Overview of Italian Citizenship by Descent

The following has been adapted from content written by Mr. Malcolm Schreiber on the Dual Italian Citizenship Tapatalk forum.

Overview of Jure Sanguinis

Italian citizenship is based on the principle of jus sanguinis (Latin: “right of blood”), which means that the child of an Italian citizen is automatically an Italian citizen from birth. This is true without regard of where the child is born, where the parent was born, whether the parent ever lived in Italy, whether the parent is registered as a citizen in Italy, or if the child’s birth is registered in Italy. Thus, if an Italian citizen has a child abroad, and then that child grows up in that foreign country and has a child, and so forth, every person in that line may be an Italian citizen, whether they are aware of it or not.

However, in order for the Italian government to acknowledge and treat a person as a citizen, that person’s birth must be registered in a municipality (comune) in Italy. The jure sanguinis (which we often refer to as JS) citizenship recognition process is a procedure by which a person of Italian descent presents proof to an Italian governmental entity, such as an embassy, consulate, or comune, that the person is in fact an Italian citizen under its laws. The Ministry of Foreign Affairs (il Ministero degli Affari Esteri) establishes a set of requirements to prove that one is an Italian citizen, but the consulates have a large degree of latitude in enforcing them.

If an applicant for recognition satisfies the standard of proof (generally a set of documents with the proper certifications) demanded by the consulate (or comune) that covers the place where that person resides (i.e. permanent residency), that person’s birth (and current and previous marriages and divorces, if applicable) will be registered in Italy and that person’s Italian citizenship will be acknowledged by the Italian government.

Myth Buster – Origins of Italy’s Jure Sanguinis Laws

Often articles and websites that talk about the JS path to Italian citizenship have incorrect assertions as to the purpose and origins. Many claim that this is some new law that was introduced in 1992 in an effort to boost the dwindling Italian population. Some take it a step further and assert that it is to entice investment in Italy and grow the income tax base.

JS has been the defining foundation of Italy’s citizenship laws since first becoming a country. It is on the first article in book 1 of the 1865 Civil Code. In very simple, succinct terms, it defines citizenship as being derived from the father. It also defines the few conditions in which one would lose citizenship, including acquiring another citizenship. There have been a number of modifications over the years, such as equal treatment for women (1948) which was the foundation for allowing women to pass citizenship to their children. The loss of Italian citizenship by naturalizing in another country was eliminated in 1992 through a rewrite of the law. This 1992 law is often misunderstood to be the dawn of JS. However, passage of Italian citizenship through JS and the ability for estranged descendents to claim it has been in existence all along.

As for the purpose for JS as a foundation, it is a principle that predates Italy and is common amongst many European countries. In fact, citizenship by birth in a country as a fundamental rule is very much a New World concept that came into place in countries like Australia, US, and Canada after European occupation; independence from Europe dictated a different way of defining citizenship for those settling in these new nations and to define conditions for those of other nations settling there to be (or not) citizens. In other words, JS is a long-held European custom.

Do you qualify?

In order to determine whether you have (or had) jure sanguinis Italian citizenship, you need to determine whether either one of your parents was an Italian citizen at the time of your birth who was eligible to transmit citizenship to his or her children. 

If your parent who may have been an Italian citizen was not registered as such in (a comune in) Italy, you’ll need to establish that your parent, too, inherited Italian citizenship at birth from his or her parent, or otherwise acquired Italian citizenship after birth, such as via marriage. Continue in this way until you arrive at an ancestor whose birth was registered at a comune in Italy and thus is known by the Italian government to have been an Italian citizen.

We’ll refer here to such ancestor as your “last Italy-registered ancestor” or LIRA. In principle you can (and ultimately will) establish that this person was an Italian citizen by obtaining his or her birth certificate, and if necessary certificate of citizenship, from Italy. From your LIRA you then construct a chain of ancestors, each the parent of the next (or sometimes the spouse), and each of whom can be shown to have passed on Italian citizenship to the next person in your line. (We’ll refer to this line as your “Italian line” or “direct line.” Keep in mind that you may have other ancestors who are Italian but not in your line. Moreover, you may even have more than one viable line to a LIRA, in which case you can claim citizenship through either line.)

