Tuesday, October 2, 2012

"Right of Return": Citizenship by Descent

Was your grandmother or great-grandfather born in Italy?  Was your grandfather born in Ireland?  Or maybe your mother or grandfather (even up to a great-great-grandfather) was born in India.  These are some of the countries that allow descendants of their diasporas (citizens and/or residents who left the country to live somewhere else, voluntarily or sometimes otherwise) to apply for citizenship under less stringent requirements than the average person.

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.

25 comments:

  1. An informative article was posted online about this very subject a few days ago:

    http://www.area-info.net/articles/show.php?cty=&st=&article_id=3185&t=Jus_Sanguinis_Or_Jus_Soli_%20_Are_You_A_Candidate_For_Dual_Citizenship?&goback=.gde_3836116_member_180134803

    (Ignore the part at the end where the authors says the company can "help you complete your family tree"; we all know family trees are never done!)

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  2. Do you know anything about an exception for Italian citizenship for Jews who were forced to leave by decree in Nov. 1939? My father was born in Italy but had to leave, and in 1945 he became a naturalized U.S. citizen. My eldest sibling was born in 1952, so according to the basic citizenship requirements, we wouldn't be eligible. I thought I read there was an exception for those forced to leave the country but now can't find where I read that.

    Thanks so much for any information.

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    1. None of the information I have seen refers to people who were forced to leave, so I can't point you to anything. You can send a message to the San Francisco consulate, which is the one I was working with, at cittadinanza.sanfrancisco@esteri.it. The person there was very helpful and informative.

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  3. Thank you, Janice. You have a wonderful blog, which I've only begun to dig into.

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    1. You are very welcome! Always feel free to ask questions. I will help as best I can.

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  4. Hello Jenice,

    My mother was born at Libya at 1963 and was banished to Italy at 1967.
    She know jews back than had some sort of colonial citizenship by Italian authorities in Libya, but she does not remember if her parents had to.
    Anyway let's say they did, do you know if that gives her the rights for an Italian citizenship nowadays?

    Any respond will be much appreciated,
    Sincerely yours,
    Jon.

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    1. Hello, Jon,
      If your grandparents were Italian citizens when your mother was born, then that should give her the right to apply for citizenship. There's a good write-up on Italian citizenship through descent at
      http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Italian_nationality_law#Attribution_of_citizenship_through_jus_sanguinis
      but it doesn't cover every detail. Libya is not mentioned at all. The best thing to do is speak to someone at the nearest consulate, because that's where the application would be submitted.
      Best of luck with your search,
      Janice

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  5. Can i do it for" Deutschland"?i speak very well deutsch i also still have my teutonic deutsch last name "SCHNEIDER" my great grand father fled to the U.S. V.I which belong to denmark at one point.. he was a schutzstaffel an fled nürnberg trials.. My family fought for both ww1 and 2 for deutschland.. everything i read basically already makes me qualified its just idk the next step to take. i called a deutsch embassy in miami by doesnt talk about Jus sanguinis or right of return. i also had a deutsch foreign exchange student and also said im deutsch. he said my last name helps alot. but please i just need to know whats my next step to do? call deutschland itself? and will they look up documents aswell or i must bring?P.S. im the 1st generation born in the 50 states and my dad and his dad born in the U.S.V.I which belong to denmark at one time. the rest of my family great great great great are deutsch..

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    1. Based on the research I did last year for someone, I don't think so. You can find an overview of German citizenship law at http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/German_citizenship. In particular, Article 116 of German Basic Law (http://www.iuscomp.org/gla/statutes/GG.htm#116) defines who is a German. Someone who fought for Germany in World War II and fled the trials does not appear to qualify.

      The Danish Virgin Islands were purchased by the United States during World War I, so that means you had three generations living under U.S. law, and two born under it, even before you were born in the United States proper.

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  6. Hi Janice, I really want to go traveling through europe and maybe spend a year or two studying there, so I've been looking into my ancestry to see if i'm eligible for any dual citizenship but its really really confusing!
    My Great Grandfather had Lithuanian citizenship before June 1940 and fled to scotland around 1930 because of the impending war, apparently this means I could be one of the few eligible for dual Lithuanian citizenship which it normally does not grant. However, the laws have changed a lot recently and I'm unsure whether he had to leave after 1940.
    Also both my grandparents were born in Britain one in Scotland the other in Northern Ireland they then neutralised in Australia, do I have any citizenship eligibility or is it just my mother that can apply?

