Exclusive (but anonymous) interview with an Italian Consulate Citizenship Officer

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Recently DIY Italian Citizenship teamed up with Avepally and managed to score some inside information from an anonymous Italian Citizenship officer currently posted at a consulate located in the USA. We wanted to get this information as soon as possible to you, so we decided to conduct the interview anonymously rather than going through the official channels of making a formal request to the embassy and submitting press credentials. So as the interview was not a formal interview the while anonymity factor comes into play. 

#1: How does one become an officer for the Italian Consulate? 

Consular Officers are Italian civil servants appointed by the Italian Department of Foreign Affairs and posted for up to five years to an Embassy or Consulate within the Italian worldwide consular/diplomatic network.Applicants must hold a permanent staff position within the Department. Therefore, you first need to look at having a career within the Ministry of Foreign Affairs. It is only once your employment with them has become full-time, and after you have worked a number of years at the Headquarters in Rome, that you can apply for a consular posting abroad. After two consecutive postings, you have to go back to Headquarters. You would be able to apply again after two additional years of serving in Rome. Locally hired staff members working at the consulate are not “Consular Officers” although they are sometimes required to attend to the very same duties, as their skill level permits. The local staff are hired by what we call a “concorso” (a kind of public competition based on school education, skills, experience and test results taken by the applicants before final selection).

#2: What would an average workday look like at the Consulate?

Every consulate is different! Typically, consulates offer a range of services which, back in the home country, are provided by a set of different offices. Unfortunately these days, all the Italian consulates around the world are subject to the same set of problems: budget cuts which results in a reduced workforce; new laws passed by Parliament that tack on additional duties to Consulates; most consulates are therefore understaffed and overworked. In most of the Italian consulates located in the US, you work in a very hectic and sometimes even chaotic environment. A typical work day consists of replying to emails, mail and any other official government messages received in the early morning, followed by a mid-morning/early afternoon reception of the public whose needs vary from passports, citizenship, visas, vital record registrations, banns of marriage, marriage, notarial documents, fiscal documents, pensions and much more. After our lunch break, we dedicate the afternoon/early evening to the processing of the applications received at the counter or by mail. The afternoon is also the only time we are allowed to answer phone calls, which means some officers are continuously on the phone answering (quite literally) all kinds of questions. In spite of all the rumors that have been circulating in the outside world, our workdays are very long and hard; unpaid extra time is quite common for all officers around the world.

#3: How busy is the Citizenship office? How many citizenship applicants do you process a year?

Very busy! The Applicants are many and the consular officers who process them are but a few. On average consulates in the US schedule about 10 applicants a day, 4 to 5 days a week. Although about 20% of the applicants scheduled don’t show-up, it is still some 2,150 applications scrutinized every year by a Consulate.

#4: Have you noticed an increase in interest in Italian citizenship since you started?

The interest has always been very high. I have noticed this in all of my previous postings too. Especially In countries where Italian immigration has been strong, there are a huge number of descendants of Italian emigrants interested in gaining Italian Citizenship. The personal reasons for gaining dual citizenship are many: some are just proud of their Italian roots, some have a genuine love for the culture, some even plan to actually move to Italy as soon as they get their Italian passports. However, there are also those whose primary motivation is to seize the opportunity to have an EU passport, with which comes the freedom to live and work in most European countries without limitations. Some American citizens also feel safer when visiting certain countries on an EU passport rather than on their US passport. The big demand for dual citizenship is certainly encouraged by the “generosity” of the Italian law that allows an individual to claim citizenship from ancestors that left Italy a long time ago, even if the generations in between never claimed citizenship for themselves. Third or fourth generation descendants can still claim citizenship if they can prove their eligibility. You can go as far back as 1861, the year the Kingdom of Italy was founded. In the aftermath of the latest US Presidential elections, there was an increased number of concerned individuals that flooded our email system to check if they could in some way expedite their appointments. However, the phenomenon subdued after a few weeks.

#5: Has anything about the law, as it presently stands, surprised you since you started processing jure sanguinisapplications?

