You Have More than One Birthright…

I have my American citizenship, with the passport to prove it: I was born in the United States to two parents who were American citizens. But might I also be an Italian citizen and not know it? My great-grandfather emigrated from Italy to the United States, and Italian law recognizes no generational limit to “the right of the blood”: no matter how many generations lived abroad, they remained citizens.

In my case my great-grandfather had my grandfather in the United States, who in turn had my mother, who in turn had me. Looking over the rules, it would seem that I’m eligible to claim Italian citizenship by descent! Among others, the Italian consulate in Los Angeles has a helpful primer on this topic.

The only potential showstopper for me is that I have no idea when my great-grandfather naturalized as a United States citizen…or if he ever did naturalize: if he naturalized before my grandfather’s birth on September 10, 1922, I would not be eligible, since naturalizing as a United States citizen at that time was taken as a renunciation of Italian citizenship. It seems very unlikely, however; he came over to the US for the final time around World War I, and the minimum time then required for naturalization start-to-finish was five years, which even if he got started with it immediately upon arrival might well have placed his naturalization date after my grandfather’s birth.

Another factor working in my favor is that at the time some modicum of English language skill was required to naturalize, and by all accounts he never had much even decades later, let alone back in 1922. Family lore mentions nothing about him becoming a naturalized citizen (knowing the family they probably would have mentioned it at some point if it happened), though my grandfather did claim his father was a United States citizen in his military documents…which, however, date to World War II and afterwards, a much later period of time, and might not have even been a correct claim anyway.

There are government agencies one can inquire with that would be able to tell one way or the other: I could procure the naturalization record, and if there is not one a certificate of non-existence will be issued. Assuming either sort of record shows I’m eligible, the task then becomes one of gathering documents. The Italian consulate in Los Angeles has a checklist of what I’ll need to prove your Italian citizenship jure sanguinis as a US person, and it all seems doable, even if it is a rather formidable quantity of documentation in my case.

Mostly what they want is proof that the Italian-born ancestor either didn’t naturalize or naturalized only after the birth of the next descendant in the chain, as well as the vital records of everyone in the chain between my last Italian-born ancestor and myself (birth certificates, marriage certificates, and death certificates).

In my case I’ll need to track down these vital records for everybody further back than my parents, since the official documentation I have on-hand is sparse, including apostilles, translations into Italian, and a few records I’ll need to procure from their towns of origin in Italy. Luckily I should have which towns my great-grandfather and his wife came from on-hand (though the binder it’s written down in is currently in storage pending my move to California this summer…I’ll have to contact the moving company that’s holding it for me if I could bust it out in the interim). If not it can be tracked down, but it’ll take some more digging.

There are services that can handle all of this for you, which I might be interested in, but golly, the price tag; this one, “My Italian Family”, is a typical example, charging (in my case) $8500. It might actually be worth it for me to hire such an outfit; as far as the all-in cost of procuring a second citizenship goes $8500 is chump change, and while I might be able to save money (to the tune of keeping the total to around $1000) I’m not sure if I’m up to doing all these nervewracking chores and winging it with regard to everything being in order. My frustration tolerance is just much lower it seems than those who have navigated the process on their own without much trouble.

The upside? Assuming that I am in fact an Italian citizen and I get that fact officially recognized, I get myself a second passport, one that allows me to live, work, and play as I please in Italy. As an Italian citizen I would also be a European citizen and thus would also be able to live, work, and play as I please in any of the 27 member states of the European Union.

As someone who has an interest in Europe as well as reconnecting with my heritage, particularly from the point of view for what it would do for my future children, that’s all quite compelling…even before you get into how from a global point of view Italy’s is rated as among the most powerful of all passports: the Henley Passport Index rates it as #1 in the world, compared to #6 for the United States. Of course that’s a pure travel freedom index; a more comprehensive measure of quality by Nomad Capitalist rates it #6 in the world, which pulls it even further ahead of the United States which ranks #44.

Obviously which passport is the best or the most powerful depends on what your goals are, but all told as far as second citizenships go Italy’s is consistently considered one of the best you can get…and I might be entitled to it by birth!

My thinking: better grab it while I can get it. I’m so ready to be something other than just an American citizen, and I’ve always so wanted to pass on both a close connection to my (largely lost) heritage and a second citizenship to my posterity…this would fulfill so many dreams at one stroke. I’m going to research it, and if it turns out I’m eligible, I’m going for it.

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