Matthew Canavan's dual citizen account questioned by Italian immigration experts

Parents can’t apply for Italian citizenship on behalf of their children, says expert after Canavan resigned as resources minister

Matthew Canavan’s account of unwittingly becoming a dual citizen, a revelation that threatens his standing as an MP, would have taken place only in a highly unusual departure from Italian immigration rules, experts have said.

Canavan, who was until Tuesday the minister for resources and northern Australia, quit cabinet while remaining a senator, saying his mother had arranged his Italian citizenship when he was 25 without his knowledge or consent.

He said Italian authorities had confirmed the application was “not signed by me”, and that he had never set foot in an Italian consulate.

While Canavan had not received “definitive legal advice” on his eligibility as a senator, the government is set to press his case in the high court.

The deputy prime minister, Barnaby Joyce, said on Wednesday that Canavan told him he had discussed applying with his family around 2005 “and he thought that’s where it’s rested”.

“I think they’ve found the forms and they’re unsigned,” he said.

Joyce said Canavan’s dilemma would be “a question that would be deliberated by the high court”.

When asked if parents could apply for Italian citizenship on behalf of their adult children, Sara Bucalossi, a visa procurement associate at Mazzeschi, one of Italy’s largest immigration law firms, said: “No – absolutely not.”

Bucalossi said under the Italian foreign ministry’s guidelines “adults should apply for themselves”.

“It doesn’t matter if someone else wants to apply for you, not your parents, not even your wife, because you’re an adult at that point, you make the decision for yourself,” she told the Guardian from her office near Florence.

It was “absolutely” the case that applicants would need to sign their own paperwork and lodge it in person at a consulate, Bucalossi said.

“For citizenship applications everywhere, even if you apply in Italy or abroad at the Italian consulate or embassy, every citizenship application can be done only in person and the application should be signed by the applicant.”

Bucalossi said her firm’s handling of a recent case with the Italian consulate in Sydney showed it appeared to follow ministerial guidelines on citizenship applications by the book.

Asked if she thought it possible to gain citizenship in the process described by Canavan, Bucalossi said: “I really don’t know. There are so many consulates all around the world that I cannot confirm if there is this possibility, I don’t know, in Mongolia or something like this? I can tell you this is the rules according to the ministerial guidelines.”

It was true that consulates had scope to vary their requirements, she said.

ABC journalist Emma Alberici on Wednesday posted an online video in which she said an Italian consular official had “confirmed for me that once you’ve become an adult, you need to present in person and fill out the forms yourself”.

“A parent can’t do that on your behalf,” Alberici said. “He also told me categorically that that requirement hasn’t changed in at least two decades.”

Here's what I learnt at the Italian Consulate today. Italian Citizenship rules are the same regardless of where you live in the world 🇮🇹

— Emma Alberici (@albericie) July 26, 2017

The Greens leader, Richard Di Natale, said on Wednesday that Canavan should take the “honourable, legal, ethical” course and quit parliament in line with the example set by two of his party’s senators who also discovered they held dual citizenship.

“The advice we received was that ignorance is no excuse,” he said. “If you’re a genuine Italian, you’re a real Italian, you never blame your mum for anything ... so that might be his only defence in this case, I reckon.”

The questions about Canavan comes as the One Nation senator Malcolm Roberts remains under pressure about his compliance with the constitutional requirements.

BuzzFeed on Wednesday published extracts of old travel records which appear to indicate Roberts travelled with his family as an infant on a UK passport.

Last October, a spokesman for Roberts told Guardian the senator was born in India to expatriate parents, but had only ever held one citizenship.

“Senator Roberts has never held any other citizenship other than his Australian citizenship,” the spokesman said. “He’s had to obtain visas when he’s travelled to the United Kingdom and to India, and people who are citizens do not have to get visas”.

Roberts has said on Twitter this week that prior to entering the Senate he ensured he held no other citizenships and he had documents to prove his compliance with the requirement.

Those documents have not been made public.

On Wednesday, Roberts’ spokesman told a number of news outlets he had been misquoted by Guardian last October. But neither Roberts nor his office raised any issue with the story published nine months ago until Wednesday.


Joshua Robertson and Katharine Murphy

The GuardianTramp

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