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SPANISH CITIZENSHIP

How foreigners can get fast-track citizenship in Spain

Spain is one of the European countries where getting citizenship through residency can take the longest - 12 to 13 years if you factor in processing times - but there are several ways in which the wait can be reduced enormously. 

how to fast track spanish nationality
There are several cases in which the wait to get Spanish citizenship through residency can be up to four times shorter than the usual 12-year wait. Photo: Spain's Foreign Ministry

The general rule is that if you want to apply for Spanish citizenship, you will have to reside legally in Spain without long absences for ten years. 

There are other requirements to apply, including a Spanish language exam and a general knowledge test about Spain, as well as not having a criminal record.

Then there’s the long and arduous waiting time for your application to be processed.

Overall, it can end up taking 12 to 13 years for you to finally get your hands on a Spanish passport and ID. 

That’s a very long wait for most people, especially if they want to consolidate their right to live in Spain now and in the future.

However, there are a number of cases in which the wait to get citizenship through residency can be up to four times shorter, even when factoring in the long processing times in Spain.

Being married to a Spanish national – one year to apply

You should obviously be getting married for love, but one of the fastest ways to get Spanish citizenship is by being married to a Spanish national. In this case, you will only be required to reside legally in Spain with your Spanish spouse (in the same home that is) for one year. 

A common-law partnership isn’t accepted for this fast-track citizenship application, and again we must stress that ‘green card’ marriages just for the sake of getting nationality are not at all recommendable, as the citizenship application will include an interview in which you will be quizzed at length about your relationship. 

A widow or widower can also claim Spanish nationality if their partner was Spanish and at the time of their passing they were still married.

Having the right nationality – two years to apply

None of us get to choose which nationality we initially have, but life’s circumstances may mean that you’re in a better position to apply for Spanish nationality faster. 

Nationals from Ibero-American countries where Spanish or Portuguese is spoken (Argentina, Bolivia, Brazil, Chile, Colombia, Costa Rica, Cuba, Ecuador, El Salvador, Guatemala, Honduras, Mexico, Nicaragua, Panama, Peru, Paraguay, the Dominican Republic, Uruguay and Venezuela), as well as nationals of the Philippines, Equatorial Guinea, Andorra or Portugal, can apply for Spanish nationality after legally residing in Spain for two years. 

It could be that you’re originally from one of these countries, that you have blood ties in one of them which therefore allows you to claim citizenship there, that you’ve resided long enough in one of those countries to be able to claim citizenship etc. It will all depend on your circumstances and the citizenship laws of said nations, but know that having a passport from one of these countries with historical and linguistic ties to Spain is a way to shorten the residency period before the citizenship application.

There are a couple of other cases to mention – people with Sephardic Jewish ancestry can also apply for Spanish citizenship after two years. Refugees can also do so after five years of residency in Spain.

Being married to the person with the right nationality – three to four years to apply

On a similar note to the section above, if you are married to a person from an Ibero-American country, Philippines, Andorra, Equatorial Guinea or Portugal, you will be able to apply for Spanish citizenship a year after they gained Spanish citizenship themselves. This again depends on both of you legally residing in Spain for the relevant time periods according to Spanish law.

Although you have to factor in that the Spanish citizenship application process takes between one and three years according to most sources (which means that before you apply you would have to wait for three to five years for your spouse to become a Spanish national) it still cuts the waiting period for most nationals by more than half.

Being born in Spain – one year to apply

If you were born in Spain to foreign parents, you can apply for Spanish nationality after one year of legal residency in Spain. 

This can happen at any point in your life, so even if you were born in Spain but your parents then left to go back to their home country or elsewhere, you can move to Spain for a year as an adult and apply for Spanish nationality (you will still need to prove legal residency). 

Generally speaking, a child that is born in Spain to foreign parents doesn’t automatically get Spanish citizenship, but there are 14 countries which don’t automatically give nationality to the children of their nationals who are born abroad.

These are Argentina, Brazil, Cape Verde, Colombia, Costa Rica, Cuba, Guinea-Bissau, Panama, Paraguay, Peru, Portugal, Sao Tome and Principe as well as Uruguay. If both parents are from one of these countries, Spain will automatically give nationality by presumption to the child in order for them to not be stateless.

Having Spanish blood ties – one year to apply

If one or both or your parents in Spanish, or one of your parents was born in Spain, you can apply for Spanish citizenship after one year of legal residency in Spain. 

If one of your grandparents was Spanish, then their son or daughter (your father or mother) can apply for Spanish citizenship and pass it down to you. 

The same rules apply to people adopted by those with Spanish nationality or close Spanish blood ties.

There have also been some recent legal changes which allow the grandchildren and great grandchildren of Spanish nationals to directly get Spanish citizenship from their elderly relatives, but this can only be in specific cases such as if they’re the grandchild/daughter of a Spanish woman who married a foreigner before 1978, or the grandchildren of Spanish nationals who renounced their Spanish citizenship.

Naturalisation letter – potentially zero years to apply

La Carta de Naturaleza, as it is called in Spanish, allows foreign nationals who have done something “exceptional” for Spain to become Spanish citizens immediately, with the waiting times that all other applicants have to endure also non-existent.

