Two changes made to the Portuguese Nationality Regulation concerning the naturalisation process for descendants of Sephardic Jews are unconstitutional, according to constitutional law experts' opinions requested by the Lisbon Israeli Community (CIL).

According to the opinions, drafted by constitutional experts Armindo Saraiva Matias, from the Autonomous University of Lisbon, and Ricardo Branco, from the law faculty of the University of Lisbon, the rules in question are those that require the transmission of property by inheritance, as well as regular trips to Portugal throughout one's life as a condition for fulfilling naturalisation requirements.

"The acquisition, loss and re-acquisition of Portuguese citizenship falls within the absolute reserve of legislative competence of the Assembly of the Republic. It is not possible, on the pretext of regulating the law, to alter it by simple decree-law, thereby subverting and violating the law,” the first opinion states.

Following that, the second opinion points out that paragraph d) of number 3 of article 24-A, which contains the two rules, "substantively limits the possibility of naturalisation" of applicants, "which it clearly cannot do, under penalty of organic unconstitutionality, since the regulation of nationality and its attribution falls exclusively to the Assembly of the Republic".


"In terms of regulation, it is unacceptable to impose excessive requirements that are impossible to fulfil, thus rendering the process unworkable. This would also put the legislator in the cynical position of providing a scheme which, on the surface, corrects a historical injustice, but in practice – due to the impossibility of applying it – leaves everything the same", claims the constitutionalist, labelling this situation "an excessive and unreasonable demand".

Ricardo Branco shares the same view and criticises what he says is a different treatment of foreign citizens just because they descend from Sephardic Jews, by claiming that proof of previous trips to Portugal is not required in other cases.

"The principles of universality and equality in the right to access Portuguese citizenship (...) require the legislature not to treat foreign citizens applying for Portuguese nationality by naturalisation differently," he argues, while highlighting "discrimination on the basis of ancestry and religious origins".

The opinions were requested by CIL following the publication of the Portuguese Nationality Regulation on March 18th in Diário da República, which regulated the Nationality Law of 2020 and resulted in greater restrictions on access to naturalisation by people descended from Sephardic Jews, who were expelled from Portugal by royal decree over 500 years ago.

Roman Abramovich

The process became embroiled in controversy after it was revealed in late 2021 that Russian millionaire Roman Abramovich had obtained Portuguese citizenship.

The decree-law came into force on 15 April, but the article referring to the naturalisation of descendants of Sephardic Jews will only come into force "on the first day of the sixth month following its publication", i.e. September 1, 2022.

Between March 1 2015 and December 31 2021, 56,685 naturalisation processes were approved for descendants of Sephardic Jews, of a total of 137,087 requests that entered the IRN services.

According to data sent to Lusa in February by the Ministry of Justice, only 300 cases were rejected during this period, leaving a further 80,102 pending requests.

Deafening silence

The Lisbon Israeli Community (CIL) has accused the Ministry of Justice of "deafening silence" regarding their requests to meet with them and reform the legislation that changed the naturalisation of descendants of Sephardic Jews.

"The CIL would like to be able to speak to the Minister of Justice. We have already made three requests for a hearing, and there has been no acknowledgement of receipt of our requests", CIL leader José Ruah told Lusa, lamenting the change in the Government's stance in recent months, which has coincided with suspicions of illegality in obtaining citizenship for descendants of Sephardic Jews, with the naturalisation of Russian oligarch Roman Abramovich being the most controversial case.

"In the past we always managed to talk to those we needed to talk to and not only that; they came to ask for our opinion. Now, we have deafening silence", he underlined. He did not rule out the chance to engage in dialogue, however, saying: “We all make mistakes. But we can correct our mistakes. It is not bad to correct our mistakes".