Dual U.S.-Italian Citizenship: All You Need to Know
European Passports for Americans of Italian Descent
If you are Italian American, you may qualify for dual U.S.-Italian citizenship and not even know it.
Italian citizenship law is based on the principle of jure sanguinis. This means that Italian parents pass on citizenship to their children regardless of where said children are born. This system was designed to strengthen the bond between children of the Italian diaspora abroad and their country of origin, Italy.
According to Article 7 of Law no. 555 of 1912, children born to Italians in a foreign country which follows the jure soli system can retain the Italian citizenship acquired at birth from their parents, even if his or her parent subsequently loses his or her own citizenship.
Therefore, any child born in a jure soli country (such as the United States) to an Italian parent is both automatically an Italian citizen and an American citizen at birth without even realizing it.
The conditions required for recognition of Italian citizenship are based on the following assumptions:
One: Proof that they are descended from an Italian citizen; and
Two: Proof that the transmission of Italian citizenship from parent to child was not interrupted by naturalization as a citizen of another country (in this case, the United States) before the birth of the child.
As an Italian citizenship service provider, I assist Americans of Italian descent to obtain dual U.S.-Italian citizenship.
What Is Jure Sanguinis?
As I mentioned above, Italian citizenship law is based on the principle of jure sanguinis. This is a Latin term meaning “by right of blood,” to be contrasted with the American “jure soli” system (Latin for “by right of the soil”). Anyone with a qualifying Italian ancestor can seek recognition of Italian citizenship.
Under the principle of jure sanguinis, anyone of Italian descent can claim citizenship as long as they qualify. What’s more, the applicant is considered a citizen from birth. Therefore there is no language test and no pledge of allegiance. In fact, the applicant is not really “applying” at all. She or he is simply asking for legal recognition of a citizenship s/he has held since birth.
No Generational Limits to Dual U.S.-Italian Citizenship
The interesting thing about Italian citizenship is that it passes down uninterrupted across generations.
As long as your last Italian-born ancestor had not yet become an American citizen by the time his/her child was born, then the citizenship gets passed down forever. This is why there are no generational limits and you can claim Italian citizenship even if you are 2, 3, or even 4 (or more) generations removed.
Also, each intermediate ancestor does not have to claim citizenship before you can. For example, if you are applying based on your Italian grandfather, your parent does not have to claim Italian citizenship before you do. Any descendant can claim citizenship at any time, as long as they qualify.
Proving Your Claim to Italian Citizenship
In order to claim your citizenship you must prove you are eligible to the satisfaction of the Italian government. To do this, you must provide birth, marriage, death, and naturalization records to reconstruct your family tree.
You will also need to translate your records into Italian and get them legalized with an apostille certification.
You may do this on your own or you can hire a firm like ours to help. Our fees for document procurement range from $3,000 to $7,500. The more generations you go back, the more expensive your application. For more about the costs of Italian dual citizenship, click here.
4 Rules to Qualify for Dual U.S.-Italian Citizenship
There are four main rules to remember. You must meet all of them in order to qualify:
One: Your last Italian-born ancestor must have been alive, anywhere in the world, after March 17, 1861—the date of Italian unification.
Two: If your ancestor ever became an American citizen it must have been both after July 1, 1912 and after the birth of his/her child. If your ancestor never became an American citizen, you should normally automatically qualify.
Three: Where you have women in your direct line, their children must have been born after January 1, 1948.
Four: If your ancestor came from Trentino Alto Adige, s/he must have emigrated after July 16, 1920.
Paths to Claiming Dual U.S.-Italian Citizenship
The most common paths to citizenship people use are as follows:
Italian Citizenship through Parents
Case #1: Your father was an Italian citizen at the time of your birth and you never renounced your right to claim dual U.S.-Italian citizenship.
Case #2: Your mother was an Italian citizen at the time of your birth and you never renounced your right to claim dual U.S.-Italian citizenship.
Italian Citizenship through Grandparents
Case #3: Your parent was born in the United States after January 1, 1948, your grandmother was an Italian citizen at the time of his or her birth, and neither you nor your parent renounced the right to claim dual U.S.-Italian citizenship.
Case #4: Your parent was born in the United States, your grandfather was an Italian citizen at the time of his or her birth, and neither you nor your parent renounced the right to claim dual U.S.-Italian citizenship.
