Italian Citizenship jure sanguinis via ancestor and equality treatment

For many reasons it now seems there is an enhanced interest in obtaining a citizenship other than a US one. While I believe that having a dual citizenship in general is always a good thing, having a US citizenship plus another from one the EU countries is even better. For one, once you are a citizen of a EU country you could move to any of them and work and live there without a visa or a work permit. In particular Italy allows you to obtain its citizenship not only if you are born in Italy or marry an Italian, but also if one of your ancestors was an Italian citizen; however, this is not as easy as it may sound.

There are several requisites that one needs to have in order to qualify, and there are several rules that limit that possibility. One such rule is that, up until 2009, you could not obtain Italian citizenship through female lineage of ancestry if your female ancestor had been born before 1/1/1948, which was when Italy became a Republic and the Italian Constitution was enacted. Why? Well, in order to understand the above requirement you need to have an Italian history lesson, albeit a short one.

Italy is a relatively “young” country. As a matter of fact, it became a country only in 1861 when the Italian peninsula was unified into the Kingdom of Italy, which was then ruled by King Victor Emmanuel II of Sardinia, of the House of Savoy. Prior to that, Italy had consisted of many different mini-states. In 1861, the territory, except for Rome which remained under the Papacy until 1870, was unified and Italy was born as a Kingdom ruled by the Savoy dynasty.

On July 1, 1912, the first law regarding citizenship entered into force (Law no.555) and it was indeed a very male centered kind of law, reflecting the culture of the territory. According to Law 555/1912, the citizenship followed the man of the family. Consequently, if the father or husband renounced or lost his Italian citizenship, so would the entire family.

This law remained basically untouched until 1983, when the Italian Supreme Court pronounced this law unconstitutional insofar as it created a disparity between men and women; Art. 1 of Law 123/1983, enacted right after the Supreme Court decision, confirmed what the Supreme Court established.

The matter was then further modified in 1992, with Law no.91, which entered into force on February 5 of the same year. This law further modified the 1912 legislation.

The main change of the 1992 legislation consisted in allowing dual citizenship in many more instances than before. The 1992 law was enacted because of pressure by people who migrated mostly in Argentina and Brazil, countries that, in the ‘80s, were experiencing a serious economic depression. Consequently, the expatriates saw coming back to the very economically “happy” Italy of the ‘80s as a way out of the crisis. For this reason, the 1992 law contains rules favoring the reacquisition of citizenship by Italian ancestry through naturalization.

 However, true equality in obtaining Italian citizenship was not reached through any of the above laws, and is still not a complete reality today. Italian Supreme Court decisions are always considered retroactive, but in this instance, up until 2009, Italian Courts interpreted this particular decision granting equality to women to be retroactive only up until 1/1/1948. The reasoning behind it was that 1/1/1948 was the date of entering into force of the Constitution, and a law could not be held unconstitutional before the existence of the Constitution itself.

Finally, in 2009, there were two decisions by the Corte di Cassazione (the highest interpreter of ordinary laws and regulations in Italy) that inverted this trend (Cass.Civ.sez.un. 25 February, 2009 no. 4466; affirmed by Cass.civ.sez.I, 29 July 2009, no.175148 and Cass.civ.Sez.I, 19 April 2010, no.9275; further affirmed by lower tribunals such as Tribunale Roma, Sez. I, 20 January 2015, no.1304). According to the Corte di Cassazione, the child born from an Italian mother born before 1948 must be considered an Italian citizen by birth. The retroactive force of the decision also includes children born from an Italian mother AFTER the entering into force of Law 555/1912. Finally! No? No, not so fast!

Since no law was enacted to apply the principles established by the Corte di Cassazione, as of today, in order to obtain Italian citizenship through a female ancestor whose child was born before 1/1/1948, one still needs to go through an attorney in Italy and apply to the Tribunal of Rome.

In the alternative, if you don’t have a “1948 issue”, comply with all other requisites required by the law, and have time and money to do it, there is another choice if you do not want to deal with the long wait to get an appointment with your Italian Consulate. You can go and stay in Italy for a few months and do everything from there. You could pick a beautiful city in Italy, move there, apply for residency, and once you get it, you can submit all documentation directly to your city of residency. Who wouldn’t want to spend a few months in Italy?

A much less fun option would be to have an attorney do everything for you from here.

Hey, you can’t have everything!

For more information on this topic, please contact BridgehouseLaw attorney Monica Boccia at
Best regards
und viele Grüße aus Charlotte
Reinhard von Hennigs