Italy

Italy’s record on accession to relevant human rights instruments is relatively good, although it has not acceded to the European Convention on Nationality and it retains a reservation to the 1954 Convention. Some data on people recognised as stateless residing in Italy is publicly available, but the stateless population has not been comprehensively mapped and figures on stateless refugees and detainees are not routinely published. The Italian system provides two possibilities for determining statelessness: an administrative procedure and a judicial one. Access is somewhat limited, particularly in the administrative procedure, and the burden of proof lies with the applicant in the administrative procedure. There are procedural safeguards in the judicial procedure but few in the administrative one. Protection during the procedure is also limited although there are appeal rights. People granted stateless status have a range of rights, including to residence, work, social security, healthcare and education, as well as a reduced residency requirement for naturalisation.

However, there are gaps in safeguards against the arbitrary detention of stateless people, including no requirement for a country of removal to be identified prior to detention and no formal mechanism to refer detainees to a procedure to determine statelessness. There are relatively strong procedural safeguards in the law, but practical barriers hamper access to these. Protections on release are minimal and re-detention is a risk. There are safeguards in law to prevent statelessness, including for otherwise stateless children born in Italy, and children born to Italians abroad; but there are issues with how provisions are implemented in practice. There is a recognised risk of statelessness among Roma populations in Italy, and structures to address it have been established, but there has been a lack of concrete action to reduce the risk to date. Provisions for the deprivation of Italian nationality could lead to  statelessness.

Last updated: 
Mar 2021
Next scheduled update: 
Mar 2022
Country expert(s): 

Daniela Di Rado and Eugenia Barone Adesi, Consiglio Italiano per i Rifugiati (CIR) and Alberto Pasquero (on Detention Theme)

Additional resources

ASSESSMENT KEY

++POSITIVE
+ SOMEWHAT POSITIVE
+-POSITIVE and NEGATIVE
- SOMEWHAT NEGATIVE
--NEGATIVE

ADDITIONAL INFO

-NORMS & GOOD PRACTICE

 

International and Regional Instruments

Assesses whether countries are State party to the relevant international and regional instruments, including whether reservations have an impact on statelessness, and whether instruments are incorporated into domestic law. The four core statelessness treaties (1954 Convention relating to the Status of Stateless Persons; 1961 Convention on the Reduction of Statelessness; European Convention on Nationality; Council of Europe Convention on the Avoidance of Statelessness in Relation to State Succession) carry more weight than other relevant human rights instruments in the assessment.

Italy is state party to the 1954 and 1961 statelessness conventions, but, although it has signed the European Convention on Nationality, it has not yet acceded to it, and it is not party to the European Convention on the Avoidance of Statelessness in Relation to State Succession. Italy’s record on other relevant international and regional instruments is generally good, though it is not party to the Convention on Migrant Workers.

  • Italy is state party to the 1954 Convention but has reservations relating to the right to work.
  • International instruments have automatic legal effect in Italy on accession and enactment upon ratification.
  • Italy is state party to the 1961 Convention and has no reservations.
  • International instruments have automatic legal affect in Italy on accession and enactment.
  • Italy has signed but not acceded to the European Convention on Nationality and it is not party to the Convention on the Avoidance of Statelessness in Relation to State Succession.
  • Italy is bound by or state party to most other relevant regional and international instruments, but it is not State party to the Convention on Migrant Workers.
  • Italy maintains reservations to the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights, but these do not impact significantly on statelessness.

Statelessness Population Data

Examines the availability and sources of disaggregated population data on statelessness. Provides recent figures and assesses reliability of measures countries have in place to count stateless persons, including in the census, population registries, and migration databases. Notes whether statelessness has been mapped in the country and whether there are sufficient measures in place to count stateless persons in detention.

Italy has a separate category to count stateless people in the national census, but the data only captures those who have been granted stateless status residing in Italy and there are other categories in which stateless people may be recorded. Statelessness has not been comprehensively mapped in Italy, and the Government does not routinely publish figures on stateless refugees or asylum seekers, nor on stateless people held in immigration detention.

