How to find out if you’re eligible for Italian citizenship by descent

Since 1992, when Italy legalized dual citizenship, a large majority of Italian-Americans have been eligible to become Italian citizens by descent. Find out below whether you qualify and, if you do, how to realize your dream of becoming an Italian – and European – citizen.

How to find out if you’re eligible for Italian citizenship by descent
Photos: Italian Citizenship Assistance (L), Francesca Tirico on Unsplash (R)

Many Italian-Americans who have Italian ancestors are not aware that they may have inherited a right to Italian citizenship by descent – otherwise known as Italian citizenship jure sanguinis. The caveat, however, is that even if you know for a fact that you do qualify, you must be able to demonstrate this legal right – in legal terms.

Taking the first steps

The first thing you need to do if you’re looking to apply for Italian citizenship by descent is to make a note of the dates and places of births, marriages, and deaths of your family members in your Italian line of descent, including your Italian ancestors. If available, you also need to find out the exact dates when your Italian-born ancestor(s) became naturalized citizens of the United States.

Once you have this information, the rule of thumb is that you are eligible if you meet the criteria right below. If you are still uncertain whether you qualify, free eligibility assessment services such as the one offered by Italian Citizenship Assistance, a network of Italian and American lawyers with offices in Italy and the US, are a useful resource.

Photo: Italian Citizenship Assistance

Criteria for eligibility

  • You are of Italian descent or were adopted by at least one person of Italian descent as a minor (21 if born before 1975; 18 if born after 1975)

  • At least one of your Italian-born ancestors was alive and an Italian citizen after the year of 1861 (the Italian unification)

  • Neither your Italian-born ancestor nor any of your ascendants in your Italian line became a naturalized citizen of another country before the birth of the next person in the Italian line 

Look out for these exceptions

Unfortunately, even if your first steps indicate that you qualify, there are a few exceptions to the general rule. The first disqualification is if you have renounced your Italian citizenship voluntarily prior to August 15, 1992. Other things that would make you ineligible for Italian citizenship by descent include:

  • Your Italian-born ancestor was naturalized before June 14, 1912

  • You have an Italian female in your Italian line who gave birth to her child before January 1, 1948. 

  • You were born before 1948 and your only Italian legal parent is female. 

Note: People whose cases fall in the two latter categories may pursue Italian citizenship via the Italian court system.

READ ALSO: A new Q&A with Marco Permunian of Italian Citizenship Assistance: could you be eligible for Italian citizenship by descent?

The documents you need

If you have established your eligibility, gathering the required legal documents is where things get a bit more complex. The first thing to know is that all the U.S.-issued vital records (including birth, marriage, and death certificates) that are relevant for your application must be certified “long form” copies (i.e. an abstract will not do). In addition, they must bear the official seal of the Registrar’s Office as well as the date when each certificate was filed. Finally, each document must not be a genealogical copy or photocopy, and also have an affixed APOSTILLE, the legalization provided by either the United States Department of State or the Treasury Department.

Photo: Jonathan Bean on Unsplash

Now the catch is that it is never enough for you to merely obtain your own certificates. In all cases, you have to collect – and translate into Italian – the certificates of all the people who are relevant to the transmission of your right to Italian citizenship by descent. Unless you are making use of a legal service such as Italian Citizenship Assistance’s Executive Full Service package, the process of identifying, obtaining, authenticating, and translating all of the required documents is often the most time-consuming and complicated phase of the application process. There are no simple answers here, since it all depends on your particular family history and Italian lineage, your state of residency, as well as whether you are applying in Italy or the United States.

Applying in the US or Italy

Once you have secured translations of all of the required legal documents – and had the translations certified by an Italian consulate or Embassy – it is time to submit your application either to the Italian consulate nearest to where you are legally residing or to an Italian municipality in Italy. If you let Italian Citizenship Assistance handle the application process for you they can cover this step too.

If you choose to apply in Italy, Italian Citizenship Assistance can assist you throughout the entire process as part of one of their Full Service Executive packages. Italian Citizenship Assistance will also be able to assist you in setting up your legal residence in Italy, which is required if you want to apply in Italy.

Examples of successful applications

Applying at the consulate:

Theresa*, who lives in Brooklyn, found out she may be eligible for Italian citizenship by descent, since her grandfather Vincenzo was born in a small village in southern Italy at the end of the 19th century. While working on her family history, she found out her Italian-born grandfather Vincenzo emigrated to the US in 1910, where he met Mary, Theresa’s grandmother. In 1911, Theresa and Vincenzo got married in the borough of Queens. Theresa’s father was born in 1920, just a couple of years before Vincenzo’s naturalization as a US citizen. Thanks to ICA’s findings, she was able to confirm her eligibility for Italian citizenship. ICA started preparing Theresa’s application for Italian citizenship, which was submitted at the Italian consulate in New York City in August 2017. Her appointment at the consulate went smoothly and no integration was required. Less than one year later, she received an e-mail from the Consulate, formally stating she is an Italian citizen by right of descent. She was then entitled to apply for her Italian passport, and she is now living in Europe as an Italian citizen.

Applying in Italy:

Joseph* has always wanted to reconnect with his Italian roots and, once retired, move to Italy with his entire family. When he found out that he was eligible to apply for Italian citizenship, he reached out to ICA seeking assistance in the process of applying for Italian citizenship by descent directly in Italy. He wanted ICA to provide an “assistance package” tailored to his needs (he wanted to apply together with his son). His case was very peculiar, as it involved some discrepancies in his documents to be fixed on some key documents, and some records that were hard to locate. After ICA successfully amended all the inconsistencies and retrieved all the missing records in the correct format, Joseph and his son were ready to move to Italy and file their citizenship application directly in Italy. ICA helped them finding appropriate accommodation in town and walked them through every step of the process, from establishing the residency in Italy to submitting the paperwork to the citizenship clerk. A few months later, Joseph and his son received the confirmation of Italian citizenship from the Municipality, and they are now in the process of purchasing a property in Tuscany.

