There are various routes to obtaining citizenship. Many people obtain a second citizenship through investment, marriage, naturalisation, or otherwise.
However, there is one very interesting route to citizenship that is often overlooked, becoming a citizen by descent.
A host of countries offer people that have ancestors that were citizens the ability to become citizens themselves through their heritage and ancestral lineage. This process is called citizenship by descent.
In This Article:
- How Can Someone Obtain Citizenship by Descent?
- Which Countries Offer Citizenship by Descent?
- Ireland Citizenship by Descent
- Czechia Citizenship by Descent
- Bulgaria Citizenship by Descent
- Hungary Citizenship by Descent
- Italy Citizenship by Descent
- Latvia Citizenship by Descent
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How Can Someone Obtain Citizenship By Descent?
Becoming a citizen by descent is a process that differs from one country to the next, as each one has its own regulations and requirements to qualify, while the process also differs.
However, the main requirements are:
- An applicant must prove their ancestors were citizens of the country
- That they are the actual descendants of those ancestors
Proving that one’s ancestors (usually grandparents or great-grandparents) were citizens of a certain country can be very simple or quite difficult, depending on their situation.
If someone has comprehensive documentation corresponding to their ancestor’s status, such as ID documents like passports, civil documents, and more, then they can quickly prove that their ancestor was in fact a citizen of a country.
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However, due to the mass, and often forced, migration during the two world wars, as well as the destruction of various archives and records, some people may not have any proof that their ancestor was a citizen.
There is good news, however, as specialised professionals, called genealogists, have mastered the art of digging up relevant documents, finding traces of people’s lives, and proving that they were in fact citizens of a specific country.
Through digging up documents such as school or college certificates, business registration and employee payslips, they can create a wholesome picture of who this person was in society and trace it back to their citizenship.
Genealogists can also help decipher the lineage issue, proving that an applicant is a descendant of a citizen of a country. This can be proved through various documentation, but the most important of it is birth, marriage, and death certificates.
Which Countries Offer Citizenship By Descent?
Most countries that offer citizenship by descent are situated within Europe, but there are many others throughout the globe. Each country has its own requirements and criteria to qualify.
Many countries allow anyone born to parents who are citizens of the country to apply for citizenship. However, since this is very recent and circumstantial, this piece will focus on countries that offer citizenship by descent to two or more generations.
Ireland Citizenship By Descent
One of the most active citizenship by descent countries in the world is Ireland. Due to the large Irish heritage in the United States, there are tens of thousands that qualify for Irish citizenship by descent.
The EU country allows descendants of its citizens to become so themselves, and it divides them into three categories:
- A person whose parents or they themselves were born in Ireland before 2005
- People whose grandparents were born in Ireland and held Irish citizenship, but their parents were not Irish citizens
- People whose great-grandparents were born in Ireland but none of their descendants held Irish citizenship
Ireland has a very powerful passport, granting visa-free entry to 187 destinations worldwide, including the United Kingdom, EU, USA, Canada, and many more. It is also a very coveted passport, as it is the only remaining English-speaking EU country and possesses the unique trait of having free movement within both the EU and the UK.
Czechia Citizenship By Descent
Another European country that offers citizenship by descent is Czechia. The EU nation allows foreign nationals to apply for citizenship if their parents or grandparents were Czech nationals, and there are two ways to qualify:
- Applicants whose grandparents or parents were Czech citizens but immigrated to countries that ban dual nationality with Czechia through signed treaties (such as the US and most countries under the USSR’s influence).
- Applicants whose parents or grandparents were Czech citizens but were naturalised abroad after 1993 (Czech independence year).
Czechia also boasts a robust passport, offering visa-free travel to 185 destinations worldwide, including the EU, United Kingdom, USA, Canada, Singapore, and many others.
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It is important to note that a new law set citizenship by descent as a right by declaration, meaning that if a person proves they are entitled to it, authorities in Czechia have very little discretion on the matter and must award it as per the law.
Bulgaria Citizenship By Descent
Bulgaria recently revamped its citizenship by descent laws to limit the eligibility to 3rd generation descendants. This means a person with a great-grandparent who at one point held Bulgarian citizenship may be eligible to apply for it themselves.
To qualify, a person must meet one of the following conditions:
- They have a parent, grandparent, or great-grandparent who held Bulgarian citizenship
- Has been legally adopted by a Bulgarian citizen
- Had a parent who is or died as a Bulgarian citizen, even if they were naturalised
The process of gaining Bulgarian citizenship by descent is a bit longer than other nations, taking 12-24 months on average. However, the Bulgarian government has set out a route to awarding residency for applicants with strong cases to live in Bulgaria as their applications are being processed.
