Who qualifies for Italian dual citizenship?
European passports for Americans of Italian descent
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.
Therefore, the answer to the question, “Who qualifies for Italian dual citizenship?” is as follows:
As long as you have just one eligible ancestor, no matter how many generations back, you may be someone who qualifies for Italian dual citizenship.
Citizenship from your parents vs. from your place of birth
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.
Law 555 of 1912
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.
How to prove your claim
Those who qualify for Italian dual citizenship must show the following:
- Proof of being descended from an Italian citizen, and
- Proof that the “chain” of citizenship from parent to child was never broken.
Applicants must prove the claim by recreating their family tree with a number of official records such as birth, marriage, death, and naturalization records.
What “breaks” the chain?
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.
Who qualifies for Italian dual citizenship? The rules.
Your ancestor must have been alive after Italy became a country
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.
Your ancestor must have been an Italian citizen when his/her child was born
This rule has two parts:
- If you ancestor became a citizen of another country: the date of naturalization must have been after June 14, 1912 (the date law no. 555 of 1912 came into effect). The date of naturalization must have also been after your ancestor had his or her child.
- If your ancestor did not become a citizen of another country: this has no effect on your ability to qualify, and means you are most likely eligible.
Female ancestors must have had their child after a certain date
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.
- If you meet all other criteria, but an Italian woman in your “line” had a child before January 1, 1948: you might be someone who qualifies for Italian dual citizenship, but you’ll have to hire an attorney. We’ll explain more below.
- If you meet all other criteria, and the Italian women in your “line” had a child after January 1, 1948: you may be someone who qualifies for Italian dual citizenship and can proceed as normal through the Italian consulate or directly in Italy.
Remember that Italian women could receive citizenship from their fathers at any time.
Taking it to court: when you need to beat the “1948 rule”
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.
Practical examples: who qualifies for Italian dual citizenship and who doesn’t?
Francesco was born in Italy in 1900. He came to America in 1920, got married to Maria and had a son David in 1924.
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.
Maria was born in Italy in 1920. She came to America in 1942, got married to John and had a daughter Eva in 1949. Eva married Gregory in 1971 and had a daughter Melissa in 1976.
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.
Grazia was born in Italy in 1921. She came to America in 1942, married William, and had a daughter Joanne in 1946. Grazia became an American citizen in 1950.
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.
Giuseppe was born in Italy in 1890. He came to America in 1920. He married Jenny in 1924, had a daughter Josephine and then became an American citizen in 1927.
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.
What documents you’ll need
To stake your claim for Italian dual citizenship, you’ll generally need the following documents.
For your last Italian-born ancestor:
- His or her birth certificate
- His or her marriage certificate
- If applicable, his or her death certificate
- Naturalization records and/or proof of non-naturalization
For all the ancestors between your last Italian-born one and you:
- Birth certificate(s)
- Marriage certificate(s)
- Death certificate(s), if applicable
- Birth certificate
- Marriage certificate(s)
- Birth certificates of any children under 18, if applicable
You’ll also need the following:
- If there are divorces, make sure you get their divorce decree and certificate of no appeal.
- In the case of adopted family members, get the adoption paperwork.
- For any official name changes, you’ll need to show proof.
- You must translate all of your non-Italian documents into Italian. Anyone who speaks Italian can do this, but we suggest hiring a pro (when in doubt, hire us!).
- Besides the naturalization records, you must apostille all non-Italian documents. An apostille is a separate sheet of paper that gets attached to your originals. Its purpose is to certify the signature on the document and make your records legal for use in Italy. You can get apostilles from the Secretary of State’s office in the same state that issues the document.
Putting your documents together
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:
You know your great grandfather was born in Italy and where. You also know he lived in Manhattan, but you don’t know if or when he became a citizen.
By finding his birth certificate, you’ll have his birthdate. Then with that information, you can find his naturalization record. From his naturalization record, you can find the name(s) of his children, the date he became a citizen, his spouse’s name (to find his marriage certificate), and where he was living when he became an American.
From this record alone, you can go on to your next generation (grandparents), and so on and so forth until you get back to you.
Where to find what you need
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.
You can find most birth, death, marriage, and divorce records 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.
Important! I recommend contacting the county clerk’s office first. They’re usually reachable by phone. Tell them all you know about your ancestor and see if they have records on file. If they do, they can send you certified copies. Then, you can use those copies to get the official federal ones from NARA and USCIS.
Making (and going to) your appointment
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.
Going to your 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.
What happens after
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.