How Does Someone Qualify for Italian Citizenship Jure Sanguinis?

The photo above is of the Cuzzone family in the 1920s – Kathy McCabe’s great grandparents and grandmother, top, second from right – and this is an excerpt from Kathy’s McCabe’s PBS companion book, Dream of Italy: Travel, Transform and Thrive  Please note that it is not an exhaustive explanation of jure sanguinis but rather and introduction:

Learning about your Italian family and visiting the places where they are from might make you wish you could be Italian yourself. Obtaining citizenship may be closer to reality than dream, as the spirit of Italian hospitality is evident in the country’s citizenship laws. Italy considers descendants of Italians to be born with Italian citizenship unless their Italian parent naturalized before their birth or before June 1912. That is, your family’s Italian citizenship may have passed through the generations, lying dormant and waiting for you to claim it. (If you have Italian heritage and would like to find out your eligibility, please sign up for our Italian citizenship virtual workshop starting October 25th!)

This is the rule of jure sanguinis, meaning “right of blood” in Latin, which indicates that those who have Italian blood running through their veins, no matter how diluted, are Italian. That is, if your grandfather was born in Italy and moved to the U.S., never naturalized to become American or naturalized only after the birth of his American-born child (your father), then it is likely that you were born an Italian citizen no matter the country of your birth, and your family never lost their Italian citizenship.

On the surface, the rules for claiming Italian citizenship seem simple: Your ancestor must have been born in Italy and must have lived after the country’s unification in 1861 (as Italian citizenship could not have existed without the formation of Italy). Unlike some other European countries, Italy allows descendants to claim citizenship no matter how distant their ancestor—you may be eligible through, say, your third- or fourth-great-grandparent. However, there are some areas of present-day Italy that did not become part of the country until after World War I and there are special laws surrounding immigrants from those areas.

Attorney Michele Capecchi, whose international law firm Capecchi Legal  specializes in helping people acquire their Italian citizenship, admits that many people underestimate the complexity of recreating the Italian line of blood, especially when the Italian roots go back three or four generations (given that you have to collect documents that are more than 100 years old). All the documents you must use to prove that your Italian-born relative was really a member of your family must be authentic (no photocopies) and must be legally certified either using the legalization services of the Italian consulates or, for U.S. documents, using the apostille procedure. If you plan to apply at an Italian town (comune), there’s an extra certification that must be placed on the translations by Italian authorities.

Capecchi reiterates the importance of collecting the documents related to the naturalization of the Italian-born ancestor. Melanie Holtz, professional genealogist and owner of Lo Schiavo Genealogica, suggests this be the first step because if the person naturalized (i.e., relinquished their Italian citizenship) to become, for instance, American, you need to determine if the naturalization was granted before or after the birth of your immigrant ancestor’s child. Additionally, you’ll need to consider several elements such as the age of the children at the time of the naturalization of their parents, whether the children were born in Italy or abroad and when such a naturalization occurred.

Dig a little deeper, though, and as with all things Italy, you’ll find the guidelines are not quite this simple. In addition to the complexity of recreating the Italian line of blood, there are also a few cases of the jure sanguinis rule that commonly affect citizenship seekers:

  • If your Italian ancestor naturalized before 1912, or (even after 1912) they naturalized before the birth of their child who is your direct ancestor (e.g., your father or grandfather), you are not eligible for citizenship. In becoming an American citizen, your Italian-born ancestor gave up his Italian citizenship and thus severed ties with his homeland.
  • If your Italian ancestor naturalized before 1912, even if they naturalized after the birth of their child, then the line of blood is interrupted. In fact, based on the interpretation provided by many Italian consulates, if your ancestor became a naturalized U.S. citizen before June 14, 1912, you are not entitled to the Italian citizenship if the son was a minor on the date of his father’s naturalization, even if he was born before your Italian ancestor’s naturalization.
  • Italian nationality law states that only men could pass citizenship to their children during any time period (assuming no other part of the nationality law disqualified them). However, the law is not the same for women. According to the interpretation provided by the Italian Constitutional Court (Corte Costituzionale), women could hold Italian citizenship but could only pass that citizenship to her child if the child was born after January 1, 1948.However, in 2009, this part of the law was declared unconstitutional and discriminatory by one of Italy’s highest courts. This declaration now allows for citizenship cases where there is descent from a female born prior to 1948 to be brought before the court in Rome. Thousands of these cases have been won.

Capecchi, who has represented hundreds of “1948 cases,” highlights that one of the benefits of these court applications is that you will not need to wait for an appointment with the consulate and, most importantly, you will not need to travel to Italy for the hearing. Your Italian attorney will represent you, as well the other members of the same side of the family who want to join you, as your legal proxy in front of the court. Additionally, several members of the same Italian ancestral family (even if they live in different states and countries) can gather their Italian claims in one single application, using the same attorney.

The U.S. does not explicitly recognize dual citizenship, but will not dispute it. Plainly, it’s a sort of “don’t ask, don’t tell” situation—if a U.S. official asks, you are free to state that you have dual citizenship, but you will still need to enter and exit the U.S. with your American passport.

Italy now recognizes dual citizenship but did not before 1992; all Italians living abroad before 1992 had to choose between their Italian and new country’s citizenship. Whether and how you can reclaim your Italian citizenship if you naturalized before 1992 is discussed in the citizenship section of each Italian consulate’s website. If you would like to learn more and receive a personal consultation about your specific Italian family line, sign up for our Italian citizenship virtual workshop. — Kathy McCabe

Click here to learn about the advantages of holding Italian/European Union citizenship