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How to find out if you’re eligible for Italian citizenship by descent

Since 1992, when Italy legalized dual citizenship, a large majority of Italian-Americans have been eligible to become Italian citizens by descent. Find out below whether you qualify and, if you do, how to realize your dream of becoming an Italian – and European – citizen.

How to find out if you’re eligible for Italian citizenship by descent
Photos: Italian Citizenship Assistance (L), Francesca Tirico on Unsplash (R)

Many Italian-Americans who have Italian ancestors are not aware that they may have inherited a right to Italian citizenship by descent – otherwise known as Italian citizenship jure sanguinis. The caveat, however, is that even if you know for a fact that you do qualify, you must be able to demonstrate this legal right – in legal terms.

Taking the first steps

The first thing you need to do if you’re looking to apply for Italian citizenship by descent is to make a note of the dates and places of births, marriages, and deaths of your family members in your Italian line of descent, including your Italian ancestors. If available, you also need to find out the exact dates when your Italian-born ancestor(s) became naturalized citizens of the United States.

Once you have this information, the rule of thumb is that you are eligible if you meet the criteria right below. If you are still uncertain whether you qualify, free eligibility assessment services such as the one offered by Italian Citizenship Assistance, a network of Italian and American lawyers with offices in Italy and the US, are a useful resource.

Photo: Italian Citizenship Assistance

Criteria for eligibility

  • You are of Italian descent or were adopted by at least one person of Italian descent as a minor (21 if born before 1975; 18 if born after 1975)

  • At least one of your Italian-born ancestors was alive and an Italian citizen after the year of 1861 (the Italian unification)

  • Neither your Italian-born ancestor nor any of your ascendants in your Italian line became a naturalized citizen of another country before the birth of the next person in the Italian line 

Look out for these exceptions

Unfortunately, even if your first steps indicate that you qualify, there are a few exceptions to the general rule. The first disqualification is if you have renounced your Italian citizenship voluntarily prior to August 15, 1992. Other things that would make you ineligible for Italian citizenship by descent include:

  • Your Italian-born ancestor was naturalized before June 14, 1912

  • You have an Italian female in your Italian line who gave birth to her child before January 1, 1948. 

  • You were born before 1948 and your only Italian legal parent is female. 

Note: People whose cases fall in the two latter categories may pursue Italian citizenship via the Italian court system.

READ ALSO: A new Q&A with Marco Permunian of Italian Citizenship Assistance: could you be eligible for Italian citizenship by descent?

The documents you need

If you have established your eligibility, gathering the required legal documents is where things get a bit more complex. The first thing to know is that all the U.S.-issued vital records (including birth, marriage, and death certificates) that are relevant for your application must be certified “long form” copies (i.e. an abstract will not do). In addition, they must bear the official seal of the Registrar’s Office as well as the date when each certificate was filed. Finally, each document must not be a genealogical copy or photocopy, and also have an affixed APOSTILLE, the legalization provided by either the United States Department of State or the Treasury Department.

Photo: Jonathan Bean on Unsplash

Now the catch is that it is never enough for you to merely obtain your own certificates. In all cases, you have to collect – and translate into Italian – the certificates of all the people who are relevant to the transmission of your right to Italian citizenship by descent. Unless you are making use of a legal service such as Italian Citizenship Assistance’s Executive Full Service package, the process of identifying, obtaining, authenticating, and translating all of the required documents is often the most time-consuming and complicated phase of the application process. There are no simple answers here, since it all depends on your particular family history and Italian lineage, your state of residency, as well as whether you are applying in Italy or the United States.

Applying in the US or Italy

Once you have secured translations of all of the required legal documents – and had the translations certified by an Italian consulate or Embassy – it is time to submit your application either to the Italian consulate nearest to where you are legally residing or to an Italian municipality in Italy. If you let Italian Citizenship Assistance handle the application process for you they can cover this step too.

If you choose to apply in Italy, Italian Citizenship Assistance can assist you throughout the entire process as part of one of their Full Service Executive packages. Italian Citizenship Assistance will also be able to assist you in setting up your legal residence in Italy, which is required if you want to apply in Italy.

Examples of successful applications

Applying at the consulate:

Theresa*, who lives in Brooklyn, found out she may be eligible for Italian citizenship by descent, since her grandfather Vincenzo was born in a small village in southern Italy at the end of the 19th century. While working on her family history, she found out her Italian-born grandfather Vincenzo emigrated to the US in 1910, where he met Mary, Theresa’s grandmother. In 1911, Theresa and Vincenzo got married in the borough of Queens. Theresa’s father was born in 1920, just a couple of years before Vincenzo’s naturalization as a US citizen. Thanks to ICA’s findings, she was able to confirm her eligibility for Italian citizenship. ICA started preparing Theresa’s application for Italian citizenship, which was submitted at the Italian consulate in New York City in August 2017. Her appointment at the consulate went smoothly and no integration was required. Less than one year later, she received an e-mail from the Consulate, formally stating she is an Italian citizen by right of descent. She was then entitled to apply for her Italian passport, and she is now living in Europe as an Italian citizen.

Applying in Italy:

Joseph* has always wanted to reconnect with his Italian roots and, once retired, move to Italy with his entire family. When he found out that he was eligible to apply for Italian citizenship, he reached out to ICA seeking assistance in the process of applying for Italian citizenship by descent directly in Italy. He wanted ICA to provide an “assistance package” tailored to his needs (he wanted to apply together with his son). His case was very peculiar, as it involved some discrepancies in his documents to be fixed on some key documents, and some records that were hard to locate. After ICA successfully amended all the inconsistencies and retrieved all the missing records in the correct format, Joseph and his son were ready to move to Italy and file their citizenship application directly in Italy. ICA helped them finding appropriate accommodation in town and walked them through every step of the process, from establishing the residency in Italy to submitting the paperwork to the citizenship clerk. A few months later, Joseph and his son received the confirmation of Italian citizenship from the Municipality, and they are now in the process of purchasing a property in Tuscany.

