Americans Are Using Their Ancestry to Gain Citizenship in Europe


A growing number of US citizens are acquiring EU passports to expand their options for work, life and travel.

A growing number of Americans are applying for EU citizenship, taking advantage of their ancestry to gain a new passport and expand their options for work, life and travel.

There were 3,284 Americans who applied for an Irish passport in the first six months of the year, more than double the same period of 2021, according to government statistics. Demand for Italian and German passports has also increased exponentially, according to several citizenship consultancy firms. At the New York Italian consulate, the waitlist has 3,700 people on it. 

Each applicant has their own reasons. For some, the pandemic highlighted the advantages of having more than one passport, whether to visit family in countries that closed their borders to non-citizens or to take advantage of their employer’s work-from-anywhere policies. Others see business and investment opportunities, while many are tired of the political divisions in the US and want an escape route.

“Every month is a record month,” said Giorgio Nusiner, principal at Florida-based Italian American Citizenship Assistance Program, who’s seen demand double year-to-date compared to the same period last year. “Since the end of last year we’ve noticed an incredible increase in demand, and politics is the main reason people cite for looking to get out.”

A Way Out  

An estimated 40% of Americans are entitled to European citizenship, according to consultancy firm Global RCG. While each country has its own rules — Ireland offers citizenship to second-, third- and fourth-generation Irish-Americans who meet certain criteria, while Italy recognizes family ties going back to 1861 — people who can find documents certifying their ancestral links to these countries have relatively easy and cheap way to access the EU.

Not everyone who’s applying for citizenship intends to uproot their lives and move to Europe, but they like having that option.

Gabrielle Stoner, whose mother was born in Ireland, decided to apply for Irish citizenship after the Supreme Court overturned Roe v. Wade in June. The 27-year-old copywriter in Jacksonville, Florida, was worried she wouldn’t be able to access abortion services in the future. As a lesbian, she was also concerned about the rolling back of LGBTQ rights across the country.

“Every time there’s a huge political decision that has the potential to dramatically change the everyday life of Americans, we see a spike in searches from both sides of the political spectrum,” said Kelly Cordes, founder of Illinois-based Irish Citizenship Consultants, who noted a 300% increase in inquiries in the week following the Roe v. Wade decision.

Europe Too

To be sure, Europe is not immune to political and economic turmoil. The eurozone faces a recession amid rising fuel prices from the war in Ukraine and inflation that’s approaching double digits. Far-right parties have gained ground in countries like  Sweden and Italy. And abortion is still a battleground in some European countries, including Ireland, where abortion rights were extended four years ago from a near-total ban. Women there are now allowed to terminate a pregnancy up to 12 weeks after their last period, three weeks less than in Florida.

For Americans, the idea of seeking second citizenship, whether for mobility or tax purposes, isn’t new. But the 2016 election of Donald Trump prompted more people to explore the option, according to several firms. Subsequent events — such as the school shooting in Uvalde, Texas — have led to jumps in interest. 

“They don’t necessarily leave right away, but they like to have the option,” said Julie Schäfer, an immigration lawyer with Schlun & Elseven in Germany, who said she got 300 enquiries over one weekend after the Roe v. Wade decision, up from the usual 50.

Schäfer’s office has tripled in size this year, to six lawyers from two, because of the increased demand.

Multiplying Passports

While some Americans are becoming European citizens for political reasons, others are doing it for financial purposes.

Louis Reynolds, 47, is getting several passports, including an Italian one, for his business as a real estate developer. Working with a company that charged him $10,000 for the whole process, he found out that his great-great-grandfather, Luiggi Infante, was Italian, and that he was entitled to Italian citizenship as a result.

“It’s a great way to access the EU market, and it’s also fun to find out about your roots,” said the New Jersey-based developer.

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Louis Reynolds’s great-great-grandfather was Italian, allowing him, a century and a half later, to become an Italian too.Photographer: Martin Bentsen

The number of Americans seeking second citizenships quadrupled between 2020 and 2022, according to Canada-based citizenship firm Arton Capital, as the pandemic severely restricted travel. Twenty percent of Arton’s clients are now Americans, compared to just 2% two years ago. 

“During Covid, Americans realized their passport — which didn’t allow access to much of the EU — couldn’t deliver the freedoms they were used to,” said Armand Arton, the company’s founder. “People seek citizenship by descent because they don’t have to pay anything, unlike investment visas,” he added, referring to “golden visa” programs, which offer residency to people who invest a certain amount in the desired country.

Finding Roots

While political turmoil at home and economic incentives were factors in Cindy Sheahan’s decision to seek Italian citizenship, learning more about her own history was a bonus. 

After an initial consultation which showed she was eligible, the 61-year-old flew to Salerno to get documents related to her great-grandfather’s life and discovered a castle that shared her maiden name, Macchiaroli.

“I always knew I was a princess,” she said. 

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Cindy Sheahan in front of the castle sharing her last name in Italy.Photo credit: Cindy Sheahan.

The former software trainer recently moved to Porto, Portugal, from Denver while awaiting her Italian citizenship. She was glad to find a way to connect with her European ancestry and is looking forward to being able to travel and enjoy a good lifestyle on her pension, while staying away from a country she considers increasingly dangerous.

“The US has become so violent and backwards, while Europe is safe and cheaper,” she said. “I just want out.”


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