Italian Citizenship by Descent - Requirements & How to Apply

11 Jan 2022
5 min read
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Discovery how to access the freedom and security mobility asset

Nearly 20 million Americans have Italian ancestry, which makes them eligible for Italian citizenship by descent. Many Italians left their home country in the 19th and early 20th centuries due to the Italian Unification War and its economic consequences, especially in the south. Today, Italian-Americans are part of the fabric of American culture, and many prominent Italian singers and actors continue to entertain the world. For many Italian-Americans, their ancestral links remain strong, and many of them still identify as Italian due to their unique sub-culture. This is why more and more of them are pursuing Italian citizenship, especially when they find how valuable it is.In the last few years, many Americans have sought second citizenship, especially European citizenship, often paying a million dollars or more in the process. Whether it's for ease of banking, investing in crypto exchanges, facilitating travel, or for investment purposes, people worldwide view multiple citizenships as a valuable asset. All Passport Indexes rate the Italian passport as more valuable than its US counterpart. This is mainly due to the fact that EU passports enable their holders to live and work freely anywhere in the Union. if you have an EU passport, you can choose your desired climate, tax rates, and political system out of 27 European countries. But for Italian-Americans, it's mainly to prove that they are in fact Italian, a status they can pass down to future generations.

How to know if you are eligible for Italian citizenship by descent

Every Italian-American is eligible for Italian citizenship, but not all paths to it are the same. There are direct and indirect paths.

Direct path

Direct paths are the ones you would much rather qualify for. Eligibility for direct citizenship rests on one singular event: at the birth of your first US-born Italian ancestor, were his/her parents naturalized Americans or not? This is a factor because in the past, Italians would lose their Italian citizenship if they took on another one. Their child would not be deemed Italian by law and the connection would be lost after that.Here is a case study that will help you better understand the situation:

  1. 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 US, he is an American citizen.
  2. 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 US, he is both an Italian and American citizen.

Since 2009, people can also claim Italian citizenship from a female ancestor. That process is different, must be filed in court, and is commonly referred to as the "1948 cases." Italy’s 1948 constitution mandated gender equality and acted retroactively on the 1902 constitution, which decreed that an Italian woman who married a foreign man would forfeit her Italian citizenship.Put in simpler terms, both male and female ancestors can now pass on their Italian ancestry.

Indirect Path

If your connection was broken and you don't qualify for the direct path, you still qualify for a simplified process to naturalization due to your Italian heritage. The Italian government acknowledges your special connection with the country and allows you to apply for naturalization after only 3 years of residence instead of 10 years. First, you will need to apply for residency, which can be done easily via the Italian Golden Visa or Wealth Visa programs.

What is the process to apply for Italian citizenship by descent?

Direct path

Traditionally, citizenship by ancestry applications are lodged at your nearest consulate. In the case of Italian citizenship by descent, only those claiming Italian citizenship from their male lineage can apply at the consulate. Those claiming their Italian citizenship from a female line must petition the Italian government in court. Currently, due to Covid, Italian consulates in the US are closed; therefore, you simply cannot apply at the consulate. When they reopen, they are expected to have a significant backlog of applications, and the application process, which took 2-3 years before the pandemic, might take 5 years or more. Fortunately, we have found faster ways to apply for Italian citizenship by ancestry.Here they are, from fastest to slowest:

  1. 6 months: Apply from Italy in your municipality. You need to be living legally in Italy and have a resident permit in the country.
  2. 1-2 years: Petition the Italian government in court. You will need an Italian lawyer to represent you. This applies to those with a female lineage and a male lineage if you can prove that consulates cannot provide you with an appointment.
  3. 3-5 years: Apply to your nearest consulate. Only available to those with a male lineage.

Applying is the easiest part of the process; the most complicated part is gathering documents to prove your Italian ancestry. This process can be exhausting.During Covid, here is the typical process an applicant will have when applying from a male lineage:

  1. Apply to the nearest consulate and gather evidence of their inability to provide you with a timely appointment.
  2. Provide the evidence to your Italian lawyer so he/she can open a court case and get a case number
  3. Start collecting ancestry documentation to prove your claim
  4. Legalize and translate documents
  5. Get ready for the court date by providing all the documentation to your Italian lawyer to present to the court.
  6. If you win your case, the judge will give you a court order; with it, you can go to your ancestor’s birthplace and get an Italian birth certificate at his municipality.
  7. With the birth certificate, you can obtain your citizenship certificate and passport.

Indirect path

This indirect path will require you to first apply for residency in Italy. You need to choose a path that will allow you to spend 3 years in Italy. Choosing the Golden Visa will give you more flexibility in terms of how many days a year you must be present in the country:

  1. Apply for legal residency in Italy and get approved
  2. Land in Italy and register your address.
  3. Collect all the documents needed to prove your Italian ancestry
  4. After 3 years, apply for simplified naturalization
  5. After 2 years of processing, if approved, you will receive your Italian citizenship certificate.

Expect this process to take 5 years.

What documents are required to apply for Italian citizenship by ancestry?

Depending on how far you need to go back in your family tree, the document retrieval process can be simple or very complicated. If one of your parents is an Italian citizen, it’s not that complicated, but the further back it goes, the harder it gets. Here are the typical documents you will need:

  • For each relevant ancestor, birth certificates showing the parents' names, marriage certificate (if applicable), and death certificate (if applicable).
  • The US naturalization records of the parents of your first US-born Italian ancestor (or proof that these records don’t exist). This can get very complicated.

Since the application will most likely be lodged in Italy, all the documents must be translated by a certified translator and apostilled to prove authenticity. The most challenging aspect is retrieving documents of ancestors you have limited information on. Not everyone knows where their great-great-grandfather was born! 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. These will be refused by the Italian authorities.This process, on your own, can take a few years and lead to many dead ends. Retrieving documents from state archives and other government organizations will cost you time and money. So will legalizing and translating documents.

How can I get professional help for my Italian citizenship by ancestry application?

Because of the pandemic and the closure of Italian consulates in the US, it's nearly impossible to apply for Italian citizenship without professional help. The good news is that the process can be now much faster than before since everything is done in Italy. But doing it on your own will not be cost-free. Budget $2,000 -$3,000 to retrieve the documents from the authorities, translate them and legalize them. Add to that another $5,000- $7,000 for a lawyer to take your case to court in Italy. An Italian lawyer will not help you retrieve your documents in the US. You should budget at least $7,000 to $10,000 for the entire process. Also, it would be best to give yourself at least a 1- or 2-year cushion before scheduling your court date to retrieve your documentation and be sure of your eligibility. If you include children in your application, expect an added level of complexity.With professional help, the process is streamlined for you. Global RCG specializes in European citizenship by ancestry, and we can often determine eligibility for additional European citizenships by ancestry.Since the consulates are closed, our fees for Italian citizenship by ancestry start at $15,000. Those fees include:

  • eligibility assessment
  • determining the best path
  • proving your inability to get consulate appointments
  • genealogy mapping
  • all document retrievals
  • all document translations
  • all document legalizations
  • court petition and representation
  • registration of birth certificate and other Italian IDs

The entire process can be done remotely by our legal team. The document retrieval by our team of genealogists is fast but can take 3-6 months if your claim to ancestry goes further back than your grandparents. The entire process can take 1 to 2 years.Do you think our fees are high? Many of our clients split them with other family members like parents, siblings, and cousins and get a family package! We also offer financing at 0% interest.If you’re interested in learning more and finding out whether you’re eligible for Irish citizenship, reach out to us. We’ll set up a free call with one of our specialists.

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