There is no limit to the number of generations that can be in your line, so long as your LIRA was a documented Italian citizen.

Myth Buster – Inheriting Citizenship from a Distant Ancestor

Casually speaking, descendants who have claimed JS through some distant ancestor, say a great grandfather, will say they got their Italian citizenship from great grandfather. While somewhat accurate, this can mislead others who are interested in doing the same because it leaves out important details of how citizenship is actually passed-down.

Italian citizenship can only be passed from parent to child and only at birth (except for a few special circumstances). The reason many of us have to go back to a grandparent or beyond to be recognized is because our intermediary ancestors may never have been formally recognized as Italian citizens. So, when you apply for citizenship through a distant ancestor, you are essentially proving that each person in your line to that ancestor inherited Italian citizenship from his or her parent at birth. Therefore, your parent was technically an Italian citizen when you were born and passed that citizenship to you. You cannot “skip” generations that did not qualify in order to claim citizenship directly from an ancestor other than your parent.

Another assumption that is often made is that because a relative was recognized with Italian citizenship JS that another relative with the same common Italian ancestor qualifies. Not necessarily.

As stated above, you can only inherit Italian citizenship from a parent. Your parent must have qualified for Italian citizenship from his or her parent at birth (or through marriage) through the time when you were born in order for you to qualify. Unfortunately, there are many situations where siblings of the same parent are split between qualifying and not, due to when parent lost Italian citizenship in relation to their births.

Yet another misunderstanding has to do with parents who lost Italian citizenship by acquiring another citizenship before 1992. There is a process for reacquisition of Italian citizenship for those who lost it in the past (see information in our Reacquisition section). However, reacquisition will not resolve the inability for children to claim JS citizenship if they were born while the parent was not an Italian citizen.

The principles of Italian citizenship are the following:

ACQUIRING CITIZENSHIP

  • A child would be an Italian citizen from birth if:
    1. The father was Italian at the time of birth and acknowledged paternity (by, e.g., the father appearing on the child’s birth cert as the informant).
    2. The mother was Italian at the time of birth and the child was born on or after 1 Jan 1948. (This is the so-called 1948 rule; see below for a more in-depth discussion.)
    3. The mother was Italian at the time of birth and the father was either unknown or possessed a citizenship that was not passed to the child.
    4. The child was born in Italy to unknown parents.
  • Everyone who was a citizen of one of the predecessor states of Italy at the time of the founding of the country on 17 March 1861 automatically became a citizen of Italy. This was retroactively true even for former citizens of some states that merged with Italy later, such as the Papal States.
  • Before 27 April 1983, foreign women automatically became Italian citizens upon marriage to an Italian man. This can be helpful if the husband later lost Italian citizenship by naturalizing in another country. In terms of the US, after 22 September 1922 when the US Cable Act was instituted, the wife of an Italian would not automatically naturalize with the husband. So, for an Italian couple where the husband naturalized after the Cable Act, the wife maintained Italian citizenship unless she, herself, acquired another citizenship. This holds true, even if the wife was not of Italian descent at all, so long as she married while the husband was still Italian. (Before the Cable Act, American women lost US citizenship upon marriage to a foreign male. After the Cable Act, they had to have naturalized on their own to reacquire US citizenship. Those who did lost Italian citizenship at that point.)
  • Naturalization: Of course one can also naturalize as an Italian citizen, but in that case there would be a record of the naturalization in Italy already and the recognition of that person’s citizenship would be unnecessary.
  • A non-emancipated minor child of a man who acquired or reacquired Italian citizenship would automatically acquire Italian citizenship as well, so long as the child was not both living abroad and possessing a foreign citizenship.
  • Note: Mere birth in Italy does not automatically confer citizenship (unless the parents are unknown), so in principle a birth certificate from Italy does not necessarily prove that someone was an Italian citizen. In practice, for an ancestor who was born in Italy decades ago, so long as at least one parent (the father, if birth before 1948) has an Italian name, a consulate or comune will generally accept the birth certificate as sufficient proof that the person was Italian, but occasionally they also request a certificate of citizenship, which comuni will also issue.

Myth Busters – Passage of Citizenship To/From Females

There are many misunderstandings about women’s ability to pass and receive citizenship. Simply stated, any child born before the Italian constitution went into effect on 1-Jan-1948 could not inherit citizenship from his or her mother. It makes no difference when the mother was born (except for obvious physical limitations). It also makes no difference whether the child was male or female.

