Every country in the world sets its system for how it gives citizenship. Those seeking Italian dual citizenship might be happy to know that Italian citizenship law is very favorable to those of Italian descent. As long as you have just one eligible ancestor, no matter how many generations back, you may qualify for an Italian passport.
In Italy, citizenship is based on your parentage. If your parent(s) are Italian, then you are too. This system is called jure sanguinis (Latin for “by right of blood”). Most European countries operate on a jure sanguinis basis.
Italy’s jure sanguinis laws are very generous, mostly because Italy wanted its immigrants and their children to keep ties with their homeland.
In the United States, citizenship works differently. If you are born in the U.S., you are a citizen no matter who your parents are. This is a jure soli system, meaning “by right of the soil.” Most countries in the Americas have this system as it was meant to populate the New World with citizens.
Did you notice how almost all of the jure soli countries are in the Americas?
The two systems (jure soli and jure sanguinis) can peacefully coexist. It is possible to be both a U.S. citizen jure soli and an Italian citizen jure sanguinis.
This law is hugely important for Italian dual citizenship for one reason: it allows for recognition of two citizenships at the same time.
Article 7 of Law no. 555 of 1912 allows any children born to an Italian parent in jure soli countries to become automatic Italian citizens at birth, even if their parents later on renounce their own Italian citizenship.
In order to qualify for Italian dual citizenship, you must essentially prove the following conditions:
Applicants must prove the claim by recreating their family tree with a number of official records such as birth, marriage, death, and naturalization records.
Before August 15, 1992, any Italian who became a citizen of another country automatically lost Italian citizenship. This is called naturalization.
If a naturalization occurs before a parent can pass on citizenship to his or her child, the “chain” is then broken.
In other words, as long as the parent was still an Italian citizen when the child is born, then that child is automatically Italian as well.
Italy was not a country until March 17, 1861. Before then, there was no such thing as Italian citizenship. On this date, everyone who was born in the territory that would become Italy was automatically given Italian citizenship.
Therefore, your ancestor must have been alive on or after March 17, 1861–and not yet a citizen of another country–to successfully pass on Italian dual citizenship.
This rule has two parts:
Unfortunately, Italian citizenship law has historically been discriminatory towards women.
Before January 1, 1948, Italian women could not pass on citizenship to their children unless the father was unknown, missing, stateless, dead, or his own foreign citizenship didn’t automatically pass on.
This means that if you descend from an Italian woman you must pay attention to dates.
Remember that Italian women could receive citizenship from their fathers at any time.
In 2009, there was a landmark Italian court case. An attorney sued the government for discrimination on behalf of a family that didn’t technically qualify due to the 1948 rule.
Luckily, he won. The whole family was awarded citizenship and since that date, more than 1,000 people have successfully sought Italian citizenship via pre-1948 maternal descent.
If you have a 1948 case, you must hire an Italian attorney to represent you in court. You do not need to be present, and you can add on as many family members as you like.
For all other applicants, you must apply at your Italian consulate or directly in Italy (if you are living in Italy).
We have more information about what 1948 cases are and how to beat yours.
In 1927, Francesco became an American citizen. Because David was born beforehis father Francesco gained American citizenship, David, his spouse, and all their children (as well as all of their descendants) are eligible. David and all of his descendants were born automatically with Italian and American citizenship.
In 1969, Maria became an American citizen. Because Eva was born before her mother Maria gained American citizenship, she had both American citizenship jure soli and Italian citizenship jure sanguinis. Eva, her husband, her child Melissa, and all their descendants are eligible for Italian dual citizenship.
Even though Eva and Melissa have Italian woman in their direct line, Eva’s post-January 1, 1948 birth allows her and her descendants to apply through the normal channels: the consulate or directly in Italy.
Because Grazia became an American citizen after Joanne’s birth, Joanne is eligible for Italian dual citizenship. However, her pre-January 1, 1948 date of birth means she wasn’t automatically given Italian citizenship at birth.
In order to obtain Italian dual citizenship, Joanne and all of her descendants will need to hire an Italian attorney and request recognition of citizenship via the courts.
In 1929, he and Jenny had a son, Robert. Because Josephine was bornÂ before Giuseppe became an American citizen, both she, her spouse, and all her descendants are eligible for Italian dual citizenship.
However, Robert was born after his father became an American citizen. Unfortunately, the chain was broken and neither Robert nor his descendants are eligible.
To stake your claim for Italian dual citizenship, you’ll generally need the following documents.
To make things easier, we suggest getting your oldest documents first.
Older documents such as naturalization records will have a wealth of information. Documents for parents will also list children’s names, so you can work backwards to reconstruct your tree.
Here’s an example of what we mean:
Birth, marriage, and death records are maintained by the Registrar of Vital Statistics (Ufficio dello Stato Civile) in the city (comune or municipio) where the event occurred.
There is no central, regional, or provincial office established which keeps such records. It is extremely helpful to make your request in Italian.
Simply send your comune an e-mail or letter and request the relevant document. You may also hire a service provider to procure records for you. There is usually no fee for the record if you go straight to the source. Here is a super helpful website with all the names and contact information for each Italian town, listed by region.
Here is a form you can use to request a birth certificate.
Here is a form you can use to request a death certificate.
Here is a form you can use to request a request a marriage certificate.
Most birth, death, marriage, and divorce records are held at the state or county level.
Many states have a Department of Health or centralized body which will hold the records you need.
Here is an excellent resource which shows you where to request records in the United States.
Important! You must request “certified copy,” “full form,” “extended form,” or “extended copy” records.
You can obtain apostilles at the Secretary of State’s office. Each state can only apostille documents issued within it. So, if your document is from Georgia you must obtain a Georgia apostille, and so on.
To get an apostille, simply google your state’s name plus the word “apostille.” Look for the official state government website and not a third party. Then, print out the form from the website, fill it out, and enclose a check or money order plus your original documents.
The state will mail your apostilled document back to you.
Depending on when your ancestor naturalized, it may be tricky to find these records. Here are three sources you need to look:
USCIS (United States Citizenship and Immigration Services)
NARA (National Archives and Records Administration)
The County Clerk’s Office in the county your ancestor lived.
The consulates use an online system called “Prenota” to book appointments. Once you sign up, you can see a calendar with all available dates.
Select your date and then get to work gathering your documents. I recommend working in the “appointment first, documents second” order because most consulates book 2-3 years out.
While Prenota is not perfect, it is a step up from the old system called AbTran. In that system, applicants had to call a (non-toll free!) line which routed them to Ireland. Then, there would be a very long and expensive wait to speak with someone and make an appointment.
Lots of people are afraid of going to your appointment, but you shouldn’t be! We have a whole page dedicated to what happens at your consular appointment.
Essentially, you will either sit down with a consular worker or hand paperwork through a window. They’ll go over everything you have document by document and make sure everything is in order.
If it is, they will create a file for you and get to it in the order it was received.
If you are missing some documentation but everything is mostly okay, they’ll create a file for you and give you “homework” to remedy everything. Only when you complete your file do they official start processing it in the order it was received.
If your application is missing many documents, they will not create a file for you and will still give you “homework” to remedy everything.
Regardless of the outcome of your application, there is a 300 euro fee for each adult over 18 applying. The Italian government has up to 24 months to process your application. Children under 18 do not need to be present, just bring their birth certificates + translation + apostille.
Once you are a recognized Italian citizen, the consulate will e-mail you the good news.
Then, you’ll go back to the website and make a passport application. On the consular website they will list the current passport fees. You’ll bring the fee with you to your appointment plus passport photos. The consulate will mail you your passport when it’s ready.