10 December 2007
Claiming Italian Citizenship "Jure Sanguinis":
How I Became Legal in Italy

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.

Excellent question!

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.

Italian and American flagsI 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!

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Blogger Giulia said...

You've got one of each passport, right? My girls and I hold dual citizenship, so we have a passport from each side. As if keeping one passport safe and secure isn't enough...I now have twice as many! UGH

Blogger sognatrice said...

*Giulia, well I could but I just haven't applied for the Italian one yet because I haven't needed it; I do have a carta d'identità which is much more useful in daily life and also valid for travel within the EU, as you know.

And in fact, I have to get my US passport renewed. You're right--so much to keep track of!

Blogger Gil said...

I think that you, and my two kids, will have to be about 70 to get anything from the US Social Security System the way things seem to be going!!!!

Blogger Gil said...

Forgot the important thing - Great writeup on dual citizenship!

Blogger sognatrice said...

*Gil, thanks, and I think at this point I'll be happy to get anything, ever from either Social Security system....

Anonymous Waiting for Zufan! said...

Wow, what a ton of work to get that, but awesome. I didn't know the US allowed dual citizenship. Interesting!

Blogger Jeni said...

Very interesting! I love when I visit blogs and am not just entertained but also educated by the visit.

Anonymous something... said...

I have the dual Italian/Australian one and I had to show that my Dad was still an Italian Citizen when I was born in Australia. My kids were born in Luxembourg but they have dual Australian/Italian Citizenship both through myself and my husband an Italian. Makes for a bit of confusion when you are asked what do you consider yourself to be at heart.

Blogger sognatrice said...

*Waiting, I think a lot of people just assume that the US doesn't permit dual citizenship--while it's not encouraged, it's certainly allowed.

*Jeni, so happy to be of service, and me too :)

*Rosa, so true. In fact I just read a great post called Self Definition that addresses that issue.

Anonymous Robin said...

Sounds like a rather cut and dry process. You went through alot, but I think you always knew there was a light at the end of the tunnel. Things would be much more difficult for me...since I have no Italian bloodline (that I know of)I am German and Irish! But hey, if it's meant to be....Thanks for answering!!!

My Melange

Blogger sognatrice said...

*Robin, well there were some tense moments not knowing whether they'd accept my documents--so many name and date inconsistencies as you can imagine, records weren't kept nearly as precisely as they are these days. My grandmother's birth certificate, for example, doesn't have her first name on it, only "Baby Girl." At first they told me I'd have to get a court order to get it fixed, but then it was magically accepted, so I got lucky there. There were lots of those little things (including a surname change!) that could've messed me up, but I was definitely fortunate.

Although you're not Italian, you might want to look into Irish citizenship by descent--that would still get you into the EU, and that's really what you need for any French or Italian dreams ;)

Blogger nova said...

That was fascinating! I'm so glad you did that post.

I just discovered the Ellis Island passenger search function this weekend... I didn't know it could be done online! I'm having trouble finding my mother's side of the family for sure, but I just learned a little detail about my great-grandfather on my father's side. His hometown was Siracusa -- I never knew that -- but it was actually listed there as his last known address in his records. So interesting to see the ship manifests...

Anyway, great post!

Anonymous Anna L'americana said...

Things have changed (have they?), but I lived in Rome on a tourist's visa (renewable after 3 mo. - which I sometimes did or did not do) for 18 years until one day while renewing, the guy at the questura looked me in the eye with a straight face and said "penso che l'Italia l'avrai vista tutta mo!" - you must have seen all of Italy by now- and refused to renew it! Until then, most cops or Carrabinieri that might stop you on the street had no idea about visa laws and my tattered out of date soggiorno papers (on carta bollata) raised few questions along the way - even when we were under martial law in the late 70's early 80's and you often got stopped and held in the name of national security (sound familiar folks?). So, year 18 I had to get a student's visa, the only option available at the time - which was a completely finagled deal but was issued anyway without having to leave, apply, and then come back - ah, how many fond memories of the Italian bureaucracy.....(not!)

Anonymous pat said...

Where was your great-grandfather from in Campania...interesting

Blogger sognatrice said...

