One project that’s been a big part of my life over the last year that I haven’t mentioned much here is pursuing Italian Dual Citizenship — that is reclaiming Italian citizenship because two of my great-grandparents were born in Italy while, at the same time, remaining a U.S. citizen. Before I moved to Italy, one of my aunts told me she had briefly looked into getting Italian Dual Citizenship for herself and she did not think I was eligible. Eligibility passes down through males, she said, and my link to Italy is through my mother (my mother’s paternal grandparents were both Italian). I didn’t give the idea of dual citizenship much thought after that conversation until after I was settled in Italy and became friends with other American expats, several of whom had already obtained or were currently applying for dual citizenship. As luck would have it, I learned there is an exception to the passing of citizenship through males that would work in my favor: after January 1, 1948 women could also pass on Italian citizenship. The other circumstance that allowed me to inherit Italian citizenship was that my great-grandfather did not naturalize and become an American citizen until after my grandfather was born. This made my grandfather eligible for Italian citizenship. Because my grandfather and my mother never renounced Italian citizenship and I was born after January 1, 1948, I was, in fact, eligible — yippee!
I actively started the process for applying for dual citizenship in March 2013. After much research and document collection, I turned in my application in Bologna in late October 2013. Now I’m in the waiting phase (though there were previous waiting phases as I waited for documents to arrive and translations to be completed). In March 2014, I did receive some communication from Bologna’s citizenship office. They needed me to pay some more taxes and said they had contacted the pertinent consulates in the U.S. to verify that my grandpa, my mom, and I had never renounced Italian citizenship. When I am granted citizenship (I like to be optimistic), then I will have to complete the process for obtaining an Italian passport.
Throughout this process I have been hugely thankful for the existence of the Internet. I found a number of resources that were immensely useful in my quest for dual citizenship. Here are a few that I found most useful:
This was the process I followed to apply for dual citizenship in a nutshell:
1. Research – I created an account on ancestry.com. I made my family tree and took notes of all the important dates (birth, marriage, death) and places of residence. I was also able to track down ship records for both my great-grandma and great-grandpa.
2. Verify requirements – Since I decided to submit my application in Bologna, I contacted Bologna’s citizenship office. I was able to make an appointment with one of their employees to review the requirements for my application. As I’ve learned, requirements vary from consulate to consulate as well as if you decide to apply in Italy versus the U.S. It will save you time and money if you follow the specific directions of the consulate where you are applying. See: Bologna’s requirements (in Italian).
3. Collect documents – I collected:
* Great-grandpa – proof of naturalization, birth record from Italy, marriage record, death record.
I was able to obtain naturalization documents from the U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS) as well as the Nassau County Clerk, the NY county where he naturalized (See: USCIS Genealogy Program). I was able to find details and record locators for my great-grandpa’s naturalization and my great-grandparents’ marriage in the Italian Genealogical Group database (See: Italian Genealogical Group database). I had to mail a letter to the commune in Italy where my great-grandfather was born to request a transcript of his birth record.
* Grandpa – birth, marriage, death records
* Mom – birth, marriage records
* Me – birth record
4. Apostille documents – My dad ever so generously completed this step for me, so I can’t speak to it in great detail. From what I understand, he had to make sure the U.S. documents were appropriately certified at the county level (if necessary) and then he walked the documents into a NY Department of State office in NYC to have them apostilled. It’s important to request long form certificates in the step above to ensure that the certificates will be eligible for an apostille. See: NY State Authentication of Public Documents
5. Translate documents – I had all of my documents that were in English translated into Italian (which was most of the documents I collected). I hired an American expat friend living in Bologna for this step. This probably wasn’t the cheapest option but it was certainly convenient.
6. Certify translations – This is an additional step that needs to be taken if you are applying for citizenship in Italy. If you apply in the U.S. your U.S. consulate should complete this step for you after you turn in your application. If you apply in Italy, there are two options for certifying your translations. You can walk your documents and the translations into your local consulate in the U.S. and have them certify the translations. Or you can have the translations certified at your local Tribunale in Italy. As part of her service, the translator I used visited the Tribunale in Bologna to have the translations certified. She needed to put a marca da bollo (fiscal tax stamp) on each of the certified translations (at €16 a pop, this was an expensive step).
7. Hand in application – I handed in my application at the General Protocol desk (Protocollo Generale) in Piazza Maggiore. I needed to put another €16 marca da bollo on my application (the Italian government loves these). See: Protocollo Generale website
8. Be patient
I’m not sure how I will take advantage of my Italian citizenship long-term, but I am very excited about the possibilities. While I’m planning to move back to the U.S. next year, holding Italian citizenship could open up interesting doors in the future — for me or for my offspring. It means I can stay in Italy or the EU for longer than the 3 month tourist visa. I can retire (or live or work) in Italy or anywhere in the EU, for that matter. I can travel to Cuba, which is off limits for most Americans. It’s pretty cool.
What’s more, my quest for citizenship has pushed me to explore my Italian roots. I uncovered where both my great-grandma and great-grandpa where born and I have been able to visit their hometowns (which I’ll tell you about soon). As a foreigner living in my great-grandparents’ home country, I’ve been deeply moved as I’ve imagined what it must have been like for them to make the long journey to the U.S. by boat and then build a life for themselves in a foreign land where they initially didn’t speak the language. Having walked just the tiniest bit in their shoes, I am hugely impressed.