Portuguese nationality law

Portuguese Nationality Code

The Portuguese Nationality Code establishes the requirements for acquiring Portuguese nationality. The Nationality Act, which entered into force on October 3, 1981, is the primary law governing nationality.

All Portuguese citizens are EU citizens, as Portugal is a member of the European Union (EU). They have an automatic and permanent right to reside and work in any EU or European Economic Area (EEA) country, and they can vote in European Parliament elections.

Prior to October 3, 1981, all persons born in Portugal were citizens by birth, regardless of the nationality of their parents. Since that date, persons born in the country acquire Portuguese citizenship at birth if at least one of their parents is a Portuguese citizen or has lived in the country for at least one year. Foreign nationals may obtain Portuguese citizenship through naturalization after five years of residence and proof of Portuguese language proficiency. Due to Portugal’s historical role as a colonial empire, some individuals with ties to a former colony are eligible for Portuguese citizenship.

The past of the Portuguese nationality law

1603 Statutes of Portuguese nationality law

The first legal framework for Portuguese citizenship was established by the ordinances of King Philip II of Portugal (the Ordenaces Filipinas) in 1603. It was a hybrid system of jus soli and jus sanguinis that governed the acquisition of citizenship at birth. Citizenship was acquired by children born in Portugal to Portuguese parents, whether the parents were married or unmarried. Children born outside Portuguese territory were not eligible for citizenship unless their father or mother was in the royal service abroad. Children born in Portugal to a non-Portuguese father, in or out of wedlock, or to a non-Portuguese mother, in or out of wedlock, could acquire Portuguese citizenship only if their parent had lived in the country for at least ten years and owned property there.

The Constitution of 1822

The Portuguese Constitution of 1822 expanded and restricted the transmission of citizenship by removing the requirement of parental property ownership for jus soli births to a non-Portuguese parent, but requiring the child to continue to reside in Portugal and declare the option for Portuguese citizenship upon reaching adulthood. It also extended citizenship by descent to all children born outside Portugal to a Portuguese father or mother, in or out of wedlock, on condition that the child resided in Portugal if neither parent was in the royal service. Loss could result from naturalization in another country or acceptance of foreign government employment, honors, or pensions without Portuguese government approval. Persons living in Portugal while married to a Portuguese woman, acquiring a commercial, agricultural or industrial establishment in Portugal, or performing specific duties for the country were eligible for discretionary naturalization.

Constitutional Charter of 1826

Inspired by the Imperial Constitution of Brazil of 1824, the Constitutional Charter of 1826 extended jus soli to all non-enslaved persons born in Portuguese territory. It was in force during periods of internal conflict and war between 1826 and 1828, 1834 and 1836, and finally between its restoration in 1842 and the establishment of the Portuguese Republic in 1910. Citizenship by descent remained limited to those born outside of Portugal whose father or mother, legitimate or illegitimate, resided in Portugal, unless that parent was abroad in the service of the Crown. Foreign naturalization, certain criminal convictions, or acceptance of foreign government honors or rewards without Portuguese permission could result in loss of citizenship. It left to ordinary law the requirements for naturalization, which in 1836 included being an adult, being financially independent, and having resided in Portugal for two years (with the exception of being of Portuguese origin, having a Portuguese wife, or having performed certain acts).

1867 Civil Code

The provisions of the 1867/1868 Civil Code provided the specifics for the broad language of the 1826 Charter, including the ability for a child born in Portugal to a foreign father or unmarried mother to opt out of automatic jus soli citizenship by declaration. (If the declaration was made on behalf of a child, the child could revoke it when he or she reached the age of majority). Amendments to the Civil Code in 1867 relaxed the jus sanguinis requirements of the 1826 charter by allowing jus sanguinis by declaration of desire for Portuguese citizenship in lieu of actual residence in Portugal. Automatic naturalization was granted to a foreign woman who married a Portuguese man. The 1867 code also updated the 1836 language on naturalization requirements, making it available to a person who was an adult, financially independent, had no criminal record, had fulfilled all military obligations in the country of origin, and had lived in Portugal for three years (with the exception of a person of Portuguese origin, having a Portuguese wife, or having completed certain actions).

