Why Spain’s citizenship test contained a few nasty – and incorrect – surprises for aspiring applicants

Oops! Always worried about possible errors in Discover Canada:

According to the handbook to prepare for the official examination to become a citizen of Spain, Mariano Rajoy is still the prime minister (he hasn’t been since June 2018), the death penalty still exists (it was banned in 1978 and completely abolished, including for wartime conditions, in 1995) and the Spanish Constitution is just a secondary law.

The Cervantes Institute, the public cultural institution that drafts and administers the citizenship exam, said it has corrected the mistakes detected in the manual to prepare for the test that checks applicants’ knowledge about Spanish culture, society, history and laws, known as CCSE.

Obtaining citizenship typically requires passing the CCSE and also taking a language test, the DELE A2, unless a high level of Spanish can be proven.

According to the Cervantes Institute, a “computer glitch” is to blame for the erroneous information contained in the handbook to prepare for the 2022 CCSE test. The manual was published on November 29.

The CCSE test, which costs €85, asks applicants 25 questions that must be answered within a 45-minute time frame. In order to pass, it is necessary to get at least 15 questions right. Topics include government and political organization, fundamental rights and obligations of Spaniards and different aspects of Spanish society. Errors were detected in 12 of the 300 questions included in the preparation manual, or 5% of the total.

The multiple-choice questions on the CCSE test give applicants a choice of three answers (A, B and C). The errors were allegedly caused by the fact that the computer program preserved the same letters to represent the correct answers on new test questions that had been changed from the previous test.

The Cervantes Institute has called the incident “an unfortunate mistake” and admitted that it is potentially serious because tests get automatically corrected, meaning that the system could give a failing grade to applicants who check the right answer.

A group called Legalteam that provides legal advice on citizenship issues noticed the mistakes and alerted the public agency, where officials said the errors had already come to their attention through various channels. These sources said that experts have checked the handbook’s answers “one by one” and fixed all the mistakes.

But clearly this work was not carried out before publishing the manual in late November, as anyone with a working knowledge of Spanish society would have known that primary education is free and that driver’s licenses are issued by the traffic authority, the Dirección General de Tráfico (DGT), despite what the preparation manual said. Sources consulted by this newspaper did not specify whether the mistakes were attributable to the cultural institution’s own computer services or to a contractor.

Legalteam has also flagged up the fact that the Cervantes Institute requires applicants to show their TIE card (Tarjeta de Identidad de Extranjeros or Foreign Citizen Identity Card), and accepts no other legal documents in its place. The legal advisors noted that when foreign citizens renew their residency papers, the protection this affords “has full legal effects before any government administration.” Sources at the Cervantes replied that it is up to the justice and interior ministries to determine what documentation is necessary to avoid cases of fraud in citizenship examinations.

Source: Why Spain’s citizenship test contained a few nasty – and incorrect – surprises for aspiring applicants

25% of citizenship applicants under Sephardic law of return are not Jewish

Pretty high number:

At least a quarter of those who have applied for Spanish nationality under the country’s law of return for descendants of Sephardic Jews are not Jewish, according to the local media.

Of the 153,767 applicants, 52,823 are from four Latin American countries — Colombia, the Dominican Republic, Venezuela and Ecuador — the La Razon newspaper reported Sunday. Their combined Jewish population is smaller than 10,000, according to the World Jewish Congress.

That means that nearly 43,000 applicants, or 27 percent of the total who applied before the closing of the deadline for applications in October, are not Jewish based on the relatively liberal definition of who is a Jew applied by the World Jewish Congress.

Only 4,313 applicants, or 2.8 percent, are Israelis and more than one-fifth, or 33,653, come from Mexico, which has the highest number of applicants. Colombia was next at 28,314. The United States had 5,461 applicants and Turkey had 1,994.

Only 31,222 applications had been approved by Oct. 1 and the rest are still pending. September had the most applicants, no fewer than 71,789, since the opening of the window in January 2018.
Spain passed its law of return for descendants of Sephardic Jews in 2015 shortly after Portugal.