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    1. Hi, everyone's situation is different, and you'll need to prove every fact with documentation. For the past few months I've been helping someone track down documentation for his application for Lithuanian dual citizenship. These are links to the regulations he has been working from:

      The "Law on Citizenship" in English from what I believe is a Lithuanian Parliament Web site:
      http://www3.lrs.lt/pls/inter3/dokpaieska.showdoc_l?p_id=395555

      The "Dual Citizenship" write-up from the Lithuanian Consulate in New York site:
      http://ny.mfa.lt/index.php?2683697254

      It would appear that you could be eligible. You might want to contact a consulate near you and ask for advice.

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  7. Hello Janice!

    I have a very similar situation as the Italian descent person that you helped. My great grandfather on my mother's father's side was born in Italy. However, he became a naturalized citizen of the United States before my grandfather was born. Do you believe I am eligible to become an Italian citizen?

    Thank you for your help!

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    1. Hello, Jedd!

      If your Italian great-grandfather became a U.S. citizen before your grandfather was born, sorry, but you are not eligible for Italian citizenship through him. You would only be eligible if your grandfather were born before your great-grandfather renounced his Italian citizenship.

      Janice

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  8. Hi Janice-
    I'm living in Germany now under the SOFA agreement but my ancestors (at least one uncle on my mothers side) lived in Germany before and during WW2. Would this help qualify me for right of return in Germany?
    Thanks!

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    1. Hi, Elizabeth,

      Based on my understanding of eligibility, I don't think so. It appeared to me that you need to be a direct descendant. You can find an overview of German citizenship law at http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/German_citizenship. In particular, Article 116 of German Basic Law (http://www.iuscomp.org/gla/statutes/GG.htm#116) defines who is a German. But you should definitely check with a consulate near you to make sure
      Janice

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  9. Hi Janice,
    I am currently looking into getting Italian dual citizenship. I am not certain but I am pretty sure my grandparents were naturalized before my mother was born but a friend said there might be a glimmer of hope because my grandfather served in the Italian armed forces. Is that true?
    Thanks for all that you do!
    Sincerely,
    Betty

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    Replies
    1. Hi, Betty,

      As far as I understand the process, and according to the information I have found, I don't think so. You can look at the information here:

      http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Italian_nationality_law#Attribution_of_citizenship_through_jus_sanguinis

      (and check the references at the bottom of the page) and here:

      http://www.italiancitizenship.info/index.php?option=com_content&view=article&id=65:determine-your-italian-citizenship-eligibility-jure-sanguinis&catid=38:eligibility-jure-sanguinis

      They all seem pretty clear that if your grandparent naturalized before your parent was born, you are not eligible. But you can always ask at the Italian consulate nearest to where you live to find out if exceptions can be made for men who served in Italy's armed forces.

      Good luck with your quest!

      Janice

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  10. Fascinating blog! Is there anything on right of return in Austria? My grandfather had to flee the Nazis in 1938.

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    1. Thank you! Generally speaking Austria seems to allow children of citizens to become citizens fairly easily. If it's through your grandfather you might need to go through additional steps, particularly depending on what his citizenship status was at the time. There's a quick breakdown of information here:

      http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Austrian_citizenship

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  11. Hi there,
    What if there is clear documentation and I have ancestors buried in Westminsters.Abbey? Could I apply for citizenship to England?

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    1. Well, you can't apply for citizenship to England, because the United Kingdom is the name of the governing country. But how many generations back was your most recent ancestor who was a citizen of England and/or the UK?

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  12. Greetings from the USA! Is there such a thing as "right of return" for people of Dutch heritage for the Netherlands or Swiss heritage for Switzerland? I checked your link so my guess is no but you may know something more?

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    1. The Wikipedia page about general right of return does not refer to either the Netherlands or Switzerland. There is an overview of nationality law for each of the countries, though:

      https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Dutch_nationality_law
      https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Swiss_nationality_law

      The Netherlands page does not mention anything about right of return. The Switzerland page notes that second- and third-generation descendants of citizens of the Canton of Vaud can obtain citizenship more easily, but one of the requirements is that the person be between the ages of 18 and 24.

      Keep in mind these Wikipedia pages are overviews. For more details and to find out if there is some form of right of return that isn't listed, it's always best to contact a consulate or embassy.

      Good luck!

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  13. I was born in England and moved to U.S where I became a U.S citizen. I am now needing to return to England to help support my elderly parents. Can I do this, and what is the process?

    Thanks,
    TA

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    Replies
    1. According to this information on the Wikipedia page about British nationality law:

      http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/British_nationality_law#Renunciation_and_resumption_of_British_nationality

      unless you officially renounced your British citizenship through the UK Border Agency, you are still a British citizen. I recommend you check with your nearest consulate about what your status currently is and resumption of your citizenship if necessary.

      Janice

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