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Why Spain’s new citizenship law is running into problems

The Local Spain
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Why Spain’s new citizenship law is running into problems
Photo: Brais Lorenzo/AFP

Spain's 'Grandchildren's Law' made hundreds of thousands of people around the world eligible for Spanish citizenship, but now it's running into a few problems and drawing criticism.


Spain’s Democratic Memory Law passed the Spanish Senate on October 5th 2022 and officially became law on October 21st. The wide-ranging legislation is an update to the 2007 law passed by the Zapatero government and aims to “settle Spanish democracy’s debt to its past” and deal with the legacy of its Civil War and Franco’s dictatorship.

It includes, among many other things, the establishment of a DNA register to help families identify the remains of the tens of thousands of Spaniards who 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.

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

Another part of the legislation includes the Ley de Nietos, 'Grandchildren’s Law' in English, which allows for descendants of Spaniards who fled Spain during the Civil War and Franco’s dictatorship to claim Spanish citizenship without ever having lived there.


It is an extension of the law that also made citizenship available to the descendants of International Brigade (IB) fighters who fought during the Civil War.

READ ALSO: Descendants of International Brigades can get fast-track Spanish nationality

But whereas this was more of a symbolic gesture and there are, according to the Asociación de Amigos de las Brigadas Internacionales (AABI), only around 100 IB descendants eligible and still alive, according to estimates as many as 700,000 people, the majority in Latin America, could be eligible for Spanish citizenship through the Ley de Nietos.


This presents a whole different administrative operation and now it seems that the law has run into some problems, particularly when applications are being done abroad, with the sheer number of applicants meaning that procedures have been 'relaxed'.

This, in turn, has led to concerns that there might have been possible document falsification.

The surge for citizenship in South America, termed "massive nationalisations" in the Spanish press, has led to alleged 'procedural relaxation" that could "open the door to a lawsuit for alleged prevarication and false documentation" and even "provoke a question of unconstitutionality," according to la Asociación por la Reconciliación y la Verdad Histórica, a group that has been opposed to Historical Memory legislation since the original law back in 2007.

The association, which has called for the suspension of the Democratic Memory before a Madrid court, has warned of "serious doubts about the legality of the mass and express nationalisation process" the law has created.

Doubts about the process have also been raised by the General Council of Spanish Citizenship Abroad (CGCEE).

Potential applicants can apply via the Civil Registry at the Spanish Consulate in their home country and need several documents to not only prove the Spanish nationality of their ancestor, but also to prove their descendent was exiled. 

For those applying for citizenship via a grandparent, it will also be necessary to provide the birth certificate of the father or mother that corresponds to the family line with Spanish blood.

However, there are fears that the alleged relaxing of the rules in consulates in South American countries means that some applicants may have been able to falsify documents or continue with their application without satisfying all of the criteria.


Political exile?

Another issue the application of the law has experienced is defining what exactly 'political exile' means.

According to the Democratic Memory Law, victims of Francoism and those eligible are vaguely defined as “anyone who suffered physical, moral or psychological damage, economic damage or the loss of fundamental rights". 

Yet there seems to be some confusion about what exactly is required to qualify for Spanish citizenship through being a descendant of a political exile. Though the text of the law is vague, doubts have been raised as to whether consulates in Latin America have been accepting, or assuming, that all Spanish emigres who travelled to the Americas during the dictatorship were political exiles.

La Asociación por la Reconciliación y la Verdad Histórica has pointed out that "the eighth provision of the Law of Memory... only gives the right to nationality to the children and grandchildren of political, ideological, belief or sexual orientation exiles, but not to economic exiles, who are not in any way in any of the aforementioned circumstances". 


Proving exile status

There are millions of people around the world with Spanish heritage, particularly in Latin America. That’s why the law, in theory, requires proof that descendants left Spain in the face of persecution and were exiled, and that they left Spain between January 1st, 1956 and December 28th, 1978. In order to prove this, applicants need to provide one of the following:

  • Documentation proving that they or the descendant have been a beneficiary of the pensions granted by the Spanish state.
  • Documentation from the United Nations International Refugee Office and the Refugee Offices of the host States that assisted Spanish refugees and their families.
  • Certifications or reports issued by political parties, unions or any other entity or institution (whether public or private), recognised by the Spanish state or the host state of the exiles and their descendants that are related to exile or political persecution. 

Deadline extension

Spain's Director General of Consular Affairs, Xavier Martí, has tried to soothe some of the concerns of the CGCEE and other groups about the process abroad, and how exactly the law should be applied in terms of obtaining Spanish citizenship.

Owing to both the confusion and the sheer number of applications, the deadline has been extended: "when for justified reasons, alleged by the applicant or assessed directly by the person in charge [of the application] and there are certain circumstances that make it difficult to obtain the required documentation, the deadline may be extended," the department said.

Who is eligible for the grandchildren’s law?

Who is eligible for Spanish citizenship under the new law? There are a number of groups included.

  • Children or grandchildren born outside Spain to a Spanish father, mother, grandfather, or grandmother who was exiled and left Spain due to ‘physical, moral or psychological damage, economic damage or the loss of fundamental rights’, or renounced their Spanish nationality. 
  • People born outside Spain to Spanish women who lost their nationality by marrying foreigners before the 1978 Constitution was established.
  • The adult sons and daughters of Spaniards who gained nationality due to the 2007 Democratic Memory law.


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Anonymous 2023/02/05 17:19
What does this mean? So if someone is getting a pension, that person’s grandchild qualifies? “ Documentation proving that they or the descendant have been a beneficiary of the pensions granted by the Spanish state.”

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