Thousands of applicants have asked to be naturalized in Portugal, where the law is open ended.

In both countries, the government described the law as an act of atonement for the persecution and mass expulsion of Jews during the Inquisition that began in the 15th century. Many Jews were forcibly converted to Christianity.

Source: 25% of citizenship applicants under Sephardic law of return are not Jewish

Spain’s atonement: How the country plans to make amends for killing Jews during the Inquisition

Of interest:

Juan Hernandez-Villafuerte’s parents identified as Christian, so he didn’t understand why, by family tradition, they abstained from pork, washed their hands thoroughly before and after meals and covered the mirrors in the home after someone died.

“You had to do it, but you never knew why,” he says at age 41. “I wasn’t aware of my Sephardic heritage at (any) point, even though I knew there was something different about us.”

Before immigrating to Canada in 2012, he grew up in northeastern Mexico. His mother suspected they might have Jewish roots, so this fall, he left his home in Montreal and spent most of his vacation in the municipal archives of Mexico City. He found police and church records, as well as a yellowish paper — a property record from the year 1610 — bearing the name of his great-great-great-great-great-great-great-great-great-great-great grandfather.

“I was actually able to touch it,” he says. “I always wanted to know who I was.”

He was prompted to begin his research after the Spanish Parliament unanimously passed a law in 2015 to grant citizenship to the descendants of Sephardic Jews, meaning Jews with Iberian roots. The deadline for applications passed at the end of September, at which point the Ministry of Justice said it had received more than 130,000 applications, of which approximately 6,000 had been approved.

Spain’s initiative is part of a trend across Europe to repatriate Jewish families who faced persecution. Beginning in the 1300s, Sephardic Jews were forcibly converted to Catholicism, and during the Spanish Inquisition beginning the 1400s, the converts were investigated under suspicion that they may be continuing to practice judaism. Some historians estimate 2,000 converts were burned alive, while others faced different punishments, and after the Inquisition was established, an estimated 100,000 remaining Jews were expelled. Portugal also enacted a similar citizenship law in 2015, and countries including Germany, Austria and Poland have been granting citizenship to the descendants of Jews persecuted in the lead up to the Holocaust and during the Holocaust.

Spain’s initiative has led people to discover their family identities, but many of them have spent $6,000 on the application process, and the program is politically and economically charged. While some people commend Spain’s gesture as a way to rectify historical violence — or at least a way to secure a passport to the European Union — critics point out the expense of the application and question the country’s motives.

“They took everything from us — our identity, our possessions, any property that we had,” says Maria Apodaca, a Sephardic Jew who lives in Albuquerque, NM. “I don’t have $6,000 a pop to do this, and I don’t see how it would benefit me,” she says. “I was planted in the United States, and in the United States I’ll stay.”

Applicants do not need to be practicing Jews, but they do need to prove Sephardic heritage with evidence such as census documents and records of birth, baptism, marriage and death. Applicants must have these records translated by a translator recognized by the Spanish government, and they must travel to Spain to sign with a Spanish notary.

“It’s almost like a huge, many, many months-long scavenger hunt,” says Daniel Romano, a lawyer in Montreal who applied for citizenship with his wife. In his legal profession, he recently worked on an immigration case of a Venezuelan refugee, and he says her refugee claim was “100 times more simple” than his Spanish citizenship application.

Romano has always identified as a Sephardic Jew, and he had a sense of duty to accept the Spanish government’s offer of reconciliation. “It’s odd, but I felt the need to reciprocate. They cannot make amends through our mutual ancestors … if the descendants do not take up the offer,” he says.

Some applicants have sought rabbis to vouch for their heritage. Shlomo Gabay, the rabbi at Beth Hamidrash, a Sephardic synagogue in Vancouver, says he received eight or more requests per month to write letters for Spanish citizenship applications. The requests came mainly from South Americans, Mexicans and the occasional Canadian, with some people showing him original scripts from the time of the Inquisition.

“People really, really took this seriously,” says Gabay.

