Tuesday, October 2, 2012
"Right of Return": Citizenship by Descent
Each country sets its own requirements and restrictions for citizenship through right of return, as they do with normal citizenship requirements. For Italy, for example, you can apply if your great-grandparent, grandparent, or parent was born in Italy and did not renounce citizenship before a more recent ancestor was born in another country. I recently helped someone with his application for Italian citizenship using this method. His great-grandfather was born in Italy and did not give up Italian citizenship before his grandfather was born in the U.S. I researched and confirmed the family connections, ordered copies of the relevant required documents, arranged for a translation of my client's birth certificate into Italian, and acquired an apostille (international certification similar in function to a notarization) for his birth certificate. He submitted his application to the local Italian consulate, which approved it with no problems. It will take about five months for the application to be processed, and he will then have dual citizenship, U.S. and Italy.
What's the point of doing this? Some people do it because they want to be more closely connected to their ancestral homelands. On a more practical level, some (such as my client) do it because Italian citizenship not only will allow him to travel freely to Italy, it also permits free travel throughout the European Union.
Most of the time citizenship acquired through right of return is equivalent to full citizenship of the country. One country that does it differently is India. Instead of granting citizenship, that country gives descendants of the Indian diaspora status as "Persons of Indian Origin." This status allows someone to go to India without a visa, exempts him from restrictions on work for foreign nationals, and makes it easier to become a full citizen if desired. (Maybe one day my stepsons will be interested; their grandfather was born in Punjab.)
Sometimes a person looking for citizenship through right of return is disappointed. Someone else I did research for was not eligible for Italian citizenship because his great-grandfather became a naturalized U.S. citizen before his grandfather was born. In an interesting twist, descendants of the grandfather's older brother are eligible, because the older brother was born before the great-grandfather renounced Italian citizenship.
General information about right of return can be found here, with examples from several countries. One I found especially interesting was Spain, which has a specific provision for descandants of Sephardic Jews who were expelled from the country in 1492 (which will require a lot of research to document!). If the country you are looking for doesn't appear in this list, try searching for "right of return" and the name of the country.