on April 17, 2024

Sephardic Jews: do you have to live in Portugal for three years?

on April 17, 2024

Judeus Sefarditas: é preciso viver por três anos em Portugal?

Many doubts have arisen about the changes in Portuguese law regarding the acquisition of nationality by descendants of Sephardic Jews. One of these changes is the requirement to reside for three years in Portugal for those seeking naturalization through this route. However, it is crucial to understand the difference between law and regulation to understand why this requirement is not yet in effect.


Law versus Regulation: distinct and complementary concepts

While the law is more comprehensive and establishes the general principles of a right, the regulation presents the technical requirements and gives specific guidance on how the law should be applied.

In the case of Sephardic Jews, the Portuguese parliament added the requirement to reside in the country for a minimum period of three years; The next step to be taken is the regulation of this device, clarifying the ways to prove residence in the country. Until then, interested parties must be guided by the current regulations, in force since September 2022, which are limited to genealogical proof and the demonstration of some ties with the country.


The Importance of Regulation

Regulation plays a key role in implementing laws. It provides the criteria for the application of legislation, clearly defining how rights and obligations established by law are regulated and exercised in practice. 

Jurist Isabel Comte, who worked for 20 years at the Portuguese Ministry of Justice and is the author of books on nationality law, explains that legal norms follow a clear hierarchy, which starts with the law, followed by the regulation and, finally, by a service instruction – the latter, the exclusive responsibility of the Lisbon Central Registry Office: “The instruction is only made after the publication of the Regulation; this is the document that will provide detailed guidance on how record keepers should analyze nationality applications.”

Lawyer Patrícia Barros, from Martins Castro Consultoria, recalls that this movement already occurred in the recent past: “the change that this same law faced in 2020, when it included the obligation for applicants to demonstrate ties with the Portuguese community, also required regulation – which was only made two years later. In the current case, what we have is a law that is in fact in force, but still without applicability, due to the lack of regulation”.

Although changes to the Portuguese nationality law were approved by parliament, the three-year residence requirement in Portugal for Sephardic descendants is not yet in force. This means that those who wish to acquire Portuguese citizenship through this route still have the opportunity to do so without complying with this additional requirement, until the new legislation is properly clarified, via regulation, and implemented by the executive branch.