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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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ITALIAN CITIZENSHIP

How foreigners can get ‘fast track’ citizenship in Italy

It can take three years or more for Italy to approve applications for citizenship via ancestry, but there is another way. Here’s how you may be able to cut the waiting time.

How foreigners can get ‘fast track’ citizenship in Italy

Italy is far more lenient than many other countries when it comes to allowing people to claim citizenship via ancestry.

In fact, anyone who can prove that they had an Italian ancestor who was alive after March 17th 1861 (when the Kingdom of Italy was born) and that no one in their line of descent renounced Italian citizenship before the birth of their descendant has the right to become an Italian citizen. 

READ ALSO: What’s the difference between Italian residency and citizenship?

But that doesn’t mean getting Italian citizenship by descent is easy, and the application process is known for involving lots of paperwork and being excruciatingly lengthy.

From the moment applicants file their claim with their country’s Italian consulate, it usually takes between two to three years to get a ruling from the Italian authorities, with waiting times often being even longer in countries where the number of applications is high (Brazil, Argentina, USA). 

There is an alternative route: Italy has a ‘fast track’ citizenship application option which can reduce adjudication times to around a year on average.

But this quicker avenue requires moving to Italy, becoming a legal resident, and filing the citizenship request directly with the local town hall. 

This means applicants must be physically and legally resident in Italy for the entire duration of the citizenship application process, and their presence in Italy must be continuous during that time.

This is subject to checks by Italian law enforcement and breaking the rules can void your application.

If moving to Italy (and staying here) would be an option for you, here’s a closer look at the requirements:

Step 1 – Sorting out the documents 

Foreign nationals opting for the quicker citizenship route can only submit their application after they’ve relocated to Italy. But, most, if not all of the documents required by Italian authorities should be prepared well before moving to Italy. 

“Prospective applicants are strongly advised to come to Italy with all of the relevant documentation already arranged in the best possible way,” says Giuditta De Ricco, attorney-at-law at immigration law firm Mazzeschi Srl. 

That’s because “any inconsistencies in the documentation can further complicate and lengthen the process”, she says.

But what documents do foreign nationals need to claim Italian citizenship? Here’s an overview: 

  • Birth and (where applicable) death certificates for all the Italian ancestors in their direct line of descent plus their own birth certificate.
  • Marriage certificates for all the Italian ancestors in their direct line of descent, including that of their parents.
  • A certificate issued by their home country’s relevant authorities proving that the first ancestor in their line of descent did not acquire foreign citizenship before the birth of their descendant.
  • A certificate issued by their country’s Italian consulate proving that no ancestor in their direct line of descent nor they ever renounced Italian citizenship.

Two people signing documents in an office

Prospective applicants should get all of the necessary documents in order prior to leaving for Italy. Photo by Gabrielle HENDERSON via Unsplash

It bears noting that all of the documents issued by foreign authorities will have to be legally validated by the issuing country’s Italian consulate.

Also, all documents available in a language other than Italian will have to be translated and their translation will too have to be legally validated (this is known as ‘asseverazione’).

Once again, De Ricco recommends that all translation and validation procedures be carried out before leaving for Italy.

Step 2 – Relocating to Italy  

Being permanently resident in Italy is a binding requirement of the quicker citizenship avenue. 

“Applicants are allowed to go on short holidays abroad if they wish to” but, outside of those, their presence in Italy “must be continuous”, says De Ricco.  

Taking up residency in Italy is relatively straightforward for EU-passport holders as they don’t need a visa to enter the country nor do they need a permesso di soggiorno (residency permit).

Essentially, all EU nationals are required to do at this stage is to physically relocate to Italy and become legally resident by registering with the Ufficio Anagrafe (Registry Office). 

Things aren’t quite as easy for non-EU nationals as they need a valid entry visa and a residency permit.

READ ALSO:

There are different types of visas and permits available to non-EU nationals, but the easiest route if you’re moving for citizenship purposes is the permesso di soggiorno in attesa di cittadinanza (residency permit pending the acquisition of citizenship), which allows foreign nationals to legally live in the country for the entire length of their claim. 

Prospective applicants can enter the country on a dichiarazione di presenza (declaration of presence) – this is filed with border police for non-Schengen arrivals and at the local Questura (police station) within eight days of entry for others – use the above dichiarazione to register with the Anagrafe and then submit their citizenship application at the town hall. 

Starting the citizenship application process will ultimately give foreign nationals the right to apply for the residency permit, which they’ll have to request by filling out and posting the relevant form along with all the necessary documents to the local Questura.   

Remember: a dichiarazione di presenza allows non-EU nationals to legally remain in Italy for a maximum of 90 days, so you’ll have to send in your permesso di soggiorno application before your 90-day window expires.

READ ALSO: How to register with the anagrafe in Italy

It’s also worth noting that holders of residency permits for citizenship purposes are not allowed to carry out any type of work in the country. However, such permits can be converted into residency permits for work purposes if needed. 

Step 3 – Booking an appointment with the town hall

Once you’ve registered with the Anagrafe and prepared all of the relevant documents, you’ll need to book an appointment at the Ufficio di Stato Civile (Civil Registry) at your local town hall and submit the application to become an Italian citizen. 

Colourful houses in Venice

Foreign nationals must be legally and physically resident in Italy in order to apply for citizenship at their local town hall. ​​Photo by Alex VASEY via Unsplash

You’ll find your registry’s contact details on the town hall’s website. 

Step 4 – Outcome

Barring any inconsistencies regarding the submitted documentation, Italian authorities have 180 days to rule on the issue of Italian citizenship.

However, town halls are required to exchange information with foreign consulates during the application process and the latter’s response times don’t count towards the 180-day window.

That’s part of the reason why “waiting times vary greatly from case to case”, says De Ricco. “Some consulates get back after three weeks, while others might take seven months to do it.”

So, ultimately, the luckier applicants might become Italian citizens within as little as six months, whereas others might have to wait a year or a year and a half. 

READ ALSO: Reader question: Will my children get an Italian passport if born in Italy?

If the request is successful, the applicant will receive Italian citizenship and so will any children of theirs under the age of 18. Children aged over 18 will have to file their own application. 

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.

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