Only last year, 10,000 Israelis submitted requests. This is a record number and the trend of facilitating the granting of citizenship continues. But Israel is a small part of the picture.
In 2015, the Portuguese government enacted a law allowing Spanish Jews to obtain Portuguese citizenship. Recent data show that the flow of Israeli applicants has increased to a peak of 10,000 in 2018. However, citizenship applications by Israelis are still a small part of all citizenship applications in Portugal: Last year, 176,000 requests were received from around the world, and it appears that the issue of citizenship has become a significant export sector in the country and a national objective.
In 2018 Portuguese citizenship was granted to 134,000 applicants. Let us be reminded that Portugal has 10 million inhabitants, and it turns out that the liberal policy it has adopted regarding the absorption of new citizens has increased its population by more than one percent. By comparison, Israel, with a population close to nine million, rose by only 30,000 in 2018.
It is interesting to note that Israel ranks far behind in the number of requests for Portuguese citizenship. Brazil and then Cape Verde, Ukraine, Angola and Guinea Bissau are at the top of the list.
Citizenship applications in Portugal have increased by 50% in the last two years (in 2006, 116,000 requests were submitted). This increase stems from a wave of legislative changes that made it easier to obtain citizenship. Thus, in 2015 a law was passed allowing the grandchildren of Portuguese citizens to receive citizenship. This legislation opened the door to tens of thousands of requests from Brazilian descendants of immigrants from Portugal.
Regarding the Sephardi law, there was also a significant increase here. In 2006, 5,100 applications were submitted under this law and in 2018 the number jumped to 14,000. When the law was first launched, it was Turkish citizens who constituted the majority of applicants, and it seems that the Israeli public was skeptical at the time. By the end of 2017, 1,239 Turkish citizens had received citizenship, compared with only 538 Israelis.
In 2018, the trend changed. On the one hand, the potential applicants in the small Jewish community in Turkey dwindled, and at the same time Israelis discovered the potential of the Portuguese track. By the end of this year some 30,000 citizenship applications have been submitted under the Sephardi law and 7,187 citizenships had been issued (5,000 of which were granted in 2018(.
What is the reason for the discrepancy between the number of requests and the number of approvals? Two main factors can be noted. First, the request processing time is long. Currently, applications submitted 18-28 months ago are only now being accepted. This is not an exact science and the processing time of the request depends on arbitrary factors such as the workload of the clerk whose desk the request is placed.
Second, some applicants are asked to complete documents or details in the file. Such requests may result from lacking application files. Requests for completion that are not answered lead to an increasing number of pending cases without a decision.
In addition, the application for citizenship of a Jew who has been recognized as Sephardi by the Jewish community in Portugal can be rejected only for basis of a criminal past that exceed the level allowed by the Portuguese law - an offense punished by three years imprisonment.
The growth trend in the granting of citizenship to foreigners in Portugal stems, among other reasons, from a change in procedures that made it easier to meet the eligibility criteria and the bureaucratic burden involved in applying. Thus, the requirement of a connection to Portugal required of a spouse for citizenship was removed when the spouse has a Portuguese child. In addition, the requirement that existed in the past for detailed and documented reporting of the applicant's stay in third countries was replaced by a simple statement.
The good news is that the door to Portugal is still open to Israeli applicants. The least good news is that in view of the influx of people seeking citizenship from around the world, the waiting time is not expected to be shortened.
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