Italian Citizenship through Great Grandparents
Case #5: Your grandfather was born in the United States, your great grandfather was an Italian citizen at the time of his birth, and neither you nor your father or your grandfather ever renounced the right to claim dual U.S.-Italian citizenship.
The “1948 Rule”
You will notice above that I specified the date January 1, 1948. This is a watershed moment in Italian history because it’s the date Italy’s modern constitution came into effect.
Before this date, women could not pass on Italian citizenship to their children unless the father was unknown, missing, stateless, or his own foreign citizenship did not pass on automatically to the children.
Therefore if you have women in your direct line, their children must have been born on or after January 1, 1948 for you to claim dual U.S.-Italian citizenship through the normal channels, i.e. at the consulate or directly in Italy.
If you have women in your direct line whose children were born before this date, you must file what is known as a “1948 case.” This involves an Italian attorney petitioning the government on the basis that this law is discriminatory towards women. Since 2009, thousands of people have successfully obtained Italian citizenship through 1948 cases.
Can I Skip Generations?
Unfortunately, no. You can only qualify as long as each single generation qualifies in succession. If for example your grandfather lost Italian citizenship, you can’t go back to your great grandfather to claim it. There are no exceptions to this rule.
People that qualify for dual U.S.-Italian citizenship are at an incredible advantage. Those who are not of Italian descent must live in Italy for 10 years and meet many requirements to become an Italian citizen. Americans of Italian descent just have to make an appointment, hand in documents, pay a 300 euro fee and wait for processing.
Do I Need to Speak Italian?
No. Italian citizenship is your birthright; therefore you have already been a citizen since birth. There is no language requirement. There is, however, a language requirement for those seeking Italian citizenship by marriage.
Must I Be 100% Italian to Qualify?
Absolutely not. You need to have just one single qualifying Italian ancestor. You don’t have to be 1/2, 1/4 or even 1/8th Italian, nor do you need to have an Italian last name.
Does the U.S. Allow Dual Citizenship?
United States law neither formally allows nor prohibits dual citizenship. Federal law doesn’t mention dual nationality or require a person to choose one citizenship over another. Remember that when you leave the United States and enter Italy, you should show your Italian passport.
Does Italy Allow Dual Citizenship?
Since August 15, 1992, Italy allows dual citizenship with the United States. When you leave Italy and return to the United States, you should show your American passport.
What Are the Benefits of Dual Italian Citizenship?
I’ve talked about the benefits of Italian dual citizenship before. Put simply, here are some of the reasons you might want to have your birthright citizenship recognized:
Travel: Visa-free or visa-on-arrival access to 175 countries, making the Italian passport an exceptional one in terms of travel freedom.
Circulation: The right to live, work, and study anywhere in the European Union.
Education and healthcare: Access to affordable education and world class healthcare. In Europe, college costs are on average far more affordable than those in the United States. The same goes for healthcare services, even though the Italian healthcare system was ranked second best in the world.
Jobs: Business and employment opportunities within the EU and abroad.
The gift that keeps on giving: You can pass it on to your children. They, in turn can pass it on to theirs and so on.
Having Italian citizenship is like an insurance plan. If anything ever goes wrong in the United States, you can relocate anywhere in the European Union. Additionally, if you are traveling abroad and find yourself in trouble you may seek assistance from two countries rather than one.
Taxation and Other Practical Matters
One of the questions I get most regards taxation. Even though I am not a tax expert, I can say that simply obtaining Italian dual citizenship should not have tax implications. Unlike the United States, Italy does not tax its citizens based on worldwide income. If you don’t reside in Italy or earn money in Italy, you will not pay taxes to the Italian government. Italy and the United States enjoy a treaty to avoid double taxation, but if you work in Italy and earn over a certain threshold set by the Foreign Earned Income Exclusion, you may be subject to Italian taxes.
Another question I receive often regards the draft in Italy. Italy has not had the draft since 2001 and is highly unlikely to reinstate it.
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Get Italian Citizenship is an Italian dual citizenship service provider. Since 2005, we’ve put passports into hundreds of clients’ hands. Our firm can help you determine eligibility for Italian citizenship, complete a full service application, and even help you apply in Italy. Need assistance getting your passport? Contact us to get started.