Who Can Become a Citizen? Legal Pathways to Gaining Spanish Nationality

No European country approves more citizenship applications than Spain / Consulado de España en La Habana/X

14ymedio bigger14ymedio, Yoan Molinero Gerbeau, Madrid, 30 March 2024 — Last year, public attention turned to two prominent sports figures — Sara Khadem and the Real Sociedad footballer Robin Le Norman — when it was announced in the Official State Gazette that they had been granted Spanish citizenship along with 106 other people. It bears mentioning that a good number of these people included Nicaraguan dissidents, who received the so-called “letter of naturalization,” a mechanism that allows the government to unilaterally grant Spanish citizenship to whomever it deems worthy by means of royal decree.

As a result of these decrees, the organization Civio performed an interesting exercise, creating a database that indicated how many people had acquired Spanish citizenship this way since 1993.

Only a tiny portion of the naturalizations authorized by the Spanish state during this period were granted by means of this noteworthy though certainly elitist procedure, which allows the government to confer citizenship at its discretion.

To get a broader picture, we can look at data published by Spain’s National Statistical Institute (INE), which  indicates that 181,581 people received the full rights of Spanish citizenship in 2022, of which less than 1% were granted through letters of naturalization. continue reading

The process of acquiring a new nationality is very intriguing since it involves what Abdelmalek Sayad, a prominent sociologist and expert on migration, called a “rite of transubstantiation.” Effectively, in a world of nation-states, where belonging to one has ethnic, cultural and moral implications, the transformation from being a national of one country into a national of another involves some degree of “magic.”

Analyzing the requirements that those who choose to participate in this rite must fulfill is an interesting exercise as it involves entering into a world of beliefs, revealing what a country considers to be valid criteria for recognizing someone as “one of their own.”

Despite being a noteworthy procedure, only a tiny portion of naturalizations were granted by decree at the government’s discretion

What criteria do applicants have to meet in order to be considered a Spanish national? The answers can be found in the country’s Civil Code.

There are four ways to become a naturalized citizen of Spain:

    • Citizenship by nature
    • Citizenship by option
    • Citizenship by residency
    • Citizenship by state possession

Since we have already touched upon the first way, let’s take a look at the others.

Naturalization by option refers to the principle of ius sanguinis, establishing Spanish nationality by birthright. This option is available to children of a Spanish mother or father. Also eligible to apply are those whose grandparents were Spanish but who lost their citizenship due to having been exiled during the Franco dictatorship.

Naturalization by residency gives foreigners who have lived in the country for a certain period of time the chance to become Spanish citizens. Generally, that period is ten years though there are circumstances that can reduce the wait time.

Applicants must also submit a criminal record certificate indicating “good civic conduct” , and show they have achieved “integration into Spanish society.”

The latter is demonstrated through a test that evaluates language fluency as well as knowledge of “Spain’s constitutional and socio-cultural precepts.”

This last requirement is highly controversial because since it tends to focus on the predominant national culture as found in the Castille and Madrid regions, indicating that — as far as the state is concerned — “being Spanish” means adopting a nationalist view that excludes other large regions of the country.

The fourth case, naturalization due to possession of state, concerns those who had Spanish nationality for at least ten years but, for some reason, lost it.

Finally, to be “naturalizable,” applicants must meet two not insignificant criteria.

First, they must renounce their original citizenship, thus indicating a willingness to become legally stateless before becoming citizens of another state.

Secondly, in a highly charged political act, they must swear an oath of loyalty and obedience to the two pillars of the state: the king and the constitution.

Certainly, the requirements to become a Spanish citizen are not without controversy since they impose an important political and cultural burden, raising an issue that has not been resolved by the broader society itself: What does it mean to be Spanish?

The requirements to become a Spanish citizen are not without controversy since they impose an important political and cultural burden

Given the data available, it might be easier answer the question of how willing is Spain to allow foreigners to become citizens. We can look at European statistics to see that how the country stacks up. According to Eurostat, whose most recent figures are from 2021, no other country on the continent approves more citizenship applications than Spain, a total of 144,00 for that year, followed by France (at 130,400), Germany (130,000), and Italy (121,500).

If we keep in mind — again according to Eurostat — that the foreign-born population of France and Italy is similar to that of Spain, while Germany’s is twice the size, it would seem that the country’s policies are not particularly restrictive in this regard.

However, data-driven conclusions do not always coincide with the subjective experience of those who must deal with the paperwork which, according to several investigative reports, is described as slow, arduous and administratively complex. Let’s remember, however, that granting citizenship and expanding rights always has positive effects on society at large.


Editor’s note: This article was originally published in The Conversation and is reproduced here with permission from Crative Commons. The author, Yoan Molinero Gerbeau, is a researcher in International Migration at the Comillas Pontifical University.


COLLABORATE WITH OUR WORKThe 14ymedio team is committed to practicing serious journalism that reflects Cuba’s reality in all its depth. Thank you for joining us on this long journey. We invite you to continue supporting us by becoming a member of 14ymedio now. Together we can continue transforming journalism in Cuba.