A FAIR VINDICATION: SPANISH NATIONALITY FOR SEPHARDIC JEWS
The year 1492 was without a doubt one of the most controversial years in Spanish history. The same year that Columbus first set sail and ended up discovering the Americas. It was also the same time that the Catholic Kings signed the edict of forced conversion to Christianity (in its ¨purest¨ expression, Catholicism), or the expulsion of the Jews from the Iberian Peninsula. These Jews are referred to as Sephardim which comes from the word ¨Sepharad¨, meaning ¨Spain¨ in both classical and contemporary Hebrew.
Determined descendants of these Sephardic Jews that returned to Spain and who are today integrated within Spain´s Sephardic community have finally won the upper hand in the political sphere when they were once deprived of any political power. Recently the Congress of Deputies has approved the Spanish Citizenship Law for Sephardic Jews which will grant citizenship to those who apply and are approved without having to renounce they current nationality.
There are several ways for Sephardic Jews to obtain Spanish nationality.
Even though applicants do not have to fulfil a residency requirement in Spain to apply, applicants do have to prove the following two things:
• A special link to Spain
• A link to the Sephardic Community
The fulfillment of the latter demands other elements such as a certificate of the origin of the applicant´s last name, issued by a competent rabbinical authority supporting the applicant´s Sephardic ancestry. This certificate may come from either the President of the Federation of Jewish Communities in Spain or the President of the Sephardic Community where the applicant resides. As it seems, the chances of all descendants finding their family name on the ¨official list¨ that in turn would prove their Sephardic link to Spain and allow them to apply for Spanish nationality has been the questioning element throughout this entire process. Due to the fact that not every candidate will find their name on this so called ¨list¨, there exist other ways for Sephardic Jews to apply for Spanish nationality through this new law.
Aside from the aforementioned requirements, the following must also be fulfilled:
• Proof of use and knowledge of the family language Haketia, or Ladino or Judeo-Spanish as it is also known
• Submission of a birth certificate, or the ketubah or Jewish marriage certificate specifically stating that a traditional marriage was celebrated according to Castile tradition
• The Sephardic community descendant must have a last name of Spanish origin
Applicants must pass a Spanish culture exam as well as a Spanish language exam if their native language is something other than Spanish to evaluate if he indeed has a special link to Spain. Both exams are administered by the Cervantes Institute. As proof of the applicant´s special link to Spain, the following documentation may also be taken into account:
• Spanish history and culture certificates issued by official institutions or officially recognized private educational centers
• Supporting documentation showing the applicant´s name on the list of protected Sephardic families by Spain in accordance to the Real Decree of 20 December 1924 and the Law of 29 December 1948
• Proof of beneficial, cultural and economic activities in support of Spanish citizens and institutions
• All documentation that accredits the applicant´s conservation, study and dissemination of the Sephardic community
All of these examples that we have mentioned that can serve as proof of the applicant´s special link to Spain along with the applicant´s police background check (duly legalized, apostilled and translated by a sworn translator), will be evaluated by the competent authority (The General Directorate of Registries and Notaries of the Ministry of Justice). In about one year the final decision will be made either granting to rejecting the Spanish citizenship to the applicant. If the applicant has not heard back from administration officials after one year, then it should be understood that his application has been rejected (by means of administrative silence).
If you currently live outside of Spain but you know the history of your family name which links you to our country and you want to apply for Spanish nationality, you can initiate the process electronically once the new law is officially put into effect on October 1st 2015. The law will remain active for a period of three years (if the cabinet agrees, the law may be renewed for one more year).
The following must be addressed once the applicant is granted Spanish nationality:
• The formal act of swearing loyalty to the King and obedience to the Constitution and its laws of Spain.
• Article 23 of the Civil Code which addresses the waiver of the renunciation of one´s nationality when granted Spanish nationality which before the establishment of the new law, only applied to citizens of Ibero-American countries, Andorra, Philippines, Equatorial Guinea or Portugal.
• Registration in the Civil Registry
Finally, we want to make it clear that there are several ways for Sephardic Jews to go about requesting Spanish nationality. They may provide proof of at least two years legal residency in Spain, which would be very similar to other Ibero- American countries with special links to Spain, according to article 22 of the Civil Code. Members of the Sephardic community may opt for another route where they may request a certificate of naturalization, granted in exceptional circumstances according to article 21 of the Civil Code. It goes without saying that the advantage to the new law is that applicants who are granted Spanish nationality will not have to give up their current nationality, an essential requirement when going any other route.
Translated by: Katherine Pascal