Family Immigration, Residence permit, Spanish citizenship

Acquiring nationality

What is nationality?
Nationality is the legal link that connects a person to the state and has the dual function of being a fundamental right and constituting the legal status of a person.

What is naturalization?
This is the process whereby a foreign citizen (whether or not from an EU Member State) acquires Spanish nationality.
Under the Spanish system, it is possible to acquire Spanish nationality by four different routes:
  • by option,
  • by discretionary conferral,
  • by residency,
  • by possession of status.
Eligibility to apply for Spanish nationality is very broad and, in particular, an application may be filed by persons over the age of 14, and by persons under 18 simply with the aid of their legal representative.
All naturalization  routes lead to the registration of the person concerned in the Spanish Civil Register. Being registered entitles the person concerned to obtain a Spanish national identity card and passport.

Acquiring Spanish nationality by option
In general, this stems from close family links that the person concerned has with Spanish citizens.
Thus, any person who is or has been under the parental authority of a Spanish national, or whose mother or father was Spanish and born in Spain, or adopted persons aged over 18, may opt for Spanish nationality.
It is a simple procedure processed through the Civil Registers. The person concerned must provide documentary evidence of their relationship to the Spanish citizen.
Law 52/2007 of 26 December, known as the Historical Memory Law, provides for a special procedure for acquiring Spanish nationality by option, for the benefit of descendants of Spanish nationals who were exiled during the Spanish Civil War and the dictatorship.

Acquiring Spanish nationality by discretionary conferral
In this case, nationality is granted at the discretion of the Government by Royal Decree.
The person concerned must prove that there are exceptional circumstances warranting the granting of nationality. The assessment of the exceptional circumstances put forward is not subject to the general rules of administrative procedure and is on a case by case basis. The exceptional circumstances on which an application may be based vary widely: reasons relating to culture, sport, science, solidarity, etc.
Although this is an unusual route, Law 12/2015 of 24 June sets out a special procedure for granting Spanish nationality by discretionary conferral to Sephardic Jews of Spanish origin. Like Law 52/2007, it has a historical basis and a particular feature is that the exceptional circumstances are not free-ranging but are defined by the Law itself. Therefore, persons wishing to go down this route must provide documentary evidence of, inter alia, their Sephardic origin and the special connection they now have to Spain.

Acquiring nationality by residency
This is without doubt the naturalization  procedure used by most foreign nationals. This route requires that the applicant be resident in Spain for the length of time and under the legal conditions provided for. In other words, it is founded on a physical link.
This type of naturalization  is regulated and subject to a specific and very detailed administrative procedure in the course of which the three requirements or conditions that the applicant must prove are verified:
Continuous legal residency immediately prior to the application. The length of time the person concerned is required to be resident varies depending on their nationality or personal circumstances. Only residency permits or authorizations  provided for under immigration legislation are valid for the residency to be legal for the purposes of evaluation with a view to acquisition of nationality.
Good civic behavior. This is evidenced by a criminal record certificate from the country of origin and reports issued by the relevant Spanish authorities.
Integration in Spanish society. Currently, proof of integration is highly objective since the applicant must pass the tests set by the Instituto Cervantes. The tests check the applicant’s knowledge and fluency of the Spanish language and constitutional and sociocultural knowledge of Spain. Note that nationals of Latin American countries are exempt from proving the language requirement.

The legal residency periods are as follows:
10 years: general period
5 years: for granting Spanish nationality to persons who have obtained refugee status
2 years: for nationals of Latin American countries, Andorra, the Philippines, Equatorial Guinea, Portugal or persons of Sephardic origin
1 year: a) persons born in Spanish territory, b) persons who have not duly exercised their right to acquire Spanish nationality by option, c) persons who have been legally placed in the custody, guardianship or foster care of a Spanish citizen or institution for 2 consecutive years, including those still in this situation at the time of application, d) persons who, at the time of application, have been married to a Spanish national for 1 year, with no legal or de facto separation, e) the widow(er) of a Spanish national if, at the time of death of the spouse, there is no legal or de facto separation, f) persons born outside Spain to a father or mother, or grandparent, provided all were originally Spanish.

Final requirements
For the three routes to naturalization  mentioned (option, discretionary conferral and residency), three final requirements must be met:
Swearing an oath or promise of allegiance to the King and obedience of the Spanish Constitution and laws.
Declaration renouncing previous nationality. This is not required of nationals of Latin American countries, Andorra, the Philippines, Equatorial Guinea, Portugal or Sephardic Jews of Spanish origin.
Entry of the acquisition of nationality in the Spanish Civil Register.

Acquiring nationality by possession of status
This is an unusual route for acquiring nationality based on the person concerned having possessed and used Spanish nationality for 10 years. The person concerned must have possessed and used Spanish nationality in good faith, and a record of nationality must be held in the Civil Register, even if that record is annulled.

Registration of nationality
Registration of nationality is the entry made in the register by the Civil Register Officer in the margin of the main birth registration. In practice, when someone acquires Spanish nationality, a birth registration is entered and in the margin the date and route of acquisition of Spanish nationality are noted.