How Americans can claim Italian citizenship by descent

Italian-Americans are one of the largest – and proudest – ethnic groups in the United States. For those who dream of moving to 'the old country', there are three main paths to dual citizenship. Find out below what they are and whether you qualify.

How Americans can claim Italian citizenship by descent
Photo by Francesca Tirico on Unsplash.
Italian-Americans are famously proud of their roots. You only need to look at the scores of Facebook pages and groups dedicated to Italian-Americans in cities across the United States to see that love for the ancestral fatherland is a powerful bond that ties Italian-Americans together. 
But for some of these Italoamericani, pride in their Italian ancestry isn’t enough. Many dream of actually returning to the old country and becoming Italian citizens. And since Italy started allowing dual citizenship in 1992, becoming an Italian can now be done without renouncing your identity and legal status as an American. 
Not every American with Italian roots qualifies for Italian dual citizenship, of course, and the process of determining whether you live up to the requirements can be complicated and daunting. But free eligibility assessment services like Italian Dual Citizenship can help Americans determine whether they can claim Italian citizenship. While there are several ways to qualify for an Italian passport, for the most part an American’s path to becoming a dual Italian citizen follows one of three routes. 
Italian citizenship by descent (Jure Sanguinis)
The first, and the one most Italian-Americans are interested in, is claiming the right to Italian citizenship by descent. Based on the legal principle of jure sanguinis (Latin for “right of blood”), this path to becoming an Italian is all about proving that you have inherited the right to citizenship through your Italian-born ancestors. Even if you know your lineage by heart, the key to obtaining citizenship this way is being able to procure the key legal documents that prove that you meet the criteria. 
You’ll need to be able to document the dates and places of births, marriages, and deaths of your family members in your Italian line of descent. This can quickly become a time-consuming process, given the amount of documents that need to collected and translated. This is compounded by the requirement that they be provided as certified “long form” copies with an affixed “apostille” that verifies their validity. While many prospective Italians can and do take on this onerous task on their own, Italian Citizenship Assistance and its team of Italian and American lawyers and translators can help navigate through the layers of red tape. If the mere thought of tracking down multiple generations’ worth of paperwork is too overwhelming, there is also a “Full Service Package” that handles the process from start to finish. 
Whether you choose to go down this road alone or with professional help, there are five basic requirements must be met to achieve Italian citizenship jure sanguinis. As is the case with most rules, however, there are also some exceptions so be sure to do your homework so you don’t run into any surprises
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Italian citizenship by marriage
If you don’t meet – or can’t adequately document – the jure sanguinis requirements, that doesn’t mean you can’t become an Italian citizen. There are other ways to do it and the next one we’ll discuss has one major prerequisite: love! 
Italian citizenship can be achieved through marriage or civil union as long as some basic requirements are met. Before we get into those, let’s talk timing. If you are already living in Italy with your spouse, you can apply for citizenship after just two years of marriage (or civil union). If you and your spouse or partner have minor-aged children, whether biological or adopted, that waiting time is just one year. If you're living Stateside, you can still get citizenship through your Italian spouse but you’ll have to wait until you’ve been married for three years to apply, or 18 months if you have children. 
So, what does it take to get Italian citizenship through marriage? The most important thing has already been covered – you need to be in a marriage or civil union with an Italian! Beyond that, you’ll need to prove that you speak adequate Italian (B1 level), you must be properly registered through the Registry of Italians Resident Abroad (AIRE) and you have to be able to verify your marriage or civil union with the relevant authorities – something that can be done from within the United States.  
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Citizenship through naturalization
If you’re an American living in Italy who hasn’t found ‘the right one’ yet, there is still hope your you to become a dual Italian citizen. Americans, and others for that matter, can achieve citizenship through the naturalization process. 
This process takes several factors into account, primarily how long you’ve lived and worked in Italy. For most non-EU nationals like Americans, citizenship can be achieved after ten continuous years in the country. You’ll also need a clean criminal record and you’ll have to demonstrate that you meet certain financial requirements. As is the case with the other routes, you’ll have to procure and show relevant documents, like proof of your legal residence in Italy, your tax returns and your parents’ birth certificates. 
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Help available
The correct path to Italian dual citizenship obviously depends on your personal situation. But whether you need help determining whether you qualify by descent or need assistance navigating the complicated bureaucracy to get citizenship through marriage or naturalization, you don’t need to take on the daunting process alone. Italoamericani can call on the team of Italian dual citizenship experts at Italian Dual Citizenship for help. 
For members


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.