Carlo Piccolo and Lauren Hopkins (Founders of Your Italian Passport)

Un passaporto italiano, il sogno di tanti italoamericani

Apr 11, 2016 16096 ITA ENG

We don't know how many of you know this, but there is a thing called "Passport Index" which ranks the passports of the world, based on their Visa Free Score. The higher the Visa Free Score, the better the Passport Power Rank. Italy is ranked third : not bad, right? Still, this is not why so many Italian Americans apply for their Italian passport: a tough, expensive, sometimes almost impossible procedure, that requires a lot of patience and committment.

The reason why so many Italian Americans want their Italian passport is love, passion and pride of being Italians: and this is something amazing. Make no mistake, they ALREADY ARE Italians, who are just applying for the official recognition of this : but they are Italians even without a piece of paper that certifies it. Our guests today, Carlo Piccolo and Lauren Hopkins, are in the business of helping in achieving this goal, with their project called Your Italian Passport. Dual citizenship is a huge topic for our readers, and we're glad to have two beautlful and competent persons, and true friends of We the Italians, to help us addressing this matter.

Carlo and Lauren, could you please help us understand the official Italian law about how to obtain the dual citizenship? I understand that this law changed some years ago, so there's a before and after the change, am I right?

According to Italian Law 91 of February 5, 1992, Italian citizenship is conferred by bloodline. In other words, the descendant of an Italian citizen is already an Italian citizen. The descendant needs only have his/her Italian citizenship recognized by the Italian government. An individual seeking to have his/her Italian citizenship recognized needs only to produce evidence that everyone in his/her direct line of ascendants uninterruptedly maintained their Italian citizenship.

This being said, there are a few conditions every aspiring Italian citizen should be aware of:

• The Italian ancestor must have been alive after March 17, 1861, the date of Italy's unification. Prior to this date, there existed no such thing as an "Italian citizen".

• The Italian ancestor must not have naturalized (become a citizen of the United States or elsewhere) before July 1, 1912. Ancestors who naturalized before July 1, 1912 cannot transmit Italian citizenship under Italian Law no. 555 of July 13, 1912.

• The Italian ancestor must not have naturalized prior to the birth of his/her immediate descendant if that descendant is the applicant or any of the ascendants in the direct line through which the applicant would be otherwise eligible.

• If an Italian ancestor in direct line of the applicant is a woman, born before January 1, 1948, she can only claim Italian citizenship from her father, and can only pass Italian citizenship to her children (male or female) if they were born after January 1, 1948. It should be noted that the Italian Supreme Court has declared this rule unconstitutional. Currently, applicants who are otherwise eligible but for this law may still have their citizenship recognized but must present their application before the Civil Court in Rome.

Let's do the 5 main questions: who, why, where, how and when to apply for an Italian passport?

To answer your question, we should first clarify something. Your Italian Passport only assists applicants seeking citizenship by descent, primarily from the United States, though on occasion we also work with Canadians and Australians of Italian descent.

There are generally two types of people who apply for recognition of Italian citizenship. The first, which wants to reconnect with their roots; many of them would like to visit the places of origin of their ancestors, others would like to buy a home and spend more time in Italy after retirement. The second, in general younger people, does so to broaden their horizons; they want to work or study in Italy or in Europe and travel without restrictions and with greater security.

In general, all descendants of Italian origin are potentially eligible for recognition of their Italian citizenship. If the Italian immigrant never naturalized, this means that he/she passed Italian citizenship on to his/her descendants. On the other hand, if the Italian ancestor became a citizen of the country of emigration, the person applying for citizenship must prove that naturalization happened after the birth of the son/daughter of the emigrant.

Typically, the applicant must apply for citizenship at the Italian Consulate of his/her residence, and must present all of the required vital records, including apostilles and translations of foreign documents into Italian. Once the documents have been received by the Consulate, the applicant will receive a letter from the Italian government officially confirming his/her Italian citizenship.

In considering the eligibility requirements, it is also important to remember the law of 1948, mentioned earlier. If the applicant doesn't meet the qualifications because of the law prohibiting women from passing citizenship to children born before 1948, the applicant may still apply judicially for citizenship before the Civil Court in Italy.

For your work, you spend time either in the US and in Italy ... is this fundamental for this job, or you do it just because you love the two best countries in the world?

It's not essential for us to work from the United States or from Italy but, as you said, they are the most beautiful countries in the world and we are lucky enough to be able spend time in both while working. That being said, when we are in Italy we have the chance to go in person to the municipal archives and search for historical documents, particulary those which are difficult to find but of course fundamental for our clients. Similarly, when we are in the U.S., we can attend the appointments of our clients at the Italian Consulates and meet the consular officers, thus improving our knowledge of the entire process.

Which are the most frequently asked questions about this topic?

The main questions that clients pose to us when initiating the citizenship process are with regard to possible military service in Italy, taxation, and the effect of Italian citizenship on U.S. citizenship. To answer those questions, we confirm that there is no longer mandatory military service in Italy; you pay taxes in Italy only if you live and work there for more than 180 days in a calendar year; and that recognition of Italian citizenship has no effect on American citizenship.

And which are the most difficult problems you have experienced in helping our fellow Italians acquiring their Italian passport?

The problems we encounter are mostly bureaucratic. We notice that there is no consistency in the practices of the Italian Consulates tasked with reviewing these applications. There is much undo focus placed on minor discrepancies within the applicants' records which often have little or nothing to do with their eligibility for citizenship. Moreover, the waitlist for jure sanguinis citizenship appointments at many of the Consulates exceeds two years. It's our impression that the consulates would be best served if additional staff would be made available to them. We were hoping that the introduction of the 300 euro fee a few years ago for review of citizenship by descent applications would have allowed for this additional staff and thus improvement in processes, but so far we have seen no evidence of that.

Respecting the privacy, is there a particularly interesting or significant anecdote you ran into while helping people in this matter?

In almost all cases, our genealogical research provides information to our clients about their family history that they did not know before. We should emphasize that Your Italian Passport works mostly on cases involving Italian immigrants to the U.S. who arrived in the late 1800s and the early 1900s. Certainly among the most interesting anecdotes we remember is a case of a client whose ancestor had been killed in an ambush by the gang of Al Capone. Other interesting moments include uncovering and sharing with clients news that their ancestors had been adopted as infants and that their family tree is not as they had always understood it to be. Interestingly, we have encountered so many families who suffered the death of an infant child, often during the crossing from Italy to the U.S., and who gave the same name to a later born child in honor of the his/her memory.

What should Italy do to help our fellow Italians in their wish to have an Italian passport? We know that the Italian Americans care very very much about their Italian citizenship. Why is that ?

It would be most helpful for Italians, particularly those involved in the citizenship recognition process, to realize that Italian Americans seeking Italian citizenship do so out of a sense of pride and a desire to contribute to the continued beauty and well being of the country. Rather than burdening Italy's resources, those seeking citizenship are eager to give back, contributing to the economy through more frequent or longer travel or the purchase of second homes, or by promoting the country's culture through language study or even the creation of businesses that highlight Italy's natural and cultural splendor. Unlike other forms of immigration, the Italian American interest in returning to Italy as citizens, is rooted in contributing to, not simply partaking in, the beauty such a magnificent place has to offer.

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