The Portuguese parliament recently made changes to the Portuguese Nationality Law, also known as the Portuguese Nationality Act. The most significant change is that the five years required to obtain Portuguese citizenship and a Portuguese passport can now be counted from the date of the residency application – the date that you apply for your residency permit with AIMA, which is the former SEF – Portuguese Immigration and Borders (Serviço de Estrangeiros e Fronteiras).
In this article, we’ll cover the most recent Portuguese nationality law news and the major changes in recent years. We’ll also go through what these changes will mean for people seeking citizenship in Portugal and, by extension, citizenship in the European Union.
New Portuguese Nationality Law 2024
Previously, the five-year residency period for acquiring citizenship and obtaining a Portuguese passport commenced upon the approval of your residence permit application. This meant waiting for administrative processing before the clock officially started ticking, potentially delaying your naturalization timeline.
As of January 2024, the law clarifies that the five-year residency period now begins on the date you submit your application for a residence permit. This change will have significant implications, particularly for people who have a Portugal Golden Visa or a D7 Visa.
Faster eligibility: Your path to citizenship potentially shortens as your residency clock starts sooner. Previously, the wait for approval could add months to your overall timeline.
Clearer timeframe: Knowing exactly when the five-year period starts provides greater predictability and allows for more precise planning of your naturalization journey.
Proactive approach: You can begin preparing for the naturalization process, including learning Portuguese or gathering required documents, even while your residence permit application is under review.
However, it’s crucial to remember that the five-year residency requirement remains unchanged. You must still legally reside in Portugal for five full years before applying for citizenship.
This change applies to the naturalization process, not the residence permit itself. The validity and renewal of your residence permit will follow the original terms granted based on your chosen pathway (investment, work, etc).
Overall, this modification represents a positive step toward streamlining the naturalization process in Portugal. By starting the residency clock earlier, individuals seeking citizenship can potentially embark on their journey sooner and obtain a Portuguese passport more efficiently.
Ancestry-based citizenship is now accessible to all ages
A significant development within the Portuguese Nationality Law as of October 2023 pertains to the acquisition of citizenship through filiation, also known as hereditary or ancestral citizenship.
Previously, individuals seeking Portuguese citizenship based on lineage with a Portuguese parent faced age restrictions, typically requiring applicants to be at least 18 years old. This limitation has been abolished, allowing individuals of any age to claim their Portuguese heritage and apply for citizenship based on parental descent.
This alteration opens a wider pathway for individuals with previously unrecognized connections to Portugal to establish legal ties and potentially secure citizenship. Whether their Portuguese parent immigrated decades ago or simply never formalized their child’s nationality, this legislative change provides an avenue for reclaiming ancestral roots and becoming a recognized member of the Portuguese nation.
For individuals applying for citizenship via this route, demonstrating proficiency in the Portuguese language, even at a basic level, can now offer additional advantages within the naturalization process.
While the standard residency requirement of five years remains in place, fluency in Portuguese can expedite the naturalization proceedings, leading to a quicker acquisition of full citizenship privileges.
Streamlined Paternity Recognition
The journey towards claiming Portuguese citizenship based on parentage has been significantly simplified for individuals who establish paternity after reaching the age of 18. Gone are the complexities of navigating extensive legal procedures and potential court battles.
Now, a mere court acknowledgment of paternity suffices as the key to unlocking your Portuguese heritage. This welcome development removes bureaucratic hurdles and fosters a smoother path to claiming your rightful place within the nation.
It is crucial to remember that this simplified procedure is bound by a three-year timeframe from the date of the court acknowledgment. This means prompt action is highly recommended to ensure the timely use of this streamlined process.
Sephardic Citizenship: Current Path Facing Potential End
Portugal’s parliament has approved a government bill proposing to end the path for descendants of Portuguese Sephardic Jews to claim citizenship under the Jewish Law of Return. Currently, to apply for citizenship via this pathway, you need to provide evidence of Sephardi ancestry within your family tree.
The bill is still under review, and all parties are expected to propose amendments potentially modifying or reinstating this pathway.
Previous Amendments to Portuguese Nationality Law
For children of Portuguese residents
The children of Portuguese residents are eligible to obtain Portuguese citizenship, but until the Portuguese government passed a new law in 2020, both parents needed to hold residence permits. Since 2020, it has been sufficient for one of the parents to have a residence permit for at least one year. As long as this is followed, the children born in Portugal (or Portuguese territory) can directly acquire Portuguese citizenship.
More information on those changes to birthright citizenship can be found here.