The law allows people, who have never been to Italy and would probably never go, to become documented citizens and therefore electors. Most do not speak the language and have but a vague idea of the country. Some are only interested in getting an EU passport that will allow them to travel freely to most destinations. Applicants sometimes do not even have an interest in Italy, its politics, economy, culture. It is a case of representation without taxation! At the same time, you have nowadays a huge number of Italian born and Italian raised young people that live in Italy, attended Italian schools, speak the language, work and pay taxes but are not citizens, because their parents are not citizens. Second-generation children of migrants have no citizenship rights, no voting rights and have to present themselves to the Police Office on a regular basis to renew their residency permits. This is a case of taxation without representation. Ethically, it does not seem right that people who do not reside in Italy have easy access to citizenship while people who do reside, work and pay taxes in the country are denied the same rights. I say this not in my capacity as a consular officer but as a citizen of Italy. These are my personal views based on my own human experiences. However I do not let my ideas interfere with my job, I am bound to respect and apply the law as it is written, even if I do not agree with some of its aspects.

#6: What do you look for when you evaluate an application?

The scrutiny is based solely on the documentation provided. There is not a “personal evaluation” of the case by the officer. Citizenship rights are based on a blood-line, which must be proved by official documentation. The applicant is there not to be interviewed or scrutinized in any way, only to submit the required paperwork and provide any needed clarifications in relation to their “family tree”. Whenever the officer spots problems (inconsistencies or mismatching information in the documents) he/she will ask the applicant to clarify, as best as possible, the reason there are discrepancies in the presented paperwork.

The first and most important information we look for is the citizenship history of the applicant’s Italian-born ancestor through whose line the applicant is claiming citizenship. We need to make sure that the Italian-born ancestor:

(a) was an Italian citizen at the time he/she left Italy;
(b) never become a citizen of the US (or another foreign country that he/she migrated to before coming to the US) or that he/she became a US citizen only after the birth of the next person in the line of theapplicant’s descent.

When those two conditions are met (with some exclusions defined by law), the applicant is eligible, as long as they can prove to be a true descendant in that direct blood-line.

Unfortunately naturalization records in the United States have not always been well kept. This is why, when the Italian-born ancestor died before 1940, we proceed cautiously and sometimes require additional documentation, such as a US census. Once we have determined the applicant’s eligibility, we examine the rest of the documentation more closely to make sure the applicant is truly a descendant in that line and that all the required documents have been properly submitted and are in good order.

The process is sometimes jeopardized by mismatching information on the documents, especially when names are drastically different in the various certificates. Immigrants to the US tended to change names frequently, anglicizing both first names and last names or adopting married names. In the Italian law, the name on the birth certificate constitutes the lifelong identification of a person. All subsequent documents (certificates, IDs, school degrees, etc.) are based on the name as it is recorded on the birth certificate. That other cultures make it so easy to change one’s identity is somewhat difficult to understand in the Italian culture. When changes have profoundly altered an identity, it might prove arduous to complete the process.

#7: Do you have advice for the applicant in terms of their application? Is there anything applicants should avoid doing or is there something that you wish more would start doing?

First advice: given the present superabundance of requests for dual citizenship and the consulate’s shortage of staff, book your appointment well in advance, don’t wait until your documentation is all gathered before scheduling your appointment or you will end-up with a bunch of papers sitting on your desk for many months in addition to the time you dedicated to put your documentation together.

Second advice: do not wait until a few days before your appointment to check the consulate’s requirements, only to discover that you do not have the proper documents. Work on your documentation well in advance, read up on things like what is an Apostille and how to get one from the various States in the US, download the citizenship application instructions found on the Consulates’ official websites and make sure you have everything listed on those pages.

Third advice: if a few days before your appointment you realize that you do not have all the required documents or you do have them but they are not properly legalized or translated, do not cancel your appointment: come to see us anyway. In this way, we can still check if you are eligible and, if you are, we will give you a list of documents to be produced to complete your application. You will be allowed up to 6 months to put together and deliver the missing documents. If you do not show-up to your appointment, you will then have to schedule a new one and perhaps wait another 2 years before you can see an officer.

Forth advice: when working on your documentation, focus first on your Italian-born ancestor. Make sure you have strong evidence of his/her citizenship history. If you come to your appointment with all documents but no proof about your ancestor’s US naturalization (or no-naturalization), you are wasting your money because we will not be able to tell you whether you are eligible or not.