Bulgarian citizenship is also a very powerful one, as its passport provides visa-free travel to 173 destinations worldwide including the EU, UK, Canada, the United Arab Emirates and many more.
Hungary Citizenship By Descent
One of the most illustrious citizenship by descent stories hails from Hungary. The European nation reviewed its citizenship by descent laws and launched its Hungarians Beyond Borders (HBB) initiative in 2011, which allowed many of the people with Hungarian ancestry to qualify for citizenship by declaration.
There are an estimated 5 million Hungarian descendants living outside Hungary, and the HBB resonated with many of them. In the first three years after the HBB was launched over 400,000 people applied for Hungarian citizenship by descent. In 2019, Hungary announced that it had received over one million applications, with about 950,000 of them being approved, meaning that the country has awarded citizenship to about 10% of its original population.
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The HBB laws state that if a person is born to Hungarian parents or has Hungarian grandparents, they can qualify for citizenship. This inclusivity has made the route very attainable for various people around the globe.
However, it is worth noting that there were historical regulations that may limit applicants, such as:
- Before 1957, a Hungarian woman who married a non-Hungarian man automatically lost her citizenship, and hence couldn’t grant it to her descendants.
- Before 1957, children born to a non-Hungarian father and Hungarian mother would not be automatically considered Hungarian citizens, instead an application must be made to award them with Hungarian citizenship through declaration. If they did not do this, then they were not listed as Hungarian citizens.
- If an ancestor emigrated from Hungary before September of 1929, they would have most probably not been listed as a Hungarian citizen, meaning their descendants would not qualify for citizenship.
Hungary is part of the EU and hence also possesses a powerful passport allowing visa-free travel to 183 destinations worldwide including the EU, UK, Singapore, and others.
Italy Citizenship By Descent
One of the most coveted passports in the world is the Italian one, due to the country’s personal brand, standard of living, and vast historical and cultural heritage.
The good news is that Italy has one of the most welcoming citizenship by descent laws in the world, as anyone with an Italian ancestor who meets the qualifications can apply for citizenship. Experts put the number of people who qualify for Italian citizenship by descent throughout the globe at tens of millions.
The requirements for an ancestor to be considered an Italian citizen are:
- They were born in Italy, no matter how long ago
- They were alive and a citizen of Italy and did not hold another citizenship before March 17, 1861 (day of Italian unification)
- Did not naturalise in another country before July 1, 1912
It is important to consider some other factors, especially those related to the citizenship laws regarding women in the 1940s. Understanding the female citizenship regulations is crucial when an Italian ancestor was a woman.
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For example, women could not pass on Italian citizenship to their children before January 1, 1948. However, some cases judged in court have seen this obstacle removed by the Italian court.
Also, prior to 1983, any foreign woman who married an Italian man automatically became an Italian citizen, allowing her descendants to claim Italian citizenship by descent through her.
The Italian passport is one of the most powerful in the world in terms of global mobility, as it provides visa-free access to 184 destinations worldwide, including the EU, UK, USA, Australia, Canada, and many more. It currently sits at the 4th most powerful passport rank in the world.
Latvia Citizenship By Descent
Another EU nation that offers citizenship by descent is Latvia, however, this country divides applicants into two main groups; those who hail from Latvian citizen exiles, and those with Latvian or Liv ancestry.
The first group allows anyone to apply for citizenship if they:
- Were born before 2014
- Their ancestor was a Latvian citizen as of June 17, 1940, and they were exiled and had to leave Latvia during the second world war.
The second group may prove less inclusive in terms of who qualifies, as it has stricter conditions applied to it, as a person must:
- Have had an ancestor who was a Latvian citizen who lived in Latvia between 1881 and 1940
- Must speak Latvian
- Must be a part of Latvian or Liv ethnic groups
The process of proving Latvian citizenship by descent may be quite difficult, especially for those going through the exile route as it is challenging to collect documents pertaining to their ancestors.
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However, for those who do succeed, they would receive the 11th most powerful passport globally in terms of travel ability, as the Latvian passport provides visa-free entry to 181 destinations worldwide including the UK, EU, and many others.
Savory & Partners is an accredited agent for multiple governments where citizenship by investment is offered. Founded in 1797, the agency has evolved from pharmaceuticals to family assets and legacy protection through second citizenship and residency. The company’s professional, multinational staff is made up of expert advisors who have guided thousands of clients, including many North African investors, on their journey to find the most suitable CBI program for them. The Savory & Partners team will be happy to answer your enquiries in English, Arabic, Farsi, French and Spanish.
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