italian citizenship administrative process

Obtaining Italian Citizenship by Descent: Guide to the Administrative Process

Are you interested in obtaining Italian citizenship by descent and unsure how to proceed? You are in the right place. In this guide, we will explain how to do it. Before starting, we recommend reading this introductory article on citizenship concerning the various ways of acquiring it in Italy.

What is Italian citizenship by descent through the administrative route, and what is the legal framework that regulates it?

Regarding the acquisition of citizenship, reference is made to Law No. 91 of 1992. The cornerstone principle is that of jus sanguinis, as established by Article 1, according to which a child born to Italian citizen parents is an Italian citizen by birth. This method of acquisition is called “citizenship jure sanguinis.”

According to this principle, a descendant of an Italian emigrant (provided that they do not possess a foreign citizenship) can request Italian citizenship jure sanguinis. Practically, this allows descendants (of the second, third, fourth generation, or beyond) of Italian emigrants to be declared Italian citizens by descent.

Historically, this circumstance has mainly concerned descendants of Italian ancestors born in countries of ancient emigration (such as Brazil, Argentina, Canada, Australia, etc.).

We recall that the Italian Constitutional Court (judgment number 30 of February 9, 1983), declared unconstitutional Article 1 of Law No. 555 of 1912 (the previous law regulating citizenship), in the part where it did not foresee that the child of a citizen mother becomes an Italian citizen by birth, for violation of Articles 3 and 29 of the Constitution. (read this article on the history of citizenship if you want to learn more).

After this intervention, it became possible to equate men and women in terms of citizenship. This led to the promulgation of Law 123 of 1983 (Article 5 “The minor child, even adopted, of a citizen father or citizen mother is an Italian citizen”), and then Law No. 91 of 1992, currently in force (Article 1, letter a – “the child of a father or mother citizens is an Italian citizen by birth”).

Therefore, descendants of an Italian mother, born after January 1, 1948 (date of entry into force of the Constitution) and whose mother had citizenship status at the time of their birth, could apply for recognition of Italian citizenship jure sanguinis. This was the orientation followed by the Italian Ministry of the Interior; subsequently, the Italian Court of Cassation (with a judgment of the United Sections of 2009) recognized the right to obtain Italian citizenship jure sanguinis in court (thus through the Tribunal – read here to learn more) even for maternal descendants born before 1948.

In this guide, however, we will analyze the administrative procedure in detail.

We also suggest reading the Circular of the Ministry of the Interior K.28.1 of 1991, which describes the procedure for obtaining citizenship jure sanguinis.

How is the application for Italian citizenship by descent through the administrative route presented?

There are two different ways to apply for Italian citizenship administratively:

  • through the Italian Consulate in the applicant’s country of origin;
  • directly in Italy, with an application to be presented to the Mayor of the municipality of residence.

In the first case, there is the disadvantage of waiting times. For example, in Brazil (where there are millions of descendants of Italian ancestors interested in obtaining recognition of Italian citizenship), consulates, on average, need 10 years to complete the procedure. This is due to scarce resources to be employed and a lack of sufficient staff in the Italian Administration.

For these reasons, the second option, i.e., applying for citizenship directly in Italy, may be the most advantageous solution. In this case, the applicant, if not already settled in Italy, must first establish residency in the Italian municipality where they choose to submit the citizenship application.

The choice of municipality is entirely free, and there is no need to turn to the municipality of the Italian ancestor’s birth.

How long does it take to obtain citizenship administratively in Italy?

It is not possible to predict the exact duration of the process, as there are various variables, including the time it takes for the Italian Consulate of reference to issue, to the municipality, the certificate of non-renunciation of citizenship by the applicant’s ancestors. Currently, it takes about a year and a half on average, but various unforeseen procedural events can affect this. We can only indicate with certainty the parameter referring to the maximum duration of the procedure: in fact, by law, the procedure must conclude within 180 days.

What are the stages of the administrative procedure for obtaining Italian citizenship by descent?

Let’s review the burdens and stages that characterize this procedure.

  • declaration of presence: the first legal requirement necessary to comply with immigration laws in Italy (Article 1 of Law 68 of 2007). It is a burden that serves to give a certain date to the foreigner’s entry, in case of a short stay (maximum 3 months), for which it is not necessary to request a residence permit. The declaration of presence must be made at the Border Authority (if the foreigner does not come from the Schengen Area) or to the Questore, within eight days of entry (if the foreigner comes from the Schengen Area). We specify that today 27 countries are part of the Schengen Area (23 of the 27 member states of the European Union, the remaining are all members of the European Free Trade Association – namely Iceland, Liechtenstein, Norway, and Switzerland- and, in addition, Croatia)
  • request for a tax code: to be presented to the Italian Revenue Agency competent for the territory
  • submission of the residence application: it is fundamental to establish residence at the municipality chosen by the applicant. According to circular number 32 of 2007 of the Italian Ministry of the Interior, the previously described declaration of presence is sufficient for registration in the registry (therefore, contrary to immigration laws, it is not necessary to have a residence permit to start this procedure). Clearly, as a prerequisite, there must be the availability of accommodation. A rental contract can thus be signed with the owner of a property or a loan contract for use; otherwise, the owner himself can issue a declaration of hospitality.
Once the application is deposited at the Registry Office, Italian police officers appointed by the Municipality, as we said earlier, will verify the actual residence and domicile. The timing can vary depending on the size of the chosen municipality (for larger ones, up to 1 month). While waiting for the visit, it is important that the applicant remains at home available, to avoid further delays.

