Do you think you might be able to apply for Italian dual citizenship, but aren’t sure where to start? We’ll guide you through some different avenues to help you on your way!
About 16 million Americans can trace their ancestry to Italy. They may celebrate their Italian heritage in different ways: enjoying Italian food and wine, Italian American festivals, art, music, and travel to Italy. Today, many Italian Americans are interested in doing more than just celebrate their heritage. They want to obtain Italian dual citizenship, with its many privileges and benefits. (See My Journey to Dual Italian Citizenship.)
Often, applying for Italian dual citizenship is easier and more clear-cut through a line of male ancestors. Both the United States and Italy had more restrictive approaches to women’s citizenship in the early twentieth century, which makes applying for citizenship through female ancestors more challenging.
With male ancestors, Italian dual citizenship cases can be very clear and straightforward. If a man was born in Italy after 1861, he was an Italian citizen and, in most cases, could pass his Italian citizenship rights to his descendants. The descendants only need to gather the paperwork to prove his status as an Italian citizen and their descent from him. Then they can apply for citizenship through an Italian consulate.
However, sometimes there are obstacles on the male ancestral lines:
- Your Italian immigrant grandfather, Nonno, (or great-grandfather, or great-great-grandfather) may have become an American citizen through naturalization before 1912. In this case, Italian law did not permit his children to inherit his Italian citizenship.
- Nonno may have become naturalized as an American citizen before his child, your ancestor, was born. Even after 1912, Nonno could only pass his Italian citizenship rights to children born before he became an American citizen.
- Your Italian immigrant ancestor may have left Italy before 1861. Before 1861, Italy was not a unified country, and the right to Italian citizenship didn’t exist.
In such cases, your Italian grandmother, Nonna, (or great-grandmother, or great-great-grandmother) may hold the key to dual citizenship.
The 1948 Rule
Before 1948, Italian women had no recognized right to pass down their Italian citizenship to their children. On 1 January1948, a new Italian Constitution took effect. It recognized for the first time that men and women had equal rights.
From 1948 onward, women had a clear and legally-recognized right to pass down Italian citizenship to their children. So even if Nonno had become an American citizen before their children were born, the children could inherit Italian citizenship rights through Nonna if she retained her Italian citizenship and if the children were born after 1948.
In cases like this, Nonna’s descendants can easily apply for Italian dual citizenship. They just need to gather the documents to prove Nonna’s citizenship status and their descent from Nonna, and apply at the nearest Italian consulate.
So where does that leave children born to Nonna before 1948?
Italian law does not explicitly apply the principle of gender equality retroactively. Children born to Nonna before 1948 – and their descendants – cannot just collect the relevant documents and apply through the nearest Italian consulate.
However, Italian courts have applied the principle of gender equality in citizenship cases involving children born before 1948 to an Italian woman. If your parent or grandparent was born to Nonna before 1948, then chances are you may be able to obtain Italian dual citizenship through a court case.
Was Nonna Still an Italian Citizen?
When considering whether to apply for Italian dual citizenship through Nonna, it’s important to keep in mind historical changes in U.S. citizenship law for women.
Until 22 September 1922, most Italian women immigrants to the United States would have become citizens of the United States if and when their husbands naturalized. If Nonno became a U.S. citizen, Nonna became a U.S. citizen, too.
However, Italian law recognizes a difference between Nonno and Nonna in that situation. Nonno applied for naturalization and became a U.S. citizen voluntarily. Nonna became a U.S. citizen passively, without ever expressing the desire or intent to renounce her Italian citizenship. In that situation, Nonno lost his right to pass down Italian citizenship, but Nonna was considered to still have Italian citizenship. Her descendants could potentially obtain Italian dual citizenship through her in a court case.
On 22 September 1922, Congress passed the Married Women’s Act, or Cable Act. This law separated a woman’s citizenship from her husband’s2. From this date onward, an immigrant woman could only obtain U.S. citizenship if she applied on her own. If Nonno was naturalized as an American citizen after this date – for instance, in 1923 – Nonna’s status did not change.
If Nonna did not become a U.S. citizen through Nonno’s naturalization before 22 September 1922, then it’s important to check whether she went through the naturalization process on her own after that date.
How to Start the Dual Citizenship Process
Many agencies in the U.S. and Italy can provide support for dual citizenship applications and dual citizenship court cases, including Legacy Tree Genealogists’ affiliate, Italian Citizenship Assistance.
An important first step would be to obtain a copy of Nonno’s or Nonna’s Italian birth record. You also would need documents to show how you are descended from Nonno or Nonna, such as birth or marriage records for each generation. If Nonno naturalized before 22 September 1922, his naturalization documents may also be needed, since Nonna would have been naturalized involuntarily along with him.
If you do not have the time or expertise to find these documents, Legacy Tree Genealogists can help. Our genealogical researchers have expertise in locating records in all regions of Italy and in all U.S. states.