Countries That Extend Citizenship Based on Ancestry

Krystal Smith

A few countries use ancestry to give you citizenship or residency. This is typically based on what country your ancestors came from. Most countries that do this have a reason behind it, mainly because they want to keep past relations and cultures alive and active in diasporic communities.


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Italy has a policy of descent (jure sanguinis), which provides a framework for individuals of Italian heritage to claim citizenship. You can claim citizenship in Italy if you can prove that your relatives were Italian, no matter how far back. A person can claim under the following circumstances:
  1. If you have an Italian parent.
  2. Your mother or father could claim Italian citizenship (i.e., they were born in the U.S. after 1948, their father was an Italian citizen, or they were born in the U.S. before 1948, and their mother was an Italian citizen).
  3. If the relationship between Italy and the U.S. had been severed before the person was born, but the person’s father remained an Italian citizen at the time of the person’s birth.
  4. If the person was born in the U.S. before 1948, is female, and married, the relationship between Italy and the U.S. was severed. 


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Under Germany’s citizenship law, individuals who are of German descent (described here as having German parents or grandparents who are German by blood) may be able to obtain German citizenship by descent (descent being German: “Abstammungsprinzip”). If you have a German parent and you were born in the United States, you may still have a claim to German citizenship. To obtain German citizenship through ancestry, you must usually be able to provide three generations’ worth of marriage or birth certificates. For example, if you were to apply for German citizenship through your father, you would need to provide your birth certificate, your father’s birth certificate, and your grandfather’s birth and marriage certificates/account. Additionally, you may have to provide marriage and birth certificates of the family members involved in your German lineage. Some cases may require other relevant records. German language skills and questions about culture and society are often required depending on your route of obtaining German citizenship.


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Ireland has citizenship by decent provisions, where they allow individuals to obtain citizenship if they have an Irish origin. Usually, individuals’ great-grandparents or grandparents must be born in Ireland. Also, individuals must be registered in the Foreign Births Register (located in your Irish Consulate; enclosed with this mail is a register application), submit birth certificates and marriage certificates, and outline your family lineage. Since the European Union becomes E.U. citizenship, Irish citizenship will allow you to live, work, and move freely within the E.U.


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Israel’s Law of Return allows for the immigration of Jews and their immediate family members to Israel. The Law of Return states, “Every Jew has the right to come to this country.” The definition of “Jew” has been broadly interpreted to include a person who was born to a Jewish mother, has Jewish ancestry, or has converted to Judaism and is not a member of another religion. 


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Greek citizenship by descent laws allows persons to become Greek citizens. Persons of Greek ancestry may typically receive citizenship. Greek descent may go back as far as the person applying. How the Greek citizenship by descent laws work is that individuals provide documented evidence showing their connection with Greece. The two documents that individuals must provide are a marriage certificate and a birth certificate. The Greek Embassy or Consulate may also ask for other relevant records depending on the country where you apply. Greek citizenship by descent may require proficiency in the Greek language and knowledge of Greek history and heritage.


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To be able to apply for Poland’s citizenship by descent claims, an individual must first prove that they are of Polish ancestry. Poland’s citizenship by descent claims go as far back as the second or third generation of Polish ancestors. To apply for citizenship by descent claim, an expected citizen must first present documented proof of their familial relation to someone in Poland. From their birth certifications to their marriage certifications, any records that deal with the expected citizen and their blood history will need to be presented. Proficiency in the Polish language and even knowledge of Polish culture and history may or may not be required to claim Poland’s citizenship by descent claims.


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In Portugal, Portuguese citizenship by descent is primarily claimed by people with Portugal’s blood flowing through them. If your parents (father or mother) are/were born in Portugal, you can apply for nationality without living in the country. However, if grandparents are Portuguese citizens, you must live in the country for two years. All you need is to have birth certificates of your parents and grandparents, such as birth, marriage, and other documented certificates to prove. Few are also required to have knowledge and fluency in Portuguese and should be aware of Portugal’s Culture and History.


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Lithuania allows citizenship by descent for individuals with Lithuanian ancestors, regardless of whether or not they have ever been to Lithuania. The ancestral ties can generally be grandfathered back to the third generation, but the application process and paperwork become considerably more involved beyond the first generation. Applicants must show documented proof of their Lithuanian ancestor’s births, marriages, etc. Proficiency in the Lithuanian language and knowledge of Lithuania’s history and culture may be required for Lithuanian citizenship by descent.


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Lebanon recognizes a right of return for individuals of Lebanese ancestry. Even if they do not have citizenship, Descendants of Lebanese nationals are eligible for citizenship by descent, usually within a legal framework. This form of descent is not transmitted through a parent. Still, through patrilineal descent, if one has a Lebanese paternal figure, one is also a citizen via this form. Individuals with Lebanese parents are also eligible for the right of return. A foreign spouse with Lebanese ancestry is also eligible to apply. Applications for this are typically made to Lebanese missions overseas. Suppose the foreign spouse of a Lebanese citizen who is not himself a citizen of Lebanon is to acquire Lebanese citizenship automatically. In that case, it is required that he becomes a Muslim, and in the case of a Muslim man or woman, they must intend to reside permanently in Lebanon. Most applicants come from countries in the Americas, particularly countries with significant Lebanese communities, like Brazil and Colombia. To apply for Lebanese citizenship, those who fall into one of these categories should contact the nearest embassy in Lebanon. 


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Individuals with Hungarian ancestors can apply for Hungarian citizenship through descent (citizenship by descent). Typically, individuals with Hungarian mothers or fathers are eligible to become citizens of Hungary. Applicants must document their connection to Hungary through birth certificates, marriage certificates, etc. In addition to all this, there may be other requirements, such as a knowledge of the Hungarian language, culture, and history.

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