* Names have been changed

This article was produced by The Local Creative Studio and sponsored by Italian Citizenship Assistance.

For members

ITALIAN CITIZENSHIP

Reader question: Will my children get an Italian passport if born in Italy?

Obtaining Italian citizenship is not a simple matter even if you are born here, as there are many obstacles to overcome. This is what you should know about the complex process of naturalisation.

Reader question: Will my children get an Italian passport if born in Italy?

It is natural that people who are settled in Italy would want their children to have Italian citizenship.

Unlike many other countries, however, merely being born in Italy doesn’t mean the person is Italian.

If their parents were born abroad and still hold foreign passports, children will not obtain Italian citizenship at birth. 

This may sound unfair to someone coming from, say, the United States, but Italy doesn’t (in the vast majority of cases) recognise so-called “birthright citizenship” (jus soli) which would automatically grant an Italian passport to anyone born here.

Even kids who have lived here their entire lives and consider themselves to be Italian will have the same nationality as their parents and will continue to be considered foreigners by the Italian state – until and unless they become naturalised.

Some Italian politicians and political parties, particularly from the Democratic Party, are pushing for a relaxation of the rules, however at present they remain in place. 

Who is entitled to an Italian passport at birth?

Children born to Italian-citizen parents, or at least one parent who is Italian, will be automatically considered citizens of Italy by a process known as “acquisition by descent”, or jus sanguinis.

READ ALSO: How British nationals can claim Italian citizenship by descent

This applies as much to children born abroad as it does to those born in Italy.

A foreign child adopted by Italian parent(s) is subject to the same rules.

What happens if both parents are foreign nationals?

There are several scenarios to consider if you would like your child (or future child) to be Italian.

If you don’t have children yet but have a permit that allows you to permanently reside in Italy, you could apply for naturalisation after living in the country for a set number of years.

For most foreigners, ten years is the minimum length of time they will need to have lived in Italy before they become eligible to apply for citizenship through naturalisation. That period is reduced to four years for EU nationals, and five years for refugees.

READ ALSO: What’s the difference between Italian residency and citizenship?

If you become naturalised before the child is born (even if you still retain the citizenship of your former country), then he or she will be automatically Italian at birth.

If the child was born before the parent naturalised, they still automatically become an Italian citizen at the same time as the parent does – provided they are under the age of 18 and living with the naturalised parent.

“It is irrelevant that the birth occurred before or after the submission of the application for citizenship,” Giuditta De Ricco, head citizenship lawyer at the immigration firm Mazzeschi, told The Local.

Those children whose parents become Italian citizens after they turn 18, however, will need to file their own citizenship application.

For children born in Italy to foreign parents, the requirements are strict: they must reside in Italy ‘without interruption’ until the age of 18 and submit a statement of their intent to apply for citizenship within one year of their eighteenth birthday.

However, children who were born in Italy, moved away, and moved back as adults can apply for citizenship after just three continuous years of legal residency in the country – so being born on Italian soil does have some advantages when it comes to acquiring citizenship.

The Italian Air Force aerobatic unit performs on April 25, 2020, Italy's 75th Liberation Day, over the Altare della Patria monument in Rome.

The Italian Air Force aerobatic unit performs on April 25, 2020, Italy’s 75th Liberation Day, over the Altare della Patria monument in Rome. Photo by Tiziana FABI / AFP

What happens if the parents are of different nationalities?

If the child’s parents are of different nationalities that are treated differently by the Italian state (if, for example, one parent is French and the other American), the child will be subject to the least stringent applicable naturalisation requirements. 

This means that if a child has one French and one American parent, they will be subject to French (EU) rules and eligibility periods when applying for naturalisation as an Italian citizen.

READ ALSO: Reader question: Can I have residency in Italy and another country?

A French parent can apply for Italian citizenship on their own behalf after four years of residency in Italy, and “minor children will be automatically Italian, once the parent takes the oath,” confirms De Ricco.

Usually all that’s required is that the parent produces the children’s birth certificates, although in some cases children will also be asked to attend the oath-taking ceremony with their parent.

Bear in mind that it’s important to consider whether the child’s country/ies of origin allow for dual or triple citizenship, and if not, whether you would be willing to renounce your child’s citizenship of another country in order for them to obtain Italian citizenship.

What if I moved to Italy when my children were already born?

If two non-citizens move to Italy when their children were already born, naturalisation is the means through which they may be able to gain citizenship. 

In recent years some Italian parliamentarians have proposed a ius culturae basis for citizenship – that is, acquiring citizenship via cultural assimilation, on the understanding that children quickly adapt to the culture of their country of residence.

A bill put forward by Democratic Party MP Laura Boldrini would allow children under the age of ten who have lived in Italy for at least five years and completed one school year to apply for citizenship, as well as those who arrived in Italy under the age of ten and have lived continuously in Italy up to the age of 18 (and submit their statement of intent before they turn 19). 

This bill has yet to pass in Italy, however, so there are currently no such fast-tracks in place for foreign minors born outside of the country.

What about citizenship for the third generation?

Italy is particularly lenient when it comes to awarding citizenship to foreign citizens with Italian ancestry.

Anyone who can prove they had an Italian ancestor who was alive in 1861, when Italy became a nation, or since then, can become an Italian citizen via jus sanguinis (provided the ancestor in question did not renounce their citizenship).

And this leniency also extends to those who prefer to become citizens through naturalisation – if you had an Italian parent or grandparent, you just need three years of legal residency in the country to acquire citizenship in this way.

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