Naturalization in another country (but only for the individual, not for a spouse or child, unless they declared otherwise); acceptance of a foreign government’s public office, pension, or honors without permission; expulsion by judicial decision; and marriage of a Portuguese woman to a foreign man, if she acquired her husband’s nationality through marriage. Each of these cases was subject to various conditions regarding the reacquisition of Portuguese citizenship in the future.

Law 2098 of July 29, 1959

According to the 1959 law, Portuguese citizenship was automatically acquired by persons born on Portuguese territory as long as the father was not foreign and in the service of a foreign government, or, if the father was stateless, unknown, or of unknown nationality, as long as the mother was not foreign and in the service of a foreign government.

Citizenship by descent was granted automatically only to children born abroad to Portuguese parents serving in the Portuguese government. Otherwise, a declaration of option for Portuguese nationality, registration in the Portuguese Civil Registry, and a birth certificate were required.

 

24 June 1975 Decree-Law 308-A/75 on the former territories

The 24 June 1975 Decree-Law 308/75 was a response to the loss of Portuguese citizenship by a large number of individuals born in former Portuguese territories in Africa and elsewhere that had gained independence. It maintained Portuguese citizenship for those who had not been born in those territories but were now residing there, as well as for those who maintained a long-term connection to Portugal. The legislation was criticized and a source of perplexity due, among other things, to its inherent revocation of citizenship for some individuals and its pathway to statelessness for others.

Statute 37/81 of 3 October 1981

Date-specific versions of the still-applicable Decree-Law 37/81 of 3 October 1981, as amended up to the present, are available on the official Portuguese legislation website.

The Portuguese Constitution of 1976 established the principles of non-discrimination on the basis of sex and marital status of parents at birth, as well as the right to citizenship as a fundamental principle. In 1981, Portugal’s political parties ultimately concurred that new nationality legislation was necessary to ensure compatibility with the constitution.

The 1981 law was a response to the dramatic reduction in the size of Portugal as a result of decolonization, and the resulting need to increase the number of Portuguese citizens, despite not attempting to include African and other non-European-origin Portuguese speakers of former Portuguese territories, due to the flow of emigrants leaving Portugal in recent decades (estimated at over four million) and the desire to maintain ties with those emigrants. Because Portugal had become a small country with widespread emigration and needed to make the best of a difficult situation, the center-right governing coalition deemed it crucial to create changes that would facilitate Portuguese citizenship for emigrants and their descendants.

Modernization allowed Jus sanguinis to pass through either a Portuguese mother or father. To help prevent a further decline in the number of Portuguese citizens and to recognize the fundamental citizenship right, citizenship loss could only be accomplished voluntarily, multiple citizenship was fully accepted, and renunciation of other citizenships was not a prerequisite for acquiring Portuguese citizenship.

In contrast, Jus soli citizenship was circumscribed to require an expression of intent and at least six years of residence in Portugal by one of the parents.

As part of the modernization, automatic acquisition of Portuguese citizenship by a woman marrying a Portuguese man was terminated, and became merely one of the grounds on which naturalisation could be requested. It was made possible for individuals who had previously lost Portuguese citizenship due to marriage or voluntary acquisition of foreign citizenship to regain it.

Act No. 25/94 of 1994

In response to a rise in illegal immigration to Portugal during the 1990s, the governing coalition amended the 1981 act to restrict jus soli and naturalization. In order to qualify for jus soli, the parents must now not only reside in Portugal, but also hold a residence permit; the work permit or permit of stay held by a large percentage of expatriates residing in Portugal is insufficient. If the parents were not from a Lusophone nation, the minimal residence period was increased from six to ten years.

