On 11 June 2015, the Spanish Congress of Deputies (“Congreso de los Diputados”) gave final approval to a law which facilitates the acquisition of Spanish citizenship by descendants of Sephardim (the “Law”). The Law recognizes the close ties between Sephardim and Spain and, in its own words, is designed to establish a “linking point between the Spaniards of today and the descendants of those who were unjustly expelled in 1492”. The Law will come into force on 1 October 2015. From that date, potential applicants have three years, with certain exceptions, to submit their applications for Spanish citizenship in accordance with the procedure stated below.
Under the new Law, in order to acquire Spanish nationality, applicants must be able to prove their Sephardic background as well as special connection to Spain, with no requirement of prior residence in Spain or renouncement of previous nationality.
This newsletter addresses (i) the background of the Law; (ii) the requirements to be satisfied to acquire Spanish nationality; (iii) the procedure to be followed; and (iv) the relevant timeframes.
Prior to the approval of the Law, there were two main ways by which Sephardim could obtain Spanish citizenship:
(i) By legally residing in Spain for at least two years (Section 21.2 of the Spanish Civil Code in connection with Section 22.1); or
(ii) By means of a previous declaration from the Council of Ministers (“Consejo de Ministros”), considered on a case by case basis, whenever “exceptional circumstances” existed in connection with a given person (“Carta de Naturaleza”) (Section 21.1 of the Spanish Civil Code). Being a Sephardi was, in practice, considered as an “exceptional circumstance”.
Typically, Sephardim would select the latter option to obtain Spanish citizenship. Both of the above options required the Sephardim to renounce their previous nationality.
Now, the Law provides that for the purpose of obtaining Spanish citizenship through the Carta de Naturaleza referred to above, “exceptional circumstances” are met by those Sephardim who evidence their Sephardic background and special connection to Spain.
In addition, the Law amends Section 23.b) of the Spanish Civil Code so that applicants who obtain Spanish citizenship pursuant to the new Law are not required to renounce their previous nationality.
2. REQUIREMENTS TO BE SATISFIED TO OBTAIN SPANISH CITIZENSHIP
In order to acquire Spanish nationality, applicants must prove (i) their Sephardic origin; and (ii) a special connection to Spain.
2.1 How to prove the Sephardic origin
For the purpose of proving Sephardic origin, the Law provides the following broad, but non-exhaustive, list of evidence that the applicant may submit in support of their application:
a) Certificate from the Permanent Commission’s President of the Federation of Jewish Communities in Spain. This certificate has special relevance and constitutes the most direct piece of evidence;
b) Certificate from the President (or assimilated) of the applicant’s Jewish community where he/she lives or was born, or from the competent Rabbinical Authority duly recognized as such in the applicant’s country of residence.
When submitting these certificates, the competence of the issuing authority must be, in turn, certified by either:
(i) a certificate issued by the Permanent Commission’s President of the Federation of Jewish Communities in Spain; or
(ii) providing a copy of all of the following documents:
- the original by-laws of the foreign religious organization;
- a certificate of the foreign religious organization stating the name of their legal representatives;
- a certificate acknowledging that the foreign religious organization is legally recognized in its home country; and
- a certificate issued by the legal representative of the religious entity stating that the Rabbi who executed these certificates currently and effectively holds such condition according to the requirements set forth in the organization’s by-laws.
c) Evidence of the use of Ladino or Haketía as the home language, or other proof that demonstrates the applicant belongs to a Sephardic community;
d) Birth certificate, Ketubah or marriage certificate that evidences its celebration according to the customs of Castile;
e) A reasoned report issued by a recognized organization evidencing that the applicant’s surnames are of Spanish Sephardic lineage; and
f) Any other circumstance that evidences the condition of the applicant as a Sephardi with origin in Spain.
2.2 How to prove “special connection” with Spain
The special connection with Spain may be evidenced by the following, which is assessed as a whole:
a) Study certificates of Spanish history and culture issued by official institutions or private organizations with official recognition;
b) Certificate of knowledge of Ladino or Haketía;
c) The inclusion of the applicant, or his/her parents, in the lists of Sephardic families protected by Spain, by means of either the Royal Decree of 29 December 1948 regarding Greece and Egypt, or those who obtained naturalization by means of Royal Decree of 20 December 1924;
d) Evidence of kinship to any of the persons included in letter c) above;
e) Development of charitable, cultural or economic activities in favor of Spanish or Spain-based people or organizations, as well as any other activities aimed at promoting the study, preservation and spreading of the Sephardic culture; and
f) Any other circumstance clearly evidencing a connection between the applicant and Spain.
