Italians support citizenship for migrants’ children (ius soli), conditionally

“While there is much debate in Italy about whether a form of ius soli should be introduced, we find that the most relevant question is under which conditions this should be done.”

By Victoria Donnaloja and Maarten Vink

Victoria Donnaloja is a Max Weber Fellow at the European University Institute in Florence. Maarten Vink is Chair in Citizenship Studies and Director of the Global Citizenship programme at the Robert Schuman Centre of the EUI.

For many years, Italian politicians have been discussing proposals to bring Italy in line with most European countries, where children born in the country either have a right to citizenship at birth (ius soli), irrespective of their parents’ citizenship (such as in Germany, Portugal), or gain entitlement to it after a few years in the country during childhood (e.g. the Netherlands, Sweden). Our new study demonstrates that the Italian population is more open to this development than the political debate around it suggests.

Why this matters

Abundant research shows that the acquisition of citizenship during childhood as opposed to adulthood benefits both children and their parents. Children with citizenship have better educational trajectories than those without. In contrast, children without citizenship are at higher risk of dropping out of school (here). Moreover, birthright citizenship increases the likelihood of cooperation between children of immigrant and native origin (here), and their parents are more likely to use the national language and to interact with the local community (here).

In 2017 the political parties Fratelli d’Italia and Lega blocked the first proposal to reform a citizenship law to reach the Senate and, today, they continue opposing the watered-down ius scholae proposal (the possibility for non-Italian minors to request citizenship after completion of at least a 5-year school cycle), recently discussed in the House of Deputies.

There seems to be an assumption by Italian politicians that voters are reluctant to accept any form of ius soli reform. However, is that really the case?

Experimental study

In our study we asked a sample of almost 1500 Italian citizens to indicate for whom, out of different hypothetical children’s profiles, they would be in favour of granting Italian citizenship. In a so-called choice-based conjoint survey experiment, we showed each respondent ten profiles of newborn children with detailed information about their parents. All parents were immigrants without Italian citizenship and differed from each other on eleven characteristics, such as the period of residence in Italy, their country of origin, and various integration measures. We then asked respondents to indicate for each profile if they were in favour of or against citizenship for the newborn child.

What did we find?

Remarkably, while there is much debate in Italy about whether a form of ius soli should be introduced, we find that the most relevant question is under which conditions this should be done. Based on our survey, we find that 90 percent of voters support either a pure (25 percent) or a conditional ius soli (65 percent). Only 10 percent of the Italian electorate is against any kind of ius soli.

The public is mostly in favour of granting citizenship to migrants’ children born in Italy, albeit under certain conditions. Italians are more supportive of ius soli for children whose immigrant parents are in employment, have a residence permit and have lived in Italy for more than five years. These are the conditions Italians are most likely to attach to the reform, far more than other characteristics related to ethnicity and integration, such as language proficiency.

Variation but overall support among different voters

As expected, there is strong variation in support for ius soli depending on what kind of party people voted for in the last general elections in 2018. On average, 73.7 percent of respondents who voted for a left-wing party, 62.1 percent of respondents who voted for the Five Star Movement and 46.5 percent of those who voted for a right-wing party support territorial birthright citizenship.

Remarkably, when we provide voters with a profile of a child born to parents who have lived in Italy for five years and have a residence permit – along the lines of the previous ius soli proposal -even the majority of right-wing voters support granting citizenship.

Next steps

Hence, Italians are less divided on the ius soli issue than the inter-party debate and the stalled reform process suggest. Italy should thus move onward from a debate about ‘whether’ ius soli reform is needed, to a debate on the question ‘under which conditions’ citizenship should be granted. For these reasons we welcome the current debate about ius scholae, which would provide access to citizenship to migrants’ children born in Italy or those who have arrived here at an early age, after having completed one school cycle.

More information

For more information about this study: Donnaloja and Maarten Vink (2022). Conditional support of birthright citizenship for immigrants’ children despite partisan differences. Download pre-print of the study.

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