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ITALIAN CITIZENSHIP

How British nationals can claim Italian citizenship by descent

Whether you're looking to move to Italy or honour your Italian roots, British nationals hoping to get an Italian passport could trace their family tree to become a citizen of Italy. Here's what you need to know.

British nationals may have various reasons for wanting Italian citizenship – one new motivation may be regaining the benefits of being a European Union citizen once more, such as enjoying freedom of movement within the bloc.

Perhaps you want to recognise your Italian heritage or you already live in Italy and would like more security in the country you now call home.

READ ALSO: How many foreigners does Italy grant citizenship to?

Regardless of why you’re interested in getting Italian citizenship, you’ll need to be prepared for plenty of research, patience and paperwork.

Here are the steps to going down the route of citizenship by descent and the pitfalls to watch out for from a legal expert.

Knowing your right to Italian citizenship

Getting an Italian passport through the legal principle of ‘jure sanguinis‘ (which means ‘right of blood’ in Latin), is a way for you to prove your right to Italian citizenship through Italian-born ancestors.

“This route recognises your citizenship since birth, you don’t acquire it,” Giuditta De Ricco, head citizenship lawyer at immigration firm Mazzeschi told The Local.

“If your documents are in good order and there is a direct lineage with no renunciations of citizenship from family members, Italy has to recognise it,” she added.

The firm has noticed a few more enquiries about this route to Italian citizenship since Brexit, she said. If you’re eligible, it’s a surer way than the other methods.

That’s because this path is slightly different than applying for Italian citizenship by marriage, for example.

“In that case, there is discretion – the authorities don’t have to give it you. Whereas if you can prove you have Italian heritage, you’re getting a document to reflect something that was already yours,” De Ricco said.

Gaining Italian citizenship by descent involves a lot of paperwork. Photo by Lennart Schulz on Unsplash

But it doesn’t mean it’s straightforward or easy.

Your first port of call is to gather all these documents to show your Italian lineage, which can be a time-consuming process: you’ll need to show the dates and places of births, marriages and deaths back through your Italian line of descent.

If you fancy tracing your own family tree, you can, but be aware there are various laws and bureaucracy to watch out for.

How you know you’re entitled to Italian citizenship

Before you go detective on your family history, it’s wise to know if you’re eligible for this route to citizenship.

You are automatically an Italian citizen if:

  • You were born to an Italian parent, even outside Italy.
  • You were adopted as a minor by an Italian national.
  • An Italian parent legally recognises you as their child (e.g., if your father’s name is absent from your birth certificate but he confirms that you’re his child).
  • You were born in Italy to stateless parents, to unknown parents, or to parents who cannot transmit their nationality to their children.

Italy allows nationals to pass down their citizenship. So it doesn’t matter if you’re a citizen of another country, such as the UK, and you have a great-grandparent born in Italy.

READ ALSO: Ten things to know before moving to Italy

You can go back many generations to prove your ancestry – all the way back to the founding of modern Italy in 1861, in fact. But actually, you can go back a little further than that if your research allows.

Those who were alive before Italian unification on this date automatically became Italian. So in that case, you’d need to find the death certificate to prove your relative’s death was after 1861 and they were, therefore, Italian.

If they were born and died before Italian unification, however, you don’t have a claim to Italian citizenship as Italy was not a nation before this date.

Your application will depend on the laws applicable during your ancestors’ lifetime. Photo by Lennart Schulz on Unsplash

Going so far back in history is trickier and will likely make the process longer.

“It is difficult to find birth certificates only starting in 1861 or before from town halls. We can try to find baptism certificates by researching through church records,” De Ricco told us.

“Historical research takes some time. It’s not easy but we can do it,” she added.

Using church records comes with extra paperwork, though.

Each baptism certificate needs to be issued by the parish, authorised by the bishop’s office and you’ll also need a written confirmation from the town hall (comune) in Italy that there was no registry office on the date in question.

Alternatively, you can trace your Italian roots via the maternal line from 1948 (the late date at which Italian women were granted the right to transmit their citizenship to their children).

Since 1861 various citizenship laws have been enacted and so the rules and conditions for acquiring citizenship have changed.

“Citizenship is a technical issue, because you have to analyse the births, marriages and deaths according to the law in that moment,” she told us.

For example, there was an Italian law in force until 1992 that didn’t allow dual nationality. Until that year, your relatives may have lost their Italian citizenship if they became citizens of another country.

That would mean a break in lineage, but De Ricco told us this doesn’t necessarily derail your citizenship application.

It might mean instead that you can apply for citizenship through residency but on reduced terms such as three years as a resident in the country instead of 10 and passing a language test, which you don’t need to do if applying through descent.

For information on gaining citizenship by residency or marriage, see here.

Want to recognise your Italian citizenship? You’ll need to get your paperwork in order. Photo by Jonathan Bean on Unsplash

How to apply

If you live outside Italy, apply to the Italian consulate nearest to your place of residence. While the legal criteria remain the same, different places may have different procedures and waiting times.

For this reason, De Ricco tells us you can try another consulate if the one nearest to you has a huge waiting list. Some of the firm’s clients reported one to two years waiting time for an appointment at the consulate in London, for example.

It can sometimes take months or even years just to file for an appointment, so instead you can apply to take your case before the court in Rome, providing evidence of the delays at your consulate, the immigration expert told us.

You can also apply within Italy to your local Anagrafe (registry office). 

