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Italy has a comprehensive legal framework dealing with citizenship pathways and mechanisms for border management and security.  While Italy still relies on the ancient “right of the soil” (jus soli) and “right of blood” (jus sanguinis) principles to determine citizenship, for at least the last twenty years it has extended the acquisition of citizenship to other justifying situations, including grounds such as adoption, service in the Italian Armed Forces, marriage, and the reacquisition of lost citizenship due to the displacement caused by World War II. 

Italy’s borders are generally open to immigration, but under very stringent requirements.  The Italian Ministry of the Interior has general enforcement powers over immigration that it shares with several subordinate agencies, which in turn enjoy broad police powers to grant admission into the Italian territory and order deportation.  Finally, as a member of the European Union, Italy benefits from and has a duty to apply all of the rights and obligations concerning the right of entry and residence held by other European citizens, and the Italian state is also bound by common regulations and policies affecting other European Union Member States.*

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Immigration Law

Constitutional Framework

According to the 1947 Constitution of the Italian Republic,[1] the Italian State has exclusive legislative powers concerning immigration matters.  Nevertheless, Italy has obligations under European Union (EU) law and Italy has transposed various directives on immigration law[2] by incorporating their content into the Testo unico (Single Text) on immigration, a compilation of immigration laws.[3]  In addition, EU citizens have freedom of movement in Italy, thus limiting the bulk of Italian immigration law to citizens of third countries (non-EU countries) (see below, Subpart G). 

Visas for Entry into the Italian Territory

Visas to enter into the Italian territory are issued by the diplomatic or consular offices in the foreigner’s country of residence.[4]  Foreigners in possession of a residence permit may re-enter the national territory without prior notification to the Border Police.[5]

The following persons are forbidden from entering the national territory:

  • Those who do not comply with established requirements
  • Those considered a threat to public order or the security of the state, or from a country with which Italy has signed a treaty for the suppression of internal border controls and the free circulation of persons
  • Those convicted for certain crimes, particularly those related to narcotics, sexual conduct, abetting illegal immigration into Italy or illegal emigration from Italy
  • Those convicted for crimes involving the recruitment of persons for prostitution, the exploitation of prostitution, or the use of minors in illicit activities[6]

Residence permits based on employment are allowed for the duration of the employment relationship,[7] and may not exceed nine months in the case of seasonal employment contracts; one year in the case of fixed-term employment contracts; and two years for open-ended employment contracts.[8] Foreigners may stay in Italy for periods no longer than two years pursuant to first-time residence permits for self-employment.[9]  Annual quotas for various categories of workers can be established by decree.[10]  In 2012, the quota allowed for the admission of a maximum of 35,000 seasonal workers.[11]

Residence permits are also permitted for family reasons. Residence permits issued for reasons of marriage are immediately revoked when it is proven that marriage is not followed by cohabitation, unless children are born.[12]

Residence permits are renewable for a period equal to their original duration, as long as the conditions for granting residence still exist.[13]  Permanent residence permits can be granted to those who have resided in Italy under a qualifying residence permit for five years, have sufficient income to support themselves and their dependents, have adequate housing, and pass an Italian language test.[14]

Administrative Expulsion

An executive decree may order the expulsion of foreigners who are subject to criminal procedures even if judicial procedures are pending, with very limited exceptions.[15]  The police execute the expulsion measure.[16]  A foreigner who has been expelled may not reenter the national territory without a special authorization issued by the Minister of the Interior. In case of violation, the foreigner is subject to arrest and expulsion.[17]  In the case of reentry when expulsion has been decided by a judge, a term of imprisonment is imposed.[18]

Criminal Provisions

Several types of conduct related to immigration are punishable in Italy including, among others,

  • illegally aiding the entry of a foreigner into the Italian territory;[19]
  • activities aimed at procuring the illegal entry of another person into the territory of a state of which the person is not a citizen or does not have permanent residence;[20] and
  • recruiting aliens for prostitution or sexual exploitation purposes or procuring minors for illicit activities.[21]