  • The Italian Government counts stateless people under a separate category in the national census, but the data only captures those who have been granted stateless status residing in Italy and there are other categories in which stateless people may be recorded.
  • The Istituto Nazionale di Statistica (ISTAT) records 538 stateless persons (280 men and 258 women) as of 31 December 2019 (down from a total of 822 stateless persons on 1 January 2019). The data is disaggregated by sex and other variables including age and place of residence.
  • On the basis of data collected by MIUR (Ministry of Education, University and Research), the IDOS Study Centre reported that in the school year of 2017 to 2018, there were 354 stateless students attending Italian schools.
  • Statelessness has not been comprehensively mapped in Italy although some studies have attempted to document statelessness among the Roma population, with estimates ranging from between 3000-15000 Romani people at risk of statelessness or stateless in Italy.
  • Figures for stateless refugees and asylum seekers are not published by the Government, although an aggregate category of 'other - including stateless and nationality unknown etc.' is reported by the Ministry of Interior.
  • Data and trends on asylum and immigration are published but these do not explicitly report on statelessness.
  • The Italian Government does not routinely publish data on stateless people held in administrative immigration detention.
  • Some general detention data is available from a Parliamentary Commission inquiry into detention, and the Global Detention Project.
  • There have been reports of stateless persons in immigration detention in Italy.

Statelessness Determination and Status

Identifies whether countries have a definition of a stateless person in national law that aligns with the 1954 Convention, and whether they have a dedicated statelessness determination procedure (SDP) leading to a dedicated stateless status. If an SDP is not place, it assesses whether there are other procedures in which statelessness can be identified or other routes through which stateless people could regularise their stay or access their rights. Countries are subdivided in three groups to enable comparison between those with an SDP leading to protection, those with other procedures, and those with a stateless status but no clear mechanism to access protection. The existing procedures and rights granted to stateless persons are examined and assessed against international norms and good practice.

Italian law does not set out a definition of a stateless person, but since the 1954 Convention has direct effect in Italy, the Convention definition applies. The Italian system provides two possibilities for determining statelessness: an administrative procedure and a judicial one. Access to the procedures is somewhat limited in that applications must be in writing in Italian and cannot be initiated ex officio. For the administrative procedure, the applicant must hold a residence permit and possess a birth certificate. For the judicial procedure, a lawyer is required. The standard of proof is the same as in the asylum procedure, but in the administrative procedure the burden of proof lies with the applicant. There are procedural protections in the judicial procedure such as (conditional) free legal aid and a hearing, whereas in the administrative procedure there is no legal aid and no right to an interview. Protection during the procedure is also limited as the practice of granting temporary residence to applicants is inconsistent. Negative decisions can be appealed, and those granted stateless status have a right to a residence permit, travel document, work, social security, healthcare, and education, as well as a reduced residency requirement for naturalisation.