*Nova, sometimes all it takes is a little detail for the floodgates of information to open; I didn't realize you had Italian ancestors...let alone southern Italian ;)

*Anna, yes they've changed a lot of procedures, and they keep changing. They've now done away with the 3-month tourist visa from what I understand. They still can stop you for whatever reason or no reason and ask for ID, and although I haven't heard of anyone actually being held for not having proper docs, I'm sure it happens (more to nationalities other than Americans/Canadians/Australians--not that I'm saying that's right, of course, just the way it is).

Anyway, in my situation, the carabinieri told me to go to the questura and get it straightened out, but when I went the questura sort of told me to just wait out the citizenship (which I had been told by the other comune was being completed as we spoke) because it would take less time than getting a permesso of any kind anyway; he stamped my little paper that said I went there and that'd be enough in case the local carabinieri said anything more to me.

*Pat, I've linked to my great-grandfather's town in the post if you click on "a small village." It's Pisciotta in the province of Salerno.

Blogger chris☆lewis said...

Thanks for sharing that. It's always interesting to read about how people find themselves with citizenship, particularly when they can trace familiar immigration back to Ellis Island!

Anonymous Anna L'americana said...

Sognatrice...Oh,no...back in the day, if they didn't like the way you looked they picked you up, brought you in and could legally hang on to you for 48 hours, no contact with anyone (much less a lawyer) but the cops. This had nothing to do with the state of your ID documents. I was picked up once with an embassy friend with DIPLOMATIC PASSPORT - and yup, we were both "interrogated" all night. This was about the Brigate Rosse, Aldo Moro, the bombing at the Bologna train station (Venditti has a song- Bomba o non Bomba) that created an atmosphere where this type of police thuggery was allowed - hence my comment "sound familiar, folks?" I did not look like a tourist (I'd lived in Rome since I was 4 yrs old), so I got picked up frequently along with the rest of the citizenry. Tourist-types were not harassed however (how is that for "national security"? All you needed back then was a camera-bomb and ugly flip-flops and you could get through!).

Blogger Ninotchka said...

How very interesting! Thanks for sharing this with us.

Blogger sognatrice said...

*Chris, glad you enjoyed!

*Anna, honestly I think they still can keep you without contact to anyone, including a lawyer, and without charging you with anything for quite a while; as we see in the Knox/Sollecito/Kercher case in Perugia, they can be held up to a year because a judge said it's OK. Forty-eight hours is actually the norm in the States as well, although in the States, at least, there had to have been some probable cause to have stopped you in the first place. That's not the case here at all, still.

And although it's no longer about the Red Brigade, it seems to be that a lot of immigrant groups are the ones who now look "suspicious"--at least from what my colleagues who work with immigrants tell me. So I'm not sure how much has *really* changed, other than the target group--especially in the south where a lot of the illegal immigrants land first.

*Nino, thank you for reading :)

Blogger saraarts said...

Not a trace of Italian in me as far as I know, and no interest in becoming an Italian citizen, either, but --

Thank you so, so much for the link to the Ellis Island database. I found my paternal grandfather whom I never met in there twice because he worked on ships as a young man. I can't explain to you why this is so great; the guy was not a nice guy, beat his wife and kids once he got some, gambled so much my dad said they moved 14 times while he was still in junior high, etc., etc. Still, it gave me chills. Go figure.

Blogger sognatrice said...

*Sara, I think there's something special about linking to our past, even the otherwise undesirable relatives. My great-grandfather wasn't a great guy from what I've heard either, but it was still awesome to even see his name on the manifest, knowing that he really existed--even though I knew he did, of course, since I'm here and all, but still...chills. Happy that you've experienced this as well :)

I have dual citizenship American/French. Thank God my parents registered our births with the French Embassy when we were born.

When I move to Rome, I was told to use my American passport to leave and my EU to enter Italy. However, you know how you have to fill out those custom forms on the plane, which passport number would I use? My country of residence will be America until I get my Italian one but do I have to use my French passport number?


Anonymous Janie said...

Great info Sognatrice-thanks for detailing what you went through.

Blogger sognatrice said...

*NYC, I'm guessing you mean the US Customs form (I don't remember Italy's having anything like that). The rule I use is that if it has to do with America, use American; if it has to do with Italy (or the EU), use Italian. So I would say your American number on a US Customs form.

*Janie, thanks for reading!

That's so COOL!
I am impressed with all the legwork you did to reach that goal, but it obviously paid off!

Very nice to have both, it's a good connection.

