Italian citizenship is currently regulated by Law no. 91 of 5 February 1992. The requirements of the law are different and also vary according to the applicable procedure.
Although the requirements are clear and defined, the mere fact of meeting the legal requirements for the acquisition or the recognition of Italian citizenship does not guarantee an immediate recognition of the citizenship status.
The procedure, in fact, requires interacting with different offices of the Public Administration, depending on the applicable procedure, and frequently the times are considerably longer, with cases where it is even impossible to start the procedure.
Before examining the legal provisions on the legal deadlines to conclude the citizenship acquisition/recognition procedure and the available remedies in the event of inaction by the Public Administration in detail, it is noteworthy to list all different reasons based on which one can acquire or obtain recognition of Italian citizenship.
Requirements to obtain Italian citizenship
The application for Italian citizenship can be submitted for the following reasons:
- Having Italian ancestors (parents or ancestors). (Recognition of Italian citizenship).
- Being married to an Italian citizen (gay marriage and civil union are accepted). In the case of marriage to an Italian citizen, the application for Italian citizenship is possible after three years from the date of marriage if the couple resides abroad, two years in case of residence in Italy. These requirements are halved in the case of minor children. (Acquisition of Italian citizenship)
- Having legally resided in Italy for a continuous period of time. Most commonly, the period of continuous residence in Italy required to obtain Italian citizenship by residence is 4 years for citizens of an EU Member State and 10 years for non-EU citizens. (Acquisition of Italian citizenship).
- Having worked for the Italian State for at least 5 years, with particular merits for the public service performed. (Acquisition of Italian citizenship).
- Declaration of willingness to obtain Italian citizenship by those who were born in Italy and have resided in Italy up to the age of 18, or in other specific circumstances. (Acquisition of Italian citizenship)
- Having legally resided in Italy for at least 3 years, having been born in Italy or having at least one parent or grandparent born Italian (when cases referred to in point 5 above are not applicable)
- Re-acquisition of Italian citizenship lost through naturalization in a foreign country before 1992. (Re-acquisition of Italian citizenship)
It should be noted that, while in the first case citizenship is a right whose “recognition” is requested, in the remaining cases citizenship is “acquired”. In fact, in the first scenario, the applicant is already an Italian citizen at birth and is only requesting the formal recognition of that status, while in the other cases the applicant meets the requirements to obtain the status of Italian citizen.
The applicable procedure for Italian citizenship can be initiated before the Consulate of the foreign country of residence, at the Municipality where the applicant resides or intends to reside in Italy, or, in some specific cases, by initiating a judicial proceeding.
Legal deadlines for the closure of the procedure
Like any other administrative procedure, also the procedure for the acquisition or recognition of Italian citizenship must come to conclusion within defined deadlines, as generally provided for any administrative procedure by Article 2 of Law no. 241/1990.
With reference to the procedures for applying for Italian citizenship, Legislative Decree no. 130/2020 (Art. 4, para. 5), in its most recent version, states that the deadline for the conclusion of the procedure is of twenty-four months extendable up to a maximum of thirty-six months.
It is noteworthy that the aforementioned deadlines refer to cases of acquisition of Italian citizenship, without any explicit reference to cases of recognition of the status of Italian citizens by descent. In fact, the applicability of these deadlines to the recognition of citizenship by ancestry was included in the previous wording of the rule, but the relevant provision was repealed with the last amendment in 2020. By analogy, however, the same time requirements can still be applied to citizenship-by-ancestry procedures, and the case-law seems to implicitly confirm this interpretation.
Non-compliance with legal deadlines and available remedies
Unfortunately, the competent authorities for examining citizenship applications often fail to comply with the deadlines laid out in the current legislation for the conclusion of the procedure. In these cases, legal action is often the only available legal remedy to force the competent offices to conclude the procedures.
The competent judicial authority varies depending on the type of citizenship you are applying for. In some cases, it is the Regional Administrative Court, in others it is the Civil Court.
In the case of citizenship by ancestry, when the applicant resides abroad and the Consulate overruns the 3-years deadline or does not allow the submission of the application for an extended time, a judicial petition must be filed with the competent Civil Court.
Abundant jurisprudence has recognised Italian citizenship by ancestry in place of the competent administration in the face of its intolerable inertia in concluding the procedure within the prescribed deadlines. For example, in Order No. 75639 of 18 April 2018, the Civil Court of Rome stated that:
“The uncertainty as to the outcome of the request for recognition of the Italian citizenship by ancestry, the passing of an unreasonable lapse of time in relation to the interest claimed amount to a denial of the recognition of the right, justifying the interest in resorting to judicial protection.”.
Furthermore, in case where the applicants find themselves in the position of not even being able to initiate the proceedings due to the unavailability of the competent Consulate to fix the relevant appointment for months or years, the Civil Court of Rome, with Order no. 17692 of 21 September 2017, upheld the petition of a citizen who, for several years, was unable to book an appointment at the Italian Consulate in Argentina and, therefore, to initiate the procedural process aimed at the recognition of Italian citizenship.
The administrative procedure for applying for Italian citizenship can be complex, and cases of failure on the part of the competent authorities to meet legal deadlines are frequent.
Judicial action is therefore often useful or necessary. And case law has so far ruled favourably for the applicant where the delays or inaction of the competent public administration is evident.
For more information on our legal services concerning Italian citizenship applications, please do not hesitate to contact us.