet clear whether the authorities will follow them to the letter or choose to interpret them in a lenient way. A discussion on the matter will surely follow.”

On March 15, the Post revealed that the religious leader of the Jewish community in Porto, Daniel Litvak, is banned from leaving Portugal, and is required periodically to present himself to the authorities, after being detained on suspicion of corruption.

The Portuguese media reported that the leader of the Jewish Community of Porto was arrested by the National Anti-Corruption Unit of the Polícia Judiciária (investigation police). As a result of the investigation, several applications in progress by Sephardi Jews to obtain Portuguese citizenship will be endangered by the Roman Abramovich case.

Abramovich, who is regarded as being very close to Russian President Vladimir Putin, has been sanctioned in the West, especially in the United Kingdom, following the Russian invasion of Ukraine.

Yehuda, an Israeli in his 60s, has been trying to obtain Portuguese citizenship for two years. He paid about NIS 10,000 to an Israeli firm that is taking care of the process, and an additional NIS 1,500 to a genealogist to uncover proof that he has a connection to the expulsion of Jews from Spain.

“My mother is from Jewish-Kurdish-Iraqi background,” he said. “Her maiden name was Mizrachi and this was enough to prove that I have a connection.”

Yehuda admitted that “there is a bit of indulgence in the whole process: the Jewish community received money for taking care of my request and so did the genealogist. The Israeli company that I hired lives off of people like me – so all in all, the citizenship process was profitable for many people and groups.”

He added that the change in the Portuguese law is something that won’t affect him personally but will influence his family.

“My siblings and children were thinking of joining the process and utilizing the fact that I will be recognized as a citizen, to become one themselves,” he said. “That is something they could have done till the law was changed. Therefore, my brothers and sons have decided to wait and see what the situation will be when things clear up. At the moment, they’re on the fence and won’t start the process yet.”

Yehuda said that “there is a stain on the Jewish community, and the Portuguese government won’t trust someone who works in a dirty manner. In a way, it is understandable that the government wants to deal with authorizing citizenship itself.”