The Conundrum of Italian Citizenship

Mille lire

Mille lire

For the majority of people in the world the citizenship issue never arises: they are citizens of the country in which they are born and of which their parents are citizens.  For large numbers of people who have emigrated or otherwise been displaced from their country of birth the citizenship issue can be vexing.  A case in point is the status of those Italians who became U.S. citizens prior to August 15, 1992.

If an Italian immigrant became a naturalized American citizen before this date he automatically forfeited his Italian citizenship.  This was a little-known fact, because large number of immigrants never bothered to register with the AIRE (Anagrafe Italiani Residenti all’Estero), largely because the existence of the AIRE was itself a little-known fact.  Many immigrants, therefore, went through the American naturalization process without being aware of the negative consequence that such a move would have on their Italian citizenship.  Certainly some of them, had they known, would have paused to consider, and to perhaps change their plans.  In any case, they would have made a more informed decision, which is always preferable.

Many of these people would now like to recover their lost Italian citizenship, but when they try to do so they run against bureaucratic restrictions which seem capricious at best and downright punitive at worst.  The whole issue is clouded by inconsistencies and obfuscation to the point where many people eventually throw up their hands in frustration.  There are many reasons why this, while exasperating for the individuals involved, is bad for Italy herself.

In the next post I will outline some of these inconsistencies.  For now I wish to make an additional point: this is an Italian political issue.  It is a political issue because of the Legge Tremaglia, which in 2001 gave Italian citizens residing abroad the right to vote in Italian national elections.  Italian parties have now to contend with a block of votes coming from abroad, from electors who are largely ignorant of Italian politics and Italian issues, and who are effectively out of the reach of political messages emanating from Italy.

The pros and cons of the Legge Tremaglia are still being debated (I personally think it does not make much sense), but it is as of now the law of the land.  Which makes the question of Italian citizenship for Italians resident abroad a political football, because it became apparent in the 2006 elections that foreign-resident voters tended to vote preferentially to the left of the general Italian electorate.  Which, following the consequential chain to its conclusion, makes the idea of enlarging the foreign electorate an idea non grata to Berlusconi’s center-right government.  So there!

Leave a Reply