All humans are equal, but soccer players are more equal than others?

Sep 22, 2020

This article is written by Marco Mazzeschi and contributed to our publication on

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“All animals are equal, but some animals are more equal than others.“ By G. Orwell, in Animal Farm, 1945

Luis Suarez is a famous professional football player from Uruguay. He is likely to obtain Italian citizenship by marriage in few weeks, while the standard adjudication time is up to four years. This is causing anger amongst many applicants who need to wait long time before obtaining their citizenship.

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Until last season, Suarez played in the Spanish Liga with Barcelona FC, but there are rumours that next season he will play for Juventus in the Italian Serie A, where he might line up alongside Giorgio Chiellini, the Italy defender that Suarez bit in a controversial World Cup match in 2014.

The transfer would be possible not only because the striker and Juventus would reach a multi-million agreement, but also for the fact that Suarez is able to obtain Italian citizenship.

If citizenship is granted to Suarez so quickly, this would be a record time compared to the standard processing time for “ordinary” applicants, which can be up to four years.

With his Uruguay passport, in fact, he would take the place of an extra EU player and Juventus have already used up their limit of two non-EU signings following the arrival of Brazilian midfielder Arthur Melo and US international Weston McKinney.

Citizenship by marriage

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Luis Suarez can obtain citizenship because his wife has Italian citizenship: in fact, she was born in Uruguay but she has Italian ancestors. Italian citizenship by marriage is relatively easy to obtain compared to other procedures, such as citizenship by naturalization that requires ten years of residency.

In 2018, however, the Government extended from two to four years (starting from the day the application is filed) the maximum processing time within which citizenship by marriage must be adjudicated.

The vast majority of the applicants need to wait some years before obtaining citizenship, but being a famous soccer player it seems that is helping Suarez to skip the queue and obtain his passport in a record time.

What are the conditions to obtain citizenship by marriage?

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Italian citizenship can be acquired by marriage or civil union (cittadinanza per matrimonio) under the following conditions:

(i) The spouse of an Italian citizen has been legally residing in Italy for two years.

The spouse or partner in a civil union of an Italian citizen who has registered residenza for at least two years and holding a valid permesso di soggiorno, can apply for Italian citizenship after two years from the date of marriage or civil union, which is reduced to 1 year if the couple has children, also adopted, according to Italian law.

(ii) The spouse of an Italian citizen residing abroad

The spouse of an Italian citizen who resides abroad can apply for Italian citizenship after three years from the date of marriage or civil union, reduced to 18 months if the couple has children according to Italian law.

Important: spouses must be still married when citizenship is adjudicated

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Citizenship by marriage can only be applied for if the couple is still married or joint in a civil union and the bond is still in effect at the time of adjudication. Art. 123 Italian Civil Code set forth that a marriage is null and void when the spouses do not fulfil their obligations or do not exercise the rights connected to the marriage.

Marriage is not enough: a language test is also required

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For the acquisition of Italian citizenship by marriage/civil union, an adequate knowledge of the Italian language is required. Applicants are now required to have and to prove “an adequate knowledge” of the Italian language.

Interestingly, holders of an EU long-term residence permit (Permesso di soggiorno UE per soggiornanti di lungo periodo) and those who comply with the Integration Agreement provisions are exempt from the language requirement when they apply for citizenship by naturalization.

What does it mean “adequate knowledge”?

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The law indicates that applicants must have reached Level B1 of the Common European Framework of Reference for Languages — CEFRL (threshold or intermediate level). Applicants are required to prove that they meet the language requirement by means of:

  • a certificate/diploma issued by an Italian school; or
  • a certificate of Italian as a foreign language issued by an approved institute. Only certificates released by the following institutions are accepted: (i) University for Foreigners of Siena (ii) University for Foreigners of Perugia; (iii) University Roma 3 (iv) Dante Alighieri Society.

Finally, the applicant must submit a certificate of good conduct/criminal records (not older than six months from the date of issuance) from the country of birth as well any other country where the applicant has lived permanently starting from the age of 14.

Rights of same-sex partners

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Since 2016 Italy has allowed same-sex partners to enter a marriage-like partnership named “Formazioni Sociali Specifiche” or “Unioni Civili”. The rights and obligations for such partnerships are very similar to those of marriage, with the exception of adoption (stepchild adoption) which is prohibited.

(i) residency: The foreign same-sex spouse of a foreign national normally resident in Italy is entitled to obtain a residence permit for family reasons as long as the relationship is well-established and registered;

(ii) citizenship: Non-EU nationals who have entered into a legally registered partnership with an Italian national can also apply for Italian citizenship;

Marriages or legally recognized partnerships celebrated abroad can be registered with the Italian authorities and are considered valid as long as they are legally recognized in the country where they have been celebrated.

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The information provided on this article (i) does not, and is not intended to, constitute legal advice; (ii) are for general informational purposes only and may not constitute the most up-to-date legal or other information (iii) this website may contain links to other third-party websites. Such links are only for the convenience of the reader; (iv) readers should contact their attorney to obtain advice with respect to any particular legal matter.

Thanks to Yuu Shibata. 

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