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Italian citizenship For Members

FACT CHECK: Is Italy tightening the requirements for citizenship via ancestry?

Clare Speak
Clare Speak - [email protected]
FACT CHECK: Is Italy tightening the requirements for citizenship via ancestry?
Ancestry is the most popular route to obtaining Italian citizenship, wherever you live in the world. But could that be about to change? (Photo by Andreas SOLARO / AFP)

If you’ve heard Italy is planning to bring in a language requirement and other limits on claiming Italian citizenship by descent, here’s a look at what’s actually happening and what it could mean for applicants.

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Tens of thousands of people every year are granted Italian citizenship, almost half of them via the ancestry route, known as ius sanguinis (or ‘right of blood’).

If you’re planning to apply, you may already know that the requirements are complex and the process increasingly lengthy - particularly when applying from certain countries outside of Italy.

And some recent posts shared on social media have suggested that the process is about to become more difficult, as Italy plans to introduce a new language requirement and a limit on the number of generations applicants can go back in search of an Italian ancestor.

“Italy has proposed a new bill that would prevent most outsiders from getting their Italian citizenship,” read one post, before adding that “these bills aren’t set in stone yet”.

READ ALSO: 'Next to impossible': How backlogs are delaying applications for Italian citizenship

Such posts appear to be referring to a draft law put forward in June 2023 by Senator Roberto Menia, a member of the ruling Brothers of Italy party.

The draft bill, which you can read in its entirety here (in Italian), proposes amending Italy’s 1992 citizenship law to say that Italians who are “direct ascendents [sic] of Italian citizens up to the third degree, who were born in or are resident in Italy,” could apply for ius sanguinis citizenship provided they could satisfy a language test requirement.

Italian legal experts have noted that the use of “ascendants” rather than “descendants” in the draft bill’s text doesn’t make sense and might be an error.

This would appear to mean that people applying for the recognition of Italian citizenship would only be able to go back three generations in search of an Italian ancestor through whom they could claim their birthright citizenship. There is currently no generational limit in place.

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And applicants would need to prove they can speak Italian to the level B1 or above on the Common European Framework of Reference for Languages (CEFRL). This is already a requirement when applying for Italian citizenship via other routes.

Could you pass an Italian language test at B1 level?

Photo by Green Chameleon on Unsplash

The draft also says that descendants of Italian citizens “beyond the third degree” would need to first be resident in Italy for at least a year, and then file their request at their local comune (town hall) as well as passing the language test.

READ ALSO: An expert guide to getting Italian citizenship via ancestry

As the law is at the draft stage, this is a long way from becoming reality.

The bill would first need to be approved by the government cabinet and both houses of parliament, and then it would have to be enacted into law. At any stage of that process, it could undergo major modifications or simply be abandoned - as in the case of the ‘Digital Nomad’ visa law, which was approved but never fully enacted.

And it’s not the first time an Italian lawmaker has suggested introducing a generational limit for applicants, with previous proposed changes to Italy’s citizenship laws going nowhere.

But it is also possible that Menia’s draft bill - or at least, parts of it - could become law.

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Why is this happening?

Menia mentioned the soaring waiting times at Italian consulates abroad as being a factor in his decision to table the draft law, and he also argued that restricting applications is necessary because, he believes, some applicants obtain Italian citizenship in order to enter other countries, and that a trade has sprung up around helping people to "buy" Italian citizenship.

In his introduction to the draft bill, Menia wrote that “the interest for the nation to re-establish ties with our natives and to make them citizens again is evident, but this must take place in compliance with the real motivations of those who request citizenship and provided that [citizenship] is lived with fullness, participation and awareness.”

“Too often we learn of citizenships granted to people born abroad who are unable to speak a single word of Italian, who have not spoken Italian for generations, and who have ephemeral - if any - ties with Italy,” he wrote.

He claimed that “in various countries of historical Italian emigration, there is currently a ‘race’ for Italian citizenship,” which he said for some people is “a matter of convenience – real or presumed”.

READ ALSO: Italian passport ranked world’s second ‘most powerful’

“Many use the Italian passport as a key to easy entry to some countries which are otherwise difficult to get into, or for entry to the European Union, without passing through Italy or thinking of living, studying or working there,” he wrote.

As a result, “ten-year waiting lists have been formed, especially at some consulates in South America.”

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He said a business has sprung up around the “sale of citizenship”, claiming that “there are law firms and agencies that offer packages complete with skip-the-line tickets, documentation (sometimes false) and fictitious residency to quickly acquire Italian citizenship.”

At the end of July, Menia also called for a parliamentary inquiry into how ius sanguinis citizenships are being recognised and how easy it is to get - or “buy” - one.

He said when addressing a question on the issue to Italy’s parliament that there had been a “dizzying increase” in the number of Italian passports issued, “mainly in some Latin American countries, which puts a strain on the American visa waiver program,” as he suggested many people entering the US this way would then overstay.

While Menia has repeatedly singled out countries in South America in his call for reform, any changes to the rules on applying for the recognition of birthright Italian citizenship would apply to applicants anywhere in the world.

The Local will continue to report on any changes to the law around citizenship applications. See the latest news in our Italian citizenship section.

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Comments (2)

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A.P. TOSI 2024/05/21 10:23
Back in 2005, I started doing my research, following the death of my Nonna in 2008. We ended up getting ahead of the curve on this, and for me it was a bit of a pet project for a decade after my trip to Italy in 2005 with my Nonna. For larger families, I feel like hiring an attorney in Rome is the easiest route, because it can take a while working with the consulates in the States depending on your region. It’s worth it to have a complete case with over 25 members in your family on the same file that you hand to the attorney to present in Rome versus juggling all of that stateside with how frenetic things have been in the last five years. Our region specifically, would take expensive plane trips just to visit and plan around. And to avoid any scheduling conflicts, appointments have to be booked and planned for years in advance. The waiting list for San Francisco was extremely long, and occasionally inoperable because of the amount of people accessing it.
MARK VASCONI 2023/12/28 23:40
Does anyone know the status of the proposed bill introduced in the Italian Senate in June 2023 that would tighten requirements for the recognition of citizenship through the path of Jus Sanguinis? I've been searching the intefrnet to find out if the bill has progressed but my searches have been fruitless.

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