Some famous names to have been ‘awarded’ express Spanish nationality include British pianist James Rhodes and FC Barcelona footballers Lionel Messi and Ansu Fati. 

The naturalisation letter is controversial and considered unfair by those who have to wait over a decade to get Spanish citizenship, and with good reason. Take the latest example of truly fast-tracked Spanish citizenship: US basketball player Lorenzo Brown, who having never lived in Spain, was granted Spanish citizenship immediately just so he could play for the national team.

This fast-track Spanish citizenship option should not be considered unless you have friends in high places in the Spanish government, as it is awarded by Royal Decree by Spain’s Council of Ministers. 

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SPANISH CITIZENSHIP

Descendants of International Brigades can get fast-track Spanish nationality

Spain will give the descendants of International Brigade fighters who fought fascism during the Civil War an expressway to Spanish citizenship and dual nationality, with people from the UK, the US and many other countries eligible.

Descendants of International Brigades can get fast-track Spanish nationality

Descendants

The children and grandchildren of fighters who fought for the International Brigades during Spain’s Civil War will be able to acquire Spanish citizenship – and won’t have to give up their other nationality in order to do so.

The fighters themselves have been able to apply for Spanish citizenship since 1996, though they were required to drop their other nationality. Spain’s 2007 Historical Memory Law removed that requirement, though the offer of citizenship was not extended to their descendants.

There was confusion in 2020 when Spain’s then deputy Prime Minister Pablo Iglesias tweeted that descendants of International Brigade fighters would be included in legislation, but when the final legal text appeared, it confirmed that the proposal did not stretch to descendants and only included the International Brigade veterans themselves. 

Now Spain’s new Democratic Memory Law, which passed the Spanish Senate on October 5th and officially became law on October 21st, finally extends the citizenship offer to descendants who can get Spanish nationality without losing theirs.

They will even be able to do it through the fast-tracked naturalisation process – seen as the expressway to Spanish citizenship and used by public figures such as Barcelona footballer Ansu Fati and actress Imperio Argentina.

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According to the Asociación de Amigos de las Brigadas Internacionales (AABI), a group involved with drafts of the legislation, there are at least one hundred known descendants that have been identified so far. They come from around the world, including France, Italy, the United Kingdom, Cuba, the former Yugoslavia, Argentina, Canada, Australia, and the United States.

As there are so few descendants of international brigade fighters, however, many view their inclusion in the citizenship legislation as a symbolic gesture that is part of the Democratic Memory Law’s efforts to settle historical debts with the past.

Though the legislation does extend citizenship, it’s not thought that a flood of applications will follow. “There will be no avalanche, it is a symbolic measure that has a purely sentimental importance for the relatives of the fighters,” the AABI explained to Spanish news website Newtral.es.

Participants wave republican flags during a 2015 march called by the Friends of International Brigades Association to commemorate the involvement of the International Brigades in the Battle of Jarama during the Spanish Civil War. (Photo by CURTO DE LA TORRE / AFP)

The International Brigades

Between 1936 and 1939 at least 35,000 international volunteers from around 50 countries, including around 2,500 Brits, fought against Francisco Franco’s fascist troops in the International Brigade during the Civil War. An estimated 10,000 foreign volunteers died in Spain, according to the Spanish Civil War Museum. 

The British novelist George Orwell, who fought with a Communist regiment of the Republican army during the war, described in gory detail the sacrifices of the International Brigades in his seminal work ‘Homage to Catalonia’.

READ ALSO: Remembering the Battle of Jarama and the role of the International Brigades in the Spanish Civil War

citizenship international brigades spain

Anti-fascist demonstration in London reported on the front page of Catalan newspaper La Vanguardia on September 11, 1936. Photo: Dorieus/ Wikipedia (CC BY SA 4.0)

What is Spain’s Democratic Memory Law?

The citizenship offer is part of the broader Democratic Memory Law that aims to “settle Spanish democracy’s debt to its past” and deal with the legacy of its Civil War and Franco’s dictatorship.

READ ALSO: Spain’s new ‘grandchildren’ citizenship law: What you need to know

In recent weeks, the Spanish government confirmed that as many as 700,000 foreigners with Spanish lineage are eligible Spanish citizenship without having ever lived in the country, including those with ancestors who fled Spain for fear of persecution during Franco’s dictatorship.

Between the end of the Civil War in 1939, and 1978, when Spain’s new constitution was approved as part of its transition to democracy, an estimated 2 million Spaniards fled the Franco regime.

Controversy

Legislation concerning Spain’s dictatorial past is always controversial, and this law was no different – it passed the Spanish Senate earlier in October with 128 votes in favour, 113 against, and 18 abstentions.

The Spanish right have long been opposed to any kind of historical memory legislation, claiming that it digs up old rivalries and causes political tension. Spain’s centre-right party, the PP, have promised to overturn the law if it wins the next general election.

READ ALSO: Spain’s lawmakers pass bill honouring Franco-era victims

Other aspects of the law include the establishment of a DNA register to help families identify the remains of the tens of thousands of Spaniards were buried in unmarked graves; the repurposing of the Valley of the Fallen mausoleum, where Francisco Franco was buried until his exhumation in 2019; and a ban on groups that glorify the Franco regime.

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