The application process for obtaining Italian citizenship can be daunting. Not only for the amount of paperwork but also for the difficulty of starting the process at the Italian Consulates.
The obstacles can be many: too long waiting times to have the Consulate process our application, or the refusal of Consulates to process an application because it regards a descendant from an Italian (grand)mother born before 1948, for example.
Delays in the process
Most Italian Consulates in the world have (years) long waiting times for processing applications and many applicants do not have the time to just wait. They should not wait, since they have a right to a fair process. The Constitution of the Italian Republic, as well as the European Union Charter of Fundamental Rights (legally binding on the EU institutions and on our Member States), enshrine the principle of “due process”. Every person has the right to have his or her affairs handled impartially, fairly, and within a reasonable time by the institutions and bodies of Italy and the Union.
The Italian National law implemented such principle by specifically providing that the Consulates should take a decision on citizenship applications within 730 days from the application (Article 2 of Italian Administrative Process Act 241/1990 and DPCM – President of the Council of Ministers Decree no. 33/2014). Unfortunately, most Consulates interpret this rule in an arbitrary way: they claim that the 730-day deadline starts from the date in which the Consulate will finally admit the applicant to enter their office and the Consulate accepts the paperwork as complete.
Such interpretation does not stand in Courts. The Tribunal of Rome, the competent judge for all disputes concerning citizenship applications arising from applications filed in at Italian Consulates, ruled consistently that the 730-day deadline starts from the date in which the applicant requests an appointment to the Consulate in order to file in the citizenship application.
As a consequence, all applicants who obtain an appointment that is farther in time than 730 days, or those who can prove that it is too difficult to obtain an appointment and have their application processed at an Italian Consulate, have a legitimate claim in Court to obtain citizenship through a judicial process. The Court’s decision can be registered directly with the Italian administration. Such registration is enough to obtain an Italian passport.
Descendants in the maternal line
The Italian Supreme Court established in 2009 that it is forbidden to discriminate between women and men even in citizenship matters (judgment no. 4466/2009). All descendants born anytime from an Italian parent, father or mother, are Italian citizens by birthright.
Sadly, the Ministry of Foreign Affairs and all the Italian Consulates still refuse to process the applications of the descendants who were born from Italian women before 1948, when the equality principle between women and men was introduced with the Constitution of the Republic of Italy. As a consequence, those descendants (and their children down the family line) can obtain the application of the non-discrimination principle only through an application to an Italian Court.
For more information about 1948 cases, see “How the 1948 rule really works”
But how does an application in Court work in reality?
Proceeding with a citizenship application in Court is quite different than with Consulates. It is a full trial, not just an administrative process. It cannot be regarded as a quick or easy process.
The application in Court starts a formal dispute with the Ministry of the Interior and the Ministry of Foreign Affairs. They can – and often do – make objections, especially concerning the citizenship status of the Italian-born ancestor from whom the applicant derives citizenship. The Ministries, through their representative – the Avvocatura dello Stato – have a right to appeal against the Court’s decision and do, in some cases.
Moreover, the Tribunal of Rome (the competent judge for all disputes concerning citizenship applications arising from applications filed at Italian Consulates), received thousands of applications during the last years and has a considerable backlog. A specialized section for asylum matters and citizenship was established at the end of 2017 to cope with it. That ensured that more prepared judges would handle the applications. However, the handling time is currently about 24 months.
Poor legal assistance
In recent years, hundreds of lawyers in Italy and overseas started assisting citizenship cases by blood and in the maternal line. Many do not have proper knowledge of the law, including the interplay between Italian laws of the early ‘900s and the laws of the country of ancestor’s residence. They often fail in evaluating the legal context and the data contained in the official records concerning the family line of each applicant. Unprepared lawyers tend to focus on the similarities between various cases rather than on the specific aspects that differentiate them. They keep low legal fees by presenting hundreds of applications exactly in the same way. They often cannot foresee and discuss the Italian Ministries’ objections concerning the ancestor’s possible loss of citizenship status, e.g. as a consequence of the laws in force in the USA at the beginning of the ‘900s, or concerning discrepancies in the US vital records.
Every week, we see badly assisted applications fail in Court for the incompetent defense of counsels who improvised their assistance to citizenship applicants by blood. They ignored important aspects of the laws and of the data in the non-Italian vital records. That is the reality behind many failures, as reported by appalled clients also in many social media forums.
Preparing the paperwork
Not only the process in Court involves a dispute and can be longer than expected, but the time necessary to obtain those documents in some countries – notably, the USA – has become much longer, amounting to currently about 10 months, or even more, if corrections are required.
The vital records from many countries outside of the continental European tradition – e.g. the USA – vary considerably from those required by the Italian authorities, based on the detailed Napoleonic population registry method. As a consequence, it is very important to review such records, with matching names and dates with each other to prove the direct line of descent beyond doubt from the point of view of the Italian registry system.
The costs for assisting a citizenship application in an Italian Court are higher than those for an application at an Italian Consulate.
The reference for Italian legal fees as of 2021 is the Ministry of Justice Decree no. 55/2014, updated in 2018 (Tariffe forensi). The fees are composed of segments for various phases of the process before the civil Court and depend on the number of applicants for each family, as well as the complexity of the case (Parametri civili). The average minimum costs are not below € 7,000 + taxes and VAT.
A commonly used tool for calculating the lawyer’s fees online in Italy is offered by Avvocato Andreani at this website.
Beware of changes in the law
We cannot give for granted that the law that was in place for decades will not change. On the contrary, there have been several attempts to pass reform on the Italian citizenship regulation. One of the main points of reform is to cut the possibility to give citizenship status down to the second generation.
Such a reform, delayed by a government crisis in 2019 and now stalled during the pandemic emergency, is likely to be introduced in the next 3-4 years.
Time is of the essence. If (when) the reform will pass, like any new law in civil and administrative matters in Italy, it will apply immediately to all citizenship processes in course, both at Consulates and in Courts. All the applications of third and further generation descendants will most likely be rejected.
For more information: “Before the law changes for Italian citizenship”
Before embarking on the process of an Italian citizenship application in court, it is crucial to consider that you are going to be on a real trial in the justice system of a country that you may not know so well. The result, although there are consistent precedents, is not certain. Especially in a legal system that is not based on precedents like that of Italy and those of all continental European states. When weighing pros and cons, time and money are not the only important variables. Rather the quality of the information and of the legal assistance to review your documents correctly and prepare an accurate application, as well as defend your case competently in court are essential to obtain citizenship in reality.
For more information:
- When in doubt, ask us. Contact us
- Discover your real options. If you dispose of basic information on your Italian descent (your Itali-born ancestor’s date and place of birth, and the date and place of birth of each descendant) and possibly dispose already of family records, we can evaluate your actual options and devise the best strategy for you to obtain the Italian citizenship. Book a private consultation with me