You might be Italian citizen right now and not even know it. According to Italian law, any person born to an Italian parent automatically enjoys Italian citizenship by descent at birth. Even if this citizenship is never formally recognized, it’s still there. This is known as the principle of jure sanguinis (Latin for “right of the blood”).
Now, if a child is born in the US (a jure solicountry) to an Italian parent, he will automatically obtain US citizenship by birth as well. Jure soli is a Latin term meaning “right of the soil.” Therefore, in jure soli countries, citizenship is awarded based on location of birth and not the citizenship of a child’s parents.
However, the two systems—jure soli and jure sanguinis–do not cancel each other out. Thus, a child born in the US to an Italian parent has both Italian citizenship by descent (jure sanguinis) and American citizenship jure soli.
In this post, we’ll discuss how you can figure out if you qualify for Italian citizenship by descent as well as loopholes and what to do if you’re not eligible.
There Are No Generational Limits
The best thing about Italian citizenship by descent is that there are no generational limits. Italian citizenship can lie “dormant” and unclaimed but will still pass on no matter what. Therefore, even if you 3 or 4 generations removed from your last qualifying Italian born ancestor, you will still be eligible.
Italy is perhaps one of the only countries in the world that allows generation-less citizenship, so this is an excellent opportunity.
How to Qualify for Italian Citizenship by Descent: 4 Rules
There are four rules to qualifying. You must meet all of them in order to be eligible. They are, in no particular order:
1. Your ancestor must have been alive after March 17, 1861
Before this date, there was no such thing as Italy. The modern country of Italy became a unified country on March 17, 1861. Therefore, before this date there was no such thing as Italian citizenship. If your ancestor was not alive at any time on or after this date, s/he never actually was an Italian citizen and thus could not pass it on.
2. Your ancestor must have either never become a citizen of another country, or only did so after July 1, 1912
If your ancestor never gained a foreign citizenship, then congratulations—you are most likely eligible!
However, if your ancestor did become a citizen of another country pay close attention to the dates. Your ancestor must have done so only after July 1, 1912, the date Italy’s modern citizenship law came into effect.
Pre-July 1, 1912 naturalizations will—in most cases—disqualify you and you must look for another qualifying ancestor.
3. If your ancestor became a citizen of another country, it must have been after his or her child’s birth
According to the principle of Italian citizenship jure sanguinis, the parent must be an Italian citizen when a child is born in order to pass his or her citizenship to that child.
Therefore, if your ancestor lost Italian citizenship (by naturalization or other means) before the birth of his/her child, citizenship never got passed down.
4. If there are women in your direct line, their child(ren) must have been born after January 1, 1948
January 1, 1948 was the date Italy’s modern constitution came into effect. Before this date, women could not pass on citizenship to their children. However, there were a few exceptions:
– When the father was missing, unknown or stateless.
– When the father’s own foreign citizenship did not automatically pass on to his children.
The Italian Citizenship Loophole Nobody Knows About (But Now You Do!)
If you have looked through your entire family history and don’t qualify, don’t give up yet! Here’s a loophole you may not have considered.
Women marrying Italian men before April 27, 1983 automatically obtained Italian citizenship at the moment of the marriage. Even if the husband loses Italian citizenship at a later date, the wife’s citizenship (gained by marriage) survives this loss!
Therefore, if there are any men in your family who married non-Italian (or American-born) women, check to see if:
A) He was an Italian citizen at the time of their marriage; and
B) If they got married before April 27, 1983.
If you meet those two key criteria, you may find out that you are eligible through this little-known loophole!
But What If You Don’t Qualify?
If you don’t meet any of the above categories, there is still hope for getting your passport. You may be able to obtain Italian dual citizenship in any of the three following ways.
Italian Citizenship by Marriage
If you marry an Italian citizen (or a person entitled to Italian citizenship by descent) you may be eligible.
As we stated above, women who married Italian men before April 27, 1983 automatically obtained Italian citizenship upon marriage. Men marrying Italian women or women marrying Italian men after April 27, 1983 will have to file their own application for citizenship.
You may file an application for Italian citizenship by marriage after 3 years of marriage if you live outside Italy, or 2 years if you live in Italy. Those waiting times are cut in half if you have children under the age of 18.
It takes 48 months to process an Italian citizenship by marriage application. Male spouses and women who married Italian men after April 27, 1983 must speak Italian at a B1 level in order to obtain Italian citizenship by marriage. You must also include a number of documents in your application which we explain here.
Italian Citizenship by Naturalization
If you are not of Italian descent and live in Italy legally, you may be able to naturalize as an Italian citizen. After ten years of living in Italy you are eligible to file for Italian citizenship.
Italian Citizenship for Descendants of Former Italian Citizens
If you are of Italian descent and otherwise don’t meet the four rules above, you may still qualify for Italian citizenship by descent.
In these cases, wait times for naturalization are cut down to just 3 years. You must live in Italy legally for this time and then file for citizenship. Note that this option is only available to those going back 2 generations (i.e. to their grandparents).
Italian Circular k.28 of 1991 (in Italian)
Italian Law no. 555 of 1912 (in Italian)
Italian Circular no. 32 of June 13, 2007 (in Italian)
Do you need help figuring out if you’re eligible for Italian citizenship by descent? We’re here to help.
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