Scarlett & Viaggiatore

Blogger sognatrice said...

*Scarlett, you know as great as it is to have the citizenship for bureaucratic reasons, it's also pretty cool to reclaim something that my great-grandfather never gave up in the first place. I just love that connection :)

That make sense ...grazie mille Sognatrice!

Blogger sognatrice said...

*NYC, to be clear, I don't know if that's the *right* answer, but I figure it's always best to be a citizen of whatever you're country you're dealing with (as opposed to being a foreigner) should you have the choice ;)

Anonymous http://dreamingofparadise.wordpress.com/ said...

Wow that sounds really complicated. It must have been pretty interesting though. I have always wanted to look through my family's history and I still plan on it one day. I envy you for getting to live in Italy. I have always wanted to visit Italy. We have study abroad programs there in May but I just can't afford it. One day though. Sounds like you have a pretty sweet life there too!

Anonymous Genevera.com said...

About that lost grandfather: have you checked the new passport database at Ancestry.com? Also, the Italian Genealogical Group has some great immigrant records on their web site, too. Try there after Ellis Island fails! Good luck!

Blogger LinleyShea said...

Hey! It was nice of you to stop by and say hello!! I hope all is well in Italy - it looks as though it is! Have a great holiday season!!

You know I'm not one for romance, but I have to say when I think of you taking off to live with P in Italy I sigh ;)

Blogger Mrs. G. said...

Thank you for all this wonderful information. That said, I am packing my bags and should be there by the end of the week. Do you have a spare room?

Blogger homebody at heart said...

So, just how long can I malinger in Italy without being a citizen? For me, there is no chance of an Italian or EU citizenship.

And, as far as Social Security is concerned, just remember that it was never meant to replace an entire income just about 40%. For me, I think it will be even less hopefully 25% because I have a pension. But, I'm glad you're thinking about this as the younger you start, the easier it is. I am curious just what is the retirement formula for Italians and what is the normal retirement age? And, as long as I'm asking all these questions, how much does it cost to live in your part of Italy, secondo te? Grazie

Blogger Jen of A2eatwrite said...

Whoa... complicated? My head is spinning. I'm glad you were able to get it all to work out, though.

Tell me is it MORE complicated to get a phone or internet installed or is the citizenship part more complicated? (just joking)

Blogger Tina said...

Yeah, I put in my application (I also qualify jure sanguinis) and am still waiting... and waiting... and waiting... and that's okay. :-)

Blogger Anali said...

That's great that you learned some more family history and that everything worked out in the end. Very cool to have dual citizenship!

Blogger sognatrice said...

*Dreaming, you should definitely look into your family history, although I should warn you that it gets kind of addictive. I know what you mean about study abroad--I couldn't afford it either during college/law school. And look what happened...I had to go and move here after all that was done ;)

*Genevera, I don't actually have a lost grandfather (I knew both of mine very well), but thanks for your offer :)

*Linley, good to see you! Hope all is well with you as well, and happy holidays!

*Frances, well that's not *exactly* how it happened, but it sure makes for a better, more romantic story ;)

*Mrs G, you're going to have to kick some puppies out first ;)

*Homebody, there are different visas (and stay permits) available, which I don't know all that much about since I never had to learn about them, but you can get a lot of information on Expats in Italy. You certainly don't have to be a citizen to stay here long-term, and in fact, most retired foreigners that I know aren't Italian citizens.

As for Social Security, I'll admit I don't know all that much about it on the Italian side but the US Social Security Administration has a great page of information: Description of the US-Italy Social Security Agreement.

Cost of living? It's high(I believe Italy has one of the highest costs of living if not THE highest in Europe), but it seems to be a bit lower down here where I am than in other parts of Italy, particularly if you compare it with cities, which are ridiculously expensive. Things like electricity and gas/petrol are expensive everywhere in Italy, but as with anything, it depends on how you live.

If you have more questions on any of this, I really recommend visiting the Expats in Italy forum which is an awesome source of information on all things Italian Expat.

*Jen, you ask in jest, and yet...hmmm....

*Tina, come lo sai, ci vuole un po' di pazienza ;)

*Anali, thanks; I'm so happy that I even pursued it as it's made my life *so* much easier in the long run.

Blogger MB said...

