‘We’re Italian too’: Second-generation migrants renew calls for citizenship

Italy's politicians are under increased pressure to recognise more children of migrants, born and educated in the country, as Italian citizens.

'We're Italian too': Second-generation migrants renew calls for citizenship
People demonstrate in favour of reforming Italy's citizenship law. File photo: Filippo Monteforte/AFP
Inspired by the Black Lives Matter movement, Italy's second generation of legal immigrants is renewing the fight for automatic citizenship in a country where migration is at the heart of the political debate.
“Ius soli!”, the Latin term which literally means “right of soil,” or birthright citizenship, has become the new rallying cry among the children of
Italy's 5.3 million legal immigrants, who are denied the right to apply for citizenship until they turn 18.
Anti-racism protesters take part in a Black Lives Matter protest in Piazza del Popolo, Rome, in June. Photo: Alberto Pizzoli/AFP
In early June, thousands of demonstrators marched in Rome in memory of African American George Floyd, who died on May 25 when a white policeman
kneeled on his neck for more than eight minutes, triggering an outcry in the United States and around the world.
The march spurred renewed vigour among the children and grandchildren of migrants in Italy, who share the language and country's cultural references
but do not have the right to apply for citizenship until they are 18 years old.
Even then, it is subject to strict conditions and often gained only after a lengthy and heavily bureaucratic process.Italian-born children of migrants involved in stopping the hijack of a school bus in 2018 were promised citizenship as a “reward” for their bravery.
“In this country, citizenship is treated not as a right, but a concession,” said Fatima Maiga, who was born in Italy but is of Ivorian origin.
Legal immigrants say their plight has been overshadowed by the migrant crisis in the Mediterranean Sea, which since 2014 has seen more than half a
million new immigrants arriving on Italy's shores.
They claim their fight for citizenship is also weighed down by anti-immigrant sentiment at home, fomented by certain politicians – most notably by the far-right League party,which left government in 2019 after only a year in power.
While in power, League leader Matteo Salvini brought in an anti-immigration decree which makes the path to citizenship more difficult for many legal migrants.
Of the 5.3 million foreigners living in Italy in 2019, around 1.3 million were under 18 and three quarters of those were born in the country.
Among those most affected are the children of Albanian, Moroccan, Chinese, Indian and Pakistani immigrants.
Maiga, 28, co-founded Italiani Senza Cittadinanza, or Italians Without Citizenship, in 2016 to help second-generation migrants  – known as the G2 –
become Italian.
Under a 1992 law, anyone born in Italy can apply for citizenship at the age of 18, on condition of having legally lived here “without interruption”.
However, the process must be launched before they turn 19.
Up until that point, they are given residence permits.
If that window is missed, people can also become a citizen on the grounds of legal residency for a decade and on the condition of a minimum income of
8,500 euros ($10,000) a year over three years.
Nevertheless, the process can take a long time and involve complicated paperwork.
Photo: Filippo Monteforte/AFP
“I applied when I was 18. I had to wait for four years before getting my papers,” Marwa Mahmoud, 35, told AFP. 
“I know what it's like to live as an Italian in everything but in law,” Egyptian-born Mahmoud said.
Mahmoud and others also worry the ongoing migrant crisis – in which hundreds of people have been arriving on Italy's shores every day – is pushing their
own struggle further down the agenda.
 The numbers of people arriving in this way have risen by nearly 150 percent over the past year, the majority coming by boat from Tunisia, Italy's interior
ministry said last week.
“Our situation is being passed over in silence,” Mahmoud lamented.
'Not a priority'
“Since Italy started getting embroiled in the migrant crisis it's like we're starting at zero again,” she said, adding that Italians “tend to put
everyone in the same basket”.
“But the situation of an unaccompanied minor who arrived yesterday is not comparable with that of an immigrant child born and raised here,” she said.
During his year-long tenure in 2018-2019 as interior minister, Matteo Salvini, the head of the League party, pushed through new rules extending the
waiting time to process Italian nationality applications from two to four years.
Supported by the second-generation (G2) network, Italy's governing centre-left Democratic Party (PD) is now pushing for reforms – among them, advocating for five-year continuous residency to qualify for citizenship.
But so far, the PD's coalition partner, the anti-establishment Five Star Movement, has been non-committal.
Still, a fairer birthright citizenship system has been under discussion in parliament in recent years.
But “it's not a priority”, said Giuseppe Brescia, a Five Star deputy, who heads parliament's committee on constitutional affairs.
The G2 movement now plans to hold a demonstration on September 19th in the hope of advancing the cause of what it calls Italy's “forgotten non-citizens.”

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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.