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How and why Italy’s elective residency visa rules are getting stricter

Elaine Allaby
Elaine Allaby - [email protected]
How and why Italy’s elective residency visa rules are getting stricter
Photo by MIGUEL MEDINA / AFP.

Requirements when applying for Italy’s elective residency visa are known to be tough - and variable. But legal experts say the process is now becoming more stringent as Italian consulates are tightening the rules.

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There has been speculation among some applicants that Italian consulates may be introducing new, stricter requirements for Italy's popular elective residency visa (ERV), sparking concern that the visa could be becoming increasingly hard to obtain.

The ERV allows holders to live in Italy without working, so the majority of applicants are retirees. Candidates must meet certain minimum monthly passive income requirements, and the major concern is that these are increasng.

READ ALSO: Why getting Italy's elective residency visa can be a 'nightmare'

Samantha Wilson, head of the Florence-based consultancy Smart Move Italy, told The Local she's observed ERV requirements getting "much more strict" over the past few months, and some readers have emailed in with similar concerns.

The Local spoke with Wilson as well as Antonio Cammarano, a lawyer and ERV specialist at the Puglia-based firm Studio Legale Metta, to find out what's happening.

A stricter policy?

In July, Studio Legale Metta published a Facebook post warning that Italian consulates around the world "have recently started applying a more stringent vetting policy about the passive income sources necessary to obtain Italian Elective Residence Visas."

The post goes on to say that the new policy "comes directly from the main Italian immigration office in Rome" and is "not a case of individual Consulates applying their own interpretation of rules."

Cammarano told The Local he was informed of the new rules by officials at the Italian consulates in LA and Miami, both of which said they had received an internal communication from the Rome immigration office instructing them to tighten up their passive income requirements.

While Cammarano says the consulates wouldn't share the written policy with him on the grounds that it's a protected internal document, he was told it says they can only accept passive income from "pensions, social security, or guaranteed investments with a guaranteed minimum annual income."

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The new policy is universal, and applies to Italian consulates across the globe, he said.

When asked if this means that certain passive income sources that were previously accepted, such as rental income, would no longer count towards the application, Cammarano said that this could not be assumed, and that each consulate would continue to apply its own interpretation of the rules.

READ ALSO: Five expert tips for getting your Italian elective residency visa approved

He did, however, note that his firm had previously obtained an ERV for one client based on rental income alone - and that he wouldn't necessarily expect such an application to succeed in the future.

When contacted by The Local, the Italian consulate in LA said the relevant law remains unchanged, and did not respond to questions about a new policy from Rome. The consulate in Miami did not respond to a request for comment.

Cammarano says the new policy was issued in June. But Wilson says she's seen ERV requirements get stricter over the past six months, and - to a lesser extent - since the start of the Covid pandemic.

The ERV: harder to get going forward? The ERV: harder to get going forward? Photo by Gabrielle Henderson on Unsplash

Wilson says this trend may be down to an increase in the volume of visa applications, though notes that it's standard for consulates to update their ERV guidelines every three to four months as a matter of course.

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'Not one cookie-cutter answer'

Some of The Local's readers who are active in online 'moving to Italy' groups have voiced concerns that the minimum income threshold (in theory approximately €31,000 per person per year, or €31,000 plus around 20 percent combined income for married couples) has been significantly raised.

But individual consulates have long had the power to set their own income thresholds, which are sometimes much higher than the official minimum. When The Local interviewed experts at the start of this year for our ERV application guide, two of them said it was not uncommon for consulates to request three or four times the minimum amount.

EXPLAINED: How to apply for an elective residency visa to move to Italy

"There's not one cookie-cutter answer," says Wilson.

"Every single consulate is different and every single case is presented differently, unfortunately."

For people coming from countries like the US or UK, where official procedures tend to be standardised, it can be baffling to come up against a system in which individual consulates can apply their own interpretation of the rules and make decisions on a seemingly arbitrary basis. So why are things so different in Italy?

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"It's reflective of the way bureaucracy works in Italy," says Wilson, adding that because the country operates on a civil law rather a common law legal system, officials aren't bound to follow the judgements delivered in previous court cases, and can operate with a greater degree of autonomy.

When it comes to applying for the ERV, Wilson says she advises her clients to ask themselves whether their income is "regular, reliable, guaranteed for life."

"If you move to Italy, and you're sitting in your favourite piazza drinking a spritz in the afternoon, and you never pick up the phone, and never look at your email again, will that money continue to arrive in your bank every single month or every single year?" she says.

If you spent the rest of your days drinking spritz on the piazza, would you still get a steady income?

If you spent the rest of your days drinking spritz on the piazza, would you still get a steady income? Photo by MIGUEL MEDINA / AFP.

"If the answer is yes, then that is passive income. If the answer is no, it's active and it doesn't qualify."

Many applicants think that simply showing the Italian authorities a healthy 401(k) plan account will suffice, says Wilson - but because you can withdraw all your money from this kind of account in one go, such applications are almost always rejected.

READ ALSO: ‘Seek legal advice’: Your advice on applying for Italian visas post-Brexit

To maximise an applicant's chances of getting their ERV application approved, Wilson says she recommends showing the authorities "all of your assets, all of your income, the whole financial package," rather than just shooting for the minimum €31,000 threshold.

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She also advises candidates to check their consulate's guidelines a couple of weeks before they intend to file, as the rules may have been updated since they began compiling their documentation.

And if you receive a response asking for more information, or even a rejection? You can still tweak your application and reapply.

"They're either going to get a flat-out denial, they're going to get a visa in their passport, or they're gonna get a letter asking for more information," says Wilson.

"Very rarely is it a flat-out denial," she says.

Please note that The Local cannot advise on individual cases. For further information on the ERV and how to apply, visit the Italian foreign ministry’s visa website.

 

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