  • There is no definition of a stateless person set out in Italian law but since the 1954 Convention has direct effect, the Convention definition is applied.
  • The law provides that ‘specialised training is compulsory for judges and members of the territorial commission’, but there is no compulsory training for decision-makers in the administrative procedure.
  • UNHCR provides training to court and asylum decision-makers.
  • In December 2019, the Ministry of Interior published a call for experts to build the capacity of the office for Italian nationality and statelessness applications, suggesting some planned capacity-building/training activities, but no further information is available.
  • The Italian system provides for two possibilities for identifying and determining statelessness: an administrative procedure and a judicial one. However, the provisions of the 1954 Convention and the parameters for determining statelessness are not clearly laid down in national law.
  • The responsible body for the administrative determination of statelessness is the Ministry of Interior.
  • A specialised section of the Civil Court in the applicant's place of residence is responsible for the judicial procedure.
  • Statelessness determination is the specific objective of both the administrative and judicial procedures and the authorities are obliged to consider an application in both cases.
  • There is no provision in law for either procedure to be initiated ex officio.
  • Applications to both procedures must be made in writing. In the judicial procedure, the application must be made in Italian and with the assistance of a lawyer. In the administrative procedure, there is no provision on the language of the application, but in practice it is made in Italian.
  • There is no time limit for accessing either procedure and there is no application fee for an application under the administrative procedure, though applicants may need to pay stamp fees.
  • Free legal aid may be obtained for the judicial procedure subject to eligibility (i.e., low income, no assets).  If the applicant does not qualify for legal aid, they must pay a fee for the judicial procedure, which is usually 259 EUR for the initial procedure.
  • The main barrier to accessing the administrative procedure is that the Ministry of Interior interprets the 'residence' requirement in the law to mean 'lawful residence' and requires applicants to hold a residence permit and a birth certificate in order to access the procedure. There is no requirement to demonstrate lawful stay to access the judicial procedure.
  • There is no standardised procedure for cooperation or referral between the asylum procedure and the SDPs, though the authorities may inform a stateless person about the possibility to have their statelessness determined.
  • In the administrative procedure, the burden of proof lies in practice with the applicant, whereas in the judicial procedure, it is shared, and the judge can use ex officio powers to assist the applicant if they are unable to provide evidence.
  • The standard of proof is the same as in the asylum procedure following case law on this matter.
  • There are no protective measures in place to prevent and address discrimination.
  • There is no published guidance available for determining authorities, though there may be internal guidance that is not publicly available.
  • Legal aid is not perceived to be necessary for submitting an application under the administrative procedure and is not provided unless offered by NGOs. In the judicial procedure, free legal aid may be obtained subject to eligibility (low income and no assets).
  • Applicants in the administrative procedure do not have the right to an interview. In the judicial procedure there is a hearing before the court and applicants may be heard, but interpreters are not provided in practice.
  • In the administrative procedure, the timeframe set is 895 days, but this is rarely met in practice with examples of cases taking years to decide.
  • In both procedures, decisions are given in writing and are reasoned.
  • It is not clear whether quality assurance audits are undertaken as no information is available.
  • There is no referral mechanism between the statelessness procedures and asylum procedures.
  • UNHCR does not participate in the procedures, but it provides training, guidance, and other technical support to the authorities.
  • Applicants to either procedure do not have an automatic right to residence and convention rights, but they can apply for a temporary residence permit, which is generally granted within the administrative procedure, but in the case of the judicial procedure, the police has discretion, and some may be refused a residence permit.
  • If the applicant already has a residence permit and applies for stateless status, they can benefit from a temporary residence permit pending the procedure.
  • Applicants with a temporary residence permit are not detained and, following a 2019 judgement of the Court of Cassation, no-one should be detained for removal while awaiting determination of stateless status. The legislation has not yet been amended to reflect the ruling, but it is hoped that this will be applied in practice.
  • The law does not specify the right to work pending the procedure. By law, only temporary residence permits issued to applicants already in possession of another residence permit allow the right to work, but in practice it is quite unusual for a person to hold a residence permit before applying for stateless status.
  • A negative decision in the administrative procedure can be appealed, and, at the end of the administrative procedure, an applicant may undertake a judicial procedure. If rejected in the judicial procedure, there is the possibility to appeal before the Court of Appeal and the Court of Cassation.
  • Free legal aid is available before the courts but there are eligibility criteria (low income and no assets). If an applicant does not qualify for free legal aid, as well as paying for legal representation they must also pay a fee to make the appeal.
  • There is no evidence of significant errors in decision making.
  • Recognition under either procedure entitles a stateless person to apply for a renewable residence permit, which is normally granted for two years but practice varies considerably ranging from one to five years and is not consistent across the country.
  • Recognised stateless people may apply for a 1954 Convention travel document.
  • There are no specific family reunion provisions for stateless persons, so the same rules as non-EU third country nationals apply.
  • Recognised stateless persons have permission to work, primary, secondary, and higher education, healthcare, and social security.
  • Stateless people do not have the right to vote in national elections in Italy.
  • People with stateless status may apply for naturalisation after five years, which is reduced from the standard 10 years for third country nationals.
  • A criminal offence may bar someone from naturalisation depending on individual circumstances, which should be assessed in each individual case by the Ministry of Interior.
  • To obtain nationality through naturalisation there are language and other requirements, with no exemptions for stateless persons. Applicants who have not subscribed to the ‘integration contract’ (as provided by the Immigration Law) or are not beneficiaries of a long-term EU residence permit must demonstrate a B1 level of Italian language. Applicants must also demonstrate an annual income of 8,200 EUR (plus 516 EUR for each dependent). The cost to initiate the procedure is 250 EUR, and there may be additional costs for stamp fees or other expenses.