2.3 Additional requirements
Further, in order for the applicant to acquire Spanish citizenship, the Law provides that the following requirements must be satisfied:
a) Provision of a birth certificate, duly legalized or apostilled, and, if applicable, translated into Spanish by a sworn translator;
b) For applicants of legal age, provision of a criminal record certificate from the applicant’s home country and, if the applicant has resided in another country within five years prior to the application, a criminal record from such country;
c) Passing of an exam to prove basic knowledge of Spanish (at least A2 level of the Common European Framework of Reference for Languages, which means that the applicant must have an ability to deal with simple, straightforward information and begin to express themselves in familiar contexts);
d) Passing of an exam to evaluate knowledge about the Spanish Constitution and Spanish social and cultural life.
In relation to letters c) and d) above, underage applicants and those without full legal capacity are not required to complete the two exams to prove basic knowledge of Spanish culture and language.
However, such applicants must submit certificates in this respect from their schools, training centers, reception centers or special education centers.
Additionally, applicants from countries or territories in which Spanish is an official language are not required to pass the language exam, but must still pass the exam in relation to the Spanish Constitution and Spanish social and cultural life.
Every document submitted in a language different from Spanish must be duly authorized and, if necessary, legalized or apostilled and translated into Spanish by a sworn translator.
First, the application to acquire Spanish citizenship must be filed online in Spanish and must be addressed to the Directorate General for Registers and Notaries (“Dirección General de los Registros y el Notariado”).
Once submitted, the documents are reviewed and, if the Sephardic origin and the special connection with Spain are initially proved, the Notary Public assigned to the application must arrange a meeting with the applicant in Spain (a legal representative of the applicant could attend that meeting instead of the applicant himself). In assigning a Notary Public to the application, the applicant’s preference of Notary Public will be taken into account.
In this meeting, the applicant must declare under his/her own responsibility that all the facts comprising his/her application are true and correct.
Following this meeting, taking into account its outcome and having reviewed all the documents submitted, the Notary Public must determine whether or not the Sephardic origin and the applicant’s special connection with Spain have been proved and must draw up his/her conclusions in the minutes of the meeting.
If the Notary Public considers that the requirements are met, the Directorate General for Registers and Notaries must request from the relevant bodies of the Ministry of the Presidency (“Ministerio de la Presidencia”) and the Ministry of Interior (“Ministerio del Interior”) a report on the application. The Directorate General for Registers and Notaries must then make a decision on the application (“Decision”).
The Decision is a valid title to be registered at the Civil Registry (“Registro Civil”).
Within one year from the date of the notification of the Decision, the applicant must:
(i) apply for the registration of the title at the Civil Registry;
(ii) submit to the Civil Registry a new and updated criminal record certificate, if appropriate; and
(iii) swear allegiance to the Spanish King and obedience to the Spanish Constitution and Laws before the Civil Registrar. This is a formal requirement with which every applicant for Spanish citizenship must comply.
If the applicant fails to comply with requirements (i), (ii) and (iii) above within the stipulated timeframe (one year after notification of the Decision), the entire procedure will lapse.
The administrative fee to be paid for each application for the acquisition of Spanish citizenship is EUR 100. However the Ministry of Justice is yet to announce the specific details of the payment procedure.
4. Time frame
As stated above, the Law will come into force on 1 October 2015. From that date, potential applicants have three years to submit their applications for Spanish citizenship.
This term may be extended for one year in the discretion of the Council of Ministers resolution (“Acuerdo del Consejo de Ministros”). However, applicants who demonstrate exceptional or humanitarian reasons may apply for Spanish nationality after the time frame of three years has elapsed.
In addition, applicants who have commenced their application for Spanish citizenship under section 21.1 of the Spanish Civil Code prior to the commencement of the Law, may now follow the procedure set out in the new Law.
In relation to the time in which it may take to obtain Spanish citizenship, the Law establishes that the application for Spanish citizenship must be decided within twelve months from the date on which the Directorate General for Registers and Notaries receives the case file and the Ministry provides its report. If this term elapses without an express resolution, the application will be considered rejected.