Naturalisation

Portugal

Country Report: Naturalisation Last updated: 26/05/22

Author

Portuguese Refugee Council Visit Website

Competence for conferring Portuguese nationality lies either with the Minister of Justice regarding naturalisation,[1] or with the Central Registry Office (Conservatória dos Registos Centrais, CRegC) of the Ministry of Justice regarding other modalities for obtaining Portuguese nationality.[2] According to the law, and in the absence of any deficiencies or irregularities in the procedure attributable to the applicant the time limit for taking a final decision on the file is at least 3.5 months in naturalisation cases,[3] and 3 months in the remaining cases.[4] Data on actual timeframes is not available.

The Portuguese Nationality regime is relatively flexible, and the amendments introduced in recent years, including in 2020, have generally broadened the scope for nationality acquisition.

Some of the modalities of acquisition of Portuguese nationality are of particular relevance to beneficiaries of international protection.

Foreign citizens, including refugees and beneficiaries of subsidiary protection, are eligible for naturalisation under the following conditions:[5]

  • 18 years of age or emancipation in accordance with Portuguese law;
  • Minimum legal residence of 5 years in Portugal;[6]
  • Proof of proficiency in Portuguese (A2);
  • Absence of conviction to a prison sentence of at least 3 years for a crime punishable by Portuguese law;
  • Not being a danger or a threat to national security or defence due to their involvement in activities related to the practice of terrorism, in accordance with the law that governs terrorism.

According to the information available to CPR, in the case of beneficiaries of international protection, the regular residence period runs from the date of the application for international protection.

Furthermore, the Nationality Act contains a number of special naturalisation regimes exempting certain applicants of some of the above-mentioned requirements.[7] Notably, children of foreign nationals born on national territory are eligible for naturalisation under the following conditions:[8]

  • Absence of conviction to a prison sentence of at least 3 years for a crime punishable by Portuguese law;
  • Not being a danger or a threat to national security or defence due to their involvement in activities related to the practice of terrorism, in accordance to the law that governs terrorism;
  • At least one parent resided in the country (regularly or not) at least for the 5 years prior to the application; or one of the parents regularly resides in the country; or the child completed at least one level of pre-school, basic education, or the secondary education (including vocational training) in Portugal.

Naturalisation under this provision is free of charge.[9]

It should be noted that, on the basis of a reasoned request, the Ministry of Justice may decide to exempt naturalisation applicants from presenting supporting evidence in special and justified cases where it is shown that the facts for which supporting evidence is required are true beyond doubt.[10] The law also provides in detail for the specific modalities regarding supporting evidence of proficiency in Portuguese,[11] notably regarding assessment tests that are of particular relevance to beneficiaries of international protection.[12]

Children born in Portugal to foreigners who are not at the service of their State of nationality are Portuguese by birth if

  • one of the parents legally resides in the country at the time of the birth; or
  • one of the parents has resided in Portugal for at least one year at the time of birth (regardless of status), and if they do not declare that they do not want to be Portuguese.[13]

According to official information obtained by CPR within the context of provision of legal assistance to applicants for and beneficiaries of international protection, this provision, that was amended in 2020, is applicable retroactively.[14] Furthermore, for this purpose, applicants for international protection are reportedly deemed to be legally residing in Portugal from the moment the application for international protection is made.[15]

Nevertheless, in the course of 2021, CPR observed discrepancies in the practice of different registration services whereby some did not consider the certificate of the asylum application as proof of regular residence. Additional problems observed in this regard relate to the (non)issuance of citizen cards to such children due to the lack of an identification document by the mother.

Foreign citizens, including refugees and beneficiaries of subsidiary protection, can acquire Portuguese citizenship if they have been married or have been in a civil union with a Portuguese citizen for at least 3 years.[16]

The Nationality Act was last recast in November 2020. It had been previously recast in 2018, in an amendment that has also introduced provisions that may have a positive impact for applicants and beneficiaries of international protection (in particular unaccompanied children). The corresponding Nationality Regulation was only adopted in March 2022, entering into force on 15 April 2022. A full analysis of the amended Nationality Regulation is therefore not included in this report.

CPR’s experience indicates that the main challenges in acquiring nationality through naturalisation are related to poor language skills and obtaining supporting evidence. Supporting evidence required in naturalisation applications generally consists of legalised and translated birth certificates as well as criminal records from the country of nationality and former countries of residence, including EU Member states in the case of Dublin returnees. In accordance with applicable provisions, the authorities are generally flexible regarding supporting evidence in naturalisation procedures involving refugees and beneficiaries of subsidiary protection who present reasoned justifications. CPR further provides support to that end, e.g., by clarifying the international legal standards that apply to administrative assistance.

Another issue identified in the course of 2021 is related to the content of the declarations issued by SEF to certify the period of legal residence. According to CPR’s observation, when the renewal of the residence permit is pending, that period of time is not referred to as legal residence by SEF. This is the case despite the beneficiary of international protection holding a certificate that replaces the actual residence permit for all legal purposes (including to attest regular residency in the country). It was not possible to clarify the grounds for this practice.

Within the context of the coronavirus pandemic, due to delays in in-person appointments, it became common to submit applications for naturalisation by post.

According to SEF, 126 beneficiaries of international protection were granted Portuguese nationality in 2021, of which 46 refugees and 80 beneficiaries of international protection.

 

 

 

[1] Article 27 Portuguese Nationality Regulation.

[2] Article 41 Portuguese Nationality Regulation.

[3] Article 27 Portuguese Nationality Regulation.

[4] Article 41(1) and (2) Portuguese Nationality Regulation.

[5] Article 6(1) Nationality Act; Article 19 Portuguese Nationality Regulation.

[6] The Nationality Act was recast in July 2018. The recast reduced the residence requirement established in the above-mentioned article from 6 to 5 years.

[7] Article 6(2) – (9) Nationality Act.

[8] Article 6(2) Nationality Act; Article 20 Portuguese Nationality Regulation. This provision was amended in 2020, increasing the flexibility of this route for naturalisation.

[9] Article 6(12) Asylum Act. The provision, added in 2020, determines that naturalisation under some of the special regimes is free of charge. Naturalisation under other provisons (including the general regime) has a cost of €250.

[10] Article 26 Portuguese Nationality Regulation.

[11] Article 25(2)-(9) Portuguese Nationality Regulation.

[12] Ministerial Order 176/2014.

[13] Article 1(1)(f) Nationality Act. Until the 2020 recast, a minimum of 2 years of legal residence of one of the parents at the time of birth was required.

[14] The provision’s retroactive application has also been confirmed by na opinion of the Advisory Board of the Institute of Registration and Notary Affairs (IRN). See Conselho Consultivo do Instituto de Registos e Notariado, Parecer n.º 1/CC/2021, 21 February 2021, available at: https://bit.ly/33jFXH3.

[15] Practice in this regard has not been consistent, and developments registered in early 2022 may indicate that this will not be the interpretation applied by the authorities in the future.

[16] Article 3 Nationality Act; Article 14 Portuguese Nationality Regulation.

Table of contents

  • Statistics
  • Overview of the legal framework
  • Overview of the main changes since the previous report update
  • Asylum Procedure
  • Reception Conditions
  • Detention of Asylum Seekers
  • Content of International Protection
  • ANNEX I – Transposition of the CEAS in national legislation