Older Sephardic Jews to be exempt from Spanish citizenship tests

Justice Ministry waives the Spanish language and culture exam requirement for applicants 70 and over

Miguel González

The Spanish Justice Ministry has waived the Spanish language and culture examination requirement for Sephardic Jews over 70 years of age who are applying for citizenship. The decision builds on a law that went into effect in October 2015 offering nationality to people who can prove their ancient Spanish origins.

Sephardic Jew Marco Macías at a Spanish citizenship ceremony.
Sephardic Jew Marco Macías at a Spanish citizenship ceremony.A. S.

The initiative seeks to offer historical redress to the descendants of the Jewish community that was expelled from Spain in 1492.

Since the law went into effect, 4,919 Sephardic Jews have obtained Spanish nationality, although only 387 have done so on the basis of this law. The government granted nationality on a discretionary basis to the rest, because they had already sent in their applications prior to this date.

Applicants’ countries of origin paint a clear picture of the Sephardic diaspora

Karen Gerson Sharon, who coordinates the Sephardic Center of Istanbul, in Turkey, says she is “very happy” that the examination requirement has been waived for older applicants. But she wishes the age limit had been set at 65 years of age instead.

“We are not a very young community,” she notes, adding that older members have eyesight and hearing problems that make it difficult for them to pass tests.

There are around 15,000 Sephardic Jews in Turkey, of whom 3,000 have already secured a Spanish identity card through different citizenship application procedures from those set out in the special law of 2015.

The requirements of the 2015 law include a “Constitutional and Sociocultural Knowledge about Spain” examination, known as CCSE. This, along with the Spanish language test, constitutes the biggest hurdle for Sephardic Jews wishing to apply for citizenship through this channel.

Beatriz Chevalier, head of the Center for Sephardic Memory in Granada.
Beatriz Chevalier, head of the Center for Sephardic Memory in Granada.M. Zarza

Besides having to study in their spare time, this community finds that the 15th-century version of Spanish that they still preserve, known as Ladino or Haketia, has little to do with the grammar and spelling of modern Spanish.

Karen Gerson Sharon explains that the children of a friend of hers have applied for Portuguese nationality, because no exams are required there. And the father of another friend will never fulfill his dream of obtaining Spanish nationality because he is 84 and “not in good enough health” to travel to Spain and do the paperwork at a notary public.

The Justice Ministry says that there will soon be a rise in citizenship awarded through the law because 1,897 people have recently taken the DELE Spanish language examination (which is not a requirement for applicants from Spanish-speaking countries) and 6,127 have sat the CCSE test. Both are administered at the network of Cervantes Institutes that Spain maintains across the world.

Applicants’ countries of origin paint a clear picture of the Sephardic diaspora: there are applications from over 100 countries, but those which are most represented include 12 Ibero-American nations, Morocco, Israel, Turkey, the United States and Pakistan.

English version by Susana Urra.

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