Date: 1983 – Automatic Citizenship for Foreign Women by Marriage

April 27, 1983

Automatic Italian citizenship through marriage ended (Law no. 123). Prior to this date foreign women who married Italian men automatically and instantly became Italian citizens. Starting on this date, foreign women and foreign men are treated equally when marrying their Italian spouses: they do not receive automatic and immediate Italian citizenship. (A comprehensive Jure Matrimonii Reference Guide can be found in the Files section of the group and in Unit 4- a unit dedicated for citizenship by marriage cases)

A wife’s automatic acquisition of Italian citizenship can be highly relevant in certain jure sanguinis citizenship recognition cases. The typical example is when the Italian husband naturalizes as a foreign citizen after the marriage. In many cases prior to 1948, and in all cases after 1947, the wife kept the Italian citizenship she automatically acquired upon marriage unless she took some other action (such as foreign naturalization). Her children born after 1947 were thus born Italian citizens.

Note that dissolution of the marriage did not terminate a wife’s automatically acquired Italian citizenship unless the dissolution occurred before April 27, 1983, the woman left Italy before April 27, 1983 (or never resided in Italy), and the woman retained or acquired a foreign citizenship. Remarriage alone only terminated her Italian citizenship if she legally married a foreign man prior to 1948 and if her new husband’s country of citizenship legally and automatically granted her a citizenship she did not already possess.

Example: Giuseppe, an Italian citizen, emigrated to Canada in 1947. He married Beatrice, a Canadian citizen, in 1950. Giuseppe naturalized as a Canadian citizen in 1953. They had a child, Karen, in 1955. Karen was born an Italian citizen because her mother, Beatrice, acquired Italian citizenship automatically in 1950 when she married Giuseppe. Beatrice did not lose her Italian citizenship when Giuseppe naturalized in 1953 — after 1947 Italian wives could never involuntarily lose their Italian citizenships when their husbands naturalized, even if the foreign law provided automatic citizenship to them. While Karen’s father was no longer an Italian citizen when Karen was born, Beatrice could pass Italian citizenship on her own to Karen because Karen was born after 1947. (Italian courts grant even more latitude than this example illustrates.)

Law no. 123 also changed the treatment of minors (see March 10, 1975, above) when one or more Italian parents lose their Italian citizenship through naturalization. According to the Ministry of Foreign Affairs (Circular no. 9 of July 4, 2001), and assuming the Italian father did not naturalize prior to July 1, 1912 (see above), an Italian minor lost his/her citizenship only if the following conditions apply (1 plus either 2A or 2B):

1. The minor acquired or possessed a foreign citizenship other than one which was granted automatically by virtue of being born in a foreign country.

2A. If the Italian minor attained the legal age of majority on or before April 27, 1983: either the “controlling” parent or the only Italian parent lost Italian citizenship, the minor was living with the parent who lost Italian citizenship, the minor was not emancipated (not married, for example), and the parent did not reacquire Italian citizenship before the minor attained the legal age of majority.

2B. If the Italian minor attained the legal age of majority after April 27, 1983: either both parents or the only Italian parent lost Italian citizenship, no parent reacquired Italian citizenship before the minor attained the legal age of majority, and the minor was not emancipated.

There are some important caveats:

Any parent who died while still an Italian citizen never lost Italian citizenship, so orphan minors are better protected in Italian citizenship law.
The “controlling” parent is the minor’s primary legal guardian and, prior to April 27, 1983, was with only rare exceptions the father if he was alive.

At certain times in history Italian minors could independently naturalize as foreign citizens under other countries’ citizenship laws. Australia is a fairly common example, since Australia required children as young as 16 to naturalize on their own if they wanted Australian citizenship. Minors who joined the U.S. Armed Forces and who instantly naturalized as U.S. citizens between May 9, 1918, and June 30, 1919, represent another cohort. (There was a special law during World War I that waived declaration of intent and 5 year residence requirements for these U.S. soldiers and sailors.) If an Italian minor naturalized on his own in these and similar situations, he would retain his Italian citizenship unless the MFA’s conditions were met.

Example: Antonio, an Italian citizen, and his wife emigrated from Italy to Argentina in 1902 with their son, Francesco, who was born in 1897. Francesco then emigrated to the United States when he was a teenager, but his father remained in Argentina. Francesco joined the U.S. Army during World War I, and his commanding officer asked Francesco if he would like U.S. citizenship. Francesco marched to a local courthouse and took an oath of U.S. citizenship, becoming a U.S. citizen without the normal waiting period. He was 20 years old when he took the oath. Francesco married an American in 1923, and she already had a child (with another father) who Francesco never formally adopted. Later, in 1925, Antonio naturalized as a citizen of Argentina, when Francesco was 28 years old. Francesco retained his Italian citizenship: he naturalized when he was still a minor, and his father was still an Italian citizen when Francesco reached the legal age of majority (age 21 at that time) in 1918. Also, the American woman he married in 1923 automatically acquired Italian citizenship when they married. Her then minor child also acquired Italian citizenship.

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