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RIGHTS

What’s the difference between Italian residency and citizenship?

As a foreigner in Italy you enter a complicated world of bureaucracy, but one question we are asked a lot is the difference in status between residency and citizenship. Here's an overview.

What's the difference between Italian residency and citizenship?
What rights do Italian citizens have that residents don't? Photo: Miguel Medina/AFP

Broadly the difference is this: citizenship gives you a lot more rights but is consequently harder to secure.

Here’s a look at how the different categories work.

Non-resident visitor

This category covers everything from people having a long weekend in Rome to second home owners.

Depending on where you come from you are allowed to stay in Italy for a certain period (for most non-Europeans this limit is 90 days) without becoming a full-time resident of the country.

READ ALSO: How British second home owners can spend more than 90 days in Italy after Brexit

The upside of this is that there’s no paperwork, but you don’t have any legal status or right to stay in the country – or enter it if the borders close again.

You also won’t have access to healthcare if you need it while you are here so will need to make sure you are covered via health insurance or – for EU citizens – the European Health Insurance Card.

Residency

This means that you are officially allowed to live in Italy. The requirements for being an official resident of the country vary according to the country that you come from and your circumstances.

Citizens of EU countries and those within the Schengen zone benefit from European freedom of movement, which means they are entitled to move to Italy to live and work. This freedom is not completely unlimited – there are conditions around criminal records and minimum income level – but is fairly generous.

EU nationals who plan to stay in Italy permanently must register with their local town hall within three months of moving here. It’s not an immigration procedure but an administrative one: even Italian citizens have to do it if they’ve been living abroad, though it’s easier for them since registering as a foreigner requires jumping through extra hoops.

You will need to show that you are in a position to support yourself without state welfare – whether it’s by having a job, relying on a family member or spouse in Italy, or showing you have enough savings to get by. You’ll also have to demonstrate that you have health coverage, either because you qualify for national health care or you have private insurance.

READ ALSO: Who can register for national healthcare in Italy?

People who are not citizens of an EU or Schengen zone country – known as third country nationals – have even more hoops to jump through before they can become residents.

For most non-Europeans, moving to Italy involves first getting a visa in your current country, then applying for a residency permit, known as a permesso di soggiorno, once you arrive. The visa process can be both complicated and expensive, and varies depending on your reason for coming to Italy. Find out about different types of visa here, and read one American’s first-hand account of the process here.

Since January 1st 2021, UK nationals no longer have the rights of EU citizens and will have to apply for a visa to live in Italy. Find out more here.

Brits who were already resident in Italy before the Brexit cut-off on December 31st 2020 should apply for a residency card to show they qualify to keep their rights to live and work here. You can apply at your local police headquarters, without needing to re-register your residency. Find more information here.

DEALING WITH BREXIT:

Once you have your residency in place, you will have access to the Italian healthcare system and other services, and your right to stay or re-enter Italy from overseas are protected.

You will also be expected to pay tax in Italy, including on income earned abroad.  

Third country residents can stay as long as their permesso di soggiorno is valid. You will have to renew your permesso every two years or less, demonstrating each time that you still meet the conditions set out in your visa – for instance, you’re still enrolled or school or university if you’re on a student visa, or you’re still employed if you have a work visa. 

After five years you may be able to apply for a long-term residency permit without an expiry date, but you’ll need to meet certain conditions like having a minimum income and passing a language test.

READ ALSO: ‘How I got an elective residency visa to retire in Italy’

If you commit certain types of crime you can be removed from the country, while other crimes will mean getting a new visa or permesso becomes more difficult.

EU citizens have the right to vote in municipal and European elections (but not parliamentary ones), while non-Europeans have no voting rights.

Certain types of jobs are reserved for Italian citizens only, while others – especially within public administration – are reserved for EU citizens only. Non-citizens cannot run for parliament, but EU citizens can stand as candidates in local elections.

Citizenship

This is the ultimate guarantee of your rights in Italy and once you have become an Italian citizen you are, on paper at least, exactly the same as Italian people who were born and bred here.

You are entitled to stay here for the rest of your life, even if you commit a serious crime, and you can pass your citizenship on to your children. You can also leave the country for as long as you want and return to live without having to ask permission.

You’ll also be guaranteed free access to the Italian healthcare system for you and your dependents, even if you don’t have a job. 

You are entitled to vote and – in good news for those with political ambitions – you can stand for any type of public office including parliament.

But the flip side of this is that citizenship is not easy to obtain.

READ ALSO: How many foreigners does Italy grant citizenship to?

Italy’s rules are more generous than many other countries’ when it comes to allowing people to claim citizenship via ancestry: you can apply even if you only have one Italian ancestor several generations back.

But you’ll need to provide official certificates of birth, marriage and death for every relative between you and them to prove the line of descent, and your claim is usually wiped out if anyone in the chain renounced Italian citizenship before passing it on to their children. 

If you don’t have Italian ancestors then the most common ways to obtain citizenship are through marriage to a Italian person or through residency. 

In either case you need to fulfil a number of criteria, including having lived in the country for 10 years if you’re a third country national or being married to your Italian spouse for three years (two if you live in Italy and one if you have Italian children), as well as a minimum level of the Italian language.

READ ALSO: What you need to know about taking Italy’s language test for citizenship

It’s not a quick process – the Italian state gives itself up to two to four years to process applications – and involves a lot of paperwork. If original documents are in English you have to have them officially translated, notarised and legalised, for a fee. There are also fees just to submit your application.

