A recent CBS special A new life back in the old country explained the Italian citizenship law “right of blood,” or “jure sanguinis,” which grants citizenship rights to descendants of Italians in the U.S. This news clip ignited a barrage of inquiries from Italian Americans wondering if they are eligible for citizenship with Italy. The CBS special did a fantastic job in explaining that Italy does not have birthright citizenship but instead citizenship is given through the bloodline. This has been the law since it’s unification in 1861. In 1912 the Italian parliament extended this right to the descendants of Italians born outside of Italy where in countries such as the U.S., citizenship is granted “jure soli” or for being born in the country. This means that if your parent, grandparent, great grandparent, great-great grandparent was born in Italy and emigrated to the U.S., you could be eligible to claim Italian citizenship by descent.
While the featured news report did a good job in presenting this fact, it did not mention the other important criteria that must be met for a U.S. citizen of Italian descent to become legally recognized as an Italian citizen by “right of blood.”
What makes a person eligible to become an Italian citizen by descent? Below is a list of requirements:
- The Italian ancestor was alive at the time of the unification of Italy which officially took place on March 17, 1861. The next important part of the law is that the Italian ancestor must have not naturalized (i.e. received citizenship) in the U.S. prior to June 14, 1912; and if the ancestor naturalized it must have taken place after the birth of the next person in the ascendancy. For example, if your great grandfather emigrated to the U.S. and naturalized after the birth of your paternal grandfather, you would be eligible to apply for citizenship as long as the naturalization took place after June 14, 1912 (in 1912 Italy was dealing with mass emigration and the Italian Parliament hoped that extending citizenship by blood to the descendants of Italians who left the country during the diaspora would encourage the descendants to someday return).
- If the Italian ancestor was a woman born before 1/1/1948 she can only transfer Italian citizenship to her children born after 1/1/48 and to their descendants. Prior to this date on which Italy Republic Italian citizenship was given only through a father. (This law has been appealed in hundreds of trials at the High Court of Rome so there is a pathway if your fall into this category!)
- If your Italian ancestor was born in the following localities, Veneto, Friuli-Venezia-Giulia, or Trentino Alto-Adige, in order to apply for the Italian citizenship, you must prove that the ancestor left Italy after July 16th, 1920.
- Minor children who were born in Italy and emigrated to the US with their parents who received “derivative citizenship” upon the U.S. naturalization of a parent lost their Italian citizenship and cannot transmit it to their descendants.
Individuals interested in Italian citizenship by descent must apply at the Italian Consulate that has jurisdiction over their place of legal residence (unless a court case is needed as in #2 above). Each Italian consulate has slightly different procedures regarding required documents and translations, appointment scheduling, and waiting times. However, the legal criterion for granting Italian Citizenship by descent is the same.
As the CBS report clearly indicated, Italian citizenship by descent is a wonderful right that opens up a multitude of opportunities for those who are interested! It seems that our forefathers in the Italian Parliament saw into the future when they created this right for the descendants of Italian emigrants. If you believe that you are eligible to explore this gift that your Italian ancestors have made available for you, we encourage you to pursue it!