Caveats: In extremely rare cases where the father was unknown or the child would have been otherwise stateless, the child would inherit the mother’s citizenship. Additionally, the inability for a mother to pass citizenship to her children before 1948 has been successfully challenged thousands of times in Italian court. The constitutional provision allowing passage of citizenship from 1948 forward has not been amended to affect births prior, so these cases must continue to be challenged in the Italian courts. (In other words, the consulates must follow the law based on when it went into effect and, therefore, cannot process an application through a child born to a female born before 1948.) See the 1948 Rule below and 1948 under the main menu for more details.


LOSS OF CITIZENSHIP

Italian citizenship can be lost in the following ways:

  • By naturalizing voluntarily as an adult (age 18 and over after 10 March 1975, age 21 and over before then) in a foreign country before 15 August 1992.
  • By renouncing one’s citizenship abroad in front of an Italian diplomat or consular official OR stating the intention to renounce one’s citizenship to a government official while still residing in Italy and then moving abroad within 1 year.
  • By continuing to serve in a foreign government or military after being ordered to cease by the Italian government and failing to do so within a specified time period. After 15 August 1992, one can also lose Italian citizenship by serving in a foreign military at war with Italy.
  • For an Italian woman,
    1. by marrying, and residing with, a foreign man, before 1 January 1948, whose citizenship is automatically transmitted to the woman by marriage.
    2. by the loss of Italian citizenship of her husband, with whom she resides, before 1 January 1948, if she also posses another citizenship (and thus would not be rendered stateless by losing Italian citizenship).
  • For an Italian minor child,
    1. before 1 July 1912, by the loss of citizenship of the father, if the child resides outside Italy. (This is the so-called 1912 rule.)
    2. on or after 1 July 1912, by the loss of citizenship of the father or legal guardian (after 27 April 1983, of both parents), if the child resides with the father or guardian abroad, if the child is not emancipated, if the child possesses a foreign nationality, and if the child did not acquire that foreign nationality by virtue of being born in a foreign country. An exception to this rule was also made if the mother was the guardian and she lost citizenship by virtue of a new marriage after the death of the child’s father.

The way these rules are used in practice is that you begin with your LIRA. Then you check that at the time of birth of the next person in your line, your LIRA had not lost Italian citizenship (generally by naturalization of the LIRA, the LIRA’s spouse if the LIRA is a woman, or the LIRA’s parent if the LIRA moved abroad as a child) and your LIRA was a man if this birth occurred before 1948. If these conditions are satisfied, the next person in your line (the LIRA’s child) was also an Italian citizen, from birth. Next you repeat the procedure for the next person in your line, verifying that the Italian parent had not lost citizenship by the time of the child’s birth and that that parent was not a woman if the birth was before 1948. Continue in this way until you arrive at your own birth. If every person in your line was an Italian citizen who could pass on citizenship at the time of the birth of the next person in your line, you are (or were) a citizen from birth.

Since citizenship was mainly lost through naturalization, when an Italian moved abroad to a jure soli country (i.e., a country that confers citizenship based on birth in that country, regardless of the citizenship of the parents) such as the United States, Canada, or Australia, so long as all subsequent generations were born in that country, you only need to check the naturalization status of the generation or generations that immigrated. Once you’ve found an ancestor who was born in a jure soli country and had not lost citizenship by 1 July 1912, all subsequent generations would be Italian citizens so long as the parent in your line before 1948 was a man.

If you have Italian ancestry but fail to be an Italian citizen by birth, it is usually because your line fails for one of the following reasons:

  1. Your LIRA naturalized as a citizen of a new country (usually, your home country) before the birth of the next person in your line.
  2. Your LIRA immigrated to a new country (usually, your home country) as a child and naturalized while still a minor and your LIRA’s Italian father (or mother if the father was not Italian) also naturalized. (These 2 naturalizations didn’t have to occur simultaneously, so long as they both happened while the child was a minor.)
  3. Someone in your line’s father naturalized before 1 July 1912 while that person was still a minor (the 1912 rule).
  4. Your line includes someone who was born before 1948 to an Italian mother but not Italian father (the 1948 rule).
  5. Your line includes an Italian woman who married a foreign man (and acquired his citizenship) before 1948 and before the birth of the next person in you line.
  6. Your line includes an Italian woman whose Italian husband naturalized before 1948 and before the birth of the next person in your line AND she automatically acquired his new citizenship.

