Olympic wins reignite Italy’s debate over citizenship for children of foreign parents

Italy's enthusiasm over its Olympics success, driven in part by multicultural athletes, has once again reignited a long-running debate over its citizenship law and the bureaucratic hurdles faced by thousands of young people born in Italy.

Olympic wins reignite Italy's debate over citizenship for children of foreign parents
Italy's Lamont Marcell Jacobs and Eseosa Desalu celebrate after winning gold in the men's 4x100m relay final during the Tokyo 2020 Olympic Games. Photo: ALEKSANDRA SZMIGIEL/POOL/AFP

The debate comes on the heels of Italy’s best performance in history at the Olympic Games, with 40 gold medals from a diverse band of athletes from a variety of backgrounds, including the country’s new star sprinter, Texas-born Lamont Marcell Jacobs.

The debate was sparked anew after the head of Italy’s National Olympic Committee, Giovanni Malago, complained of the bureaucratic headaches confronting Italian-born athletes who want to compete for their country, but lack Italian citizenship.

Under its current path to citizenship, Italy is an outlier in Europe, providing rights based on blood ties rather than based on where children are born – an idea known as “ius soli”,a Latin term which literally means “right of soil,” or birthright citizenship.

Children born in Italy to the country’s 5.3 million legal immigrants must wait until their 18th birthdays before the have the right to apply for citizenship, beginning an arduous process that can take four years, one that Malago described as “a Dante-esque circle”.

Campaigners pushing for reform of the system have pointed out that these second-generation migrants face the longest wait for citizenship of any applicant category.

After Interior Minister Luciana Lamorgese said Malago’s criticism was valid, far-right leader Matteo Salvini, head of the populist League party, said that the minister should control the borders rather than rekindling the citizenship.debate.

In Italy, the far-right has repeatedly linked the issue of citizenship with the ongoing migrant crisis.

Salvini formerly served as Italy’s interior minister, during which time he made it more difficult for people to obtain Italian citizenship via existing routes, as well as famously blocking migrant rescue ships from docking at Italian ports.

Enrico Letta, Secretary of the Democratic Party and a former Italian prime minister, said in response that ius soli “is an issue that has nothing to do with the security and management of migrants. It has to do with equity, integration, the vitality of a society that has changed, in spite of the interpretation made by populists”.

Lamorgese told the La Stampa newspaper on Tuesday: “I think the important thing is that for these kids we have to think of social inclusion,” noting that the issue went beyond Italy’s young athletes.

“They have to feel an integral part of society,” she said.

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Five surprising Italian citizenship rules you should know about

If you plan to apply for Italian citizenship, here are a few things you might not know about this challenging but worthwhile process.

Five surprising Italian citizenship rules you should know about

If you’re looking to one day apply for Italian citizenship, you’ve probably already done some homework on the typical rules and requirements.

Of course, these requirements can vary significantly depending on which route you take and where you’ll be applying.

Even if you’re well-versed on what it takes to become Italian and the perks of citizenship, there are some rules, benefits and requirements that may still surprise you.

You can find more information specifically about this route in our collection of articles on Italian citizenship

There are ways to fast-track your application

Not much about the Italian citizenship application process could be described as fast.

However, there are some cases in which lengthy waiting times may be cut a little shorter, depending on how you’re applying.

READ ALSO: The three ways to apply for Italian citizenship

If you’re applying through marriage, it may be useful to know that the waiting time before you can apply is shorter if you live in Italy (two years instead of three, under current rules), and shorter again in either case if you have at least one child.

If you’re applying for recognition of birthright citizenship, this is again quicker if you’re a legal resident of Italy – not only because of the long waiting times for processing at many consulates abroad, but because there is actually a ‘fast track’ option for this route.

You can take a shorter version of the language test

If you’re applying for citizenship via residency or marriage, you’ll need to prove your Italian language skills by taking an exam at the B1 (lower intermediate) level.

You have the option of taking a regular B1 level Italian language certification or the B1 cittadinanza exam, which is essentially a shorter version and also costs less to take.

The downside is that the B1 cittadinanza certificate can only be used for your citizenship application, and not for other purposes, such as for university applications.

QUIZ: Test your Italian language level on the A1 to C2 scale

And, although it’s shorter, it may not necessarily be easier to pass; if you fail on one section you will have to retake the entire test (as opposed to just retaking that section under the standard B1 level test.)

If you’re fairly confident of passing and don’t need it for anything else, it may be the more convenient option.

Your children can also become Italian citizens if you naturalise

Italy doesn’t automatically award citizenship to children born in the country. Instead, the child of two foreign-born parents will also be registered as a foreign resident. 

If you naturalise as an Italian citizen, any children you already have should automatically become an Italian citizen at the same time as the parent does – provided they are under the age of 18 and living with the naturalised parent.

If you become naturalised before having a child, then he or she will be automatically Italian at birth.

Citizenship claims can be denied if you have 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. 

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

People with a criminal record are generally advised to seek advice from a legal expert before submitting a citizenship application.

Dual citizenship is allowed

Italian law does not put any limit on the number of citizenships an Italian citizen may hold, so if your home country allows it, you can have dual citizenship.

There’s a lot of confusion about this and a widespread belief that Italy does not allow citizens to hold more than one nationality, as this was not allowed until a law change in 1992.

If you should later want to renounce your Italian citizenship for any reason, you are legally allowed to do so, and the process involves roughly the same documentation and fees as that of filing your citizenship application.

Read more in The Local’s Italian citizenship section.