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

You should expect to provide full birth, marriage and death certificates for every relative you cite in your claim, as well as proof that that they still had Italian citizenship when their children were born. All documents will need to be translated into Italian and legalised with an apostille (an official, separate certificate that confirms their authenticity).

You’ll need to be extra diligent with checking the names and details of these documents, as any discrepancies will cost you time in delays.

This gets particularly tricky if your ancestors changed their name, which wasn’t unusual as some thought doing so might make assimilation into their new country easier, De Ricco said.

If this was the case, you’d need to contact the Vital Statistics Office to make the corrections – or you may even need to go to court if this isn’t possible.

How much does it cost and how long will it take?

Once you’ve got through the research and applying at your consulate, the process should then be finalised within two years, De Ricco told The Local.

How much it costs can depend on whether you want the help of lawyers or not – some of whom offer to check you’re eligibility for no fee and then legal fees may run to around €2000 if you want to proceed with their guidance.

The application fees are around €500 – €600 and you’ll need to take other costs into account, such as getting documents translated, legalised and notarised.

There are ways to cut costs if you’re applying as a family, however, as you can reuse the same documents.  

Do I have to give up my original nationality?

“As a British national, you don’t have to give up your nationality as Italy has allowed multiple citizenship since 1992,” said De Ricco.

“You can renounce your Italian citizenship if you like, which may be more relevant for those people who are allowed only one nationality. But that’s not the case for the UK and Italian law grants you as many citizenships as you want,” she confirmed.

Neither do you have to live in Italy – getting citizenship is different than being a resident of Italy.

If you’re confirmed as being an Italian citizen, you are entitled to stay here for the rest of your life, even if you commit a serious crime, and you can pass your citizenship on to your children. There are also no time limits on how long you can be out of the country, if you do live in Italy.

Other benefits for Italian citizens include guaranteed free access to the Italian healthcare system for you and your dependents, even if you don’t have a job, and the ability to vote.

One last requirement to clinch your Italian status is swearing allegiance to the Italian Republic in a special ceremony.

Giuditta De Ricco is the head of citizenship of Mazzeschi, an immigration and citizenship consultancy firm based in Italy. You can contact her here.

Find out more on our section on visasresidency and moving to Italy.

Please note that The Local is unable to advise on specific cases. For more information about visa applications, see the Italian Foreign Ministry’s visa website, or contact your embassy or local Questura in Italy.

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For members

BREXIT

Are Italy’s British residents still getting their passports stamped?

UK residents of Italy protected under the Withdrawal Agreement reported having their passports wrongly stamped at border checks in the months after Brexit. Has that practice ended, or are some Brits still experiencing issues?

Are Italy's British residents still getting their passports stamped?

In the months after the Brexit Withdrawal Agreement was finalised, many UK citizens in Italy with permanent Italian residency reported having their passports wrongly stamped on leaving and entering Italy.

Italy is one of a handful of “declaratory” countries in the EU where getting a post-Brexit residency card was optional, rather than compulsory, though UK authorities advised obtaining the card as “evidence of your rights”.

The lack of clarity caused widespread confusion, with many Italian officials wrongly insisting that the carta di soggiorno elettronica was the only valid proof of pre-Brexit Italian residency.

The issue has been largely resolved for British citizens who finally gave in and applied for the document, with most cardholders saying they no longer have issues with their passports being stamped at the country’s major airports.

However, some UK nationals say they’re still wrongly having their passports stamped at smaller airports in Italy, especially when travelling alongside large groups of Brits who aren’t resident in Italy.

And others report routinely having their passport stamped when entering the Schengen zone via a different EU member state to that of Italy – for example, when travelling by car from the UK via France.

READ ALSO: What’s the deal with passport stamping in Italy?

UK national David Prince commented in response to a recent article on passport stamping that a border official had stamped his passport on arriving in Calais, despite his presenting an Italian residency permit.

“When I asked why he simply said “Article 50,” Prince said, “which I knew was rubbish but I couldn’t be bothered to argue.”

According to European Commission rules in place since 2022, Schengen border agents have been told that they shouldn’t stamp the passports of anyone with a valid EU residence permit – but there’s no EU law stopping them from doing so.

Even if your passport is stamped, it doesn’t carry any official weight.

“The Commission recommends – notably as regards beneficiaries of the Withdrawal Agreement – that Member State border guards refrain from stamping,” the rules say.

“In any case, should stamping nevertheless take place, such stamp cannot affect the length of the authorised long-term stay.”

READ ALSO: Can I use my Italian carta d’identità for travel?

If you arrive at any Schengen border, it’s advisable to hand over your passport already opened to the photo page, with your residency card on top, and say that you’re resident in Italy.

If you’re at an Italian border checkpoint, you might want to say ‘sono residente in Italia’ – I’m an Italian resident.

One source of confusion for some residents has been the difference between a carta d’identità and a carta di soggiorno.

The carta di soggiorno elettronica is your residency card, wheres a carta d’identità is simply an ID card.

The carta d’identità is valid for ten years, but that doesn’t automatically give you the right to stay in Italy for all that time. Some non-EU citizens on certain visas might have a ten-year ID card, but a one-year Italian residency permit.

For that reason, your carta d’identità isn’t considered proof of your right to be in the country; as a British citizen resident in Italy and covered under the Withdrawal Agreement, you’ll need to show your carta di soggiorno elettronica to a border agent to stand the best chance of avoiding having your passport stamped.

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