Portugal Naturalizes 23,000 Applicants Under Jewish Law of Return

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Two Israeli women arrive in Lisbon, Portugal, Feb. 15, 2016. (Cnaan Liphshiz, via JTA.org)

By Cnaan Liphshiz

Portugal has granted citizenship to about 23,000 people who applied under a 2015 law granting citizenship to descendants of Sephardic Jews.

That figure means that the government has thus far approved about 30% of the roughly 76,000 applications submitted since 2015. Officials did not say how many applications were declined.


About 25,000 of applications were submitted in 2019 alone, many of which have not yet been processed.

The figures were released in a statement on Oct. 22 from the Washington, D.C.-based Sephardic Heritage International organization.

Both Portugal and Spain passed laws  in 2015 granting citizenship to the descendants of Sephardic Jews, measures both governments said were intended to atone for the expulsion of hundreds of thousands of Jews from the Iberian Peninsula during the Inquisition.

The window for the Spanish law was supposed to close last year, but has been extended until further notice. The Portuguese law is open-ended. In both countries, the task of vetting applications has been handed over to local Jewish organizations.

Domingos Fezas Vital, the Portuguese ambassador to the United States, said in an online video conference co-hosted by Sephardic Heritage International on Oct. 22 that the Inquisition was a mistake. The region “subjected itself to what we would call today, a form of brain drain,” he said.

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