One of the most important principles of acquiring Italian citizenship is based on the nationality of one or both of your parents. Known as “jus sanguinis” (meaning “right of blood” in Latin), it is the rule by which citizenship is determined or acquired by nationality of one or both parents, regardless of where you were born.
This principle is essential because it implies that even if a baby was born outside of Italy to Italian parents, he/she is Italian by bloodline. And even if that newborn acquires citizenship from the place where he/she was born (by law of the soil), as it happens in the US, the child maintains the Italian bloodline and he/she likely passed it through the generations. This is why, over 100 years after mass migration by millions of Italians to the US and other parts of the world, their descendants—perhaps without even realizing it—are still potentially Italians by blood and can recover this nationality if they wish to do so.
The current Italian citizenship law enacted in 1992 provides for the possibility of holding more than one citizenship. If you check the website of any Italian consulate you will read: If you were born in the United States or in another country which granted you its citizenship at birth “jure soli” (by law of the soil), you may claim Italian citizenship “jure sanguinis” (by law of the bloodline) by descent and be considered an Italian citizen if your ancestors were Italians at the time of your birth.
There some exceptions to this rule. For example: Italian women were not granted the right to transmit their citizenship to their children until 1948. Therefore, applicants who were born prior to January 1, 1948, can claim Italian citizenship only from their paternal line. This principle is also known as the “1948 exception” and if you fall under this bracket, you won’t be able to recover the Italian citizenship using the services of the consulate. But don’t be disheartened; read this article to the end and you’ll discover that there’s still a solution.
The “1948 exception” is based on the old Italian citizenship law, dated 1912. The law no. 555/1912 was the first comprehensive law that regulated the principles to acquire and lose Italian citizenship and set a principle that remained untouched until 1948 (and it is still applied by consulates and vital record offices in Italy): children were expected only to take their father’s citizenship. Only men were allowed to transfer Italian citizenship to their children, wherever they were born (in Italy or abroad), whereas women were forced automatically to take the citizenship of their husbands; if they married a foreigner, they gave away their Italian citizenship. They were not permitted to pass on their “Italian blood” to their children, besides in some marginal exceptions.
Nowadays, these rules seem unacceptable.
Why was a woman not allowed to freely decide whether to keep her Italian citizenship? Why was she forced to relinquish, without express consent, her Italian identity and lose the right to transmit to their children something so important and connected to her roots, such as the citizenship of her family? This law unfortunately had much to do with the fact that women did not have the right to vote and were regarded as caregivers at that time.
With the enactment of the new Constitution of Italy on January 1, 1948, all previous laws that were inconsistent with the new constitutional principles and values were subject to profound reform and amendment. However, for almost 60 years, very little was done to enforce the equality principle between men and women. In 2009, the Supreme Court delivered a historic ruling (no. 4466), giving full application to the 1975 decision by the Constitutional Court, thereby establishing that it was unconstitutional to discriminate between women and men in all citizenship matters and deciding the principle that all descendants born at any time (before or after 1948) to an Italian parent, father or mother, are Italian citizens by birthright. Unfortunately, this Supreme Court judgment bears no weight on the conduct of Italian consulates as the judges’ decisions generally only offer an interpretation of the law, but do not amend legislation. This means that the consulates still strictly apply the old law and dismiss any 1948 cases. Many Italian courts, on the other hand, following the persuasive decision by the Supreme Court, started applying the same constitutional principle of equality every time a 1948 case was brought to their attention. If you or your parents are 1948 cases, you can appoint a lawyer to file a motion to appeal the 1948 rule and obtain a court decision that recognizes your Italian citizenship, if all the conditions are met. The lawsuit will be filed by your lawyer before the Italian court (in Rome, if you don’t reside in Italy or before the local court that has jurisdiction for where you live), providing all the birth, marriage and death records pertaining to each person in your Italian family line. The client does not need to appear before the court.
To determine if you are a 1948 case, identify all of the Italian women in your direct line. If any of those women were married to a foreigner while living overseas (or were married to someone who obtained citizenship through naturalization and had children before 1948), then you are a 1948 case.
There are many factors not listed here that may affect your eligibility to apply for Italian citizenship. Even if your case may at first not appear to fall within any of these criteria of eligibility, consider having a professional evaluation because there are variables that may have a positive influence on your case that only a specialized lawyer knows. These are just a fraction of the potential issues that could emerge as a result of pursuing your Italian citizenship. It is always in your best interest to seek legal advice on these topics in order to save time, money and headaches.
Mario, your great-grandfather, was born in Italy and arrived in the US in 1901. He had a daughter, Anna, your grandmother, who was born in 1915. Mario naturalized in 1935. She married a US citizen and had a baby, your mother Catherine, in 1946.
Solution: Because Anna was born before the naturalization of her father, she was born Italian by blood. But since she married a foreigner (thus, losing her citizenship) and her daughter was born before 1948, this is the 1948 case handled before the Italian court.
Mario, your great-grandfather, was born in Italy and arrived in the US in 1920. He had a daughter, Anna, your grandmother, who was born in the US in 1935. She married a US citizen and a baby, your mother Catherine, in 1959. This is not a 1948 case. It will be handled before the Italian consulate or, if you reside in Italy, before the vital records office of the municipality where you live.