Though not subject to the Inquisition, Jews who refused to convert or leave Spain were called heretics and could be burned to death on a stake. Henry Duff Linton (1815-1899)/Creative Commons

In Britain, some Jews have seen repatriation programs as a ticket to work, study and travel in the European Union after Brexit. Ben Shapiro, a 26-year-old man who works at an interfaith charity in London, considered applying for Spanish citizenship but instead applied for German citizenship because the process was easier given that his relative was already applying, and it achieves the same access to the E.U.

“There’s definitely a lot of Jewish people that feel like their Spanish or Sephardic expression of Judaism is important to them, so being validated by Spain is something that’s pleasing,” says Shapiro, “but I think also Brexit is just having a big (impact on) young, liberal European-liking people who don’t want to give that up if they don’t have to.”

Spain could be taking this measure as an effort to boost its population and economy. The country’s fertility rate is far below replacement level at 1.3 children per woman, and its population is predicted to decline by 9.4 million between 2000 and 2050, according to the United Nations Population Division in 2000. The country has introduced pro-natal policies to encourage Spaniards to have more children and has accepted increasing numbers of refugees. Since applicants for the Jewish repatriation program must pass a language and citizenship test — and in many cases must hire a lawyer and genealogist to help with their claim — the initiative could attract migrants of affluence, as could repatriation programs elsewhere in Europe.

“There’s a sense certainly toward the Jews of some sort of historical debt, some sort of reckoning,” says Howard Adelman, an associate professor of history at Queen’s University, specializing in Jewish history, “but if I can be more cynical, I think there’s also an element of an attempt to bring people with assets and affluence to the countries and also to offset some of the refugees that are arriving at these countries.”

An original land grant from 1610 given to Marcos Alonso de la Garza in northeastern Mexico. His descendant, Juan Hernandez-Villafuerte, searched for the document to prove his Sephardic Jewish heritage. Juan Hernandez-Villafuerte

He notes that Muslims also endured forcible conversion in Spain, and in the 1600s, he says, hundreds of thousands of converts, known as Moriscos, were expelled. Yet, “no country has it on the table to talk about repatriating Muslims.”

Adelman says some Jews are disillusioned by antisemitism during the Trump administration, while some Jews are leaving Israel due to its unstable democracy.

“Many of them are having an awakening that they have to have another place to go, and I think that Israel used to be that escape hatch, but now Israel is in as much chaos as the United States,” he says.

Applications for Spanish citizenship surged at the time of Donald Trump’s election, says Schelly Talalay Dardashti, who works with the Spanish Citizenship Committee of the Jewish Federation of New Mexico, which received 50 to 75 calls per day before the deadline from people inquiring about Spanish citizenship. Some applicants have showed up at her office and cried, she says, having observed family customs all their lives but never having understood that the customs were Jewish.

“That is a bombshell that goes off in someone’s head. That is a real identity crisis,” she says. “Citizenship is like getting this badge: yes, we are who we are.”

When Dardashti meets with people, she asks them to write down family customs related to death, food and even cleaning the home, but many applicants get DNA testing and hire genealogists to help their claim.

Dennis Maez, a genealogist in New Mexico, was so overwhelmed with requests from Sephardic applicants that he had to put on hold his day job, running businesses that sell cars and cattle. He researched family trees for approximately 250 applicants, tracing some families back as far as the year 910.

As the deadline approached, he was “absolutely burnt out,” he says. “I would just work tremendous hours putting the (genealogies) together. I just finally had to quit.”

In Montreal, Hernandez-Villafuerte did his genealogy research himself. Even if his application is approved, he never intends to live in Spain.

“I think this is something I had to do for my ancestors,” he says. “They went through a lot of pain. They were expelled from their land … To me, it’s not about, What I can do with that citizenship? It’s more about restoring something that I love, or we loved, hundreds of years ago.”

Source: Spain’s atonement: How the country plans to make amends for killing Jews during the Inquisition

Spanish government reduces irregular immigration by half

Through working with Morocco to reduce the “supply:”

The Spanish executive has reached its goal of reducing irregular immigration by half, a decision that was taken in January after arrivals in 2018 reached a record 64,298 people.

