British-Italian families take action as Italy tightens citizenship rules

A group of British-Italian families is pressing the Italian government to put in place a fast-track procedure for citizenship applications in the context of Brexit, as new rules approved this week make it harder to obtain an Italian passport.

On November 28 the Italian parliament gave green light to an immigration law that includes new requirements for Italian citizenship.

The controversial bill was proposed by far-right Minister of the Interior Matteo Salvini to target refugees and asylum seekers. Civil rights and humanitarian organisations have been critical of its content, as people legally in the country could see their rights diminished and find it harder to become Italian citizens.

New measures repeal residence permits on humanitarian grounds, curtail actions to promote integration, and increase the length of stay in immigration removal centres. Rules to obtain Italian citizenship are also tightened.

Changes to citizenship rules

Italian citizenship can be acquired by people with Italian ancestors, by spouses of Italians or by individuals who reside in Italy. Eligibility criteria vary depending on the chosen route. The spouse of an Italian can apply for citizenship two years after the marriage if the couple lives in Italy, or three years if they live abroad, and the terms are reduced by half if they have children. The residency requirement is 4 years for citizens from EU countries and 10 years for non-EU citizens.

Based on the new law, people applying for naturalisation by marriage or residence will also have to prove they speak Italian, a condition previously not required. The law also extends from 2 to 4 years the deadline for Italian authorities to complete citizenship proceedings and abolishes the automatic consent in case of non-response within these terms. Finally, the law allows for the first time the revocation of citizenship for people convicted for terrorism.

Although this was not a key topic in the debate, new provisions add uncertainty for British residents in Italy and British spouses of Italians who have been applying for citizenship to protect their rights after the UK leaves the European Union.

Uncertainty living in Italy

Tanya S., a British-Italian living in Umbria (she chose not to disclose her full name), says that the new law is putting a big question mark on her family’s future in the country.

Tanya has an Italian passport and was waiting for her husband’s naturalisation, a process they started in November 2017. “We’ll have to wait for another three years now, and in the meantime Brexit will have happened,” she says. “For me, the evil part of this new law is that it’s retrospective. New rules do not start with new applications. As a lawyer, I am so upset, it is so unjust,” she told Europe Street.

“My mum’s family is from Abruzzo and I lived in Italy for a few years when I was a child. I always dreamt to come back,” she says. Originally from Glasgow, the couple moved to Italy 11 years ago but went back to Scotland after the financial crisis. In 2016, the EU referendum persuaded them to return and settle in Italy. “Now we live in uncertainty. Should we stay here or should we leave again? No one really is looking after us at the moment.”

New group of Italian-British families in London

In London, similar concerns have prompted a group of Italian-British families to join forces and ask the government an exemption to new rules in consideration of Brexit.

The group is called Famiglie Unite in UK (United families in UK). It was created in October by five Italian-British couples in response to the immigration bill. They contacted MPs elected in Europe’s constituency of Italians abroad and, together with the group of British in Italy, they started to call for a “special solution”.

“We hope Italy will agree to put in place a fast-track procedure for citizenship applications submitted via the consulate in London and by British citizens in Italy until the end of the Brexit transition, on 31 December 2020,” says Anna Cambiaggi, one of the founders of the group.

The draft withdrawal agreement reached by the UK and the EU, if endorsed by parliament, will protect most rights of EU nationals in the UK and British residents in the EU. It is however silent on British spouses of EU nationals in Britain, who will become “third country nationals” after Brexit.

“On March 29, 2019, non-Italian spouses of Italian citizens in the UK will lose the protection of EU citizenship and law, which grant them the legal right to freely move to Italy,” says a letter written by United Families to Italian authorities. “After more than 18 months of negotiations, the risk of no deal is a real possibility […]. Faced with such risk, there is no mechanism or proposal put forward by Italy to allow our spouses to maintain their status and their rights.”

Families with Italian children especially request that “both parents maintain the right to move and live in Italy without restrictions.”

A founder of the group, Mrs Cambiaggi has been living in the UK for 20 years but does not qualify for permanent residence because she left the job at Oxford University to take care of her children. She is now waiting for the “settled status” (the new residence scheme the UK will put in place for EU nationals post-Brexit) to be able to apply for residence and British citizenship. Her husband, a British national met when they were both biology researchers in France, is also applying for Italian citizenship.

“We never thought about citizenship because we never needed to. Fortunately, our children have both passports, but we want to put ourselves in a safe position as well,” she told Europe Street.

The group Famiglie Unite in UK (United Families in UK) is on Facebook and on Twitter @Famiglieunite.


Claudia Delpero © all rights reserved.
Photo via Pixabay.

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