Special Rules Concerning European Union Citizens

Legislative Decree No. 30 of 2007[22] transposes European Union Directive 2004/38,[23] thereby providing that EU citizens and their relatives who move to or reside in Italy have the right of free circulation and stay in Italian territory.[24]  EU citizens who remain in the Italian national territory legally and continuously for at least five years have the right to obtain a permanent stay permit.[25]  This right is lost in the case of absence for more than two consecutive years.[26]

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Citizenship Pathways and Requirements

Currently, the acquisition, loss, and reacquisition of Italian citizenship is regulated by Law No. 91 of 1992,[27] and its implementing regulations: Decree No. 572 of 1993,[28] and Decree No. 362 of 1994.[29]  This legislation emphasizes the importance of personal choice in the acquisition or loss of Italian citizenship, and recognizes the possibility of multiple citizenships.  This legislation specifically addresses the acquisition of Italian citizenship by (a) descendents of Italian citizens who wish to acquire Italian citizenship; (b) foreigners who wish to become Italian citizens; and (c) persons who, after being born Italian, have lost their Italian citizenship and wish to recover it.[30]

Automatic Acquisition of Italian Citizenship

Italian citizenship is automatically acquired

  • by descent from an Italian citizen[31] (minor children living with their parents when the parents acquire or reacquire Italian citizenship also automatically acquire citizenship[32]),
  • by birth in the Italian territory (persons whose parents are not known or are stateless[33] and those abandoned in Italian territory whose citizenship is impossible to determine are also Italian citizens[34]),
  • by voluntary or judicial recognition of filiation by/with an Italian citizen while the child is a minor[35] (adult children have a right to opt for Italian citizenship within one year from recognition of their filiation[36]), and
  • through adoption of foreign minor children by an Italian parent or through an adoption made overseas that is recognized under Italian laws[37] (adopted adult children have a right to opt for Italian citizenship after five years of legal residence in Italy from the date of adoption[38]).

Acquisition by Declaration

Foreigners or stateless persons descending from Italian citizens by birth within the second degree may obtain Italian citizenship by a voluntary declaration in the following situations: (a) performance of military services in the Italian Armed Forces;[39] (b) assumption of employment by the state, even when performed abroad;[40] and (c) residence in Italy for at least two continuous years after reaching the age of majority.[41]

Foreigners not descending from Italian citizens but born in the Italian territory and legally and continuously residing there from birth until the age of majority may also acquire Italian citizenship upon an express declaration.[42]

The foreign spouse of an Italian citizen may acquire Italian citizenship subject to the following requirements: (a) two years of legal residence after marriage (or three years if residing overseas),[43] with these periods reduced by half if the couple has children;[44] (b) a valid marriage and an ongoing conjugal relationship up to the time of acquisition of citizenship;[45] (c) no convictions in Italy for offenses punishable by three or more years of imprisonment, or convictions by foreign judicial authorities for nonpolitical crimes that carry a term of imprisonment exceeding one year;[46] (d) no convictions for various crimes against the state, such as attacks against the integrity, independence, or unity of the state, or treason, in Italy;[47] and (e) the absence of impediments concerning the security of the Republic.[48]


Legal residence in Italy is a requirement in order to obtain Italian citizenship by naturalization.  The following periods of residence are required: (a) three years for the foreign descendants of Italian citizens by birth up to the second degree, and for foreigners born in Italian territory;[49] (b) four years for European Union citizens;[50] (c) five years for adult foreigners adopted by Italian citizens,[51] stateless persons,[52] and refugees;[53] (d) seven years for persons related to an Italian citizen before the entry into force of Law 184 of May 4, 1983;[54] and (e) ten years for non-European citizens.[55]

No period of residence is required for foreigners who have rendered outstanding services to Italy, or when there is an exceptional interest of the Italian state.[56]

Recognition of Italian Citizenship Pursuant to Special Legislation

Law No. 379 of 2000[57] extends Italian citizenship to persons born and already resident in the territories of the former Austro-Hungarian Empire and their descendants, who must meet certain requirements.