Before attaining citizenship, a spouse of a Portuguese citizen was now required to be married for at least three years and to provide evidence of an effective connection to the Portuguese community.

Legislation 1/2004

The law eliminated the government’s ability to oppose reacquisition of nationality, made acquisition of Portuguese citizenship automatic if the loss of nationality had not been registered, and made reacquisition retroactive to the date of loss. This made it easier for offspring of Portuguese emigrants born abroad to acquire citizenship by descent.

Legislation 2/2006

The election of a government lead by the Socialist Party in 2005 resulted in the passage of a measure to modernize Portuguese nationality law, in recognition of the impact of decades of immigration on the country.

The goals were to integrate second- and third-generation immigrants who lacked citizenship, to comply with judicial and legal demands that the nationality law be consistent with the European Convention of Nationality and its non-discrimination clauses, and to reduce the confusion caused by outdated language and definitions that relied on simple regulation rather than law.

To accomplish this, the law eliminated some naturalization requirements (such as proving a link to the Portuguese community and meeting minimum subsistence requirements), clarified others (changing ambiguous requirements of moral and social behavior to a requirement of no conviction for a crime carrying a prison sentence of at least three years in Portugal), and reduced others (minimum residency was uniformly lowered to six years).

Double jus soli was instituted, with citizenship automatically extended to individuals with a parent also born in Portuguese territory who resided there at the time of the child’s birth. The effect is backdated.

By declaration, Portuguese citizenship was also made available to individuals born on Portuguese territory to foreign parents if at least one parent had legally resided in Portugal for at least five years.

Children whose parents have legally resided in Portugal for at least five years or who have completed the first cycle of basic education were made eligible for naturalization.

Natural Law 9/2015

This law allowed grandchildren of Portuguese citizens, including those born abroad prior to the law’s implementation, to acquire Portuguese citizenship if they had verified ties to the Portuguese community, their birth was registered in the Portuguese civil registry, and the grandchild declared a preference for Portuguese nationality.

Legislation 2/2018

The 2018 law expanded a number of the exemptions established by the 2006 law.

It reduced the minimum number of years a parent must reside in Portugal without being employed by a foreign government from five to two in order for a child born in Portugal to receive citizenship at birth. It did the same for a child pursuing naturalization and also permitted a child’s naturalization if the parent was residing in the country illegally.

Recent shifts

As of May 2015, under the newly approved Portuguese Nationality Act (Article 1, n.1, paragraph d), persons born abroad with at least one Portuguese ancestor in the second degree of the direct line who has not lost Portuguese citizenship are Portuguese by origin, provided that they declare that they want to be Portuguese, that they have effective ties with the national community, and, once these conditions are met, that they are only required to register their birth in any Portuguese municipality.

The Portuguese nationality law was amended in 2006 based on the proposals of Neves Moreira, a member of the Democratic Social Party (PSD): a foreign-born person whose grandparent never lost Portuguese citizenship became eligible for naturalization without having to provide proof of six years of residence in Portugal.

Because nationality acquired through naturalization differs from nationality acquired through descent, PSD members proposed a further amendment to the law in 2009. This proposal would have given grandchildren of Portuguese citizens nationality by origin (descent) rather than naturalisation, but it was rejected. In 2013, members of the PSD attempted to pass a similar measure again, but due to the political and economic crisis in the country, no vote was ever taken on the measure.

Portuguese nationality guidelines

The Portuguese government has issued a number of decrees implementing the provisions of the nationality laws. These include Decreto no. 43090 of 1960, Decreto-Lei no. 322/82, and Decreto-Lei no. 237-A/2006 of 2006.

These regulations are amended as necessary; the regulations from 2006 were amended in 2013, 2015, and 2017.

Acquisition of nationality

Individuals born in the country to non-citizens acquire citizenship at birth if at least one parent has been resident in Portugal for at least one year prior to the child’s birth, or was themselves born in Portugal and resident in the country at the time of the child’s birth. Stateless children born in the country are granted citizenship without any additional requirements.