Ah yes, the quest for citizenship. I remember it well- jumping through all the hoops, getting all the documents. But it was well worth it in the end, wasn't it? It's hard to explain the sense of satisfaction to someone who's never been through it. And even harder to explain it to someone living here who has ties going back hundreds of years with their ancestors. But satisfaction, it is. Great post. :)

Blogger sognatrice said...

*MB, you're so right. I wrote about the bureaucratic side of it here, but there's a whole other emotional side that could fill another post or more. And no, many native-born, lived-all-their-lives here Italians really don't get the significance because they've just grown up will all this stuff and never had to think about it--and many don't!

I think I may have to write a post on *why* I pursued dual citizenship at some point; sure, a lot of it is practical (wanting to live here and all) but it's *so* much more than that. Thank you for reminding me :)

Anonymous Lilian said...

Sognatrice, I'm enjoying reading all of your posts of late (though I may not be commenting as often), but I was particularly interested in this one, on dual citizenship. I had an easy time obtaining mine (from Finland--my mother was Finnish), but I admire the lengths to which you went to obtain yours. Thanks for the link to the Ellis Island Passenger Records; I may now do some research on my father's side of the family.

Blogger sognatrice said...

*Lilian, thanks for reading and commenting and best of luck in your search! I've had so much fun there :)

Blogger cheeky said...

This was a great post, as always. The laws {rules} can be quite tricky and interesting. Especially the men only being able to pass down citizenship until 1948. Considering the beliefs behind that, it's not too difficult to see why. Still seems unfair. Especially for your aunt and cousins. It seems since the laws were updated they should allow those before that date to pursue.

I've always been very interested in my ancestry. I, like you, am third generation born here in the US. My great-grandfather(maternal) came from Hungary. They also have jure sanguinis I've discovered, although I don't know the specifics. It seems there could be other possibilities as well. I have French and Irish grandparents on my father's side.

I think it really hit home when I lived in the UK and in Germany. I always said I'd move back in a heartbeat, but then I went and married a South African who is an Aussie by citizenship. Go figure!

Anonymous Paolo said...

Michelle, I've got a similar situation to you, in that the line was broken with my grandfather. My grandmother, on the other hand, never became a citizen; however, my father was born in 1939. A napolitano gentleman here in San Diego who has helped a lot of people get Italian citizenship is going to try a novel approach for me: since my father was a minor when Italian law changed on 1/1/1948, he should have received citizenship through his mother - so the line was never really broken.

I'll tell you how it works out.

Meanwhile, plan B is to take advantage of an odd little provision in article 9, comma 1, letter (a) from law no. 91 of 5 febbraio 1992 - descendants of former Italian citizens can reacquire citizenship after three years' residence in Italy, rather than the 12 it would normally take. One way or another, by Juno...

Blogger sognatrice said...

*Cheeky, you're a true woman of the world! I just love learning things about family history, anyone's family history really...so keep me posted :)

*Paolo, I like that Napolitano's thinking! I really hope it works out for you, of course, but like you said, there's always the living here for 3 years rule if that doesn't work out. From what I've read, you'd need to apply between Year 2 and 3, so you definitely need to keep on top of it. In bocca al lupo and yes, keep me updated please!

Blogger Dana said...

Thank you for all of the fabulous information! I could spend hours on that Ellis Island site - fascinating!

I'm in the very beginning stages of trying to get information from estranged family members, which makes it a little more difficult, but I'm determined! :)

Paolo - I believe I got referred to the same gentleman here in San Diego, by my Italian teacher. Small world!

This is fascinating, and I'm so glad you were able to work it out so well.

Unfortunately for me, I have no Italian ancestry that I know of, although I have always considered myself Italian in my heart.

I first learned that the US allows dual citizenship when my American friend who is married to a Greek national with whom she lives in France mentioned that her children had both American citizenship through her and French because they were born in Paris. I'm not sure why they are not legally Greek as well - maybe that would be pushing the envelope a bit.

Blogger sognatrice said...

*Dana, oh that's so funny about the same guy in San Diego! Best of luck to you!

And oooh, the hours I've spent on the Ellis Island site...just one more search...just one more...TOO MUCH FUN!

*Heart, I think you are what you feel anyway--some of us just need a paper to confirm it so we can legally live somewhere ;)

As for triple citizenship, I've read of quite a few who have a South American citizenship like Brazilian or Argentinian, American, and Italian. Not impossible...but oh to keep track of all those identification documents!

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