First things first: what is Italian dual citizenship?
Basically, Italian dual citizenship is exactly what it sounds like. It means having an Italian passport in addition to the passport of your native country.
What is “jure sanguinis”?
Italian citizenship is passed down from parent to children who, in turn, can pass on citizenship to their children. This is known as the principle of “jure sanguinis” (Latin for “right of the blood”). In the United States, citizenship is granted by the principle of “jus soli” (Latin for “right of the soil”), meaning that anyone born on U.S. territory is automatically a U.S. citizen.
The two citizenship systems do not conflict and both Italy and the U.S. recognize the right to hold dual citizenship.
This means that a person can be born both an American citizen jus soli and an Italian citizen jure sanguinis. In other words, a person can be an American citizen by being born in the U.S., but at the same time an Italian citizen by being born to an Italian citizen parent (or a parent with the right to Italian dual citizenship).
Therefore, if you are an American citizen by birth whose parent, grandparent, great-grandparent or great-great-grandparent was an Italian citizen or entitled to Italian dual citizenship, you may be eligible for Italian citizenship by descent too.
Who can obtain Italian citizenship jure sanguinis?
Anyone who qualifies for Italian dual citizenship is actually an Italian citizen at birth already, they just haven’t had Italy formally recognize it.
When you file your application for dual Italian citizenship, you’re actually not applying, which is a misnomer. Instead, you’re asking the Italian government to recognize a citizenship you’ve already held since birth.
Italian citizenship is granted via the paternal line without limit to generations, and via the maternal line to children born after January 1, 1948. Additionally, women who married an Italian citizen before April 27, 1983 were automatically granted Italian citizenship.
Is there a limit to how many generations you can go back to claim citizenship?
No! Italian law is very clear on this. There is absolutely no generational limit when it comes to claiming Italian dual citizenship. Italian citizenship is passed on in perpetuity so long as the chain is “unbroken” by loss of citizenship somewhere down the line.
As long as you qualify, you can go back as many generations as you need to.
How do you qualify for an Italian passport?
Figuring out if you qualify for Italian dual citizenship is actually very easy. All you have to do is answer these four questions:
When did your ancestor live?
Before March 17, 1861 there was no such thing as the modern country of Italy. Before that date, Italy was divided into various city-states with different rulers. If your ancestor was alive on March 17, 1861, then she or he would have automatically gained Italian citizenship.
As long as your ancestor was alive (anywhere in the world) and not yet a citizen of another country on or after March 17, 1861, you may qualify for Italian dual citizenship.
Where did your ancestor live?
Friuli Venezia Giulia, Trentino Alto Adige, and Veneto used to belong to Austria. If your ancestor left these areas before 1920, it is possible that they never became an Italian citizen. Check the date they left, and also check if they requested Italian citizenship later during their lifetime.
When did your ancestor naturalize?
Your ancestor’s date of naturalization is the single most important piece of information to figure out when it comes to qualifying for Italian dual citizenship. This is because a naturalization (before 1992) constitutes loss of Italian citizenship and thus, the breaking of the “chain.”
If your ancestor naturalized before the birth of his or her child, Italian citizenship did not pass on and you are not eligible.
However, if your ancestor never naturalized at all or naturalized after the birth of his or her child, you may qualify for Italian dual citizenship.
Note: any Italian person naturalizing before July 1, 1912 could not pass on Italian citizenship to his or her child, regardless of when the child was born. There are two exceptions to this rule: 1) if the child was still living in Italy at the time the parent naturalized, and 2) if the child was no longer a minor at the moment the parent naturalized.
Was your ancestor a man or a woman?
Men could always pass down Italian citizenship to their children without any restrictions.
However, women could not pass on Italian citizenship to their children until the date of Italy’s modern constitution, January 1, 1948. Before this date, any child born to an Italian mother and a non-Italian father would not receive Italian citizenship from the mother.
When checking if you qualify, make note of any women in your line and make sure their children were born after January 1, 1948.
People descended from non-qualifying Italian women cannot apply in Italy or at the consulates, but they can apply through the Italian courts. For more information, please see this page regarding Italian dual citizenship via maternal descent (also known as “1948 cases”).