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Summary

No specific legal or regulatory provisions addressing the particular situation of undocumented persons who were brought into Italy as minors were found.  Such persons are subject to the general rules concerning the granting of residence permits and the acquisition of Italian citizenship.  According to the circumstances, certain of such persons may acquire Italian citizenship automatically (by reason of descent from Italian citizens, abandonment in the country, judicial recognition, or adoption).  Foreign unaccompanied minors are subject to special rules concerning the issuance of residence permits.  Otherwise, the general rules allowing the government to grant Italian citizenship by decree to stateless persons or to those who have resided legally in the country for the required statutory period may apply.

I.  Acquisition of Italian Citizenship by Foreigners

A.  Applicable Legislation

Currently, the acquisition, loss, and reacquisition of Italian citizenship is regulated by Law No. 91 of 1992[1] and its implementing regulations (Decree No. 572 of 1993,[2] Decree No. 362 of 1994,[3] and Legislative Decree No. 286 of July 25, 1998[4]), and most recently by Law No. 47 of 2017.[5] This legislation specifically addresses the acquisition of Italian citizenship by several categories of persons, among them, by foreigners who wish to become Italian citizens.[6]  This legislation also deals with the granting of residence permits.

No legislation specifically addressing the situation of children who were brought into Italy outside of the regular immigration process was found.  Provisions related to the acquisition of Italian citizenship which may be relevant to persons who were brought into Italy illegally are reviewed below.

B.  Automatic Acquisition of Italian Citizenship

Minors brought into the country outside of the regular immigration process may automatically acquire Italian citizenship in any of the following situations:

  • When they descend from an Italian citizen[7] (minor children living with their parents when the parents acquire or reacquire Italian citizenship also automatically acquire citizenship);[8]
  • When they have been abandoned in the Italian territory and their citizenship is impossible to determine;[9]
  • By voluntary or judicial recognition of filiation by/with an Italian citizen[10] (adult children have a right to opt for Italian citizenship within one year from recognition of their filiation);[11]
  • Through adoption by an Italian parent or through an adoption made overseas that is recognized under Italian laws[12] (adopted adult children have a right to opt for Italian citizenship after five years of legal residence in Italy from the date of adoption).[13]

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II.  Special Situation of Unaccompanied Foreign Minors

Recently, Law No. 47 of 2017 was enacted to protect foreign minors who enter Italy without an adult by recognizing the same rights for them that Italian and European Union minors have, due to their particular situation of vulnerability.[14]  A foreign unaccompanied minor is defined as a minor who is not an Italian or EU citizen who, for whatever reason, is found in Italian territory or is subject to Italian jurisdiction, and who lacks the assistance or representation of his/her parents or other adults who would be responsible for him/her according to Italian legislation.[15]  Foreign unaccompanied minors may never be rejected at the border, and refoulement and expulsion are prohibited.[16]  When a foreign unaccompanied minor first comes into contact with a government official, an inquiry must be made to determine the personal and family history of the minor in order to adopt the best protective measures.[17]

Residence permits may be issued to foreign unaccompanied minors for reasons of study or access to employment/self-employment at the age of majority (eighteen), provided that no decision to the contrary has been made by the Committee for Foreign Minors created by Legislative Decree No. 286 of 1998,[18] when such minors have been admitted for a period of not less than two years in a social and civil integration project managed by a public or private entity with national representation, and have been registered in a special registry established by the law for residence permits for minors under care up to the age of majority.[19]

In these cases, the local city administrator (questore) must grant a residence permit to the foreign minor.[20]  Such a permit must also be granted to any foreign unaccompanied minor who is fourteen years of age or younger based on family-reunion grounds, to those minors subject to the custody of an Italian citizen with whom they live, or to minors older than fourteen years of age and in the custody of and living with foreigners who are legal residents of Italy.[21]  In exceptional cases when the expulsion of a foreign minor is ordered by the juvenile court, such a measure may be adopted only if it does not cause a risk of serious harm to the minor.[22]

The local juvenile court will order the assisted and voluntary repatriation of a foreign unaccompanied minor when the reunion of the child with his or her family in the country of origin or in a third country is in the best interests of the child.[23]

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III. Acquisition of Italian Citizenship by Residence

Provided that they fulfill the established criteria, persons who have been brought to Italy as minors are also eligible for Italian citizenship, by decree of the President of the Republic at the proposal of the Ministry of Internal Affairs, after hearing the Council of State, when such minors are found in either of these two categories: (1) they are stateless and have resided in the Italian territory for at least five years; or (2) they have resided legally in the Italian territory for at least ten years.[24]

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Prepared by Dante Figueroa
Senior Legal Information Analyst
September 2017


[1] Legge 5 febbraio 1992, n. 91 Nuove norme sulla cittadinanza [Law No. 91 of February 5, 1992, New Rules on Citizenship], Gazzetta Ufficiale [G.U.] No. 38, Feb. 15, 1992, up-to-date version available at http://www.normattiva.it/uri-res/N2Ls?urn:nir:stato:legge:1992-02-05;91!vig, archived at https://perma.cc/S3KX-ZUQA.

