A while back when I asked you for questions to help me fill out a meme, Robin of My Melange asked if I’m legal here in Italy, whether I have always been, and what that process has been like for me.
First let me say that I *am* legal. I have dual American/Italian citizenship in fact, and yes, I will explain.
For those who don’t know, an American citizen can stay in Italy legally for up to three months without any kind of visa or stay permit--although do check for most recent regulations if you’re planning on coming as they change often.
Your local Italian consulate or embassy is the best bet for this information. Generally, though, if you're just coming on vacation, you don't have anything to worry about. Citizens of other countries should check laws specific to them as rules differ greatly depending on home country.
I am lucky to have qualified for Italian citizenship through my family’s Italian bloodline, which is known as jure sanguinis or jus sanguinis, i.e., the law of the blood.
There are many complicated, sometimes counterintuitive rules to determine whether you qualify, which you can read more about here, but essentially, you must trace an unbroken line (no renouncement or loss of Italian citizenship) back to the last ancestor who was registered as a citizen in Italy, often the last ancestor who lived here.
For me, it was my great-grandfather, and it wasn’t an easy process for me to gather all the required documents, including marriage, birth, and death certificates for everyone in the line of Italian heritage (my great-grandfather, grandmother, father, me).
My biggest hurdle was that my great-grandfather had changed his last name without even telling anyone, so it took some digging to first find the correct last name before I could gather documents. Needless to say, my great-aunt was surprised to find out her real last name after nearly 80 years of the changed version. Ellis Island's passenger records search was an invaluable resource to me during this part of the process.
And, on the extremely bright side, because my great-grandfather had lost his alien registration card around the time of World War II, I got to see a photo of him for the first time from the government's records when I requested records to confirm that he had never become a US citizen; there was also a photocopy of the original letter requesting the new card in my great-aunt's handwriting in the file, which was pretty cool to see as well.
After that, getting everything in order wasn’t too difficult--just a lot of writing and phoning to Vital Records departments across a couple of states and communicating with one comune in Italy, which doesn't happen to be the one I live in.
One of the rules you need to watch out for in determining eligibility is the fact that women couldn't pass on Italian citizenship until January 1, 1948, which means that I couldn't go through my great-grandmother, who was born in 1898 about ten minutes from where I live. Oh no. Instead I had to go through her husband, my great-grandfather, who came from a small village in Campania, several hours north of here.
Luck was on my side, though, when my father was born just three months after the 1948 date--had he been born in 1947, I wouldn't have been eligible for Italian citizenship at all as my grandmother is the only Italian line I could follow. Indeed, my aunt, who was born five years before my dad, is *not* eligible for Italian citizenship and neither are her children.
See what I mean about complicated rules?
After much paperwork gathering, I was finally ready to apply to have my citizenship recognized in April of 2004 in Philadelphia, which I did with my dad (at the time, they told me that he had to apply too but the consulates seem to have changed that requirement), and then I came back to Italy. I had already been here for a six-month stint before that and had only gone back to America to finalize things to stay here more permanently.
So after I was back in the Bel Paese beyond three months, technically, I was illegal here, but I always figured that if I happened to get stopped by the carabinieri, I could talk my way around things without much difficulty. This did, in fact, happen, after I had been here already for two years--not that I'm encouraging anyone else to follow my footsteps! I'm just reporting events as they happened.
Note that had all of this been taking place now, though, there are provisions in place for someone like me to be here legally until the process is finished; now you can get a special stay permit while waiting for the recognition of Italian citizenship jure sanguinis (permesso di soggiorno in attesa di cittadinanza).
As far as I know, for this permit to apply, though, you must apply in Italy, but an even further upside to applying in Italy is that you will most likely cut out a lot of the wait often encountered in US consulates, which can be several years long (my father's wait was only one year and mine was just two, but many more applications have been filed since 2004). Whether you can legally work or not with this permit, though, seems to vary, so that's definitely something you want to check on.
If you are interested in coming to Italy to apply for recognition of Italian citizenship jure sanguinis, I highly suggest looking for more information on the Expats in Italy forum as several members have gone through this and are always willing to answer questions.
So my Italian citizenship was finalized in September 2006, and now I have dual American and Italian citizenship, which means I can vote in Italian and European Union elections, live, work, and travel freely in the EU, and enjoy all of the responsibilities and privileges of any Italian citizen without losing my American citizenship--including a pension from each country when I retire assuming I pay into each system (and I do) and that either of them have any money left when that time comes (boh).
If you're wondering about the United States' position on dual citizenship, read about it here. Again, if you're not American, please investigate your country's policy on dual citizenship before pursuing anything.
A lot of people ask about the negatives of dual American/Italian citizenship; the only potential downside I've found is that one *could* be denied security clearance if desiring to work for one government or the other; this would be on a case-by-case determination.
And that's how I became legal in Italy and had my Italian citizenship jure sanguinis recognized.
For me, pursuing dual American/Italian citizenship has been one of the best decisions I've ever made, and if I can help anyone along in this process, I'm more than willing. So if you have questions on your particular situation, please feel free to email me (address in sidebar).
Viva l'Italia--e l'America!