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Descendants of International Brigades to get fast-track Spanish nationality

Spain will give the descendants of International Brigade fighters who fought fascism during the Civil War an expressway to Spanish citizenship and dual nationality, with people from the UK, the US and many other countries eligible.

spanish citizenship descendants international brigades spain
Photo of Yugoslav volunteers in Spain during the Spanish Civil War. Spain's Democratic Law extends the citizenship offer to descendants of International Brigade fighters, who can now get Spanish nationality without losing theirs. Photo: Wikipedia/Public Domain


The children and grandchildren of fighters who fought for the International Brigades during Spain’s Civil War will be able to acquire Spanish citizenship – and won’t have to give up their other nationality in order to do so.

The fighters themselves have been able to apply for Spanish citizenship since 1996, though they were required to drop their other nationality. Spain’s 2007 Historical Memory Law removed that requirement, though the offer of citizenship was not extended to their descendants.

There was confusion in 2020 when Spain’s then deputy Prime Minister Pablo Iglesias tweeted that descendants of International Brigade fighters would be included in legislation, but when the final legal text appeared, it confirmed that the proposal did not stretch to descendants and only included the International Brigade veterans themselves. 

Now Spain’s new Democratic Memory Law, which passed the Spanish Senate on October 5th and officially became law on October 21st, finally extends the citizenship offer to descendants who can get Spanish nationality without losing theirs.

They will even be able to do it through the fast-tracked naturalisation process – seen as the expressway to Spanish citizenship and used by public figures such as Barcelona footballer Ansu Fati and actress Imperio Argentina.


According to the Asociación de Amigos de las Brigadas Internacionales (AABI), a group involved with drafts of the legislation, there are at least one hundred known descendants that have been identified so far. They come from around the world, including France, Italy, the United Kingdom, Cuba, the former Yugoslavia, Argentina, Canada, Australia, and the United States.

As there are so few descendants of international brigade fighters, however, many view their inclusion in the citizenship legislation as a symbolic gesture that is part of the Democratic Memory Law’s efforts to settle historical debts with the past.

Though the legislation does extend citizenship, it’s not thought that a flood of applications will follow. “There will be no avalanche, it is a symbolic measure that has a purely sentimental importance for the relatives of the fighters,” the AABI explained to Spanish news website

Participants wave republican flags during a 2015 march called by the Friends of International Brigades Association to commemorate the involvement of the International Brigades in the Battle of Jarama during the Spanish Civil War. (Photo by CURTO DE LA TORRE / AFP)

The International Brigades

Between 1936 and 1939 at least 35,000 international volunteers from around 50 countries, including around 2,500 Brits, fought against Francisco Franco’s fascist troops in the International Brigade during the Civil War. An estimated 10,000 foreign volunteers died in Spain, according to the Spanish Civil War Museum. 

The British novelist George Orwell, who fought with a Communist regiment of the Republican army during the war, described in gory detail the sacrifices of the International Brigades in his seminal work ‘Homage to Catalonia’.

READ ALSO: Remembering the Battle of Jarama and the role of the International Brigades in the Spanish Civil War

citizenship international brigades spain

Anti-fascist demonstration in London reported on the front page of Catalan newspaper La Vanguardia on September 11, 1936. Photo: Dorieus/ Wikipedia (CC BY SA 4.0)

What is Spain’s Democratic Memory Law?

The citizenship offer is part of the broader Democratic Memory Law that aims to “settle Spanish democracy’s debt to its past” and deal with the legacy of its Civil War and Franco’s dictatorship.

READ ALSO: Spain’s new ‘grandchildren’ citizenship law: What you need to know

In recent weeks, the Spanish government confirmed that as many as 700,000 foreigners with Spanish lineage are eligible Spanish citizenship without having ever lived in the country, including those with ancestors who fled Spain for fear of persecution during Franco’s dictatorship.

Between the end of the Civil War in 1939, and 1978, when Spain’s new constitution was approved as part of its transition to democracy, an estimated 2 million Spaniards fled the Franco regime.


Legislation concerning Spain’s dictatorial past is always controversial, and this law was no different – it passed the Spanish Senate earlier in October with 128 votes in favour, 113 against, and 18 abstentions.

The Spanish right have long been opposed to any kind of historical memory legislation, claiming that it digs up old rivalries and causes political tension. Spain’s centre-right party, the PP, have promised to overturn the law if it wins the next general election.

READ ALSO: Spain’s lawmakers pass bill honouring Franco-era victims

Other aspects of the law include the establishment of a DNA register to help families identify the remains of the tens of thousands of Spaniards were buried in unmarked graves; the repurposing of the Valley of the Fallen mausoleum, where Francisco Franco was buried until his exhumation in 2019; and a ban on groups that glorify the Franco regime.

