Italian Citizenship by Descent
Driving along the colorful coastline of the Amalfi Coast. Wandering through the cradle of the Italian Renaissance in Florence. Exploring the rolling hills of Tuscany, one award-winning wine at a time. This is Italy! Wouldn’t it be fabulous to be a part of it all, and not just on a once in a lifetime vacation but as a citizen of Italia!
There are tons of Americans living in Italy; many who have obtained an Italian passport through their Italian ancestry! Want to learn more about how you can too? Keep reading! In this article we’ll cover who qualifies for Italian citizenship by descent and how to apply.
What is citizenship by descent?
Citizenship by descent is an option to get recognized for citizenship through your heritage—via your parents, grandparents, or even great-grandparents’ country of birth. Although each European Union (EU) country has its own citizenship by descent requirements, getting an EU passport through citizenship by descent is a fairly direct—albeit drawn-out—process.
Known as jure sanguinis in Italy (which in Latin means right of blood) you are “already” an Italian citizen if you can show proof that you qualify through lineage by descent! If you qualify you can obtain citizenship—and a passport—from the country of your ancestors and enjoy the benefits of being a European citizen.
If you don’t qualify for citizenship by descent but still want to make Italy your home, learn about the many visa options available for Italy (and 17 other countries in Europe!)
Can I get Italian citizenship if my parents or grandparents were Italian?
Assolutamente! To qualify for Italian citizenship through your parents or grandparents you have to show proof of unbroken Italian lineage. What does that mean? Proof of unbroken lineage means that you have to prove two things 1) an unbroken line from yourself to your ancestors who were Italian citizens, or had the right to claim Italian citizenship, and 2) that the right to Italian citizenship was transferred to you according to Italian law.
So if your parent(s) are Italian citizens, the process to prove your jure sanguinis through documentation is fairly simple. More on that later. In the case of your grandparent, a few more documents will be needed to show your unbroken lineage.
Of course you’ll need to do your research to find out what is required for your individual situation and provide the necessary paperwork. But if you do qualify, you will be granted Italian birthright citizenship, and given the rights and privileges of those born in Italy —and you can obtain that coveted passport to the European Union.
Can I get Italian citizenship through my great-grandparents?
Yes, great-grandparents or even great-great grandparents! You can go back as many generations as needed, as long as the person was alive and a citizen of Italy in 1861 or after. Why? Because before March 17, 1861, there was no such thing as an Italian citizen; before then the region was comprised of various individual states and wasn’t unified as a country until 1861!
For a jure sanguinis citizenship application, the oldest Italian ancestor in your claim must have been alive on—or after—nationhood (March 17, 1861).
So in order know if you qualify through a great-grandparent or great-great grandparent , you’ll need to know the birthdate of your ancestor through which you’ll be making the claim for citizenship. You’re also going to need to know some other important dates for events along the way as well—you’re going to need to put on your detective hat for this one!
Italian citizenship requirements
To make a claim for Italian citizenship through jure sanguinis, you’ll need some envelopes, lots of stamps, a checkbook, patience and organizational skills!
First you will need to obtain official government-issued birth certificates for all the family members in your line of ancestry as well as their spouses (whether those spouses were Italian or not). You’ll also need to obtain everyone’s official marriage certificates and their death certificates, as well as any divorce, name change or adoption paperwork if it is pertinent.
But before spending the time, money and research needed to request all of these documents from multiple cities, states and possibly countries, you will need to be absolutely certain about the date of naturalization of the Italian immigrant if they immigrated to the US.
If your Italian ancestor became a US citizen
Before 1992, Italians were not allowed to hold dual citizenship and had to renounce their Italian citizenship in order to be sworn in as a citizen of the US. Not every Italian immigrant to the US became a citizen; however, whether they did or didn’t, you’ll need to provide documentation showing proof.
If you are unable to obtain these documents from the records department in your city/state or from your family’s archives, you may need to pay for an Index Search through the United States Immigration and Citizenship Services (USCIS) to get copies of these important official documents. FYI, the search with USCIS will take over a year to dig up the documents requested, so factor in that into your timeline.
Here is where it gets tricky. If your Italian ancestor became an US citizen after arriving from Italy, the date that your ancestor became a US citizen must be AFTER the date that your next in line Italian ancestor was born.
So for example, if your Italian relative (your great–grandfather) was naturalized as a US citizen—thus giving up their Italian citizenship—and THEN the next relative in line (your grandfather) was born after that date, that next relative (your grandfather) is not considered an Italian citizen, but considered an American citizen. This breaks the chain of lineage and prevents you from getting Italian citizenship through this pathway. You will need to proceed along a different route to citizenship to restore the “broken line” of jure sanguinis.
Again, knowing these dates is vitally important in order to secure your right to citizenship and know which option you’ll need to take to get Italian citizenship. We can’t stress enough that this should be determined BEFORE you begin collecting the plethora of required documents.
The 1948 Rule
Whew. You still with me? Here’s another caveat, The 1948 Rule. If you have one or more women in your direct line of Italian descent, the application process changes according to the date in which the child of the aforementioned woman was born.
