Some 17 million Americans may be surprised to know that, according to Italian law, they are eligible for Italian citizenship. Such a privilege is their jure sanguinis, or “right of blood.” Including those in America, an estimated 60 million people outside of Italy can claim Italian ancestry.
The exodus of Italians leaving their homeland dates to the Italian unification wars, which left much of southern Italy impoverished and under the forceful watch of northern rulers. These hardships convinced millions of southern Italians to immigrate. America, especially between 1880 and 1924, was a popular destination.
A century later, many Americans of Italian descent are looking back at their roots and finding ways to connect more closely to them. Italian Americans have maintained a strong identity in America since their immigrant beginnings. This is creating a demand for an Italian passport and possibly a different way of life by moving back to Italy, particularly as the United States seems less ideal than in decades past because of perceived political instability.
Today, knowing that the Italian passport is worth nearly twice that of the U.S. passport provides even more incentive. The European Union operates like a common market. Citizens of the 27 member states can live in any of the countries. An American who has doubled his passport portfolio with an Italian booklet will have the same rights and privileges as every other Italian. Better yet, Americans can get this benefit at a bargain, especially when comparing Italian citizenship by ancestry to Malta’s citizenship-by-investment program, which costs more than $1 million and can take years.
People will get a second passport for different personal reasons. Some may have Italian pride, seeing it as part of their heritage and something they can pass down to their children. Others may perceive the clear economic benefit. Not only does a second passport from Italy enable more visa-free travel mobility, but it opens paths in the EU business market. Like having the right to live in the EU, Italian passport holders can also work in the EU.
For Americans who want to be fully free of their government’s high taxation — because the U.S. taxes on worldwide income, even for Americans who live abroad — there is the option of renouncing citizenship and falling back on Italian citizenship. This could lessen tax liabilities. This option should only be done, though, if Americans have another citizenship like Italy’s as a backup. Some affluent families even do “citizenship planning.” This is the process of obtaining strategic citizenships to guarantee wealth and security for generations to come.
Knowing the landscape of citizenship rights and rules as they pertain to Italy, let’s examine how one becomes a bona fide Italian citizen.
Establishing the ‘Italian connection’
For those who want to learn, there is a basic concept to know behind Italian ancestry by descent. It relates to keeping a clear “Italian connection.”
Ancestors who left Italy for the U.S. after 1861 were considered Italian. Every child born of an Italian father (and mother ultimately) was Italian at birth. They remained Italian until they became naturalized Americans, at which point they automatically lost their Italian citizenship. This key event determines eligibility for Italian citizenship by ancestry. Children born before their parents’ U.S. naturalization were Italian; those born after that date were not Italian.
Here are case examples to better understand the situation:
- If your grandfather became a naturalized American before your father was born, then your father is not Italian and therefore cannot pass Italian citizenship on to you. If your father was born in the U.S., he is an American citizen.
- If your grandfather became a naturalized American after your father was born, then your father is Italian and therefore can pass his citizenship on to you. If your father was born in the U.S., he is both an Italian and American citizen.
This test must be applied to your descendent to ensure the “Italian connection” is not lost. For many years, this test applied only to those having Italian heritage from a male ancestor. But since 2009, people can also claim their Italian citizenship from a female ancestor. That process is different, must be filed in court, and is commonly referred to as the “1948 cases.” Since the 1948 constitution mandated gender equality, it acted retroactively on the 1902 constitution, which had Italian women marrying a foreign man losing their Italian citizenship. Put in simpler terms, both male and female ancestors can now pass on their Italian ancestry.
Going through the application process
For those who are certain of their citizenship by ancestry claim, there is a lot of paperwork to do.
- For applicants of Italian citizenship by descent from a male lineage
If you’re sure of your claim, you can book an appointment at your nearest Italian consulate. It used to take an average of two years to get your appointment. Since the consulates were closed during the COVID-19 pandemic, the estimated time is expected to reach many more years. If you have all the relevant documents, you will receive your citizenship certificate not long after that. It’s also now possible to file claims in court much faster, similar to the 1948 case process.
2. For applicants of the Italian citizenship by descent from a female lineage (1948 cases)
Though traditionally applied only to those who received Italian ancestry from a female lineage, now it can be applied to both male and female lineages if a consulate appointment is not possible. This process takes place in Italian courts and preferably involves legal representation. The process is faster than non-1948 cases, often getting heard in less than a year. If your documents are in order, the decision is, in practice, always positive. You get your citizenship certificate soon after approval.