Fifth advice: when you email or call the consulates avoid asking broad questions (i.e. “how do I get dual citizenship”, “what is the process for citizenship”, “what documents do I need”). Citizenship by descent is very complex, it is difficult and sometimes frustrating on both sides to discuss it in such general terms over the phone or via email. It is far more productive to first check all information available online, understand the process, then narrow your questions to a list of very technical, practical, specific items.

#8: Can you describe how you advise applicants to address name discrepancies in their application?

It is difficult to say, as there is an almost infinite set of variations. Firstly: how important is the discrepancy? Minor discrepancies are not taken into consideration, as long as we are sure that we are looking at the same person over various documents. Some of the documents must be filed with the Consulates but not sent to Italy for registration. In this case, it might not be necessary to amend the certificates. The biggest problems emerge when the discrepancies are serious, therefore affecting the applicant’s capability to prove his or her case. Also: it is important that any document going to Italy for registration have no discrepancies or inconsistencies of any kind. In any case, when an application cannot proceed due to discrepancies, the officer will indicate to the applicant how the documents need to be amended. It is honestly difficult for us to give suggestions on how to fix documentation as we see the various US government offices handling this problem in different ways, sometimes even within the same department.

#9: Can you tell us what happens to the application after it is accepted? i.e.: what steps take place from the date of presentation until the attestation of recognition of citizenship is signed?

Scenario n. 1: the applicant is eligible but the vast majority of documentation is missing or not in proper order.

A personal file is started with the applicant’s name but all the documents are returned to the applicant. The applicant is then given a form listing all the documents that need to be collected and delivered to the Consulate. The file then sits in archives without undergoing a review until the missing documents arrive and the application is marked as complete.

Scenario n. 2: the applicant is eligible and his/her documents are all mostly OK but some additional documentation is still required or a particular document is not in good order.

A personal file for the applicant is created and the “good” documents are safely stored there. The applicant is also given a form listing the additional documents to be delivered to the Consulate. The file then goes to archives and it is not reviewed until the applicant sends the remaining documents.

Scenario n. 3: the applicant is eligible and documentation is complete.

A personal file is started, all documents and forms are safely filed and stored in their individual file. The file is kept by the office and put in the work queue for processing.

These applications are worked on every day, in the chronological order they have been acquired by the office, from oldest to newest. Due to the large number of applications, it will take months before the application is examined.

Processing an individual application involves a few steps:

  • the documentation is checked again to make sure everything is there, in good order, eligibility of the applicant cannot be challenged, etc.
  • All translations are checked and stamped as “complete and true to the original”, and signed off on by the officer. Wherever a translation is not satisfactory, it will be corrected or even redone by the officer before it can be certified.
  • Explanatory notes for each annexed certificate are prepared.
  • A statement (Attestato or Attestazione) is drafted. This is where it is explained why and how the applicant is eligible for Italian citizen. The name of the Italian-born ancestor is indicated here as well as the names of the ascendants through which citizenship has been passed down to the next generations up to the applicant and his/her off-spring. The relevant laws according to which the applicant is eligible are cited. The “Attestato”, like a court order, is the official document conferring the recognition of citizenship status upon the applicant and it must be signed by the Consul General or by a high ranking consular officer appointed by the Consul General.
  • After it is signed, the entire documentation is scanned into an electronic file, then encrypted with a digital signature.
  • The file is sent via Electronic Certified Mail to the “Comune” (Municipal Offices) of the Italian city or town where the Italian-born ancestor resided at the time of his/her emigration. This is the city of registration as far as that applicant is concerned: in due course all of the applicant’s vital records will be recorded in the registries of the local Vital Record’s Office, as if he/she were a resident of this place.
  • A letter is sent to the applicant confirming that they are now a recognized citizen and can apply for an Italian passport.

#10: What is the most complicated application you have seen?

All applications have some level of difficulty. A basic principle of all citizenship laws across the world is that such laws are never retroactive, they only apply from the day they have been passed to the day they are replaced by another law. This means that most countries have a stratification of laws and government decrees that deal with citizenship. Such laws have been valid perhaps for a number of years, or decades. When an application is checked, all facts must be checked against the laws in force at the time the events in question happened. The most fascinating case I came across happened many years ago, while serving in another country. It involved a lady whose parents were Jews born in Libya at the time the country was under Italian colonial rule. With Gheddafi’s revolution, her parents were displaced and arrived in Sicily as refugees. They soon moved to Israel from Sicily, became Israeli citizens, got married, and then migrated again to the country where I was posted as a consular officer. The applicant in question was born a citizen of that country Ius Soli.