Find out more about applying for citizenship here.

If you satisfy all the requirements and once your paperwork is all processed you will finally have to swear allegiance to the Italian Republic in a special ceremony (and make sure you say it right). 

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VISAS

What is the EU’s ‘single permit’ for third-country nationals and can I get one?

In 2020, 2.7 million non-EU citizens were issued a so-called "single permit" to both reside and work in the EU. But what is the single permit, how does it work and what could change in the future?

What is the EU's 'single permit' for third-country nationals and can I get one?

Among the recent proposals made by the European Commission to simplify the procedures for the entry and residence of non-EU nationals in the European Union, there is the reform of the ‘single permit’.

In 2020, 2.7 million non-EU citizens were issued a ‘single permit’ to both reside and work in the EU, according to the European statistics agency Eurostat. Five countries together issued 75% of the total, with France topping the list (940,000 permits issued), followed by Italy (345,000), Germany (302,000), Spain (275,000) and Portugal (170,000).

Seven in 10 single permits were granted for family and employment reasons (34 and 36 percent respectively) and just less than 10 percent for education purposes.

But what is this permit and how does it work?

What is the EU single permit?

The EU single permit is an administrative act that grants non-EU citizens both a work and residence permit for an EU member state with a single application.

It was designed to simplify access for people moving to the EU for work. It also aims to ensure that permit holders are treated equally to the citizens of the country where they live when it comes to working conditions, education and training, recognition of qualifications, freedom of association, tax benefits, access to goods and services, including housing and advice services.

Equal conditions also concern social security, including the portability of pension benefits. This means that non-EU citizens or their survivors who reside in a non-EU country and derive rights from single permit holders are entitled to receive pensions for old age, invalidity and death in the same way as EU citizens.

The single permit directive applies in 25 of the 27 EU countries, as Ireland and Denmark have opted out of all EU laws affecting ‘third country nationals’.

Who can apply for a single permit?

The directive covers non-EU nationals who apply to reside in an EU country for work or who are already resident in the EU for other purposes but have the right to access the labour market (for instance, students or family members of a citizen of the country of application).

As a general rule, these rules do not apply to long-term residents or non-EU family members of EU citizens who exercise the free movement rights or have free movement rights in the EU under separate laws, as their rights are already covered by separate laws.

It also does not apply to posted workers, seasonal workers, intra-corporate transferees, beneficiaries of temporary protection, refugees, self-employed workers and seafarers or people working on board of EU ships, as they are not considered part of the labour market of the EU country where they are based.

Each country can determine whether the application should be made by the non-EU national or the employer or either of them.

Applications from the individual are required for the Czech Republic, Estonia, Finland, Germany, Hungary, Luxembourg, Malta, Poland, Romania, Slovakia, Sweden. For Bulgaria and Italy it is the employer who has to apply, while applications are accepted from either the recipient or the employer for Austria, Croatia, Cyprus, France, Lithuania, the Netherlands, Portugal, Slovenia and Spain.

How long does it take to process the application?

The EU directive says the competent authority must decide on the application within 4 months from the date it was lodged. Only in exceptional circumstances the deadline can be longer.

Where no decision is taken within the time limit, national law determines the outcome. In some EU countries (including France, Italy and Spain) this is a tacit rejection while in others it is a tacit approval.

If the application is incomplete, the authority should notify the applicant in writing specifying which additional information is needed, and the time count should be suspended until these are received.

In case of rejection, the authority must provide the reasons and there is a possibility to appeal.

How does it work in practice?

Although the intention of the directive was to simplify the procedure and guarantee more rights, things always get complicated when it’s 25 countries turning rules into reality.

A 2019 report of the European Commission on how this law was working in practice showed that the directive “failed to address some of the issues it proposed to solve”.

The Commission had received several complaints and launched legal action against some member states.

Complaints concerned in particular excessive processing times by the relevant authorities, too high fees, problems with the recognition of qualifications and the lack of equal treatment in several areas, especially social security.

Only 13 countries allowed the transfer of pensions to non-EU countries. In France, invalidity and death pensions are not exportable to non-EU states. Problems were identified also in Bulgaria, the Netherlands and Slovenia.

In Italy single permit holders were excluded from certain types of family benefits and it was the EU Court of Justice that ruled, in September 2021, that single permit holders are entitled to a childbirth and maternity allowances as provided by Italian laws. The EU Court also rules that Italy and the Netherlands were charging too high fees.

Sweden restricts social security benefits for people living in the country for less than one year and takes too long to process single permit applications, according to the report.

Generally the report found that authorities were not providing sufficient information to the pubic about the permit and associated rights.

What will change?

As part of a package of measures to make working and moving in the EU country easier for non-EU nationals announced at the end of April, the European Commission has proposed some changes to improve the situation.

The Commission has suggested shortening the deadline for member states to issue a decision ensuring that the 4 month limit covers the issuing of visas and the labour market test (to prove there are no suitable candidates in the local market).

Under the proposal, fees should be proportionate and candidates should be able to submit the application both in the member state of destination and from a third country.

In addition, permit holders should be able to change employer during the permit’s validity, and the permit should not be withdrawn in case of unemployment for at least 3 months. These measures should reduce vulnerability to labour exploitation, the Commission says.

The Commission also suggests member states should introduce penalties against employers who do no respect equality principles especially with regard to working conditions, freedom of association and affiliation and access to social security benefits.

These proposals have to be approved by the European Parliament and Council and can be modified before becoming law.

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