How to find out if you’re eligible for Italian citizenship by descent


The Local Creative Studio

8 November 2019

05:00 CET+01:00

Since 1992, when Italy legalized dual citizenship, a large majority of Italian-Americans have been eligible to become Italian citizens by descent. Find out below whether you qualify and, if you do, how to realize your dream of becoming an Italian – and European – citizen.


Many Italian-Americans who were born to Italian citizen parents at the time of their birth (or to parents with the right to Italian citizenship), are not aware that they have inherited a right to Italian citizenship by descent – otherwise known as Italian citizenship jure sanguinis. The caveat, however, is that even if you know for a fact that you do qualify, you must be able to demonstrate this legal right – in legal terms.


Taking the first steps


The first thing you need to do if you’re looking to apply for Italian citizenship by descent is to make a note of the dates and places of births, marriages, and deaths of your family members in your Italian line of descent, including your Italian ancestors. If available, you also need to find out the exact dates when your Italian-born ancestor(s) became naturalized citizens of the United States.


Once you have this information, the rule of thumb is that you are eligible if you meet the criteria right below. If you are still uncertain whether you qualify, free eligibility assessment services such as the one offered by Italian Citizenship Assistance, a network of Italian and American lawyers with offices in Italy and the US, are a useful resource.


Photo: Italian Citizenship Assistance


Criteria for eligibility


  • You are of Italian descent or were adopted by at least one person of Italian descent as a minor (21 if born before 1975; 18 if born after 1975)


  • At least one of your Italian-born ancestors was alive and an Italian citizen after the year of 1861 (the Italian unification)


  • Neither your Italian-born ancestor nor any of your ascendants in your Italian line became a naturalized citizen of another country before the birth of the next person in the Italian line 


Look out for these exceptions


Unfortunately, even if your first steps indicate that you qualify, there are a few exceptions to the general rule. The first disqualification is if you have renounced your Italian citizenship voluntarily prior to August 15, 1992. Other things that would make you ineligible for Italian citizenship by descent include:


  • Your Italian-born ancestor was naturalized before June 14, 1912


  • You have an Italian female in your Italian line who gave birth to her child before January 1, 1948. 


  • You were born before 1948 and your only Italian legal parent is female. 


Note: People whose cases fall in the two latter categories may pursue Italian citizenship via the Italian court system.


The documents you need


If you have established your eligibility, gathering the required legal documents is where things get a bit more complex. The first thing to know is that all the U.S.-issued vital records (including birth, marriage, and death certificates) that are relevant for your application must be certified “long form” copies (i.e. an abstract will not do). In addition, they must bear the official seal of the Registrar’s Office as well as the date when each certificate was filed. Finally, each document must not be a genealogical copy or photocopy, and also have an affixed APOSTILLE, the legalization provided by either the United States Department of State or the Treasury Department.


Photo: Jonathan Bean on Unsplash


Now the catch is that it is never enough for you to merely obtain your own certificates. In all cases, you have to collect – and translate into Italian – the certificates of all the people who are relevant to the transmission of your right to Italian citizenship by descent. Unless you are making use of a legal service such as Italian Citizenship Assistance’s Executive Full Service package, the process of identifying, obtaining, authenticating, and translating all of the required documents is often the most time-consuming and complicated phase of the application process. There are no simple answers here, since it all depends on your particular family history and Italian lineage, your state of residency, as well as whether you are applying in Italy or the United States.


Applying in the US or Italy


Once you have secured translations of all of the required legal documents – and had the translations certified by an Italian consulate or Embassy – it is time to submit your application either to the Italian consulate nearest to where you are legally residing or to an Italian municipality in Italy. If you let Italian Citizenship Assistance handle the application process for you they can cover this step too.


If you choose to apply in Italy, Italian Citizenship Assistance can assist you throughout the entire process as part of one of their Full Service Executive packages. Italian Citizenship Assistance will also be able to assist you in setting up your legal residence in Italy, which is required if you want to apply in Italy.


In the past, Italian Citizenship Assistance has helped many people reconnect with their Italian roots. For example, they recently helped retired Italian-American Joseph and his son retrieve and reformat some missing and hard-to-locate required documents. A few months later, after all the paperwork had been submitted to the citizenship clerk in Italy, Joseph and his son were granted Italian citizenship. The father and son are currently in the process of purchasing a property in Tuscany.


This article was produced by The Local Creative Studio and sponsored by Italian Citizenship Assistance.

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