When new clients contact me for information, this is one of the most common questions I get.
Many believe that there are generational limits to obtaining Italian citizenship. After all, other countries like Germany or Ireland impose limits on jus sanguinis. In these countries, applicants can usually only go back as far as grandparents. So, if your German or Irish ancestors go back farther than that you’d be out of luck.
But not Italy!
As long as you qualify for Italian dual citizenship, you can go back as far as you need to. Qualifying is not difficult, either. Here are the four rules to keep in mind:
Not only is March 17th my birthday (J), it’s also a really important date. March 17, 1861 was the day Italy became a unified country.
Before this date, there was no such thing as Italy. Therefore, there was no such thing as Italians!
Italy was a series of separate nation states without a unified government, citizenship, or people.
On this date, anyone born in the territory we now call Italy (with few exceptions) automatically became an Italian citizen.
Therefore, if your ancestor was not alive on this date, she or he was never actually an Italian citizen. Thus, if your ancestors died before unification, you are not eligible for Italian dual citizenship.
Even if your ancestor was 100 years old by Italian unification, she or he still got Italian citizenship. What’s important is that your ancestor, no matter where s/he lived, was alive to see Italian unification. That is the key.
Italian parents pass on citizenship to children. Therefore, if a parent is Italian when a child is born, the child is also Italian.
If your ancestor was still an Italian citizen at the time of his or her child’s birth, then that child got Italian citizenship automatically.
This citizenship passes on generation to generation all the way in a traceable line back to you. The only way the “chain” can be broken is if your original Italian ancestor naturalized before the birth of his or her child. If that didn’t happen, then you’re good!
Current Italian citizenship law came to be on July 1, 1912. Before that date, a parent losing Italian citizenship also meant that the child lost Italian citizenship. Therefore, this would “break the chain” of citizenship and render you ineligible.
There are two exceptions to this rule:
Italian citizenship law has had a long history of discrimination towards women. In fact, until January 1, 1948 (the date Italy’s modern constitution came into effect), women could not pass on citizenship to their children except for very few extenuating circumstances.
If you have a female Italian ancestor in your direct line, you must make sure her child was born after January 1, 1948. Any children born before that date did not obtain Italian citizenship automatically from their mother.
Note: women could always receive citizenship from men, but could not always pass on citizenship.
There is an exception to this rule: while applicants falling into the pre-1948 category cannot apply at a consulate or in Italy, they can hire an Italian attorney or firm to argue their case at the courts in Rome on the basis of discrimination. Since a landmark precedent was set in 2009, thousands of individuals have done this. If you think you have a 1948 case, contact us!
In conclusion, it must be restated: there are no Italian dual citizenship generational limits. Any website or person saying you can only go back to your grandparents or great grandparents is incorrect.
As long as you qualify, you may go back as many generations as needed. However, please note that Italian citizenship does not skip generations. So, once the chain is broken, it cannot skip a generation. For example, if your grandfather does not qualify, then your father does not, and neither do you (unless you find another viable line).