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Once upon a time it was enough to say that a foreigner was someone who was not an Italian citizen. This definition – to be clear – is still valid. Except that Article 17 of the EC Treaty institutes a citizenship of the European Union which is attributed to anyone who is a citizen of a Member State.

Belonging to the European Union brings with it various consequences, some of which are very important, like the prohibition on discriminating on the basis of citizenship and the principle of the precedence of EU law.

For some years now, since Legislative Decree no. 286 of 25 July 1998 and its enabling regulations (Presidential Decree no. 394 of 31 August 1999), even the status of non-EU foreigners has been radically different.

The basic rule continues to be Article 16 of the preliminary provisions of the Civil Code, which insist upon reciprocity as a condition, so that a foreigner enjoys the civil rights due to a citizen to the extent that an Italian citizen can do the same in the foreign country.

The condition of reciprocity, however, does not apply to fundamental rights but only to property matters (purchase of real estate, setting up of companies, etc.).

Article 1 of the above-mentioned Presidential Decree 394/1999, after the amendments introduced by Presidential Decree no. 334 of 18 October 2004, provides as follows:

  1. Ascertaining the Condition of Reciprocity
    1. For the purposes of ascertaining the condition of reciprocity in the cases stipulated in the unified text of the provisions governing immigration and rules regarding foreigners, hereinafter "the unified text", the Foreign Ministry advises notaries and those responsible for the administrative proceedings that admit foreigners to the enjoyment of rights in civil matters, upon request, as to the enjoyment of the rights in question by Italian citizens in the foreigner's country of origin
    2. The check stipulated in Paragraph 1 above is not required for foreign citizens holding a long-term residence permit as described in Article 9 of the unified text or for foreign citizens holding a residence permit for reasons of employment or self-employment, the running of an individual business, for family reasons, for humanitarian reasons or for reasons of study, nor is it necessary for their family members whose residency papers are in order.

Consequently, a foreigner residing in Italy, if his status corresponds with one of the above-described types, is exempt from the reciprocity condition and his rights are therefore not conditional on the ascertaining of the existence of reciprocity.

The foreigner's status may also depend on the provisions of multilateral treaties (for example, the European Economic Space) or bilateral treaties. On this point, the website of the Ministry of Foreign Affairs contains pages specifically dedicated to this important issue.

Moreover, the foreigner's condition may also depend on his status as a refugee or stateless person, at which point international conventions apply.

The foreigner's life, however, is not simply reduced to a mass of prohibitions and obstacles of various kinds. Rather, Italian law in some ways pays homage to his condition, based on the philosophical concepts of the Italian Risorgimento, as will be described. Indeed, within Italian jurisdiction, not only our law is applicable. As jurists know, even foreign laws may be applied here, where Italian law provides for it. On this point, Law no. 218 of 31 May 1995 (reform of Italian private international law), if there are the preconditions for it, allows the laws of any country in the world to be applied in certain matters, with the sole proviso that they must not damage the basis of our civil society.

Opportunities are open, then, for any person of good will moved by a passion for our country, a crossroads of civilization for millennia, replete with history and cultural riches, who wishes to take full advantage of the possibilities offered by the Italian law, thus contributing to mutual progress in a climate of harmony and brotherhood.

For those who have applied for citizenship, the Department for civil rights and immigration created a service which allows foreign citizens to check online the status of their application. The database is constantly updated