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What Italy's new laws mean for your citizenship application

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What Italy's new laws mean for your citizenship application
Piazza del Campidoglio on the Capitoline Hill, City Hall of Rome. Photo: Depositphotos
11:58 CET+01:00
As a new decree approved last week makes it harder to obtain Italian citizenship, we look at what the changes in the law mean for those who are applying.

The Italian parliament gave the green light to a new package of immigration laws on November 28, with far-reaching consequences for anyone hoping to settle in Italy.

The controversial bill was proposed by far-right Interior Minister Matteo Salvini, and mainly targeted the most vulnerable: refugees and asylum seekers.

Salvini says the measures are supposed to curb illegal immigration.

But they also negatively affect legal migrants. Civil rights and humanitarian organisations have been critical of the bill, as those living legally in the country could see their rights diminished and will now find it harder to become Italian citizens.

Photo: DepositPhotos

The decree is in fact a package of 54 new laws covering everything from police and fire service funding to laws aimed at preventing squatting.

But the harsh immigration laws included within the decree have been the most controversial part, and led to it being dubbed the 'anti-migrant' bill by Italian media.

One aspect of the bill not widely discussed was how it affects those applying for citizenship through ancestry or marriage. And as this affects many of The Local Italy's readers, we're taking a closer look at how rules on obtaining Italian citizenship have been tightened under the decree.

You can read the full official text here or a breakdown of the main points here (both links in Italian)

Italian citizenship rules

Italian citizenship can be acquired by people with Italian ancestors, through marriage to an Italian citizen, or by people who reside permanently in Italy. Eligibility criteria vary depending on the route.

The spouse of an Italian can apply for citizenship two years after the marriage if the couple lives in Italy, or three years if they live abroad, and the terms are reduced by half if they have children.

Photo: DepositPhotos

The residency requirement is four years for citizens from EU countries and 10 years for non-EU citizens.

These facts have not changed under the security decree.

The new law however means Italian authorities can now take up to four years, instead of the previous two, to process citizenship applications. For what reason, no one seems to know.

The new bill also abolishes automatic consent in cases of 'non-response' from authorities - in the case that bureaucrats forget all about your application until after the two-year mark has passed.

READ ALSO: How to beat (or just survive) bureaucracy in Italy: the essential pieces of paperwork

People applying for citizenship by marriage or residency will also now have to prove they speak Italian, a condition previously not required.

The longer wait will be a particularly big problem for British residents in Italy and British spouses of Italians hoping to obtain citizenship to protect their rights after the UK leaves the European Union.

Applications which would have been processed by the end of the planned Brexit transition period in 2020 now look set to drag on indefinitely.

And a request for citizenship from the spouse of an Italian citizen can now, for the first time, be rejected.

The rules will be applied retrospectively to applications that have already been made, as well as new applications.

More Brexit uncertainty

I spoke to readers who are in the process of applying for Italian citizenship about how the new Italian laws affect them.

“It makes you very worried,” says Brian F, from Hereford, UK. “On one hand we’ve got the British government refusing to guarantee anyone’s rights. Then we’ve got the government in our adopted country, Italy, making it harder for us to become citizens. And for what?”

“It feels like no one is interested in how all these policies actually affect people’s lives,” he said.

Brian, who owns a successful IT business and his wife Clare, a translator who has Italian citizenship by descent, are now delaying their long-planned move to Italy with their two children due to the uncertainty.

“How can we sell our house and move now? Whatever we do, it seems like a risk,” he says.

Italian bureaucracy can be a headache. Photo: DepositPhotos

Sandra, a retired teacher living for most of the year at her house in Abruzzo, says “coming here to retire was my dream come true. I’ve been here for six years now and I put in my application for citizenship last year, because of Brexit,” she says.

However, she doesn’t speak much Italian. “I’ve got the basics but you know, at my age I’ll probably never get up to the level they want. I’ve always muddled along well with the neighbours.”

“And then with Brexit, who knows if I can even stay here after all because the rules are different for non-EU countries,” she adds. “It’s all very worrying, I don’t sleep very well lately.”

Livia Scott is an Italian citizen living in London who has been waiting for her British husband’s citizenship to be approved since they applied in January 2017.

“Now we’ll have to wait for another three years and by then Brexit will have happened,” she says, adding that for her the worst thing about the new decree is that it’s retrospective. “They’ve moved the goalposts. I think it’s evil honestly.”

She adds: “Theresa May used the phrase “citizens of nowhere” and I think that’s how a lot of people are starting to feel."

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