Note that the last 3 cases apply only to lines that include women before 1948, while 5 out of 6 cases involve naturalization. However, in the US, derivative citizenship through marriage ended 22 September 1922, so Italian women could not lose citizenship by marrying a US citizen or if their husbands became US citizens from that point forward. You can see that naturalization status – determining whether an ancestor naturalized and when – is one of the keys to the whole process. This is why consulates place so much emphasis on verifying that someone did or did not naturalize, which can be very difficult for ancestors who immigrated a century ago or earlier.


The 1912 Rule

The 1912 rule is really a rule from the previous law, the Civil Code of 1865, that was (partially) abolished in 1912. However, some consulates do not seem to be aware of this provision of the earlier law, and thus don’t enforce it. There consulates are primarily located in South America as all the consulates in North America do enforce the 1912 rule. There was a time that people were able to circumvent this rule routinely by applying in Italy at a comune. However it has become increasingly difficult to find a comune that is not aware of it as citizenship education is spreading thanks to the increased number of applicants and a series of recently written manuals aimed at educating clerks who will be processing citizenship recognition applications. There are still occasionally locations in the USA where the italian citizenship officer erroneously uses the alternative date of June 14th for the 1912 rule rather than the official July 1st date in force by the Ministry of the Interior which creates a small window of about an extra 2 weeks for the applicant to miss hitting this obstacle.

The 1948 Rule

The 1948 rule is the result of discriminatory provisions in previous laws being overturned by the Constitution of 1948 that granted equal rights to women.

Over the last decade there have been a number of lawsuits in Italian courts by people claiming that the prior laws discriminated against their female ancestors and thus that these ancestors should not have lost citizenship through marriage and should have received the right to retroactively pass on citizenship to their children born before 1948. Thousands of these cases have been successful and the success rate is high as well.

If your line does not work because of a 1948 rule violation (or a loss of citizenship by a female ancestor due to a marriage), you may want to pursue a court case in Italian court to claim citizenship. Be warned, though, that it can be expensive (you do have to hire an Italian lawyer experienced in these sorts of cases) and time consuming, and there is no guarantee of success. At the present time you cannot be successful applying at a consulate with a 1948 rule violation – you can only achieve recognition through such a line via legal action.

So do I qualify or not?

After examining the above rules and your family history, you can arrive at one of the following conclusions:

1. You qualify as a citizen. In this case, you should apply (if you wish).

2. You may qualify, but you’re not sure because you lack certain information, such as whether an ancestor naturalized or the date of such naturalization if it occurred. In this case, you may as well make an appointment to apply while you continue to search for this information.

3. You clearly do not qualify, because an ancestor naturalized before the next person in your line was born. In this case, it is advisable not to apply because you will certainly be rejected at any consulate.

4. You fail to qualify, because of the 1948 rule, or because a female ancestor lost her Italian citizenship due to a marriage. In this case, if you wish to pursue this, you should file suit in Italian court, or wait until the law is changed (if it is).

5. You fail to qualify, because of the 1912 rule. In this case, if you wish to try, you should seek to apply somewhere that is known to not enforce this rule or seek the help of a lawyer to petition the Court of Rome to still recognize despite this obstacle.

6. You seemingly fail to qualify because an ancestor who was born in Italy with both Italian and a foreign citizenship had a parent naturalize after 1912 while that ancestor was still a minor. In this case, you could apply at a consulate that has recognized people in your situation before, or at least one that is not known to have properly understood that such a person would not qualify.

7. You can’t determine whether you qualify or not because your case is too complicated. In this case, you should ask experts whether they think you qualify, and if there still is no consensus, apply at a consulate if you wish, being cognizant that you may be rejected.

—–IMPORTANT NOTE—–
DNA is not relevant to claims for citizenship. You must meet the requirements based on Italian laws, proving passage of citizenship from your LIRA through each subsequent descendent to you. The consulate does not want or care to see DNA results/evidence.

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