P. There is a lot of talk that the process of Portuguese nationality for Sephardim has ended and it is no longer possible to submit new applications. However, a cousin of mine just filed his application in October. Has the process really ended?
R. The legislative modification approved by the Portuguese government now requires Sephardim to prove, in addition to their Spanish or Portuguese Jewish origin, that they have certain personal ties with the country. These links are specified in having been beneficiaries of real rights over real estate in Portugal obtained by inheritance, having obtained (also by inheritance) shares or participations in Portuguese companies or cooperatives, or being able to demonstrate the realization of recurrent trips to the country throughout life. Evidently, these are unacceptable conditions that only seek to exclude 99.9% of the Sephardim from the process. As if that were not enough, these requirements do not in themselves constitute objective proof of the link to the country, but the administration reserves the right to assess them as such.
In the case of your cousin, it is possible that he is one of the few candidates who meets one of these requirements and has inherited property in Portugal or has traveled frequently to the country (and can prove it), or it is also possible that he did not apply before the legal changes came into effect and is now applying on other grounds.
Q. Does the Israelite Community of Lisbon continue to certify new Sephardic applicants? What about the Israelite Community of Porto?
R. Following the publication of the legal changes by the government, the Comunidade Israelita de Lisboa temporarily stopped accepting new applications for certification. However, after obtaining a favorable legal report issued by its legal services, it decided to resume the certification processes. Today, its portal still accepts new applications for certification of Sephardic origin.
As for the Comunidade Israelita do Porto, this congregation decided to terminate the Sephardic certification process definitively after the arrest of its rabbi, Mr. Daniel Litvak, and the serious accusations of corruption made against him and part of the Synagogue's Board of Directors by the Portuguese prosecutor's office. (https://www.legaltoday.com/practica-juridica/derecho-internacional/internacional/la-comunidad-israelita-de-oporto-suspende-la-tramitacion-de-los-procesos-de-certificacion-de-sefardies-tras-la-detencion-de-su-rabino-2022-03-30/ ). For its part, this congregation has accused part of the Portuguese government and hierarchies of being complicit in a vast anti-Semitic conspiracy to discredit them. These accusations can be read at the following link.
P. My application for certification was filed with CIL before 09/01/22 but I have not yet obtained my certificate of Sephardic origin. Will I be able to apply for nationality once I obtain it? How do the approved legal changes affect me?
R. This is the question that thousands of applicants are asking right now. What happens to those processes open before the CIL dated prior to September 01, 2022? Will those applicants be able to file a nationality application if they finally obtain their certificates and without having to prove the new links with Portugal required by the government? According to the legal report commissioned by CIL they could. According to this report, which can be accessed here, the moment that marks the beginning of the legal procedure for applying for nationality would not be the request made before the Portuguese Ministry of Justice, but the request for certification that is initiated before the CIL itself. And this is something of enormous significance and makes a lot of sense. If the law obliges the candidates to provide, together with their nationality applications, a certificate issued by one of the Israeli communities officially registered in Portugal (CIL or CIP), who would file a nationality application with the added cost that this entails, without first having their Sephardic certification? How to force the applicant to start building the house from the roof by filing an application without having the main document of the process, which is the Sephardic certificate? It should also be taken into account that many people who were in the process of being certified have already paid economic amounts for this concept. The CIL requires the payment of a donation of 500€ per application for the review of the cases (250€ for close relatives of people already certified) and prior to the issuance of the personal certificate. Let's suppose a family of 4 members who have paid 2.000€ in donations to CIL for their files, and suddenly the government modifies the process, leaving them out. What happens to those amounts paid? We could be talking about a collective swindle of millionaire proportions.
What is certain is that for the moment we do not know what the government's attitude will be towards these people who applied for their CIL certification before September 1st and who have filed or are going to file their nationality applications after that date. If the legal criteria of the CIL is accepted (which we share), they will be processed according to the previous criteria. If not, they will be denied for not complying with the new linkage requirements, and these cases will undoubtedly end up before the courts of justice, which will have to rule on them.
Q. I am Jewish and my family has been Sephardic for generations. We are observant and can obtain certificates from our local synagogue. How do the legal changes affect me? Can I still apply for my certification of Sephardic origin? Where should I go?
R. The approved changes affect all applicants equally, whether they are Sephardic Jews or descendants of Jews or converts of Portuguese or Spanish origin.
The CIL continues to accept new applications for certification through its electronic portal, but you should bear in mind that these new applications are already submitted entirely under the new regulations and will therefore be rejected by the Portuguese administration if you cannot demonstrate the required link with Portugal in the terms set out above. But it is also true that the rules introduced by Decree Law 26/2022 of March 18 in the Portuguese Nationality Regulation have already been challenged as unconstitutional and, consequently, it is possible that they may eventually become inapplicable or even be revoked or repealed by the Courts of Justice, so perhaps these new applications may even go ahead in the future.
Q. My application for certification was filed with the CIL prior to 09/01/22 but I have not yet obtained my Sephardic certificate. Also, before that date I filed my nationality application with the Conservatory of the Portuguese Central Registries. How do the approved legal changes affect me? What is the deadline for me to file my Sephardic certificate of origin?
R. This option has been followed by thousands of people since the legal changes were published last March. The number of applications for nationality presented in the last months has been enormous, causing the collapse of the offices of the civil registries.
Within the enormous legal uncertainty generated by the government, which has also refused to make any further clarification, this option was the safest. It should be borne in mind that legal changes do not have retroactive effects and that it is always possible to add new documents to nationality applications at any time prior to their revision. Given the current processing times for applications, it is very likely that most of these individuals will be able to complete their CIL certification processes and be in time to cure their nationality applications by providing the appropriate certificates of Sephardic origin.
Q. My application for Portuguese nationality was filed last May and I already had the CIL certificates. My children are now 12 and 18. How do the legal changes affect them? Will they be able to apply for Portuguese nationality once I have obtained mine?
R. Portuguese law establishes that minor children of Portuguese citizens can opt for the nationality of their parents. The legal changes do not modify this situation and only affect new Sephardic applicants. In the case of your minor son it is almost certain that he will arrive in time to opt for Portuguese nationality once you have obtained yours first.
P. I understand that the new legislative decree approving the legal changes has been challenged in court. In the event that this regulation is annulled or repealed, how would this affect the process, could it be reopened?
R. There are people who are starting their certification process now with the idea of being able to file their nationality applications if this regulation is finally repealed. There are sectors of opinion in Portugal and part of the government that are in favor of modifying this regulation again. If this were to happen, the process could be reactivated again. But for now it is not possible to anticipate what might happen in the future.