This post is for those of you who qualify to be recognized as Italian citizens, jure sanguinis (right of blood or through ancestry). If you don’t qualify through ancestry, there are of course other ways to become an Italian citizen. I don’t mean to deliver a laundry list of options and rules here. That’s been done, and a wealth of information can be found on the Italian Dual Citizenship Message Board. Read the stickies under Qualifying – Jure Sanguinis; Qualifying – Jure Matrimoni (through marriage); and Living & Working In Italy, which offers a guide for those of you who don’t qualify through marriage or blood but would like to live and/or work in Italy legally.
My aim here is to give you some more intangible advice, to make things easier for you once you’ve determined that you’re eligible and decided to embark on this journey. Because the truth is, it is a journey, and everyone’s road is different. I wish the process were streamlined, standardized, and comprehensive. If only the Italian government could adopt an Amazon.com-style system wherein the applicant submits all information and tracks his case progress online. That is not the case, of course, so in the meantime, here are a few tips to minimize your mal di testa.
1. Be Thorough. Make absolutely sure you have every document you will need for your appointment. Appointment dates can be scheduled as much as 18 months in advance, so you will have plenty of time to dot I’s and cross T’s. You can always ask questions on the message boards to make sure you’re not missing anything. Remember that any discrepancies may be brought into question (name changes, incorrect birth dates, etc.), so you might want to have them corrected by court order in advance. Make sure all of your non-Italian documents, with the exception of naturalization papers, have apostilles and are translated into Italian. Trust me when I say you’ll want to walk into your appointment knowing your family history inside out, and having your documents in an order that makes it easy for you to access whatever is requested. Your appointment may not be a success, but don’t let it be because you overlooked anything important.
2. Expect the Unexpected. In spite of being organized, you may find yourself blindsided at your appointment by an unforeseen issue with your application. It might be something you’d never dreamed would be a problem. Roll with it. The consular officers see what they see, however inconsistently. I’ve read online of some applicants correcting “problems” that the officer caught, returning for a second appointment, only for the same officer not to even notice the original problem (or sometimes “catching” an altogether different issue). Often it seems that what’s acceptable changes with the winds. If you believe you are in the right, by all means respectfully explain this at your appointment. But don’t consider the whole endeavor a failure simply because of one little bump in the road. (The first two items may seem contradictory, so to summarize: Control what you can, but accept that you cannot control everything.)
3. Learn a little Italian. If you don’t already speak it, it would behoove you to learn a few basic phrases. After all, you’re making a case to be recognized a citizen of the Nation of Italy. But beyond that, it might make things slightly easier for you. I only speak tourist Italian on my best days, but whenever I sent an email or fax (especially to my comune in Italy), I made sure to write it in Italian. Google Translate is an excellent tool for this; run your text from English to Italian, then run it back to see that it makes sense. You’ll be forgiven any mistakes and the recipient will appreciate the effort. If you do speak Italian, by all means use that at your appointment. In fact, I’ll add that any amount of outward enthusiasm toward becoming Italian is good for you. You want to demonstrate that you are excited to do this, and are proud of your heritage. Appearing mercenary or merely “practical,” might not hurt your case, but it probably won’t help you. Hopefully you ARE excited of course. And obviously if you plan to move to Italy, knowing Italian will be a necessity.
4. Remember your rights. You aren’t applying to become an Italian citizen. You ARE an Italian citizen, by virtue of your birth to an Italian parent. Everyone in your lineage going back to your Italian-born ancestor is/was an Italian citizen as long as they did not renounce this right. This process is just a way for you to have it officially recognized. While you should be respectful of the people to whom you submit your paperwork, don’t let yourself be intimidated if you know for certain that you qualify. Ditto for any outside skeptics who doubt your success. It is important that you keep this mindset, especially in the face of any challenges, so that you remember that there is always a way over, around, or through an obstacle in your path.
5. Be patient and have fun. Like I said, it’s a journey. You’re going to run into delays, problems, lack of response, and the unexpected. You will likely wait months for your appointment and then more months for your recognition. You’ll spend money on documents you might not need. This is normal. It took me eight years from the day I first investigated this possibility to the day I got my Italian birth certificate. It might take you as long, or it might take as little as one year. Every case is different. But think of the fun you will have (and I mean that earnestly). You may learn more than you ever knew about your ancestors and the region they came from. You’ll no doubt uncover curious details about their lives, and if you haven’t already you’ll probably be motivated to visit your comune. On your worst days you will feel frustrated and impatient, but on your best days you’ll be brimming with anticipation and excited by discovery. And of course in the end it will all be worth it.
In bocca al lupo!