If you are of Italian ancestry, you may have heard the term “Italian citizenship jure sanguinis.”
But what exactly do those fancy Latin words mean? The answer may surprise you–and may mean you are eligible for an Italian passport.
In this post, we’ll explain everything you need to know about Italian citizenship jure sanguinis. I’ll go over the basics of citizenship law, how to tell if you’re eligible for an Italian passport and–if you are eligible–how to apply.
Let’s get started!
The Basics: Citizenship Law 101
Most countries around the world fall into two categories:
1. Citizenship by birth
2. Citizenship by descent
Citizenship by birth
In a citizenship by birth country, anyone born within the country’s borders is automatically a citizen. Think about the United States. Everyone born in the U.S. is automatically an American. This is true even if a person’s parents are not citizens.
The Latin term for this kind of citizenship is jure soli. It means “by right of the soil.”
Most countries in the “New World” (i.e. the Americas) and some Commonwealth countries are jure soli.
Citizenship by descent
In a citizenship by descent country, being born within the country’s borders does not automatically mean you are a citizen. Italy is a citizenship by descent country. If you are born in Italy, you aren’t automatically a citizen. Instead, you are a citizen if one (or both) of your parents is Italian.
The Latin term for this kind of citizenship is jure sanguinis. It means “by right of the blood.”
Most countries in the “Old World” (i.e. Europe) are jure sanguinis countries.
Now that you have a general idea of what jure soli and jure sanguinis mean, let’s examine Italian citizenship law more closely.
Italian Citizenship Law
Italian citizenship is currently regulated by Law no. 91 of 1992 (and relative amendments). Today, a person can become an Italian citizen in many ways including by adoption, naturalization, judicial ruling, marriage, or other means. There are even cases where a person can actually become a citizen of Italy jure soli, though this is the exception rather than the rule.
However, the focus of this post will be on Italian citizenship jure sanguinis, aka Italian citizenship by descent.
How Italian Citizenship Law Is Regulated
There are many laws which cover Italian citizenship. However, in our opinion these are the two most important ones.
Law no. 91 of 1992
This is the most recent law on the matter. Article 1 of this law states that a person becomes an Italian citizen when born to an Italian father or mother. It reaffirms acquisition Italian citizenship jure sanguinis as the key principle for obtaining citizenship, with jure soli being an exception. This principle was stated in prior laws, the most important of which was Law no. 555 of 1912.
One interesting point about this law is that it formally allowed dual citizenship. Before this date, Italians who became American citizens automatically lost Italian citizenship. But if your ancestor naturalized after August 15, 1992, s/he never lost Italian citizenship.
Law no. 555 of 1912
According to Article 7 of this law, any child born in a jure soli country is bestowed with Italian citizenship upon birth if he or she meets the following criteria.
- As long as the child was born when his or her parent was still an Italian citizen;
- As long as the parent was alive, anywhere in the world, and still a citizen of Italy after March 17, 1861; and
- If the parent ever became an American citizen, it must have been both after the child’s birth and after July 1, 1912.
Additionally, the following criterion also applies:
- If the child was born to an Italian woman, it must have been born after January 1, 1948 in order to receive citizenship from his or her Italian mother.
Before the above date, women could not pass on citizenship to children unless they meet a few exceptional circumstances. But don’t worry; if you descend from an Italian woman, you can still apply for citizenship.
Italian citizenship jure sanguinis has no limits
The best thing about this is that there are no generational limits. Once the first child born in a jure soli country is given Italian citizenship jure sanguinis, that citizenship passes on forever. This is true even if it never gets recognized!
That’s why you can be two, three, or even more generations removed from your last Italian-born ancestor and still qualify.
Under the eyes of Italian law, if you qualify for citizenship jure sanguinis you are actually already an Italian. You’re simply an Italian who has not yet sought legal recognition of that citizenship. Cool, right?
You don’t need to speak Italian or be 100% Italian
“Do I need to speak Italian?”
“What if I’m not 100% Italian?”
We constantly get asked these question. The answers are as follows:
- No, you do not need to speak Italian. Italian citizenship jure sanguinis is your birthright and you are already a citizen if you qualify. Nobody can take that from you even if you don’t speak the language; and
- You don’t need to be 100% Italian, 50% Italian, or even 25% Italian to qualify. All you need is one single qualifying ancestor. That’s it!
How to Apply for Citizenship
You’ve figured out you qualify and want to apply. But how? Here’s what you need to do, step-by-step.
1. Get an appointment at your consulate
Figure out which is your Italian consulate. Then, go to their website and schedule an appointment. It may take a few tries before you can snag one because Italian citizenship is very popular.
2. Gather your documents
The wait for your appointment is likely to be long enough that you have time to gather your documents. Essentially, you want to show on paper that you qualify. Every applicant does this by getting various birth, marriage, death, and naturalization records. The goal here is to recreate your family tree and show a clear path to citizenship. Read our post here on what documents you’ll need.
3. Attend your appointment
Attend your citizenship appointment. We have a page here detailing what you can expect.
4. Wait for processing
This is the hardest part. Italy has up to 24 months to process your application. You will not hear any updates during this time, so just forget you applied. Easier said than done, of course.
5. Enroll in AIRE and get your passport
Once the consulate process your application and you’re notified of citizenship, you’re not done yet. Your consulate will likely enroll you in AIRE (Registry of Italians Abroad) but in case they don’t, you’ll need to do it yourself. There is an online portal where you can do so. Then, once you’re in AIRE you can make an appointment with your consulate for your passport.
Now go out and put some miles on your new passport! We have a page here on traveling as an Italian citizen.