* Names have been changed

This article was produced by The Local Creative Studio and sponsored by Italian Citizenship Assistance.

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Eight of the most common mistakes when applying for Italian citizenship

Applying for Italian citizenship is not always the fastest process, but mistakes can further lengthen waiting times or even result in a denied claim. Here are some of the most common pitfalls.

Eight of the most common mistakes when applying for Italian citizenship

Getting Italian citizenship is no walk in the park and, though some routes can be slightly quicker or less complex than others, the process is generally very lengthy. 

Under Italian law, all citizenship claims should be either approved or denied within a maximum of three years, but waiting times are frequently longer than that, especially in foreign countries with high numbers of citizenship applications (Brazil, Argentina, USA). 

So, if you’re considering applying, you’ll want to make sure that your application is absolutely watertight to avoid further prolonging the process or having your claim denied altogether.

READ ALSO: How many people get Italian citizenship every year?

Here are some of the most common mistakes people make on their citizenship application and how you can avoid them. 

Having an expired passport

It may seem obvious, but you won’t be able to successfully complete your Italian citizenship application without a valid passport. This may mean having at least six months’ validity left on your passport at the time of application – always check with the Questura or consulate before submitting your application, as the specifics often vary from one office to another.

Also, since claims are generally fairly lengthy, you might want to make a note of your passport’s expiration date. 

American passport

You won’t be able to successfully complete your Italian citizenship application without a valid passport. Photo by Nicole Geri on Unsplash

Should your passport expire during the application process, you might be asked to provide evidence that a renewal is underway.  

Having incomplete or inaccurate information in your documents

Even the smallest of errors can stall an application for weeks or even months, so you’ll want to make sure that yours is totally mistake-free. 

You should pay particular attention to names, surnames, dates of birth, addresses, ID numbers and tax codes – both on the application forms you fill out and on official documents issued to you. 

Remember that mistakes can sometimes be made by officials or office clerks, so it’s always best to double check any document that’s been filled out for you by someone else. Always check, for example, your Italian ID card or carta di soggiorno carefully for mistakes – if any of the details are incorrect, you’ll need to get it reissued before using it in your citizenship application.

Errors can be particularly frequent in iure sanguinis (ancestry) citizenship claims due to discrepancies between Italian records and foreign-issued documents. 

READ ALSO: How foreigners can get ‘fast track’ citizenship in Italy

In such cases, it is essential that applicants address any issues with their foreign consulate. 

Applying with a criminal record

Having a criminal record does not automatically void a citizenship application.

However, the criminal records of all applicants are vetted by Italian authorities in the early application stages and even minor offences can sometimes result in a denied claim. 

People with a criminal record are generally advised to seek the counsel of a legal expert before submitting a citizenship application.

Failing to prepare for the Italian language test

When applying for Italian citizenship through marriage or residence, you must submit a certificate proving proficiency in the Italian language at B1 level or above

Woman filling out a form

People applying for Italian citizenship through marriage or residence have to submit proof of B1 proficiency in the Italian language. Photo by Unseen studio on Unsplash

B1 is defined as a lower intermediate level and requires people to be proficient enough in the language to manage everyday interactions, follow most conversations on TV shows and get the gist of what’s in Italian newspapers.

READ ALSO: TEST: Is your Italian good enough for citizenship?

If you’ve lived in Italy for a while, there’s a good chance you’re already at this level or close to it. If not, you might have to sign up for Italian language classes.

The language certificate must be issued by one of four schools in Italy accredited by the Italian Education Ministry or Foreign Ministry. You can find more details here.

To get this certificate, you’ll need to sit and pass an exam which can be taken at language schools around Italy and abroad. If your language school advertises B1 testing for citizenship, make sure they are accredited by one of the recognised institutions.

Further info about obtaining this certificate can be found here.

Not getting your foreign-issued documents translated and validated

All foreign-issued documents, including birth certificates and criminal records, must be translated into Italian and legally validated (this is known as legalizzazione) by the Italian consulate of the country that issued them. 

Documents written in any language other than Italian will not be accepted as valid. 

Once again, this point is especially relevant for citizenship via ancestry claims, as applicants are required to produce birth, death and marriage certificates for all of their direct Italian ancestors.

Submitting your application before the residence requirement has been fulfilled

If you’ve been living legally and continuously in Italy for 10 years (or four years for EU nationals), you have the right to apply for Italian citizenship. 

Houses in Burano, Venice

Non-EU nationals must live legally and continuously in Italy for 10 years before they can claim citizenship. Photo by Gabriel BOUYS / AFP

However, you can only apply after meeting the above time requirement. All ‘early’ applications are rejected. 

READ ALSO: How to register with the anagrafe in Italy

If you’re considering applying for citizenship via residency, you should also keep in mind that the ten-year (or four-year) timeframe starts when you officially register with the Italian Ufficio Anagrafe (Registry Office), not when you first enter the country. 

Not living with your spouse long enough

The spouse of an Italian national can apply for Italian citizenship after two years of legal residence in Italy or three years if living abroad. 

As mentioned earlier, you’ll only be able to submit your application after meeting the time requirement, and the timeframe again starts from the date you are legally registered as a resident. 

Failing to take the oath 

Though it doesn’t apply to the application process itself, this is still a point worth making. 

From the moment they’re awarded Italian citizenship, new citizens have six months to take an oath of allegiance to the Italian Republic. If they don’t, their citizenship will be automatically revoked.