Detention

Analyses law, policy and practice relating to immigration detention generally, but focusing on protections in place to prevent the arbitrary detention of stateless people during removal and deportation procedures. Subthemes examine areas such as detention decision-making, how alternatives to detention are legislated for and implemented, procedural safeguards such as time limits, judicial oversight, and effective remedies, as well as protections on release.

There are gaps in Italian law with regards to safeguards against the arbitrary detention of stateless people. There is no requirement for a country of removal to be identified prior to detention and people at risk of statelessness, or whose statelessness has not been formally recognised in law, may be subject to detention and considered to have irregular residence status. In practice, detention is used prior to alternatives and there is no formal mechanism of referral from detention to a procedure to determine statelessness. There are relatively strong procedural safeguards in law, including time limits, information provided to detainees, remedies, and periodic judicial reviews. However, there are barriers to accessing effective remedies in practice. Protections on release for those without residence status are minimal, with only very basic rights and no guarantee against re-detention.

  • Immigration detention powers are provided for in law, and include a provision for the detention of asylum seekers for the sole purpose of identification and verification of nationality.
  • There is no specific requirement in the law to identify a country of removal prior to detention. Nationality information can be provided initially by the detainee. Identification or confirmation of country of removal is not a condition to authorise detention. It is possible to be detained in order to be identified.
  • Statelessness is relevant in decisions to detain in that recognised stateless persons who are legally resident cannot be detained. People at risk of statelessness, or whose statelessness has not been formally recognised in law, may be subject to detention and considered to have irregular residence status. Referral to an SDP from detention is possible in theory, but there are no provisions or guidance on this matter.
  • However, a 2019 Court of Cassation Judgment ruled that detention of a "de facto stateless person” (person at risk of statelessness or whose statelessness has not been determined) should follow the same rules as for people recognised as stateless. The ruling had an important impact to counter the repeated detention of Romani people who are stateless or at risk of statelessness in Italy.
  • The law does not foresee that administrative detention is a measure of last resort.
  • In theory, people in detention may be informed about the possibility to apply for stateless status, especially if NGOs are present in pre-removal centres, but there is no formal mechanism for referral established in law or policy.
  • The law states that people with certain vulnerabilities cannot be detained, but in practice there is no standardised procedure nor mechanisms to identify vulnerabilities (for example, pregnant women or unaccompanied minors) and refer people to appropriate services either prior to or during detention. Statelessness is not considered a factor increasing vulnerability per se.
  • Alternatives to detention are set in law for individuals who are subject to a removal order. A request for voluntary departure may be made by an individual, and, if granted, might make the person eligible for certain 'alternatives to detention' which are set out in law.
  • However, in practice, this occurs very rarely and nowhere in the law is it foreseen that detention is a measure of last resort.
  • For non-asylum seekers, detention can be imposed initially for 30 days and can be subsequently extended for additional 30 days periods. The maximum length of pre-removal detention is 90 days or 120 days for nationals of a country with which Italy has concluded a repatriation agreement (these periods were shortened in 2020). For asylum seekers detained in pre-removal centres, detention can be imposed for 60 days and subsequently extended for additional 60-day periods. The maximum time period is 12 months.