If the woman gave birth to your direct relative after January 1st, 1948, you can obtain Italian citizenship. However… if the woman gave birth to your next in line BEFORE that date, you can obtain Italian citizenship but will need to take an additional step. The reason for this is that women weren’t considered citizens of Italy until after 1948, so their heritage didn’t count. It’s always the patriarchy.
Don’t give up yet! If The 1948 Rule has thrown you a curve ball, you can still apply for Italian citizenship but you will need to hire a professional to assist you since it’s a different process.
If your female ancestor gave birth prior to January 1, 1948 you can only claim citizenship retroactively via a judicial proceeding and by filing a “1948 case” with the courts in Italy, rather than applying in the usual manner.
So let’s pretend you’ve checked The 1948 Rule, you’ve researched the date of your immigrating Italian ancestor to the US and they either didn’t naturalize or they naturalized AFTER the next in line was born. Congrats, you’re now ready to begin the process!
Applying for Italian citizenship
To continue your claim for Italian citizenship let’s use the following example:
Your great-grandfather is your bloodline connection to Italy. First, you’ll need his birth certificate from the commune (town/village) where he was born in Italy. This is often difficult to obtain on your own. You may need to hire a service for this, someone who is physically in Italy who can visit the Anagrafe di Stato Civile (the local town hall office of demographics) in the correct commune and request the birth certificates on your behalf.
You’ll also need your his wife’s (your great-grandmother’s) birth certificate, their marriage certificate, and both of their death certificates. These may or may not be found in Italy, depending on where they were married and passed away.
Next, you’ll need your great-grandfather’s son’s or daughter’s (that would be your grandfather or grandmother) birth, marriage and death certificate(s). You’ll add these to the stack of official documents along with your mother and father’s birth, marriage, and if applicable, death certificates. Finally, you’ll need to add your birth certificate and if applicable, marriage certificate, to the pile of paperwork.
After you have collected all the documents, they will need to be apostilled and translated into Italian. These are potentially expensive to do, so again— make sure you qualify for citizenship (The 1942 Rule? US naturalization date?) before you start spending time and money on all the required documents.
Everything will need to be submitted to your local Italian embassy or consulate. Please note that each embassy and consulate work independently and have slightly different requirements for applying. Please check with the embassy or consulate assigned to your region for specific requirements and application process.
How long does it take to get Italian citizenship and a passport?
How long does it take to get Italian citizenship? It depends. The more complex and complicated your case is, the more time it’s going to take. If you need to order naturalization documents from the USCIS it could take a year to even receive these documents; if you can request documents from the National Archives and Records Administration (NARA) that will be faster. Researching, requesting documents from near and far (it’s a good idea to request 2 or 3 copies of each document) and finally receiving them takes time as well.
If you are applying for Italian citizenship from the US, you’ll need to determine which Italian consulate will process your application based on where you reside. Each consulates has different processing times. For example, the Chicago office has a wait time of at least two years just to get an appointment to submit your documents and begin the process.
Here’s another option though: if you’re able to apply directly from Italy, that’s a much quicker route. You will need to find accommodation to rent that meets specific criteria and get a tax ID number before arrival, and then you can enjoy la dolce vita—the good life—while you process your application from the motherland.
Depending on the complexity of your application it could take anywhere from a few months to up to 24 months to recognize and approve your request for citizenship, after which time you can apply for your Italian passport. Again, you’ll need to do your due diligence before hopping on a plane to Italy to make this happen.
Benefits of Italian citizenship
So what benefits come with Italian citizenship? Here’s a list of some of the main perks you’ll be entitled to as a citizen of the Bel Paese.
- One of the most significant benefits of Italian dual citizenship is the ability to travel, work and live in ANY of the 27 EU countries.
- International companies can hire you knowing you won’t need a work visa to work in Italy or any of the EU member states
- You can enroll in any EU university. There are more than 1,300 higher-education learning programs with affordable tuition rates or no fees.
- If you choose to reside in Italy, you can apply for your Tessera Sanitaria (Italian National Healthcare Card) to receive healthcare in Italy and the EU.
- You can vote, own property and start a business in Italia.
- Any children you have under age 18 will be automatically considered Italian citizens just by registering their birth in Italy, whether they were born in the US or elsewhere.
Italian citizenship through descent
Yes, it’s complicated.
Yes, it’s a lot of paperwork.
Yes, it takes time.
And yes…it can be very frustrating.
But the benefits of obtaining dual citizenship and receiving that coveted maroon Italian passport are absolutely worth the effort. Think about gelato. Gelato comes from Italy, as does pizza. And wine. Lots of really really good wine. Embarking on your Italian citizenship through descent will change your life, for the better!
In bocca al lupo e auguri! (good luck and best wishes!)
A special “grazie mille” to fellow She Hit Refresh member Jennifer Sontag for assistance, clarification and edits to this article. Jennifer is the founder of Italian Citizenship Concierge, a firm she founded to assist with jure sanguinis citizenship. Contact Jennifer for professional assistance with your Italian citizenship by descent.