The Congreso de los Diputados, the lower house of the Cortes Generales, Spain's legislative branch i
The Congreso de los Diputados, the lower house of the Cortes Generales, Spain's legislative branch in Madrid Photo by Google Street View
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Wikipedia Commons
The Alhambra Decree that ordered the expulsion of Jews from Spain. Photo by Wikipedia Commons

Spain has announced new measures to speed up the naturalization of Jews of Sephardic descent whose ancestors fled the Iberian peninsula five centuries ago when they were told to convert to Catholicism or go into exile.

The Cabinet approved a bill amending previous legislation that granted nationality by naturalization to Sephardic Jews who chose to apply for it. The reform will allow dual nationality, enabling people who can prove Sephardic ancestry to also retain their previous citizenships.

Justice Minister Alberto Ruiz-Gallardon said Friday the measure smooth the bureaucracy involved in obtaining Spanish nationality. Applicants must be vetted by the government and the Spanish Federation of Jewish Communities.

In November, Spain announced it would ease the naturalization of Sephardic Jews whose ancestors were expelled 500 years ago. Even before that Sephardic Jews benefited from a preferential naturalization procedure that requires them to live in Spain for only two years before claiming citizenship.

While estimates differ, the number of Jews living in Spain - 25,000 to 45,000 people out of a total population of 47 million - is only a fraction of the number who lived in the country before 1492, when Jews were forced to convert to Christianity or go into exile. Those who refused to convert immigrated to cities including Istanbul, London and Cairo. Of those who converted and remained in Spain many were executed during the Inquisition.