Law No. 124 of 2006[58] relates to the recognition of Italian citizenship for nationals residing in the former Istria, Fiume, and Dalmatia between 1940 and 1947 who lost their Italian citizenship when these territories were ceded to the Republic of Yugoslavia under the Treaty of Paris (Trattato di Pace di Parigi) of February 10, 1947, and the Treaty of Osimo (Trattato di Osimo) of November 10, 1975, and their descendants.[59]

Dual Citizenship

The acquisition of a foreign citizenship does not cause the loss of Italian citizenship, unless the Italian citizen expressly renounces his Italian citizenship[60] without prejudice to international treaties.


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Immigration Management and Security

Governmental Structure

Border control is entrusted to the Border Police (Polizia di frontiera),[61] and for purposes of defining the scope of Border Police authority the term “border” encompasses all access and departure points into and out of the country, whether by land, air, or sea.[62] 

The Italian Ministry of the Interior (Ministero dell’Interno) is at the top of the political and administrative hierarchy for immigration and border management and security.  Subordinate agencies include the Department of Public Security (Dipartimento della Pubblica Sicurezza), to which the State Police (Polizia di Stato) is subordinated.  The Central Directorate of the Immigration and Border Police (Direzione Centrale della Polizia dell’Immigrazione e delle Frontiere)[63] is a part of the State Police, to which the Border Police (Polizia di frontiera), in turn, is subordinated.  The Clandestine Immigration Combat Service (Servizi di Contrasto all’Immigrazione Clandestina) utilizes the forces of the Border Police to fight illegal immigration—namely, the Land Border Police (Polizia di frontiera terrestre), Air Border Police (Polizia di frontiera aerea), and Maritime Border Police (Polizia di frontiera marittima).

The Ministry of the Interior, jointly with the Ministry of Foreign Affairs, may send officers of the State Police as experts to assist in Italian diplomatic and consular missions overseas.[64]

Italian Law on Border Management and Security

Law No. 189 of 2002 is the basic legislation on immigration enforcement in Italy.  It establishes cooperation with other states, particularly European Union states, as a fundamental pillar of immigration enforcement.[65]  Such cooperation focuses on the following areas: organized crime, human trafficking, prostitution, drug and weapons trafficking, judicial and prison matters, and the application of international norms related to navigation security.[66]

The Italian state may review the cooperation and assistance programs in force when the other states fail to take preventative and surveillance measures to avoid the illegal reentry into the Italian territory of expelled citizens.[67]

The monitoring of cooperative activities is entrusted to the Coordination and Monitoring Committee (Comitato per il coordinamento e il monitoraggio), which is presided over by the President of the Council of Ministers.[68]

Italian vessels with police powers that find a vessel in the territorial sea or the contiguous zone may stop and inspect such vessel if there are reasonable grounds to believe that it is used for or involved in the illegal transportation of migrants, and, if sufficient evidence confirms the suspicions, sequester the vessel and escort it to a government port.[69]  Military vessels may be used for such purposes.[70]


European Union Regulations and Policies Applicable to Italy

Italy is part of the Schengen Agreement, which creates one contiguous borderless area for twenty-six European countries.  These countries provide police and judicial cooperation to each other.[71]  Italy shares an internal border with Austria, which is also a Schengen member, and an external border with Croatia, which is not a Schengen member.  In addition, Italy is responsible for a large external maritime border.

Pursuant to the Schengen Agreement, which Italy ratified in 1993,[72] the Minister of the Interior, after consultation with the National Committee for Public Order and Security (Comitato nazionale per l’ordine e la sicurezza pubblica), is in charge of issuing the necessary measures for the unified coordination of the control over the maritime and land borders in Italy. The Minister of the Interior also promotes appropriate coordination measures among the Italian authorities with jurisdiction in matters of immigration control, and the European authorities competent in matters of immigration control.[73] The Parliamentary Committee for Monitoring the Implementation of the Schengen Agreement, for the Supervision of the Activities of Europol, and for the Control and Supervision on Immigration Matters, created by the Law of 1993 that approved the Schengen Agreement, is in charge of overseeing the implementation of all domestic legislation and international treaties applicable in Italy concerning immigration.[74]

For an in-depth discussion of the Schengen Agreement as it relates to immigration and border security, see the report, EU Schengen Area, below.

