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Our country brings up the rear in Europe in granting citizenship, despite the fact that the number of foreigners is growing

A dream, a hope, a mirage, but nothing more. That's what Italian citizenship is for many immigrants. They are foreigners only technically. They've been born, raised, studied, worked and paid taxes in Italy, but they can't get a passport. Italian law is the strictest in Europe. And for the few who actually attain this yearned-for goal, it's cause for celebration, as can be seen from the photos taken by Stefano Pavesi in the naturalization office of the City of Milan. The day they go to pick up the certificate that they are officially "Italian" is like being re-born, a day to celebrate with family and friends. But they are still a fortunate few.

"I'm Italian, too" many immigrants declare, taking their cue from the slogan of the campaign to change the current citizenship law. A number of municipal governments have heeded their call. One of these is Milan which sends letters to those who have just come of age, explaining the procedure for becoming a citizen. In the Lombardy capital, this initiative has resulted in a virtual doubling of citizenship applications from young, second generation immigrants. In 2011, the city sent out 479 letters with 458 applications being sent back, 39.1% more than the previous year. Progress is being made, taking into consideration that of the 4 million immigrants present in Italy, about one foreign resident out of every six was born and raised exclusively in Italy (736,000 individuals as of end-2011).

A total of 803,000 foreigners acquired citizenship in a country of the European Union in 2010 (source: Eurostat), nearly 40,000 more than in 2009. But Italy gets the booby prize. In 2010 (the most recent data available, source: Dossier statistico immigrazione 2012, Caritas and Fondazione Migrantes), Italy granted citizenship to 66,000 people, a twelfth of the European total (8.2%). Projected figures for 2011 indicate a further drop on the previous year with just 56,000 new citizens. On average, while in the EU an average of 2.4 citizenship applications were approved for every 100 foreign residents, in Italy this figure drops to 1.4. In fact, there is no automatic procedure for granting citizenship, even for second generation immigrants. Once they come of age, young foreigners have just one year to apply, on the condition that they have lived in Italy without interruption from the time they were born.

Once this year has lapsed, paradoxically, foreigners remain immigrants forever. The only alternative is to marry an Italian citizen. For the so-called "long-term" non-EC residents, 10 year-residency are required to get a passport. Only Spain has a stabilization period as long.

The law proposed to the Italian parliament on a popular initiative aims to radically modify the current law: grant citizenship to those born in Italy to foreign parents legally in the country and resident at least one year. Those born to parents in the country illegally would be granted citizenship only when they turn 18, but with a two-year period to make their application.

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