Children born abroad to a Portuguese parent are eligible for citizenship by descent if their births are registered at a Portuguese diplomatic mission or if they subsequently register as citizens. Adopted children of Portuguese citizens automatically acquire citizenship upon completion of the adoption procedure.

Foreigners over the age of 18 who have resided in Portugal for at least five years and demonstrated proficiency in the Portuguese language are eligible for naturalisation. Naturalization is prohibited for anyone convicted of a crime carrying a sentence of more than three years or who otherwise poses a threat to national security. Noncitizen minors born in Portugal who meet the language and behavior requirements are eligible for naturalization if they have also completed at least one cycle of domestic primary or secondary education and have at least one parent who has resided in the country for the past five years, regardless of their legal residency status. All other noncitizens born in Portugal to a parent who resided in the country at the time of their births and who have lived in Portugal for at least five years are eligible for naturalization. After three years of residence, individuals who are married to Portuguese citizens may acquire citizenship by declaration.

Jewish Return Statute

Additional info: Sephardic Bnei Anusim Iberia
An amendment to Portugal’s ‘Law on Nationality’ allows descendants of Portuguese Jews expelled during the Portuguese Inquisition to become citizens if they ‘belong to a Sephardic community of Portuguese origin with ties to Portugal. In 2020, it was reported that proposed changes to the Law of Return would restrict eligibility for citizenship to people who had lived in Portugal for at least two years. The restrictions were denied by the socialist party in power at the time and did not become law.

The Portuguese parliament enacted legislation to facilitate the naturalization of descendants of Jews who escaped religious persecution in the 16th century. On that date, Portugal became the only nation other than Israel to enforce the Jewish Law of Return. After two years, Spain adopted a comparable measure.

The amendment to Portugal’s “Law on Nationality” (Decree-Law n.o 43/2013), which was proposed by the Socialist and Center-Right parties, was read in parliament on Thursday, April 11th, and unanimously approved on Friday, April 12th. Decree-Law n.o 30-A/2015, which went into effect on 1 March 2015, further amended the Portuguese nationality law to this effect.

The amended law allows descendants of Jews expelled in the 16th century to become citizens if they “belong to a Sephardic community of Portuguese origin with ties to Portugal,” according to the president of Lisbon’s Jewish community, José Oulman Carp. According to the World Jewish Congress website, the Jewish Community of Lisbon is the organization that unites local communal groups in Lisbon and its environs, whereas the Jewish Community of Oporto unites local communal groups in Oporto.

Applicants must be able to demonstrate the presence of Sephardic surnames in their family tree. A second factor is “the language spoken at home,” which also pertains to Ladino (Judeo-Portuguese and/or Judeo-Spanish). In addition, applicants must be able to demonstrate a “emotional and traditional connection with the former Portuguese Sephardic Community,” which is typically demonstrated by a letter from an orthodox rabbi confirming Jewish heritage. The amendment also states that applicants do not need to reside in Portugal, an exception to the requirement of six years of consecutive residency in Portugal for any applicant for citizenship.

Several hundred Turkish Jews who could prove Sephardi ancestry immigrated to Portugal and obtained citizenship in 2015. Nearly 1,800 descendants of Sephardic Jews acquired Portuguese nationality in 2017. By February 2018, 12,000 applications were pending, and 1,800 applicants had been granted Portuguese citizenship in 2017.By July 2019, there were approximately 33,000 applications, of which approximately a third had been granted.

The Portuguese government implemented a decree-law on 9 March 2022 to increase scrutiny of candidates, who will be required to demonstrate a “effective connection with Portugal”35] Among the cases being investigated was that of Russian billionaire Roman Abramovich, although it was not anticipated that changes would be retroactive.

Dual nationality

Portugal permits dual nationality. Therefore, Portuguese citizens who hold or acquire another citizenship do not forfeit their Portuguese citizenship. Those who acquire Portuguese citizenship are not required to renounce their foreign citizenship.