When this lady walked into my office, my first reaction was: ”why would you be an Italian citizen, you do not have any Italian ancestors”. She insisted that her mother was granted Italian citizenship at the time she still lived in occupied Libya. I had to investigate this claim further and asked the applicant to allow me a few weeks to sort this out. I quickly discovered that, under Mussolini’s rule, Libyan born people were granted Italian citizenship by decree. This was due to the regime’s strategy to “Make Italy strong”, or appear to be strong through colonization, which inflated the numbers of the Italian population (luckily this plan did not work, but it unfortunately still caused an enormous amount of suffering to various populations and left behind ruins, millions of deaths, refugees, displaced persons…). Going ahead in my search, I came across her mother’s records all properly registered in the Sicilian town where the refugee camp had been settled. I could not believe it. Apparently, the local officers had been very efficient and went to the trouble of registering in their books the small population of refugees that was not even meant to remain in that spot but for a few months.

I then went on checking if, by becoming a citizen of Israel, the applicant’s mother had lost Italian citizenship. This was a most intriguing question as Israel, since its foundation, had passed the so called “Law of return”. Under such law, any Jew that would choose to live in Israel was automatically granted Israeli citizenship. Was this a case of voluntarily becoming naturalized? Or was this a case of automatic acquisition, not a choice of the individual, as citizenship was imposed by the law of the country? Was the mother aware that by simply moving to Israel she would have become a citizen? Was her move an uncontested manifestation of the will to become a citizen of Israel? Was the move even really a choice at all for a refugee, or was she just sent to Israel as a result of government policies in place to deal with Libyan refugees? It took me several weeks of investigations to sort-this out. After talking with colleagues in Tel Aviv and Israeli consular officers in the country I was working at the time, I concluded that the mother after-all had remained an Italian citizen even after moving to Israel. She had lost it only by acquiring the citizenship of the last country she migrated to, but this did not happen until the applicant I was working with was born. Happy end: after months of investigations the applicant ended-up with an Italian passport and she now very happily lives in Italy, her life-dream-came-true.

Not all cases have a happy ending though. Some very complicated cases that I remember regard applicants that claimed citizenship through ancestors that were born in the ex-Yugoslavian territories contested by Italy, such as Istria and Dalmatia. I especially remember a first generation applicant with Trieste-born parents. I thoroughly studied her case and the applicable laws and was absolutely and genuinely convinced that she was eligible. However, the City of Trieste rejected her application, based on a different interpretation of the law. The City had the last word on it (at that stage the case could only be contested in a Court of Law, this particular applicant was too young and not wealthy enough to go through the expense of pursuing a legal battle). That case made me more aware of the complexity of the subject. Some laws have loopholes and leave the door open for different interpretations. This was an example of a very distressed applicant that ended-up without citizenship in spite of working very hard on her documentation. It made me sad because she was genuinely interested, proud to be Italian and with a good knowledge of the language. On top of it, I gave her false hopes.

#11: Is the attestation written up by you and signed by the Console or does the Console himself/herself make the call as to who possesses Italian citizenship jure sanguinis?

The attestation in written by the citizenship officer but then signed by the Consul General or by someone specifically appointed by the Consul General. Of course, whoever has to sign the attestation may check the the attached file and/or question the officer to get a better understanding on why the applicant possesses the right to be recognized an Italian citizen. However this only happens with the more complex cases.

#12: Why does the Consulate keep applicant’s original documents?

We are bound by the current Italian Law in force to file and keep forever all original documents. This has been in place since the foundation of the Kingdom of Italy and it has never been challenged, neither when Italy became a Republic (1948), nor with the different changes in citizenship or vital record laws. It is founded on the idea that, since citizenship rights are fundamental and are based on documentation, it is important that such documental evidence is always available to the Government. Documents remain available for future applicants but also to check the eligibility of a past applicant if it is ever disputed. There have been few cases of citizenship given by mistake, due to an incorrect assessment or, worse, to fraudulent documentation submitted (I am not talking specifically of the US here). When an authority disputes the right to citizenship of a person, subsequent checks are based on the documentation originally submitted and filed. Citizenship rights can be stripped-away by decree if it is verified that the original assessment was incorrect or the submitted documentation is proven to be fraudulent. In such cases, the citizen is required to surrender his/her Italian passport. This only happens after a complex process of verification has been completed with proper notification to the interested party. The decision can be appealed in Court.