3. Fast-track Naturalization
A broken Italian connection? Don’t despair. Some call this a “fast-track naturalization” option that can take three years instead of 10. To achieve this, applicants need to have an Italian resident permit. Applying for the fast-track naturalization doesn’t require you to spend the full three years in Italy, but rather to only have the permit for that length of time. However, annual permits, such as self-employed and elective residence, do require being present in the country at least six months of the year to be renewed.
For those who cannot be present most of the year in Italy for those three years, there is the Italian investor visa (aka the Golden Visa). This visa is a five-year fragmented resident permit for those who invest at least €250,000 in Italy. The holder only needs to visit Italy once a year. It offers the most flexibility and is a favored pathway, especially given that the Italian naturalization process alone can take two years. With the Italy Golden Visa, you’ll be able to qualify for fast-track naturalization by spending only a day a year in Italy.
Gathering all your required documents
Italian citizenship must be proven. It’s a significant undertaking and not advisable to do on your own. Professional help and advice is essential, because applicants will need birth certificates, death certificates, marriage certificates, a declaration of intentions, a petition for naturalization, a certificate of naturalization, and a registry from Italy about your ancestor. If you feel the process is too complicated to handle on your own, don’t despair, Global RCG can take care of the whole process for you.
Marriage certificates can be obtained where the marriage license was issued. It is also important to retrieve certified copies of a marriage application, as the authorities may need to see the parents’ names to verify Italian lineage. Divorce decrees can be retrieved from the court in which the divorce was filed. If you are divorced, you will also need a certificate of no appeal showing that no appeal was filed after the final judgment or a case summary.
Depending on the specific department of health, county, or court and the type of record requested, you might need to sign a form that requires your notarized signature. You might also need to provide proof of a relationship to request your descendant’s vital records.
Some states like New York will release birth certificates of deceased individuals only on a court order. Without the court order, New York will only issue copies that cannot be apostilled and thus refused by the Italian authorities. The state of New York has some of the most restrictive laws in the U.S. regarding vital records, but all of them do not apply in the five boroughs of New York City. These certificates need to be certified copies so they can be legalized with an apostille and translated into Italian. An apostille is a certificate that is attached to the original document to verify that it’s legitimate and authentic.
To apply for Italian citizenship by descent, you must also show the naturalization records of your Italian ancestor through whom you are claiming citizenship, or proof that the ancestor was never naturalized.
You will also need:
- A declaration of intentions
- Petition for naturalization
- Certificate of naturalization
You can find those documents at the National Archives and Records Administration (NARA), U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS) or the county in which the naturalization took place. If your ancestor never was naturalized, you will need to prove this to the Italian authorities by providing a certificate of non-existence of records. The certificate can be retrieved from USCIS. Otherwise, NARA can provide you with a letter of negative search.
Your ancestor’s vital records from Italy can be found in the stato civile (registry office) of the Italian municipality in which the event occurred. You will need to provide the municipality with details about the date and place of their birth and their ancestor parents’ names. If your ancestor’s name was misspelled when he or she moved to the United States, or if the Italian name was changed to the English version (e.g., Giovanni to John and Maria to Mary), you can also request a specific certificate from the municipality called a certificato di esatte generalità that certifies that your ancestor was the only individual born with that specific name and on that specific day.
The applicant’s and parents’ names must match on all of the applicant’s vital records. If changes need to be made, you will need to contact the office that issued the record. This can be done administratively or through a court order. In case of major discrepancies, you can obtain a “one and the same person” court order, which declares that more than one record pertains to the same person despite the name differences.
The cost to apply for Italian citizenship
The cost of retrieving all the documents needed for your application and authenticating them can rise to a few thousand dollars. It’s also very time-consuming. Due to the Italian consulate closures, the only way to apply is through the Italian court system. You will need to hire an Italian lawyer to review your case, submit a petition to the court and represent you in front of a judge. The legal fees can cost up to $10,000.
Due to the complexity of the whole process, many applicants get professional help to save time. Firms like Global RCG offer free assessment and affordable professional fees.
Their professional package varies between $10,000 and $15,000 and can include:
- eligibility assessment
- document retrieval
- document translation and authentication
- form filing assistance
- Italian court representation
- Italian municipality filing