The latest official data shows 24,159 undocumented arrivals, marking the first time since 2010 that there has been such a steep drop in immigration by land and sea.

One out of every 100 migrants continues to die at sea

This decrease is largely owed to renewed efforts by Morocco to stop migrants from departing from its coastline.

“The preventive efforts by Moroccan authorities continue to be effective, and they are key to understanding the strong reduction in arrivals in Spain during 2019,” said the European Commission in an internal report to which EL PAÍS has had access. Those efforts include, among other things, preventing thousands of departures by land and the rescue of 10,700 migrants who were returned to Moroccan territory, adds the report.

Thanks to this assistance, in just a few months Spain has gone from being the main Mediterranean route for irregular immigration to showcasing itself as a role model in Europe. Spain and its European partners want to reinforce cooperation with Morocco, which has been rewarded diplomatically and financially with aid worth €180 million.

Immigrant deaths at sea have not dropped by as much. So far this year, 317 people have drowned or disappeared in the Strait of Gibraltar and the westernmost portion of the Mediterranean as they attempted to reach Spain, a 42% drop from 2018. One out of every 100 migrants continues to die at sea.

In 2018, record arrivals put irregular immigration at the top of the political agenda. Migratory pressure had been increasing since 2017, but the opposition claimed there was a push effect because of the Socialist (PSOE) administration’s decision to take in humanitarian vessels that had been rejected by Malta and Italy, such as the Aquarius NGO vessel.

Since then, the caretaker government of Socialist Party (PSOE) Prime Minister Pedro Sánchez has adopted tougher measures, including pushback policies at the border between Morocco and the Spanish exclave cities of Ceuta and Melilla, and preventing NGO-run humanitarian ships from sailing to the central Mediterranean.

While sea arrivals are more visible, a majority of immigrants arrive by air. Although it is impossible to know how many people on tourist visas extend their stay, asylum requests have ballooned to 82,000 so far this year, a figure that is largely due to Venezuelans and Colombians who make up 32% and 23% of asylum seekers, respectively.

Source: Spanish government reduces irregular immigration by half

Glitch ‘approves’ Sephardic requests for Spanish citizenship


A computer glitch in the government portal of Spain caused thousands of applications for citizenship by Sephardic Jews to be reported approved even though they are still pending.

The Spanish Foreign Ministry reported the error in a statement Friday.

Under a law passed in Spain in 2015, descendants of Sephardic Jews may become citizens if their application is approved for lineage by the umbrella group of Spanish Jewish communities and the Justice Ministry.

“A technical error occurred in the Justice Ministry’s platform that registers the status of applications made by potential beneficiaries” of the law, the statement said. It added that “no new citizenship was granted” this month.

Approved applicants will be contacted by the consulate processing their application, the statement also said.

In discussion on Facebook groups about the law, applicants from various countries reported seeing their country of origin changed to Afghanistan — the first in the alphabetical list of the world’s countries.

Since the law went into effect, Spain has naturalized at least 8,300 applicants, with many more applications awaiting processing.

Portugal, which passed its law of return for descendants of Sephardic Jews shortly before Spain, has naturalized about 10,000 applicants.

The application window in the Spanish law expires next month. The Portuguese law is open ended.

Both governments said the legislation was to atone for the Inquisition, a wave of persecution that began in 1492.

Source: Glitch ‘approves’ Sephardic requests for Spanish citizenship

How second-generation immigrants are transforming the landscape of Spanish society

One does not see too many articles on Spain, and even fewer on the second generation and many of the issues are similar to those experienced by the second generation in Canada:

Children born in Spain to immigrant parents have not had to go through the trials and tribulations of migration but they do have to live between two cultures. They belong to a new generation of Spaniards who have been brought up here and whose parents are predominantly from countries further to the south.

They are very often bilingual and their mixed identity allows them to enjoy links to their parents’ culture while positioning themselves within Spanish society, according to the report Spain in expansion: the integration of immigrant children, published in 2014 by La Caixa Foundation.