The European Union citizenship
Because Portugal is a member of the European Union, Portuguese citizens are also citizens of the European Union under European Union law and have the right to vote in European Parliament elections. When in a non-EU country where there is no Portuguese embassy, Portuguese citizens have the right to receive consular protection from the embassy of any other EU country present in that country.

Former Portuguese colonies

The acquisition of Portuguese citizenship through ties to Angola, Brazil, Cape Verde, Goa, Guinea Bissau, Mozambique, Macau, and So Tomé and Prncipe is governed by special regulations.

Portugal enacted Decree-Law 308-A/75 on 24 June 1974 to resolve the issue of the loss or retention of Portuguese citizenship by those who were born or resided in Portuguese overseas territories that had acquired independence. The assumption was that these individuals would acquire citizenship in the new state. The Decree-Law solely stipulated that those who had not been born abroad but were residing there would retain their Portuguese citizenship. In addition were those who, despite having been born in the territory of the colonies, had maintained a special connection with mainland Portugal by having been long-term residents there. All those not covered by one of the circumstances allowing them to retain Portuguese citizenship would forfeit it by law.

Goa

This territory, formerly known as the State of India, was an integral part of Portugal (as opposed to a colony) under Portugal’s Constitution of 1910.

India annexed the territory by violent military force on December 19, 1961. Portugal did not recognize the annexation until 1975, when it re-established diplomatic relations with India. Portuguese nationality law allows natives who were born in Goa before 1961 until the third generation to retain their Portuguese nationality as they are ethnically considered Portuguese.

The country of East Timor

East Timor was a Portuguese territory (Portuguese Timor) until Indonesia’s incursion in 1975 and annexation in 1976. Indonesia granted East Timorese citizens Indonesian citizenship, but Portugal did not recognize Indonesian sovereignty over East Timor, despite Australia and other nations recognizing Indonesia’s annexation of East Timor. As a consequence, Decree-Law 308-A/75 of 24 June 1974 was not implemented to revoke the Portuguese nationality of the Timorese.

In the context of East Timorese applications for refugee status in Australia, the issue of whether East Timorese were eligible for Portuguese citizenship has been addressed numerous times before Australian courts. The Australian immigration authorities argued that if East Timorese were Portuguese citizens, they should seek refuge in Portugal, not Australia.

In 1999, East Timor ceased to be a territory under Portuguese administration; consequently, children born in East Timor were deemed to have been born abroad. In accordance with Law 37/81, the attribution of Portuguese citizenship by origin to individuals born in East Timor to a Portuguese parent is now contingent upon registration at the Portuguese civil registry or, alternatively, declaration of the will to be Portuguese.

Due to the dearth of employment opportunities in their country and East Timor’s membership in the Community of Portuguese-Speaking Countries, a large number of East Timorese have taken advantage of their Portuguese citizenship to reside and work in Portugal and other EU countries.

Macau

On December 20, 1999, the former Portuguese territory of Macau became a Special Administrative Region of the People’s Republic of China.

Portugal had extended its nationality laws to Macau, with those born prior to 1981 acquiring nationality by jus soli and those born after 1981 acquiring nationality by jus sanguinis. On this principle, a large number of Macau residents (whether of Chinese or Portuguese descent) possess Portuguese citizenship. Except for birth or association with the territory prior to that date, it is no longer possible to acquire Portuguese citizenship through a connection to Macau before 3 October 1981 and after 20 December 1999, when sovereignty was transferred to China.

Those born after 20 December 1999 to Portuguese from Macau or Macanese who hold Portuguese citizenship, and/or to Chinese who hold Portuguese citizenship, are eligible for citizenship under the Portuguese heritage law (Jus Sanguinis), with the exception of those born to Chinese and/or Portuguese parents who hold Chinese citizenship after 20 December 1999, or when a Chinese and/or Portuguese couple with Portuguese citizenship renounced their nationality by nascentia.

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