Spain’s Congress has approved a law granting Spanish nationality to people with a Spanish-Sephardic origin who have a particular connection to Spain ("the Nationality Law").  The new law is intended to confer citizenship on anyone whose Sephardic origins can be certified and somehow attached to Spain. 

This is a historic development.  Under the previous law, dating back to 1924,the Spanish government had discretionary powers to award nationality to people with a Sephardic origin, but candidates had to give up their current citizenship and had to be residents of Spain.  The new law abolishes these requirements, paving the way for thousands of people to potentially become dual citizens of Spain and the countries in which they reside. Those who obtain a Spanish passport would be able to live or work anywhere in the 28-nation European Union and apply for citizenship for immediate family members.

The Nationality Law will come into force on October 1, 2015 and will remain in effect for a period of three years, which may be extended for an additional year.  The law has a series of requirements that have to be met in order for an applicant to be granted Spanish citizenship, including, among others, the following:

  • First, applicants must certify their Sephardic background and demonstrate a link to Spain by submitting particular documents that are set forth in the Nationality Law (e.g., birth certificates, marriage certificates and other similar documents)
  • Second, except in the case of an applicant who hails from a country in which Spanish is an official language, applicants must pass a basic Spanish language exam and
  • Third, applicants must pass a test that demonstrates a basic knowledge of the country’s society and culture.

The Nationality Law affects an estimated 3.5 million people around the world. The Spanish government estimates that about 90,000 people of Sephardic heritage will actually apply for citizenship, but acknowledges that there is no precise way to know how many will apply or meet the requirements. 

The new law may not generate much support in Israel, the home of three million Sephardic descendants.  According to Hamutal Rogel Fuchs, a spokesman for the Israeli Embassy in Madrid, Israelis see the bill as a piece of internal legislation in Spain, but not as something that directly affects them.  Only approximately 1,000 Israelis have requested information about the Nationality Law since Parliament starting debating it last year, and it is estimated that only about 1,500 Israelis will apply for Spanish citizenship under the law.