20% of babies born in Spain have a foreign parent

Fátima J., a criminology graduate from Pablo de Olavide University in Seville, explains that she has grown up with two very different mindsets, and this has helped make her more tolerant. She has two approaches to life and she says her visits to Morocco during the holidays have taught her the value of hospitality. “You are always welcome in anyone’s house,” she says. “In Spain, this seems strange because you have to be invited to eat at a relative’s home. But in Morocco, the doors are open to you any time of the day.”

In 2005, it wasn’t clear whether immigration would continue to grow in Spain or whether the trend would reverse. There are four million foreigners registered in the country, which is 10% of Spain’s 46.7 million population, and data from the National Statistics Institute (INE) shows that the new generation of Spaniards is the most diverse to date.

A study carried out by Verne on births, nationality and population reveals that 20% of the almost five million births in the last decade – amounting to 1,150,629 – have been to at least one foreign parent, according to INE data from 2007 to 2017.

Data gathered between 2006 and 2016 indicates that immigrant parentswho arrived in Spain during the last decade are predominantly Moroccan (around 26%), with Rumanians accounting for 12%, Ecuadorians 6% and Chinese 4%. It is their children who are transforming the landscape of Spanish society.

The Longitudinal study on the Second Generation by La Caixa, which carried out 7,000 interviews over the course of 10 years, suggests that the identities of the children of immigrants is fluid and changes over time and according to the context they are in, particularly during adolescence.

“The children of immigrants select the values from each culture that are worth preserving,” says Nathalie Hadj Handrim, doctor in Spanish and Latin American Civilization and Language at the University of Barcelona.


Born in Spain, but without Spanish nationality

Not all the children of foreigners born in Spain obtain Spanish nationality. It depends on the legal status of their parents. If neither parent has Spanish nationality, the children take the nationality of their parents unless they are stateless.

In legal terms, this is known as the right to nationality by blood versus the right to nationality according to place of birth. To be recognized as Spaniards on paper, either one of the parents must have Spanish nationality or the child must reside in Spain for a year, according to the country’s Civil Code.

According to the Algerian sociologist Abdelmalek Sayad, who studied the children of immigrants in France during the 1990s, administrative and social realities keep these children in between two worlds.

“On the one hand, there is an administrative reality which determines nationality […] and on the other hand, a social reality which keeps these children between two countries and two nationalities and two societies beyond the purely legal dimension […] so that they become products and victims of the same story,” he writes in his work The Double Absence. From the dreams of the emigrant to the suffering of the immigrant.

A glance at INE data from 2013 to 2017 shows there were 108,074 children of immigrants who acquired Spanish nationality in that period, 46,700 of whom were previously Moroccan, 8,556 Ecuadorian, 5,818 Bolivian, and 4,318 Nigerian.

Rosa Aparicio, from the José Ortega and Gasset Foundation’s Research Institute and co-author of The Longitudinal study on the Second Generation, points out a recent spike in Moroccans who are becoming Spanish citizens, having accumulated the 10 years of official uninterrupted residency.

This is because, according to INE data, Moroccan immigration peaked exactly 10 years ago, with the arrival of 70,000 migrants. Last year, 39,000 migrants arrived in Spain from Morocco, a similar number to 2009 figures.

Four million people, or around 10% of the population, are currently registered as foreign nationals, most of whom are either Moroccan or Romanian. This percentage was 3.85% in 2001, according to a report by the Ministry of Employment and Social Issues.

Forging identity through art

Born in 1995 in Spain, Kinue Tsubata has maintained close ties to her Japanese roots. Though her mother is from Alicante, both parents – her father is from Nagaoka in Japan – have instilled Japanese values in her, such as punctuality, perseverance and the importance of attention to detail.

“I think I definitely feel more Spanish because I grew up in Spain, but I also identify with Japanese values,” explains Kinue, who is currently in London getting a master’s degree in Japan-focused International Administration at the School of Oriental and African Studies. “I have a lot of contact with Japanese culture and I watch series and films in Japanese so I won’t forget the language.” She goes on to list Japanese animation movies including Howl’s Moving Castle and Spirited Away from Ghibli studios.

