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Citizenship

Congress ready to pass bill giving nationality to Sephardic Jews

Ancestors of those expelled in 1492 must now show links to Spain to obtain citizenship

A photo of Rabbi Ovadia Yosef, founder of the ultra-orthodox Sephardic party Shas at a market in Tel Aviv.
A photo of Rabbi Ovadia Yosef, founder of the ultra-orthodox Sephardic party Shas at a market in Tel Aviv. REUTERS

Spain’s Congress has cleared up some of the questions hanging over the much-awaited Sephardic ancestry bill that proposes to give Spanish nationality to descendants of the Jewish community who were expelled in 1492.

The draft, with its latest adjustments, was expected to be passed by deputies on Wednesday.

Under the changes, a €75 fee to file nationality papers will be eliminated but applicants will have to take a mandatory integration test at the Cervantes Institute.

The law has drawn a lot interest in countries such as Israel and Venezuela where many Sephardic Jews live

Justice Ministry officials estimate that as many as 90,000 people will be able to qualify for Spanish citizenship if they can prove they are direct descendants of the expelled Jews.

The law, which was announced last year, has drawn a lot interest in countries such as Israel, Turkey and Venezuela where many Sephardic Jews live.

“The bill has been improved technically to ease the process of those who apply for citizenship,” said Javier Gómez Gálligo, the Justice Ministry’s director for notary services. “The application fees have been eliminated, but they will be substituted by other fees such as notary and registry duties and costs for the Cervantes Institute.”

The bill, which will next go to the Senate, also outlines the requirements a person must fill before applying for Spanish nationality under the new ancestry law.

Applicants must be able to demonstrate that they are Sephardic either through a Jewish community certificate, by speaking Ladino, having a Sephardic-origin last name, or by possessing an ancestor’s birth or marriage certificate according to Castile tradition. But they also must demonstrate that they have some links to Spain through family, knowledge of Spanish, or contributions made to Spanish organizations.

Knowing basic Spanish is essential. “Those who speak Ladino will pass the test with no problem,” said Popular Party (PP) Deputy Gabriel Elorriaga, who is one of the sponsors of the bill. “There has been much debate over who or who isn’t a descendant of the expelled Jews. The new text now clears up the speculation.”

The Socialists have said they will vote against the bill because of the new additions.

“It is very serious that they introduced an integration test at the last minute and through the back door,” said Deputy Carmela Silva, whose party also tried to include in the law the children of women who lived in exile during the Civil War and lost their nationalities when they married.