Submission of the citizenship application after registration in the registry.

The interested party must deliver to the Municipality all the documentation attesting to the descent (with also the certificate of negative naturalization of the Italian ancestor) appropriately translated and legalized by the consular authority, or “apostilled” (if the country of origin adheres to the Hague Convention of 1961). The Municipality proceeds to verify the documentation, ascertains the regular transmission of citizenship from the Italian ancestor to the applicant, and requests from the competent Italian consular authority (based on the residence or domicile of the various ancestors) the certificate of non-renunciation of citizenship by the ancestors themselves. This is the step that can most affect the overall duration of the procedure. If more than 3 months pass, it will be necessary to request a residence permit for “citizenship waiting”.

Final steps:

once the investigation is completed and all legal prerequisites are verified, there is the recognition of Italian citizenship through a decree of the Mayor. The applicant (or the delegated person) proceeds to request from the Municipality the certificate of citizenship and the birth certificate transcribed in the Italian civil register. Consequently, they can also request an Italian identity card and passport (although the latter can always be requested at the Italian Consulate in the country of origin).

These documents are useful for the different procedure of registration in the AIRE (Italian registry of residents abroad). The practice in this case is managed by the Italian Consulate in the country of origin. In this way, the Municipality that issued the citizenship will proceed to delete the interested party from its registry of the resident population.

Why is the transcription of the foreign birth certificate important?

As we have said, at the end of the investigation of the application, the civil status officer or the consul, issues a decree called “citizenship attestation”; it is a preliminary and endoprocedural declaration that attests to the presence of all the prerequisites for the recognition of Italian citizenship and is used for the transcription in the Italian public registers of the foreign birth certificate.

The foreign birth certificate, in fact, can only be transcribed if it has first been evaluated by the civil status officer (who is responsible for the registers), provided that there is no contrariety to public order (the cases of untranscribability are provided for in Article 18 of DPR 396/2000).

Therefore, the declarative effects and the recognition of the status civitatis (i.e., Italian citizenship), are realized only when the foreign act is transcribed in the public civil status registers; in this way, it is incorporated into the Italian legal system (Article 449 of the civil code). The applicant will be able to enjoy the rights and their status as an Italian citizen substantially after the transcription.

What are the necessary documents to prove descent from an Italian ancestor?

The citizenship application, as we have said, must be accompanied by all the documentation useful for proving descent from the Italian ancestor. These documents include:

  • Birth certificate of the Italian ancestor who emigrated abroad (issued by the Italian municipality of birth) or baptism certificate, in cases where civil registry records were not yet established at the time of birth (you can read this article for more information);
  • Marriage certificate of the Italian ancestor;
  • Death certificate of the Italian ancestor (important if the latter was married in Italy, as it is the only document referring to him/her that attests to the presence in the foreign country);
  • Negative certificate of naturalization, i.e., a certificate issued by the competent authority of the foreign country of emigration (translated into Italian), attesting that the emigrated Italian ancestor did not acquire, at the time, a different foreign citizenship before the birth of the applicant’s ascendant. The certificate must include all the names of the Italian ancestor that appear in the genealogical certificates;
  • Birth certificates of all direct descendants of the Italian ancestor (including that of the applicant for Italian citizenship);
  • Marriage certificates of the direct descendants of the Italian ancestor (including that of the parents of the applicant);
  • Death certificates of the direct descendants of the Italian ancestor.

Attention. To avoid the risk of citizenship being denied, it is essential that the listed registry certificates are formally in compliance with the regulations set out in D.P.R. 445/2000. This means they must be translated, legalized, and, in terms of content, must be free of errors regarding names, birth dates, etc. In short, they must be completely consistent with each other (for events of birth, marriage, death).

What happens if the presented documents are inconsistent?

In cases where there are errors in names, surnames, birth dates, ages, or other data, inconsistencies, or lack of correspondences in the civil status documents, these must be rectified by the Foreign Authority.

As specified by various notes from the Central Directorate for Civil Rights, Citizenship and Minorities of the Italian Ministry of the Interior, a secure reconstruction of the descent with the acquisition of certain elements on the citizenship of the applicant’s ancestors must be carried out. In this sense, only foreign Authorities, if possible, can remedy the errors through appropriate checks. If there are discrepancies, these will be communicated to the applicant; within ten days of notification, the required corrections must be made, otherwise the application will be refused.


Given the complex procedures to be carried out, if you need and are interested in applying for Italian citizenship in this way, you can contact our Law Firm. A lawyer specialized in Italian citizenship by descent will be able to assist you in all stages of the procedure and take care of all the required formalities.

Dott.ssa Elena Capodacqua

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