The one thing we Americans all have in common – except for Native Americans, of course – is the fact we are descended from immigrants. We all came from someplace other than the North American continent. Whether our ancestors came to the U.S. for a better life, to escape political oppression, or embrace religious freedom, once here, they were able to pass on the principle of citizenship to their descendants born on U.S. territory. Jus soli, also known as “right of soil,” refers to the automatic and unrestricted right to citizenship by territorial birth. As incredible as the United States is, we earn our inalienable Constitutional Rights simply by being born on U.S. soil.
The 14th Amendment to the Constitution protects the principle of territorial birthright: “All persons born or naturalized in the United States, and subject to the jurisdiction thereof, are citizens of the United States and of the State wherein they reside.” Few “advanced economies,” as defined by the International Monetary Fund, adhere to the policy of jus soli; but the two major proponents are the U.S. and Canada – both in North America, and therefore considered part of the New World.
Presently, the vast majority of countries in the world use a mixture of both principles when granting and denying citizenship. However, on the other side of the pond, the European Union (EU), comprising 27 countries, has united under a citizenship policy of jus sanguinis (“right of blood”), which recognizes citizenship by descent. Italy refers to its citizenship policy as jure sanguinis or “continuity of blood.”
The EU became solidified in regard to its citizenship stance in 2004 when Ireland revoked its automatic right of citizenship solely based on territorial birth. In short, a child born in an EU country is granted citizenship based on the nationality of his or her parents. While France is onboard with jus sanguinis, it still adheres to the principle of jus soli to a certain extent.
The EU’s decision to go the way of birthright by blood is based on a number of reasons: the desire to end “citizenship tourism,” to curb the influx of asylum seekers, and also to reclaim, to a certain extent, the millions of its citizens who fled their respective countries during various diasporas (large-scale migrations). Ireland and Italy lost millions during the mid-1800s – Ireland due to the Great Famine in the 1840s and Italy due to its unification in 1861. Many of the expatriates found their way to America.
So how does this affect American citizens? It means it’s getting easier to obtain dual citizenship, since U.S. citizens can legally hold two passports, and more countries are embracing dual citizenship by descent. According to the U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services, “The United States does not formally or officially recognize dual citizenship.” Nothing can stop a U.S. citizen from applying for dual citizenship, as long as they do not have to renounce their allegiance to the U.S., or take an oath of allegiance to the non-U.S. country.
There are also perks to holding two passports. Consider the following:
- The U.S. does not require you to renounce your U.S. citizenship if you become a dual citizen
- European Union (EU) passports allow an individual to travel freely among the Union’s 27 countries
- An EU passport entitles the holder to live and work within the EU
- Tax benefits
- Educational rights
- You can purchase property and open a bank account
- After you work in an EU country for a certain length of time, you are entitled to unemployment compensation, healthcare, and pension rights
- Cost of living may be lower than the U.S. and therefore good for retirement
- Easier to open a business
Though it is not an easy process to apply for dual citizenship, some countries make it easier than others.
With about 34 million Americans claiming Irish ancestry, Irish genealogy organizations are spearheading projects to draw Irish descendants back to the island. The Ireland Reaching Out Program (aka “Ireland XO”) started as an Irish genealogy pilot project a couple of years ago, and is now the driving force behind calling Ireland’s ancestors home. The influx of visitors and dual citizens are expected to increase tourism and boost the Irish economy.
If you were not born on Irish soil and choose to find your ancestors and establish dual citizenship through descent, then you must first apply for Foreign Births Registration (FBR). You can now submit an FBR form (known as ‘Náisiún) online. In addition to completing an FB1A application and having it witnessed, you must also produce birth, death, and marriage certificates for all generations leading back to your Irish ancestor, plus additional documentation.
While Italian citizenship is granted by birth through both the paternal and maternal lines (with no generational limits), there are two dates in particular that you need to keep in mind when you start your genealogical research – 1861 and 1948. Your Italian ancestor must have been born in the Italian territories after March 17, 1861 (the date of the Official Proclamation of the Kingdom of Italy – the unification of Italy), or must have been alive after March 16, 1861, in order to be considered part of the jure sanguinis line.
In 1948 the constitution of the Italian Republic overturned the 1912 Italian Law 555, which stated that citizenship could not be transmitted by a woman. The new constitutional ruling in 1948 stated: “All citizens have equal social dignity and are equal before the law, without distinction of sex, race, language, religion, political opinions, personal and social conditions.” The U.S. consulates still recognize the pre-1948 constitution to a certain extent, limiting applications for dual citizenship only to children born after January 1, 1948, if they are claiming citizenship through a female.
The National Italian American Foundation (NIAF), in conjunction with the Italian Embassy, has prepared a free online questionnaire that will help you determine your eligibility for dual Italian citizenship. The final determinations are made by the Italian Embassy or consulate for the jurisdiction in which you reside.
Dual citizenship with France may prove to be a harder nut to crack, especially due to the language barrier. Granted, France has only allowed dual citizenship since 1973 and has undergone a number of legislative changes in regard to French nationality. It also is the last hold-out in the EU to still recognize jus soli to some extent; though it no longer grants nationality strictly on territorial birthright. As of 2003, to control immigration, the “Sarkozy law” was adopted, requiring an applicant to prove his assimilation into the French community in a personal interview, as well as to be evaluated on his/her knowledge of the French language and the rights and duties conferred by French nationality.
To achieve French dual citizenship, you must obtain a French Nationality Certificate (CNF) – Certificat de Nationalité Française. The CNF is an official document that allows a person to prove their French citizenship. To gain a CNF you must first submit a Demande de Certificat de Nationalité Française.
Are you a candidate for Italian dual citizenship by jure sanguinis? If so, congratulations, but you still have your genealogical research work cut out for you. To prove your family history, you must obtain original documentation to support each one of your lineage claims. Each record must be certified, translated, and, in some cases, issued an apostille by the Secretary of State in the state it was issued. If the process sounds a tad daunting, you may consider contacting a genealogy research service and hiring a professional genealogist to help you on your journey to dual citizenship. Just remember, the fact you may be a candidate for dual citizenship by jus sanguinis has nothing to do with the ground you stand on; rather, it has everything to do with the blood that is coursing through your veins.