Spain is bracing itself for hundreds of thousands of passport applications from around the world by people wanting to become Spaniards as the grandchildren of those exiled during the country’s civil war win the right to citizenship.
Up to 1 million people are expected to claim Spanish nationality. People last week were seen sleeping rough outside consulates in Cuba as they queued for the forms that could enable them to benefit from what has been dubbed “the grandchildren’s law.”
The new law, which was to come into effect yesterday, gives the chance of Spanish nationality to descendants of those who fled the country during the civil war between 1936 and 1939. It also gives a right of application to those whose grandparents fled the dictatorship of General Franco, which lasted from 1939 until 1975.
Mass emigration continued in Spain from the end of the civil war until the 1960s as the country went through a grim period of economic stagnation during the early part of Franco’s dictatorship. Many of those who sought a new life in Latin America were forced to renounce Spanish nationality in order to obtain the citizenship of their countries of adoption.
“The idea is to mitigate the impact that the Francoist dictatorship had on Spain,” said the director general of immigration, Agustin Torres.
He added that he expected the law to “create” at least half a million new Spaniards, adding about 1 percent to the total.
The Spanish consulate in Havana was expecting up to a quarter of a million applications from Cubans alone and has hired extra staff to handle them.
A second passport is valued by Cubans, who can use it to get around restrictions on leaving the island.
Mexico, Argentina and Chile were expected to produce many of the other applicants for Spanish nationality.
Applications can be made over a two-year period, which the Socialist government of Jose Luis Rodriguez Zapatero has pledged to increase by another year if it becomes necessary.
The law is most generous to those whose grandparents left Spain between 1936 and 1955: they will simply have to prove that their grandparents were Spanish. Those whose grandparents left between 1955 and 1977 will need to show that their grandparents somehow “helped” other Spaniards who were living abroad.
It was unclear whether the law would usher in a fresh wave of immigration to Spain, where authorities have taken measures to slow the number of migrants arriving as the credit crunch bites.
The new passport holders will become EU citizens with residency rights across large parts of Europe.
The law is part of several measures to compensate victims of the civil war and the Francoist dictatorship approved by Zapatero’s government last year.