Recognition of the Italian citizenship iure sanguinis: how does it work?

It is quite common that the descendants of Italian immigrants wonder about their family tree to assess if they are eligible to apply for the Italian citizenship.

In today’s interconnected world having multiple citizenships might be an advantage.

In accordance with article 1, paragraph 1 of the Law no. 91/1992, someone who has at least one Italian parent is an Italian citizen by birth. This is the recognition of Italian citizenship by the iure sanguinis principle.

The Italian citizenship is transmitted from parent to child without generation limitation, provided that neither the applicant nor his or her ancestors have ever renounced the citizenship. To obtain the recognition of the Italian citizenship it is crucial to prove the descent from the Italian ancestor.

The authority to be requested is determined by the applicant’s place of residence. If his/her residence is abroad, he/she should contact the Italian Consulate otherwise the Italian municipality of residence.

The recognition of Italian citizenship through a judicial procedure is due only when the administrative request is not processed within the deadline.

In this context, it is interesting to focus on the case of the acquisition of the Italian citizenship by maternal line transmitted iure sanguinis before 1948.

In accordance with article 1, no. 1 of the Law no. 555/1912 – applicable Law before the Law no. 91/1992 – the Italian citizenship was transmitted only through paternal family line.

Moreover, in accordance with article 10, paragraph 3 of the Law no. 555/1912, women who had married a foreign national and through their marriage had obtained the citizenship of a foreign state automatically lost the Italian citizenship.

The regulatory framework described has been drastically changed in accordance with the principle of the Italian Constitution coming into force on January 1, 1948.

The Italian Constitutional Court stated the unlawfulness of articles 10, paragraph 3 and 1, no. 1 of the Law no. 555/1912 because they violated the principles of equality and social dignity guaranteed by the Constitution.

With the Court’s statements it has been ascertained that: (i) the loss of the Italian citizenship could no longer be automatic regardless of the woman will; (ii) children born to an Italian citizen mother acquire Italian citizenship iure sanguinis.

Furthermore, the Italian Supreme Court stated that the status of citizenship shall be recognized also to the child of a citizen mother born before the current Constitution came into force (1948).

When the transmission of the Italian citizenship occurred before 1948 it is necessary to establish a legal proceeding before the Italian Court with the assistance of a lawyer.

To obtain the recognition of the Italian citizenship it is requested the production of official documentation attesting the applicant’s effective descendance from Italian ancestors and that neither the applicant nor the ascendants have ever renounced their Italian citizenship (at least not before the birth of the next descendant in line).

These are the main steps to follow to obtain the recognition of the Italian citizenship through the judicial procedure:

  • check the applicant’s Italian family tree;
  • verify that neither the applicant nor the ascendants have ever renounced their Italian citizenship;
  • research the official documents that prove the applicant’s descendance from Italian ancestors;
  • translate and legalize the official documents when needed.

If the Court recognizes the applicant’s right to the Italian citizenship the same has to be made effective through the registration to the municipality of birth of the Italian ancestor.

While Italy has made important progress towards the recognition of the absolute nature of citizenship status, it should be noted that for cases of loss of citizenship prior to 1948 it is still necessary to set a judicial procedure with costs and burdens borne by the claimant.

However, according to the main case-law, the descendants of an Italian ancestor who lost the citizenship before 1948 have the opportunity to obtain the judicial recognition of the Italian citizenship and to apply for an Italian passport.

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