  • Detention is always ordered by the District Police Chief and needs to be validated by a judge (Tribunal, for asylum seekers; Justice of Peace for all others) located in the same District as the pre-removal centre, within 96 hours of issuing the detention order. Judicial control by Justices of Peace is mostly formal and often consists in rubber-stamping detention requests by the Police Chief (confirmed by the Sub-Committee on the Prevention of Torture following a visit to Italy in 2016).  Detainees can only appeal to the Court of Cassation against the 'initial validation and subsequent extensions of detention'. The remedy can only challenge violations of law (not the merits of the claim) and the appeal does not have suspensive effect (i.e., the person remains in detention). The remedy is mostly ineffective as it ordinarily takes the Court of Cassation approximately one year to issue a decision, often long after the detainee has been repatriated or released for reaching the maximum detention timeframe. The detainee can at any time apply for a re-examination of the previous detention order (validation or extension) where circumstances have arisen warranting release.
  • Legal aid is provided by law for all foreigners subject to a removal procedure, regardless of income. In principle, organisations running the centres provide legal assistance, but legal operators are few, generally inexperienced, and often have part-time contracts. In practice, it is often difficult for lawyers to contact clients in detention. All centres have adopted a practice of removing mobile phones from detainees. Public telephones are available, and detainees receive phonecards, but it is very difficult for anyone (including lawyers) to call a detainee from outside. Heavy restrictions have been placed on access to pre-removal centres during the COVID-19 pandemic.
  • Detainees must be informed in writing of the reasons for detention, their rights and obligations, and given a list of lawyers, in a language they are reasonably supposed to understand.
  • There is no formal referral to the SDPs, nor guidance on accessing the procedures, though detainees may be informed about them in practice.
  • No public information is available about any rules in place governing the process of redocumentation and/or verification of nationality.
  • Stateless people released from detention whose statelessness has not been formally recognised by the state and do not have any other form of residence status, have no guarantee against re-detention in practice.
  • If a person is released without residence status due to removal being unable to take place, they are generally released with an order to voluntarily leave Italian territory within seven days, and have only very basic rights including access to emergency medical care.
  • Cumulative time spent in detention does not count towards the maximum time limit.
  • It is not clear whether statelessness is considered juridically relevant in readmission and/or bilateral return agreements, as only scarce information is available on these agreements.

Prevention and Reduction

Assesses the adequacy of safeguards in nationality laws to prevent and reduce statelessness, including protections for otherwise stateless children born on the territory or to nationals abroad, foundlings and adopted children. Examines law, policy, and practice on birth registration, including access to late birth registration, reduction measures taken by states to prevent and reduce statelessness among groups at high risk, and provisions for the deprivation of nationality.

Italian law provides that a child born in Italy to parents who are stateless or cannot confer their nationality, acquires nationality at birth. However, in practice, the implementation of the provision is not automatic, and parents must provide relevant supporting documentation to have the child’s Italian nationality recognised. Foundlings acquire Italian nationality but may need to prove they do not possess another; and there is no risk of statelessness during adoption procedures. Children born to Italian nationals abroad are Italian by law, but registration is required and if the parents are unmarried, paternity must be declared. Birth registration is assured in law and practice, though late registration may require a court procedure. Some initiatives have been established to address the risk of statelessness among Romani populations, but it is unclear what concrete action has been taken to address this risk in recent years. Deprivation of Italian nationality is permitted on grounds of national security in the case of naturalised nationals and no remedies are provided where this leads to statelessness.

