In 1492, the newly united kingdom of Castile and Aragon gave its Jews a choice between expulsion and conversion to Christianity. Some 175,000 left; others or their descendants would later return to Judaism in Italy, the Netherlands, and elsewhere. In 2015, Spain passed a law, intended “to right a historic wrong,” offering citizenship to Sephardi Jews who could demonstrate Spanish ancestry. Soeren Kern explains how expensive layers of red tape have prevented even those Jews who want to from becoming Spanish citizens:
The legislation’s main barriers to Spanish citizenship have been obligatory exams on Spanish language and sociocultural history, the need to travel to Spain, and exorbitant fees and costs. Although prospective applicants do not need to be practicing Jews, they must prove their Sephardi background through a combination of factors, including ancestry, surnames, and spoken language (either Ladino, a Jewish language that evolved from medieval Spanish, or Haketia, a mixture of Hebrew, Spanish, and Moroccan Judeo-Arabic).
According to the law, even if applicants speak Ladino or Haketia—languages that are spoken mostly by the elderly in some parts of Latin America, Morocco, and Turkey—they are still required to pass a Spanish-language proficiency exam .. . .
In addition to the language exams, the law requires applicants to travel to Spain to have their documentation verified by a government-approved notary public before the completed application is submitted to Spain’s Ministry of Justice. . . . As of the end of 2018, only 3,843 Sephardi Jews had obtained Spanish citizenship under the law. . . . Another 5,682 applications were pending approval—with a success rate [expected] to be around 50 percent. . . . In other words, about 5,000 Sephardi Jews will have received Spanish citizenship under the 2015 law—1 percent of the 500,000 that the Spanish government said would benefit from the law, and 0.15 percent of the estimated 3.5 million Sephardi Jews in the world today.
Spain today has one of the smallest Jewish communities in the European Union. Fewer than 50,000 Jews currently live in Spain.