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Italian Citizenship Assistance Program
Italian Citizenship Assistance Program

Italian Citizenship by Descent through a Female Ancestor

Are you eligible to become an Italian citizen by descent?

Do you have a female grandmother, great grandmother, or great- great grandmother who was born in Italy but have heard that there are laws that limit Italian citizenship through women? What you heard is correct. Prior to January 1, 1948 Italian citizenship was given only through the paternal line. Remember, Italian citizenship is given through the right of bold, “jus sanguinis,” not for being born in Italy. Prior to January 1, 1948 this “blood right citizenship” was transferred only from father to child.  This means that if your paternal grandmother was Italian and living in her village in Italy  and married an Austrian who came to work in the village and they had a child, your father born in 1941, your father would not have been an Italian citizen since his father was not Italian

So, what happened on January 1, 1948 that gave women the same right as men to transfer citizenship to their children? Following WWII which saw the end of a fascist government and the abolishment of the monarchy, Italy formed a Republic, and the Constitution of the Italian Republic (Costituzione della Repubblica Italiana) was enacted on January 1, 1948. Under the new constitution women were granted the right to transfer Italian citizenship to their children.

Women from that day forward were able to transmit citizenship to their children with one caveat. Women born before law went into effect could only transmit Italian citizenship to their children born after January 1, 1948. This law is strictly enforced by all Italian Consulates and Embassies throughout the world. For example, if your paternal great grandmother was born in 1920 and your paternal grandfather was born in 1942, you would not be eligible to apply through your paternal great grandmother. Whereas, if your paternal great grandmother was born in 1920 and your grandfather was born after January 1, 1948 you would be eligible to apply for Italian citizenship by descent. In addition, the law applies to any woman in the direct line whether born in Italy or in the US. For example, if your great grandfather was born in Italy and your paternal grandmother was born in the US in 1920, she could only transmit citizenship to your father (and him to you and your siblings) if your father was born after January 1, 1948.

This law had prohibited many Italian Americans from acquiring citizenship by descent when there was a female ancestor or ascendant in the direct line. In 2009 there was an important development regarding this law. A trial case in Rome challenged the law as discriminatory of Italian women by denying them the right to pass citizenship to their children and the descendants of their children. The High Court of Rome decided that this discrimination should not impede citizenship by descent and granted the Italian citizenship to the woman’s descendant.

Since this landmark court case descendants of Italian women who were not eligible to apply for citizenship by descent under the 1948 law have been awarded citizenship through the Italian judicial system   Considering the legal precedence, there is now a high likelihood of obtaining your Italian citizenship via an Italian female ancestor if you fall within this category.

So how can you move forward with your Italian citizenship through the maternal line? As in all citizenship by descent matters, you must show that the Italian ancestor had not yet become a naturalized US citizen at the time of birth of the immediate descendant and produce birth and marriage records from the Italian ancestor down to you.  Although you will need an attorney to represent your case, you do not need to be present in Italy to participate in the trial and other members of your family (brothers, sisters, uncles, cousins, etc.) who share the same Italian ancestor can often join the case.  After a successful court hearing granting Italian citizenship by descent, the applicant(s) will be registered into the Italian civil registry as Italian citizen(s) and are able to obtain Italian passports through the Italian Consulate or Embassy in the US where they have legal residence.

So, don’t lose hope if your Italian ascendant or ancestor is a female, you could still be eligible for Italian citizenship by descent!  The important first step is to understand the law, do not assume that just because there is a female in the line a court case is needed. Look carefully at the date of birth of the female (e.g., great grandmother) and the immediate descendant (e.g. grandparent) and then proceed with gathering the correct documents and retain an Italian attorney with experience in winning such cases. For more information on acquiring Italian Citizenship through the maternal line you can call us at 1-847-818-1599.