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Dante Figueroa
Senior Legal Information Analyst
March 2013


* At present there are no Law Library of Congress research staff members versed in Italian.  This report has been prepared by the author’s reliance on practiced legal research methods and on the basis of relevant legal resources in both English and Italian currently available in the Law Library and online.

[1] Constitution of the Italian Republic art. 117(b) (Apr. 2009), (English version published by the Parliamentary Information, Archives and Publications Office of the Senate Service for Official Reports and Communication).

[2] Most recently Council Directive 2009/50/EC of 25 May 2009 on the Conditions of Entry and Residence of Third-country Nationals for the Purposes of Highly Qualified Employment, 2009 O.J. (L 155) 17,

[3] Decreto legislativo 25 luglio 1998, no. 286, Testo unico delle disposizioni concernenti la disciplina dell’ immigrazione e norme sulla condizione dello straniero [Legislative Decree No. 286 of July 5, 1998, Consolidated Text of the Provisions Concerning the Field of Immigration and Rules on the Conditions of Foreigners] (hereinafter Testo unico),

[4] Id. art. 4.

[5] Id. art. 4(2).

[6] Id. art. 4(3)–(6), in conjunction with arts. 13–19.

[7] Id. art. 22(11).

[8] Id. art. 5(3-bis).

[9] Id. art. 5(3-quarter).

[10] Id. art. 3(4).

[11] Notizie [Notice], Ministero Dell’Interno, Decreto flussi stagionali 2012: disponibile l’applicativo per la compilazione delle domande [Decree on Seasonal Workflow: Application Forms Available] (Mar. 21, 2012),

[12] Testo unico art. 29.

[13] Id. art. 5(4)–(6).

[14] Id. art. 9.

[15] Id. art. 13(3)–(3-quater).

[16] Id. arts. 13(4), 14.

[17] Id. art. 13(3-quinquies).

[18] Id.

[19] Id. art. 12(1)–(3).

[20] Id. art. 12(1)–(3).

[21] Id. art 12(3-ter).

[22] Decreto Legislativo n. 30 di 6 febbraio 2007, Attuazione della direttiva 2004/38/CE relativa al diritto dei cittadini dell’Unione e dei loro familiari di circolare e di soggiornare liberamente nel territorio degli Stati membri [Legislative Decree No. 30 of February 6, 2007, Implementation of Directive 2004/38/CE Related to the Right of European Citizens and Their Relatives to Freely Circulate in the Territory of the Member States], G.U. No. 72, Mar. 27, 2007,;30.

[23] Directive 2004/38/EC of the European Parliament and of the Council of 29 April 2004, on the Right of Citizens of the Union and Their Family Members to Move and Reside Freely Within the Territory of the Member States, Amending Regulation (EEC) No. 1612/68 and Repealing Directives 64/221/EEC, 68/360/EEC, 72/194/EEC, 73/148/EEC, 75/34/EEC, 75/35/EEC, 90/364/EEC, 90/365/EEC, and 93/96/EEC, 2004 O.J. (L 158) 77,

[24] Legislative Decree No. 30 of 2007, art. 3(1).

[25] Id. art. 14(1).

[26] Id. art. 14(4).

[27] Legge 5 febbraio 1992, n. 91 Nuove norme sulla cittadinanza [Law No. 91 of February 5, 1992, New Rules on Citizenship], G.U. No. 38, Feb. 15, 1992, up-to-date version at

[28] 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,;572!vig.

[29] 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,

[30] See Cittadinanza [Citizenship], Ministero degli Affari Esteri, (last visited Feb. 11, 2013).

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

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

[33] Id. art. 1(1)(b).

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

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

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

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

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

[39] Id. art 4(1)(a).

[40] Id. art. 4(1)(b).

[41] Id. art. 4(1)(c).

[42] Id. arts. 2(1) & 4(2).

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

[44] Id. art. 5(2).

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

[46] Id. art. 6(1)(b).

[47] Id. art. 6(1)(a) (citing Penal Code bk. 2, tit. I, chs. 1–3).