[2] Decreto del Presidente della Repubblica di 12 ottobre 1993, n. 572, Regolamento di esecuzione della legge 5 febbraio 1992, n. 91, recante nuove norme sulla cittadinanza [Decree of the President of the Republic of October 12, 1993, No. 572, Regulations for the Implementation of Law No. 91 of February 5, 1992, Concerning New Rules on Citizenship], G.U. No. 2, Jan. 4, 1994, http://www.normattiva.it/uri-res/N2Ls?urn:nir:stato:decreto.del.presidente. della.repubblica:1993-10-12;572!vig, archived at https://perma.cc/X33R-V534.

[3] Decreto del Presidente della Repubblica di 18 aprile 1994, n. 362, Regolamento recante disciplina dei procedimenti di acquisto della cittadinanza italiana [Decree of the President of the Republic of April 18, 1994, No. 362, Regulations on Procedures for the Acquisition of Italian Citizenship], G.U. No. 136, June 13, 1994, http://www.normattiva.it/atto/caricaDettaglioAtto?atto.dataPubblicazioneGazzetta=1994-06-13&atto.codice Redazionale=094G0368, archived at https://perma.cc/ZF3K-U6XM.

[4] Decreto Legislativo 25 luglio 1998, n. 286 Testo unico delle disposizioni concernenti la disciplina dell'immigrazione e norme sulla condizione dello straniero [Legislative Decree No. 286 of July 25, 1998, Single Text of the Provisions concerning Immigration and the Condition of Aliens], G.U. Aug. 18, 1998, No. 191, www.normattiva.it/uri-res/N2Ls?urn:nir:stato:decreto.legislativo:1998-07-25;286!vig, archived at https://perma.cc/S6K9-MKAG.

[5] Legge 7 aprile 2017, n. 47 Disposizioni in materia di Misure di Protezione dei Minori Stranieri non Accompagnati [Law No. 47 of April 7, 2017, Provisions concerning the Protection of Unaccompanied Foreign Minors], G.U. No. 93, Apr. 21, 2017, http://www.normattiva.it/uri-res/N2Ls?urn:nir:stato:legge:2017-04-07;47!vig, archived at https://perma.cc/WXT5-5S5V.

[6] See Cittadinanza[Citizenship], Ministero degli Affari Esteri, http://www.esteri.it/MAE/IT/Italiani_nel_ Mondo/ServiziConsolari/Cittadinanza.htm (last visited Sept. 14, 2017), archived at https://perma.cc/H5SP-P7U4.

[7] Law No. 91 of 1992, art. 1(1)(a).

[8] Id. art. 2(1).

[9] Id. art. 1(2).

[10] Id. art. 2(1).

[11] Id. art. 2(2).

[12] Id. art. 3(1).

[13] Id. art. 9(1)(b).

[14] Law No. 47, art. 1(1).

[15] Id. art. 2(1).

[16] Id. arts. 3(1)(a) & 3(1)(b).

[17] Id. art. 5(1).

[18] Legislative Decree No. 286 of 1998, art. 33.

[19] Legge 30 luglio 2002, n. 189 Modifica alla normativa in materia di immigrazione e di asilo [Law No. 189 of July 30, 2002, Amending the Law on Immigration and Asylum] art. 25, amending Legislative Decree No. 286 of July 25, 1998, art. 32(1-bis), G.U. No. 199, Aug. 26, 2002, http://www.normattiva.it/uri-res/N2Ls?urn:nir:stato:legge:2002-07-30;189!vig, archived at https://perma.cc/PDA2-7FE9.

[20] Id. art. 10(1)(a).

[21] Id. art. 10(1)(b).

[22] Id. arts. 3(1)(a) & 3(1)(b).

[23] Id. art. 8(1).

[24] Law No. 91 of 1992, art. 9(1)(e) & (f).