Since she was little, she has had to find her own cultural references as everyone on TV and in cartoons was white. “I was drawn to films such as Mulan and I had a Japanese Barbie that wore a kimono,” she says. Now, she tries to participate in as many cultural events and parties thrown by the Japanese community as possible.

According to the mothers of children of African descent, such as Sara Plaza and Kenia Ramos, second-generation children need references to help them identify – “both in the media and within institutions,” says Sara, the mother of a two-year-old whose father is Senegalese.

“Everything that reaches them contains images of white people and particularly the typical blonde girls with blue eyes,” says Kenia, who has a seven-year-old daughter.

In order to forge the identity of their children, both women try to find relevant cultural references in food, stories and toys. “It’s difficult because there’s no information,” says Kenia, who points out that there are many more books of this kind in English than in Spanish, such as Little Leaders: bold women in black history and Kirikú and the sorceress.

The Cross Border Project theater company, which began in New York and has since set up in Spain, addresses the issue with their play Fiesta, fiesta, fiesta,which tells the story of seven teenagers born in Spain to foreign parents.

The play covers themes such as wearing the headscarf, the culture clash between parents and their children, and the teenagers’ own dreams and fears. “What is happening in the classroom is what is happening in Spain,” says dramatist Lucia Miranda, who came up with the script base on real-life conversations and interviews.

“This is the big identity issue facing the country and Europe, not what is promoted by nationalists. I think it’s an issue that is still not being spoken about in debates. People who are very close to me still speak about Spain in a way that is completely outdated. Spain is no longer white and Catholic. It is very diverse.”


This analysis is based on data from the INE and the Ministry of Education on the census, births and student numbers. We have classed any child with at least one foreign parent as the child of immigrants, in line with the broadest academic definition of the term and with the definition used by researcher Rosa Aparicio.

No distinction has been made between the terms immigrant and foreigner. We are aware that the word foreigner carries less political punch than the word immigrant. No distinction has been made as the data and conversations carried out by experts suggest that 73% of people coming from abroad to live in Spain are from the south while 27% come from countries further north such as Germany, Finland and the United Kingdom.

The analysis of school students is based on data from the Ministry of Education between 2010 and 2017. The data included preschool, primary, secondary, vocational training and pre-university schooling. The children of immigrants who have Spanish nationality have not been included as they are now registered as Spanish.

The analysis may be extrapolated since, according to researcher Rosa Aparicio, the economic status on which it is based is different to that of children with two Spanish parents. The Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development (OCDE) points out, “The different socio-economic levels account for more than a fifth of what differentiates immigrant students from native students when it comes to acquiring basic skills in OCDE countries and the European Union.”

For population data, provisional 2018 statistics have been used and subjects have been grouped as follows: children between 0 and 19, youths between 19 and 30, adults between 30 and 69, and the elderly. It is not possible to analyze minority nationalities, which are classed as “others” due to statistical confidentiality, according to the INE. Oceania is also treated as a country as no data exists apart from the statistical data.

English version by Heather Galloway.

Source: How second-generation immigrants are transforming the landscape of Spanish society

Anti-Establishment MPs Shake Up Spain’s New Parliament : NPR

Diversity in the new Spanish Parliament:

A brass band marched up to the doors of Spain’s Congress, escorting a new crop of lawmakers, younger and more diverse than ever before. Many arrived by bicycle, wearing T-shirts instead of neckties and sporting ponytails and even dreadlocks. A dozen of them are in their 20s, recent college grads. The new lawmakers include Spain’s first black MP and a physicist confined to a wheelchair. Podemos has arrived. The left-wing party has transformed and unsettled Spanish politics, weaning about a fifth of parliamentary seats in last month’s election. In large part because of Podemos, this parliament has a record number of women – 40 percent.

Source: Anti-Establishment MPs Shake Up Spain’s New Parliament : NPR