#13: Where and how long are documents stored at the Consulate?

Consulates file all documents received in folders progressively numbered and stored in the Consulate’s archives. Each number is linked to a “family” i.e. an individual or group of related individuals all living at the same address. The most important documents are stored forever. A Government project to digitalize all documents for electronic storage is being slowly implemented but I am not aware if the originals are then destroyed or simply just stored in another safe location, although I suppose the latter is more probable.

#14: Has the Consulate ever considered amazon-prime-style tracking information for jure sanguinisapplications?

Consulates are branches of the government, subject to ministerial screening. I am not talking about Italian consulates only, as far as I know this is valid for all countries. Consulates are not usually permitted to take independent action on how to conduct consular business or how to apply the law. As far as Italy is concerned, the application of Citizenship laws is the primary responsibility of the Ministry of Internal Affairs. Since Consulates are under the Ministry of Foreign Affairs, there is a continuous cooperation and exchange of information amongst the two ministries. In carrying out our duties, we conform to the instructions and recommendations issued by the Ministerial offices that are channeled to us by our headquarters in Rome.

#15: Do you think that the Italian consulates in the USA will go digital and offer things like an electronic Carta d’Identità?

In spite of appearances, we have already taken a big step towards digitalization. All government communications both ways are electronic, all documents are sent in digital format, not a single paper letter is sent to or received from Italy. Italian Consulates have the technology to issue electronic passports with microchip, visas, Tax File Numbers, etc. AIRE registration and other services are being made electronic with the introduction of the SECOLI Portal (SECOLI stands for Servizi Consolari Online – Consular Services Online). Most Italian Consulates in Europe already issue the electronic carta d’Identità.

I am not aware if the facilities will be introduced in Consulates outside of Europe. It is a very costly program, machines have to be shipped from Italy and regularly maintained. Since the Carta d’Identità is not a valid travel document, nor a recognized ID outside the EU, it is understandably not a priority.

#16: How does the Consulate view applicants who fly to Italy and establish temporary residence there just to apply for citizenship?

It shouldn’t happen: a citizenship application must be lodged in the place of residency. Establishing temporary residence for the sole purpose of gaining citizenship is wrong and should not be accepted. As far as I know, some investigation is taking place by local prosecutors and it may lead to uncovering some dirty business. Besides, local officers in small Italian towns have but a vague knowledge of US issued documents and can easily make errors in the evaluation process, especially with regards to naturalization paperwork, which is paramount in deciding if the applicant is eligible.

#17: Can you tell us what sort of documentation the Comune sends you when they ask for the non rinuncia certificate?

All communications happen via PEC (Electronic Certified Mail). In most cases, the Comune will not send any documentation. Just a request.

#18: Do you play any part in helping the Stato Civile Clerk assess the applicant’s eligibility?

No, unless explicitly required, which seldom happens.

#19: Has it ever happened that an applicant was denied because an ancestor appeared in the renunciation registry?

I don’t have an answer to that question. It could have happened here or somewhere else but not to my direct knowledge. By law, all those who became naturalized before September 1992 have lost Italian citizenship. When we locate their naturalization certificates, we do send them to Italy and their loss of citizenship is registered.

However, I have never come across an applicant’s ancestor that explicitly renounced citizenship in writing at any consulate I have been working at. This seems to be more of a modern phenomenon in the USA: nowadays, while many are working hard to become Italian citizens, some dual citizens come to the consulate to renounce their Italian citizenship. They do so mostly for career reasons: the US government prohibits dual citizens to run for office or work in the army. These voluntary renunciations of citizenship rights make me sad.

#20: Some applicants are very happy by the service they receive and want to express their gratitude to the consular worker, what would be an appropriate way to do so? Are gifts allowed?

An appreciative email is as much as we need. It makes us feel great and allows us to go ahead with our job in good spirit!

#21: Is there any way for applicants to provide constructive feedback to the Consulate?

All constructive criticisms and suggestions are appreciated. Again: the email is the best way to communicate with us. Officers are in fact not allowed to be part of any social network community as far as their consular duties are concerned. Understandably so!

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