Italy’s Revolutionary Citizenship Reform

Date: 15 Apr 2022

Italy’s revolutionary citizenship reform: Italian citizenship for those that have attended school in the country?

The recent success of the Italian Team and the Tokyo Olympics has revamped the discussions. In fact, around 15 percent of Italy’s Olympic team were born abroad or have parents born abroad. On the athletics team, which includes categories like track and field, that figure rises to almost 40 percent. While the double gold medal winner Marcell Jacobs had Italian citizenship being born to an Italian mother, his teammate and also gold medal winner Fausto Desalu, born in Italy to Nigerian parents, had to wait until he was 18 to apply.

Second-generation immigrants: “ghost citizens”

There are over one million second-generation immigrants who were born in Italy or arrived in the country at a very young age that have this status (Dossier statistico immigrazione 2019). Italy’s current citizenship law, in fact, set forth that a child born in Italy to immigrant parents can apply for citizenship only at the age of 18 after having legally resided on Italian territory from birth without any interruption. This makes many young second-generation immigrants a kind of “class B” citizens: they are fully integrated into the society, Italian is their first language but they are not “citizens” and are excluded from many rights.

Citizenship for young athletes

Proposals to change citizenship law have been discussed for years without reaching an agreement due to the opposition of some political parties. In 2016 a law was approved to allow athletes younger than 18 to be registered with Sport Federations, on condition that they are legally residing in Italy since the age of 10. This exception, however, does not allow them to compete with a National Team until they turn 18 and obtain citizenship. 

Citizenship for special merits

In exceptional circumstances, Italy allows citizenship to be granted for special merits, this includes sports achievements. The athlete Yassine Rachik was granted citizenship in 2015 for sports merits. He is originally from Morocco and emigrated to Italy with his parents very young. Under the Italian flag, he won the bronze medal in the Men’s Marathon at the 2018 European Championships. Other athletes who were granted citizenship are the Cuban wrestler Abraham de Jesus Conyedo Ruano and the US ice hockey player Chelsea Marie Furlani.

The draft reform: “ius scholae”

Said that however, the above exceptions would not solve the problem of a hundred thousand VNP (very normal people). In March, however, the Constitutional Affairs Committee of the Chamber of Deputies in Italy adopted the first draft of a new proposal which could finally be approved. The proposal is based upon the principle which has been named “ius scholae” or “ius culturae”, which translated from Latin meaning “right deriving from school’s attendance”. Citizenship would be granted to those that have attended school in the country. In particular, it states that a child born in Italy to foreign parents that have legal residence, and has also regularly attended school for at least one academic cycle for a minimum of five years, can acquire Italian citizenship at the request of the parents. This route is also open to children not born in Italy as long as they are under the age of 12

Opposition against the reform is still strong

Despite the support of many parts of the society, the proposal is still giving rise to strong opposition by some parties and more than 700 amendments have been tabled to amend the bill. Many of the proposed changes were made to delay the final discussion on the draft and many others are kind of bizarre, such as (i) conditioning citizenship adjudication to having obtained a diploma with a minimum score of 90/100, or (ii) to passing an exam on odd subjects like showing adequate knowledge of Italian traditional food products, knowing the most popular traditional festivities or (iii) even requesting to prepare a written excerpt of a popular folk song. The final reform has still many obstacles on its way but the hope is that it can be approved soon.

What are the rules in the other EU countries?

A comparative overview of the frameworks in place across the Member States of the European Union (EU) on access to national citizenship for new migrants from third countries, through naturalisation can be found in this study prepared in 2019 by the European Migration Network

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