The year 2020 marked a fundamental change in our society, leading many to take stock and rethink their future dreams and plans. This was arguably the case for many Americans with Italian heritage, for whom the current global situation seems to have acted as a catalyst to apply for Italian citizenship by descent. In fact, although Italy has allowed for dual citizenship for many years, 2020 saw an unprecedented surge of citizenship applications—an increase of 400% compared to 2019, as reported by Italian Citizenship Assistance (ICA).
Aside from the environmental and health issues worldwide and the uncertainty surrounding the presidential elections, it must also be said that Italian citizenship is attractive for a number of additional reasons. Topping the list are low-cost and high-quality universal health care, affordable university tuition fees, a competitive real estate market, and the right to work and reside in any EU member state. These are the main motivating factors behind an unprecedented surge of citizenship applications according to ICA, which helps individuals with Italian descent apply for citizenship jure sanguinis (by right of blood), in addition to Italian citizenship by marriage and by residency.
The Eligibility Requirements for Italian Citizenship
There are several paths to applying for Italian citizenship (i.e.: by descent, by marriage, and through residency). To apply for citizenship by descent, by far the most sought after, eligibility is dependent on whether the Italian ancestor through whom an individual is claiming citizenship was ever naturalized and if the naturalization occurred after or before the descendant’s birth. The ancestor’s naturalization, along with other factors, determines whether the applicant will need to apply for citizenship via the consulates in the U.S., via an application filed at a municipality in Italy, or via a judicial proceeding for cases that need to be filed in court (1948 cases).
As a general rule, one can apply for Italian citizenship by descent if the ancestor who was born in Italy was never naturalized or if he/she was naturalized after the descendant’s birth, and if none of the ascendants in the applicant’s line of descent ever formally renounced their right to Italian citizenship. If there is a woman in the line of descent, her child must have been born after January 1, 1948.
However, there are also a number of exceptions to these rules. For instance, people have been successfully pursuing Italian citizenship by filing a 1948 case. In essence, when Italy’s constitution came into effect on January 1, 1948, men and women were granted equal rights. As a result, under the new constitution, Italian women could pass their Italian citizenship onto their children but only if they were born after January 1, 1948. Therefore, if an individual’s female ancestor gave birth to her child before that day it is possible to claim citizenship retroactively by filing a lawsuit in Italy. On the contrary, if the female ancestor in the Italian line gave birth to her child after January 1, 1948, it is possible to file a citizenship application at an Italian consulate or at a municipality in Italy.
Another common scenario involves a male ancestor who was naturalized prior to the birth of his child who was born abroad; in this case the individual claiming citizenship might not be able to apply for citizenship via the consulate. However, it might be possible to claim citizenship via a lawsuit by applying through a female ancestor because prior to September 22, 1922 if an Italian woman married an Italian man who was naturalized, she acquired her husbands’ new US citizenship automatically by marriage. This is now considered to be unlawful and discriminatory against women, and therefore, it is possible to claim citizenship via a lawsuit.
Documents Needed to Apply for Italian Citizenship
In order to apply for Italian citizenship, applicants will need their family’s vital records. These include certified copies of birth, marriage, death, and divorce certificates (if applicable), as well as the ancestor’s naturalization records or proof that he/she was never naturalized. Vital records are held by the state’s Department of Health or by the county or town where the event occurred. Naturalization records are held by NARA (The National Archives and Records Administration), USCIS (U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services), or the county in which naturalization occurred. Divorce records are issued by the court in which the divorce was filed.
Once all the vital records have been collected, the applicant will need to check that there are no discrepancies in the documents that might negatively affect the application. If no amendments need to be made, the documents will need to be submitted to the Secretary of State in order to be apostilled. They will then need to be translated into Italian and, finally, they will need to be submitted to the Italian consulate abroad or to the municipality or the Court in Italy, depending on the path to citizenship that is being pursued. When the citizenship application is approved, the applicant will be granted Italian citizenship, he/she will be registered with the AIRE (Registry of Italian Citizens Residing Abroad) and will then be issued an Italian passport.
Though the process may sound quite daunting, there are several advantages to holding dual citizenship. For example, as an Italian citizen and EU citizen you can travel, study, or work anywhere in the European Union. In other words, you do not need a visa to travel to any of the EU member states and you can reside in another EU country without any time limitation. Foreign spouses of Italian citizens can apply for a residency permit in Italy, as well as in another EU member state in order for the couple to be together without any restrictions or time limits. Italian citizens can also benefit from high-quality, low-cost health care. Finally, you can reside in Italy for an unlimited period of time and enjoy the country’s “la Dolce Vita” lifestyle and fascinating culture, breathtaking art, and ancient history.
The year 2020 was challenging, but for many individuals of Italian descent, it also opened the door to realizing a dream: tracing family history to begin the exciting journey to becoming an Italian citizen. If you've decided to explore your options for Italian citizenship, contact Italian Citizenship Assistance (ICA) for more information via email (firstname.lastname@example.org) or phone (+1-323-739-7949).