Portugal and Israel passports
Passports for Portugal and Israel mtcurado/iStock

The Jewish Community of Oporto, Portugal, has seen an 80-fold increase in the number of British Sephardic Jews' applying for passports, it said. The bid to leave the UK follows the June referendum vote to leave the European Union

Jews were expelled from Portugal in 1497 and before that Spain, in 1492, leading to the settlement of a community of Marrano Jews in England. Marrano Jews were those coming from the Iberian Peninsula who were forced to convert to Christianity but practised Judaism in secret.

Last year, the Spanish and Portuguese governments both enacted legislation to right the "historical wrong" by offering citizenship to the ancestors of those who were forced to leave.

Before the Brexit referendum in June, a delegate to the Jewish Community of Oporto, Dr Michael Rothwell, said just five applications for passports had been received, compared to 400 since the vote – an increase of 7,900%.

Additionally, Alison Rosen, the director of the Spanish and Portuguese Sephardi Community in London, said there had also been a rise in the number if people researching their Sephardic ancestry.

Though she did not have any precise figures, she estimated it was around a couple of people per week compared to one a month.

It is not known whether the rush for passports has occurred due to a nervousness about a lack of access to Europe that could occur after Brexit, or concern over a rise of right-wing political groups and hate crime. However, Rothwell said he was not surprised by the increase.

He told the Guardian: "I think people are a bit nervous about this and therefore feel that having a European Union passport would be an advantage even if they are not necessarily planning to move to Portugal. Having citizenship of an EU country has its benefits."

Though Spain's Federation of Jewish Communities had not seen a disproportionate increase in applications for citizenship, it was thought this could be attributed to tighter requirements. Applications for Spanish citizenship would require language tests, which is not the case for Portugal.

Sephardic Jews are some of the first communities to have settled in the UK and built the first British Synagogue in the City of London at Bevis Marks in 1700.