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For members


Spain has kept 11,000 foreigners waiting for 5 years for their citizenship to be processed

As well as administrative hoops and financial barriers, Spain is keeping thousands of foreigners in legal limbo by forcing them wait years for their citizenship applications to processed.

Spain has kept 11,000 foreigners waiting for 5 years for their citizenship to be processed

At the end of 2022, there were over 11,000 applications for Spanish nationality through residence that had been pending for at least five years. 

In total, the number of pending applications at the end of last year exceeded 276,000, and in many of those cases, the legal deadline has already been exceeded. This sluggish response, something that many would say is typical of Spanish bureaucracy, comes on top of several administrative and financial barriers that make the process even more difficult.

The maximum, by law, that it is supposed to take is one year. According to the official law:

“In accordance with the provisions of paragraph 3 of article 11 of the Regulation regulating the procedure for the acquisition of Spanish nationality by residence approved by Royal Decree 1004/2015, the period to resolve and notify the resolution will be one year since the request has been entered in the General Directorate of Registries and Notaries.”

Yet for thousands of people, their applications have been pending for at least five times that. For most people, the general requirement is ten years of residence before they can apply for Spanish citizenship, apart from those from Spanish-speaking Ibero-American countries (who can apply after two years). So if you add the ten-year requirement to the administrative backlog, becoming eligible and applying for Spanish citizenship could theoretically take you 15 or more years from start to finish.

Fat-track citizenship 

The fastest way to get Spanish citizenship is by getting a ‘carta de naturaleza‘, essentially a fast-track citizenship. This allows foreign nationals who have done something “exceptional” for Spain to become Spanish citizens immediately, with the waiting times that all other applicants have to endure brushed aside.

READ ALSO: How foreigners can get fast-track citizenship in Spain

Some famous names to have been ‘awarded’ express Spanish nationality include British pianist James Rhodes and footballers Lionel Messi and Ansu Fati. 

These instant citizenships are controversial in Spain, with critics saying that they are reserved for celebrities and elites while normal people have to join the (very long) queue like everyone else. The stats seem to back this up. According to Civio, of the 426 cartas granted in the last 30 years, 108 were for athletes – many of whom then went on to play for the Spanish national teams.

Online vs paperwork

But if you aren’t one of the lucky (or famous) ones, you can be left in legal limbo for years and years. In fact, almost a hundred applications were still awaiting resolution at the end of 2022, an entire decade after their application was first submitted. 

Taking into account the one-year deadline set by law, there are over 100,000 applications (as of 2022) that are over the legal limit, and the 276,000 total figure for outstanding applications, though high, is actually an improvement on the past: in 2018, for example, there were more than 355,000 outstanding. And very few of these were resolved within a year.

A report from Spain’s Tribunal de Cuentas states that the “very small percentage of files resolved at the end of 2018 suggests that when the pending files are finally resolved, practically 100 percent of them will have… done it outside the established deadline.”

Since 2015, applying for nationality (for those who meet the requirements of continued residence, background and demonstrating integration) is something that can, in theory, be done entirely digitally. This is something that many citizen’s organisations recommend, preferring the online application to doing it in person where paperwork can get lost (or slowed down) by Spain’s infamously inefficient bureaucracy.  

“It is not recommended because then it’s a more tedious process for the administration and… [therefore] with more delays,” immigration lawyer Vicente Marín, of the ‘Parainmigrantes’ group, says. “The applications by public registry have taken much longer to be resolved than those we present electronically.”

Citizen’s organisations like Parainmigrantes help and guide applicants when carrying out the bureaucratic procedure because many applicants would be otherwise forced to depend on (and pay) a lawyer to take them through the process.

Application barriers

Yet digital applications can, of course, be a barrier for older applicants or people without the technology to do the process online. Though they may have quicker turnarounds, for some it is impossible.

READ ALSO: Do you really have to give up your original nationality if you become Spanish?

Tech is not the only barrier. Finance also plays a role in dissuading some people from applying. The application fee alone is over €100. Demonstrating your cultural integration into Spanish society comes at a cost too as applicants have to pay for the constitutional and sociocultural knowledge test (CCSE) and, for non-native Spanish speakers, also pay the Spanish as a foreign language exam (DELE).

READ ALSO – Quiz: Can you pass the Spanish citizenship test?

Lawyers’ fees can run into the hundreds, just for submitting an application, and the CCSE costs €85. Depending on the fees and whether you have to take the language exam, the application alone could theoretically cost €1,000 or more. 

Before 2015, there was no fee for the citizenship application. The Tribunal de Cuentas points out that there have been no significant improvements to the administrative process since then, despite the fact €24.7 million has been collected in fees.

For those who are lucky enough to actually get their application processed, some have waited five or even ten years, only to have their application rejected. However, according to Civio, for around a third of denied applicants, by appealing, they successfully get their case overturned and citizenship granted.