Italian citizenship applications

For many, the opportunity to obtain dual citizenship holds several advantages, such as the ability to reside, work or study there. There’s also added perks in terms of access to healthcare and voting rights. However, for British citizens, with Brexit now confirmed, the issue of applying for citizenship (particularly concerning European countries) is growing concern. So, in terms of Italian citizenship, what are the options available and the processes involved? We’ll come to that shortly, but first, Brexit…

How does Brexit affect Italian citizenship applications for British citizens?

The UK’s departure from the EU will not affect the procedure for any British citizen looking to apply through descent or marriage.

However, British citizens wanting to apply for Italian citizenship on the ground of residence in Italy may be affected, as they will no longer be EU citizens.  The 2019 Italian “Brexit Decree” confirmed that any British citizens who had been resident in Italy for at least four years on 31 January 2020 can apply using the EU national four-year rule, providing their application is submitted by 31 December 2020.

Any British citizen without a full four years of residency in Italy by that date cannot apply for Italian citizenship until they have legally resided in Italy for at least ten years (the amount of time required for non-EU citizens).

Citizenship – Italian law

Italian citizenships are currently ruled by Law n. 91 of 5 February 1992, amended by law n. 132 of 1 December 2018 (the “Salvini” law).

This legislation allows individuals to have several citizenships. Obtaining another citizenship does not imply losing your Italian citizenship or vice versa. However, it’s important to check the equivalent laws of your country of citizenship, as they may not allow for dual status.

The main grounds for an Italian citizenship application are outlined below.

Please note that this is a broad guideline as to the laws and procedure. Each case differs and yours may involve issues requiring specific legal advice.

Application on the Grounds of Descent – Jure Sanguinis

By law, the child of an Italian citizen is automatically an Italian citizen.  In this case, the process required is to have citizenship recognised rather than be granted.

With regard to underage children of Italian citizens, their birth must simply be registered with the local Consulate in order to be given an Italian passport.

Anyone over the age of 18 can also claim Italian citizenship through descent, even if they were not born in Italy. An application for Italian citizenship can be made via the paternal line, with no generational limits, provided none of the ancestors renounced their Italian citizenship before the birth of the next descendant.

Applications can also be made via the maternal line, but only if the applicant was born before 1 January 1948. Prior to this date, the 1912 citizenship law was in force, by which only men were allowed to transfer Italian citizenship to their children. The current laws still state that Italian citizenships can only be passed down by the applicant’s mother, if said applicant was born after 1 January 1948.

However, a 2009 Supreme Court case held that this law is contrary to the constitutional principles of equality between men and women and confirmed that an individual can claim Italian citizenship via the maternal line, by appealing the “1948 Rule” in the Roman Courts. This is an expensive and long-winded route to obtain citizenship but, unfortunately, the only option currently available and there is no indication that the legislation will change soon.

All other applications must be made via the administrative route. An appointment is fixed online to meet with a Consulate representative in person and present all documents which prove Italian lineage. These documents will include the original birth, marriage and death certificates of all ascendants, as well as a declaration from the relevant authorities that the nearest ancestor never naturalised. All documents that are not Italian must be legalised and translated into Italian.

Once lineage has been proven following the appointment with the Consulate made (which could be difficult due to very high demand), the Consulate should confirm Italian citizenship within a few weeks.

There are no requirements for knowledge of the Italian language for applicants on the ground of descent.

Application through Marriage or Civil Union

If living outside of Italy, the spouse of an Italian citizen can present their request for Italian citizenship after three years of marriage. This is reduced to 18 months if the married couple has children.

If the married couple lives in Italy, an application can be made after only two years of marriage, reduced to one year if there are children born out of the marriage.

From 11 February 2017, the rights that stem from this law apply to an individual joined by civil partnership to an Italian citizen.

The marriage/civil union must have been registered in the Italian spouse’s Town Hall (the “Comune”).  Proof of this registration must be supplied with the citizenship application and the Italian spouse must be registered with “AIRE” (the register of Italians abroad).

An application for citizenship on the grounds of marriage should be made exclusively online via the Ministry of Interior’s website. It will then be dealt with by the Consulate of the country in which the applicant is resident (if living outside of Italy), or the local “Prefettura” if the applicant lives in Italy.

The individual must submit a detailed application with specific documents attached, such as the birth certificate, proof of registration of the marriage/civil union in Italy and criminal certificates from their country of birth, as well as each country where the applicant has lived. All documents must be legalised and translated into Italian.

The 2018 Salvini law obliges the applicant to have satisfactory knowledge of the Italian language (at  level “B1” and above of the Common European Framework of Reference for Languages) and evidenced by a certificate from an approved institution.

 Application Through Residency

Italian citizenship can be requested by a non-Italian national who is resident in Italy. An EU national can apply after having resided in Italy for at least four consecutive years and a non-EU national can apply after ten years’ residence.

The applicant must have lived in Italy (and have been registered at the Comune) continuously for these years and must continue to do so until they have received their citizenship, failing which, their application will be rejected.

The applicant must also provide proof of earnings at or above the minimum amount set by law (currently €8,263.31 per annum for applicants without dependants, €11,362.05 for applicants with a dependant spouse), for each year for the three years preceding the application. If the applicant is financially dependent on their spouse, they can still apply on these grounds but must declare that their spouse has been earning at least the set amount for the past three years.

As with marriage, the application can be made online only. The relevant birth certificate and criminal certificates from the country of birth must be attached, as well as each country the applicant has ever lived in. All documents must be legalised and translated into Italian (and the certifications certified).

As with marriage applications, a certificate that proves knowledge of the Italian language to at least a B1 level must be attached. Fees for this application are also set at €250.

Procedure after Marriage and Residency applications have been submitted

Once the application has been submitted online, the relevant authority (the Consulate or the Prefettura), will accept or reject the application, and can request further documentation. The application will be given a “K” number and an appointment fixed for the individual to meet with a Ministry’s representative at the Consulate or local Prefettura (as applies to the circumstances). At that meeting, the original documents will be presented, and the paper version of the application form signed before a representative.

Since 2018, the Ministry has 48 months (four years) from the date the application was presented to come to a decision as to citizenship (a significant increase from the pre-Salvini two years). In the absence of a decision in this timeframe, the applicant can apply to the Italian administrative courts in Rome (the TAR), requesting that a decision be made.

It’s vital that the documents presented with the application are complete and correctly legalised and translated. If any documents are missing or incomplete, the applicant might be asked to rectify any errors and supply any missing documents. The applicant is usually asked to do this within ten days only, which often is not enough time. If the applicant misses this deadline, the application will be rejected and the applicant will have lost the time and money incurred to date.

Therefore, it’s prudent to seek legal advice and assistance throughout this process which, although seemingly straightforward, contains many bureaucratic and legal hurdles to overcome.

We will be happy to talk to you about any Italian citizenship queries, including any that have not been addressed in this article.