[48] Id. art. 6(1)(c).

[49] Id. art. 9(1)(a).

[50] Id. art. 9(1)(d).

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

[52] Id. art. 9(1)(e).

[53] Id. art. 16(2).

[54] Law No. 91 of 1992, art. 21 and Legge 4 maggio 1983, n. 184, Diritto del minore ad una famiglia [Law No. 184 of May 4, 1983, on the Right of Minors of a Family], G.U. No. 133, May 17, 1983,;184!vig.

[55] Decree No. 362 of 1994; Law No. 91 of 1992 art. 9(1)(f).

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

[57] Legge 14 dicembre 2000, n. 379 Disposizioni per il riconoscimento della cittadinanza italiana alle persone nate e gia’ residenti nei territori appartenuti all’Impero austro-ungarico e ai loro discendenti [Law No. 379 of December 14, 2000, Provisions for the Recognition of Italian Citizenship by Persons Born in and Already Residents of the Territories Belonging to the Austro-Hungarian Empire, and Their Descendents], G.U. No. 295, Dec. 19, 2000,;379.

[58] Legge 8 marzo 2006, n. 124 Modifiche alla legge 5 febbraio 1992, n. 91, concernenti il riconoscimento della cittadinanza italiana ai connazionali dell’Istria, di Fiume e della Dalmazia e ai loro discendenti [Law No. 124 of March 8, 2006, Amending Law No. 91 of February 5, 1992, Concerning the Recognition of Italian Citizenship for Nationals of Istria, Fiume, and Dalmatia, and their Descendants], G.U. No. 73, Mar. 28, 2006,;124.

[59] Law No. 91 of 1992, art. 17-bis.

[60] Id. art. 11(1).

[61] La polizia di frontera [The Border Police], Polizia di Stato, (last visited Mar. 21, 2013).

[62] Id.

[63] Legge 30 luglio 2002, n. 189 Modifica alla normative di immigrazione e di asilo [Law No. 189 of July 30, 2002, Amending the Law on Immigration and Asylum] art. 35(1), G.U. No. 199, Aug. 26, 2002,;189!vig.

[64] Id. art. 36(1).

[65] Id. art. 1.

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

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

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

[69] Id. art. 11(1)(d)(9-bis).

[70] Id. art. 11(1)(d)(9-ter).

[71] The Schengen acquis—Convention Implementing the Schengen Agreement Between the Governments of the States of the Benelux Economic Union, the Federal Republic of Germany and the French Republic on the Gradual Abolition of Checks at Their Common Borders (hereinafter Implementing Convention), 2000 O.J. (L 239) 19, as amended,  The following materials discuss the existing policies concerning the management of the external borders of the European Union: Management of the External Borders, European Parliament (July 2008),; Istituto Affari Internazionali, L’Unione europea e la politica di sicurezza e di difesa comune: elementi [The European Union and the Common Security and Defense Policy: Elements] (Apr. 4, 2012),; Organization for Security and Co-operation in Europe (OSCE), Strategia dell’OSCE per far fronte alle minacce alla sicurezza e alla stabilità nel ventunesimo secolo [The Strategy of the OSCE for Confronting Threats to Security and Stability in the Twenty-first Century], (last visited Mar. 21, 2013); Alessandro Alessandroni & Carla Simonetti, Le tecnologie biometriche per il controllo delle frontiere nell’Unione Europea [Biometric Technology for Border Control in the European Union] (Agenzie Per L’Italia Digitale, 2005),

[72] Legge 30 settembre 1993, n. 388 Ratifica ed esecuzione: a) del protocollo di adesione del Governo della Repubblica italiana all’accordo di Schengen del 14 giugno 1985 [Law No. 388 of September 30, 1993, Ratification and Implementation of: a) the Protocol of Adhesion of the Government of the Italian Republic to the Schengen Agreement of June 14, 1985 . . .], G.U. No. 232, Oct. 2, 1993,;388.

[73] Law No. 189 of 2002, art. 10(1-bis).

[74] Id. art. 37(1).

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Last Updated: 12/30/2020