For spouses of Portuguese citizens
Portugal simplified the pathway to citizenship for spouses of Portuguese citizens in 2020. Before these changes were implemented, the spouse could only apply for naturalization after three years of marriage or civil union, as well as having to prove an adequate connection to Portugal and the Portuguese community, such as Portuguese language proficiency.
Under the changes, if the couple has children born in Portugal, the three-year requirement is waived. In this case, the spouse could directly apply for Portuguese citizenship.
Meanwhile, couples with children holding Portuguese citizenship no longer need to wait the customary three years for their petition to be considered. Additionally, the formal recognition process for non-marital partnerships is waived if the couple shares a child with Portuguese citizenship. This expedites the application process.
Acquiring citizenship has also become considerably easier for couples with children or those married for at least six years. In these cases, demonstrating a direct connection to the Portuguese community is no longer necessary.
What’s more, in the previous version of the law, the Public Prosecutor’s Office was able to oppose the citizenship application if there were ineffective connections between the application and the country. Now, if the marriage is longer than six months, the Public Prosecutor’s Office cannot interfere with the citizenship application. Also, if the couple has children who have Portuguese citizenship, then the Pubic Prosecutor cannot interfere, and there is no ground for opposition.
For second-degree descendants of Portuguese citizens
Since 2020, the Portuguese Law permits second-degree descendants in a straight line of Portuguese citizens to apply for Portuguese nationality. This amendment specifically refers to the grandchildren of Portuguese citizens, making it is easier for them to be granted citizenship. The effective connection to Portugal can be shown simply by showing sufficient knowledge of the Portuguese language.
Previously, descendants also had to prove extensive, effective connections with the country. In essence, if the second-degree descendent is able to prove that they are proficient in Portuguese, then they are able to obtain Portuguese citizenship.
The update made in July 2020 simplified the process for a second-degree descendant of a Portuguese citizen to become a Portuguese national under the Portugal law of nationality changes. The updated version of Law 37/8 has since offered great opportunities for second-degree descendants.
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Frequently Asked Questions about the Portuguese Nationality Law
How long does it take to get Portuguese citizenship?
After five years of living in Portugal, you can apply for permanent residence and, subsequently citizenship, through citizenship by naturalization.
If you are married to a Portuguese national, you can apply for citizenship after three years. However, under the new amendments to the law, if your spouse is Portuguese and you have a child in Portugal, then you can apply directly for citizenship.
What is the new nationality rule in Portugal?
Portugal’s Nationality Law was amended in January 2024, alternating the the five-year residency requirement for obtaining Portuguese citizenship. Now, the five-year period begins when you apply for residency, potentially expedting the path to becoming a Portuguese citizen.
Who is eligible for a Portuguese passport?
Under the New Portuguese Nationality Law 2020, children of Portuguese residents are able to obtain Portuguese citizenship and a Portuguese passport. Second-degree descendants will only have to show that they are proficient in the Portuguese language, and if your spouse is Portuguese and you have a child in Portugal, then you can apply directly for citizenship.
How can I get Portuguese citizenship?
There are various ways to get Portuguese citizenship. A popular route is the Portugal Golden Visa residency-by-investment program. This enables you to gain permanent residence in the country for a significant investment in Portugal’s economy.
Investments can be made into an investment fund or into the national heritage of Portugal, amongst other routes. After five years, you are able to apply for citizenship by investment.
Aside from this, if you live in Portugal, you can apply for permanent residency and, subsequently, citizenship after five years. If you marry a Portuguese national, you can secure citizenship after three years.
Can I have dual citizenship in Portugal?
Portugal allows dual citizenship, allowing foreigners to obtain Portuguese nationality without the need to give up the citizenship of their home country.
You will first, however, need to make sure your home country also permits dual citizenship.
Likewise, a Portuguese citizen is able to acquire a foreign citizenship without having to renounce their Portuguese citizenship.
What impact does the amendment to the Portugal's Nationality Law have for Portugal Golden Visa holders?
Recent amendments to the Portuguese Nationality Law (the Portguese Citizenship Act) don’t directly alter the five-year legal residency requirement for Golden Visa holders.
However, the revised naturalization process emphasizes cultural understanding, potentially requiring additional engagement beyond residency compliance.
While investment thresholds and residency rules may see future adjustments, for now, Golden Visa holders’ paths to citizenship remain largely unchanged.
Consulting with immigration professionals is crucial for navigating these intricacies and maximizing naturalization success.
Who can apply for Portuguese citizenship?
Portuguese citizenship is attainable through descent, marriage to a Portuguese national, residency, or exceptional contributions to the country. Eligibility criteria vary but generally involve meeting residency requirements, demonstrating language proficiency, and adhering to legal procedures outlined by Portuguese authorities.