Sephardic Jews Get Right of Return – To Spain

by Peter Spiro

Spain is now granting citizenship automatically without any residency requirement to those who can demonstrate descent from those Jews expelled from Spain more than 500 years ago. The rule could make as many as 3 million Sephardic Jews worldwide eligible for Spanish citizenship (600,000 of them in the United States, including a number who identify as Hispanic). The details remain a little sketchy, but assuming no costs and minimal bureaucratic hoops one can expect a good subscription for the offer (Spanish citizenship may not be so valuable these days, but EU citizenship is).

The rule has some superficial similarity to Germany’s approach to Holocaust survivors stripped of German nationality under the Nazi regime. German law provides for the “restoration” of citizenship to survivors and descendants, with no residency, language facility or other requirements.

But count me a skeptic on the Spanish measure. Unlike the German situation, we’re talking way distant past. The Sephardic diaspora has no relationship with the modern Spanish state in the way that Holocaust victims do; it would be a messy world if all ancient wrongs had to be made right. Of course doling out citizenship is cheap. Could it be that Spain is using redress as an economic recruiting tool? It is perhaps not a coincidence that Spain also announced last week an offer of immigrant visas (the equivalent of a US green card) to those who buy houses worth 160,000+ Euros.

Meanwhile, 750,000 Moroccan migrants in Spain have to satisfy a ten-year residency requirement for naturalization. The Inquisition also resulted in the expulsion of their ancestors, the Moors. Why aren’t they getting a new citizenship deal, too? Incongruous that someone whose family hasn’t lived in Spain for half a millennium can sign up for citizenship when someone living there today can’t.

7 Responses

  1. Peter, that’s very interesting – I guess I’d add that granting citizenship might be cheap for Spain, but will its EU partners see it that way – or instead as a basic collective action problem, handing out other people’s goodies for its own benefit?  

  2. Ken, good point. I don’t think there will be any pushback on this particular initiative (most of the EU having some bad history of mistreating Jews). If some of the “investor” migration programs become a magnet for migrants perceived as undesirable (eg, certain Russians) then we might see questions raised at the EU level. Member states are as a formal matter free to set citizenship policies as they see fit.

  3. Maybe the new citizens can settle in Catalonia, dampen secessionism there.

  4. Remarkable news, but what to make of it? It seems to be just another instance showing how cheap membership has become in some Western countries, as Peter affirms time and again. Not even residency is a requirement here anymore, very low costs for the naturalisation process etc. On the other hand: Will the Spanish citizens accept this decision without any objections? And will all the other EU member states agree to it?
    Of course the discretion of the EU member states to naturalise in large numbers — i.e. giving away EU citizenship to non-EU member state nationals — is limited by EU law and public international law ( pp. 89ff.). But which member state would dare initiate proceedings in this case if they haven’t in many others?!
    Obviously, as Peter points out, it is somehow ridiculous to remedy the wrongs committed 500 years ago by handing out passports today. (Where would it start and where would it end if that became common practice?!) And, yes, the contrast of this preferential treatment for Jewish descendants to current naturalisation practices for immigrants is evidently blatant. But apart from the historical-symbolic meaning the Spanish bid for Jewish brains has to be understood as exactly this: a helpless measure to boost the sickly economy. A residency permit for the purchase of a house in Spain? Why not citizenship right away instead? However, if you’re not of Jewish descent or haven’t got the 160.000 € you may quickly loose even basic public healthcare (

  5. Peter, this is very interesting. Thank you for bringing it up! I have not found the amendment to the Civil Code. It would be interesting to see how Spain defines “links to Spanish culture and Spanish customs.”

  6. Chris, Thanks for the comments and the pointer to the extended Hailbronner commentary on the relationship of EU citizenship and members state nationality laws. Sounds like the Spanish move won’t push the envelope on that front, especially given the precedent of the German Aussiedler (East Europeans of German ethnicity, also ancient).

    Liav, I don’t have the legislation. Hoping for something from EUI’s EUDO citizenship project soon (for those who don’t know it, the go-to source for EU citizenship developments). 

  7. Apparently, there isn’t going to be any amendment to Spanish Civil Code. 

    Government will give naturalisation cards to Sephardic Jews (art.21 Civil Code) who meet requirements demanded by an instruction passed by Department of Justice (not published yet). This way of getting spanish nationality (naturalisation card) is an discretionary act, so it´s difficult to know the scope of these measures until we can read the text of the instruction.

    Apart from that, it is assumed that art. 22 Civil Code will remain unchanged, and, as a result, in any case, Sephardic Jews will be able to get Spanish nationality by residence (of two years, like Latin American, Andorran, Philippines and Equatorial Guinea citizens).

    By the way, this is not the first time that special norms are approved in order to let Sephardic Jews get Spanish nationality. One example in 1948 (during Franco’s dictatorship) for certain sephardim who had the status of “protected by Spain”

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