  • The law provides that children born in Italy to stateless parents or parents who cannot confer a nationality to the child are Italian. However, in practice, the implementation of the provision is not automatic, and parents must provide relevant supporting documentation to request recognition of the child's Italian nationality.
  • Only parents recognised as stateless are considered as such for the purposes of the law, and parents who can't confer nationality are often requested to provide a declaration from their embassy to that effect.
  • A further provision in the law allows a child born on the territory, who can prove uninterrupted residency, to become Italian by application on reaching the age of majority (18). This option is available for one year (until the person is 19 years-old).
  • There is a provision in law to grant nationality to foundlings, but the law contains a requirement to prove the child does not possess another nationality. However, in practice this is interpreted and implemented by the authorities in such a way as to grant the foundling nationality unless it is proven the child possesses another nationality.
  • There is no specific time limit in law, but the interpretation is connected to a new-born child and it would be unlikely to apply to a teenager.
  • There is no risk of statelessness under Italian law and practice during the adoption procedure of an Italian national child by foreign parents, nor a foreign child by Italian parents.
  • Children adopted by Italian nationals are considered Italian by birth.
  • Nationality law states that children born to Italian nationals abroad are Italian.
  • However, in practice, birth registration is required, and the law also states that for children born to married parents, the father is the person married to the mother. Where children are born to unmarried parents, paternity must be declared.
  • Birth registration is assured by law for every child born on the territory, regardless of nationality and residence status of the parents, as well as to every child born abroad to an Italian national.
  • Births must be reported within 10 days to the population register or within three days to the hospital management. Children born outside a hospital can remain unregistered if parents do not take action to register the birth.
  • All children are issued with birth certificates and a copy of the birth certificate by the Registry Office following registration.
  • There are no requirements for the authorities to report undocumented migrants or people with irregular residence status.
  • Late birth registration is possible, but if the reasons for the delay are not accepted by the public prosecutor as well-founded, registration can only be conducted following a judicial investigation and order for child protection reasons.
  • The birth certificate does not contain the nationality of the child, only that of the parents. The child's nationality is recorded at the time of registration in the Municipal Population Registry.
  • The child’s nationality is automatically recorded on the basis of the parents’ nationality. If this is unclear, the tendency is to record a presumed nationality, such as that of the parents' country of origin. There is no safeguard to ensure a child’s nationality or statelessness is determined as soon as possible after birth.
  • There are reports that Romani children whose parents originate from the Former Yugoslavia face barriers to registration with the authorities of their parents’ countries of origin, often required for them to acquire nationality by jus sanguinis, thus heightening the risk of statelessness. Parents may themselves be stateless (though not formally recognised), or registration may not be possible because the country of origin requires a period of residence in that country.
  • In 2012, a "National Strategy for social inclusion of Roma People" was introduced, but there is little evidence of significant activities towards its implementation.
  • There is a working group that was set up to elaborate proposals for reducing Romani statelessness, but it is unclear what concrete action has been taken by the Italian Government so far.
  • Italy has not taken any recent steps to address statelessness and did not make any pledges at the UNHCR High-Level Segment on Statelessness in October 2019.
  • There are provisions for the deprivation of Italian nationality that could render a person stateless, as there is no explicit safeguard to prevent statelessness.
  • A naturalised Italian may be deprived of their nationality on national security grounds following a conviction for specific crimes, even where this results in statelessness.
  • Italian nationality is lost by operation of the law in certain specific circumstances (e.g., if a person joins the army of another State, accepts a public post in a State that Italy does not recognise, or acquires nationality of a State with which Italy is at war).
  • The competent authority for deprivation (and loss) of nationality is the Ministry of Interior. In case of automatic loss, the Civil Officer registers a declaration in the Population Register and transfers it to the Mayor. The assessment should be carried out within 120 days from the receipt of the documentation. Decisions to deprive a naturalised person of their Italian nationality based on a criminal conviction can be proposed by the Ministry of Interior, within three years from the date of conviction, and are adopted through a Decree of the President of the Republic. Decisions can be appealed and, as a general rule, any person can access the court. If the applicant is in financial difficulty they can request free legal aid.
  • There are no provisions for voluntary loss or renunciation of nationality that could render a person stateless.
  • Provisions for deprivation of Italian nationality following a conviction for specific crimes are discriminatory as they apply only to naturalised nationals.

Resources

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