As part of our ongoing series of posts devoted to our members and what they do for their communities, we are pleased to share this interview (conducted via email) with Marco Permunian from the Italian Citizenship Assistance agency. Its “goal is to help you realize your dream of becoming an Italian citizen.”
When and how did you get involved in Italian citizenship assistance?
I happened to get involved by chance. A number of years ago, after I graduated from law school in Italy, I worked in a law firm in New York City. I became acquainted with the Italian American community which I thought only existed in movies and TV until that point. Quite to my surprise I saw the passion that people of the Italian-American community have for their ‘motherland’. I was not only surprised but impressed by how they kept their Italian identity and how strongly the Italian culture was as strong as ever even after generations of living abroad. It was around this time that I was first approached by individuals who asked if I would be able to help them get their Italian citizenship since they knew that I studied Italian law. At that point I didn’t realize the laws regarding citizenship could include people who seemed in my mind to be so far distant from the country I come from that I couldn’t fathom how they could actually gain Italian citizenship. However, after looking into the laws in depth, I realized that it was in fact possible for people of Italian descent born abroad to get Italian Citizenship through their ancestry… not only that but in many cases Italian law actually already recognizes these people, at least to a certain extent, as citizens of Italy. That is when I made it my mission to help everybody I could to achieve and realize their dreams to connect with their homeland through their ancestors.
2. What has been your career path to where you are?
Again, after having left law school, I worked with a New York law firm which specializes in cross border relations and negotiations. Through these interactions, as mentioned before, is how I came into contact with the Italian American community. I later came to build my small business that flourished into a company from the ground up to help people through their process for citizenship.
Italian Citizenship Assistance started out with just me and 2 other people sitting at desks in a small cramped Italian living room, which was our office at the time. Now, ICA has evolved and become one of the largest companies/firms, if not the largest in the Italian dual citizenship feild. We assist people through the Italian citizenship process with our team of lawyers, genealogists and dual citizenship experts who are spread throughout the world. We have 2 main offices; one in California and the other in Italy in my home town in the Veneto region as well as a number of satellite offices and firms in copertation in places like New York City, Argentina, Brazil, the United Kingdom and other locations.
3. What is your company’s philosophy?
I would say that no matter what, when someone contacts us, it is important to try and help each and every person as much as we can even though it may not always be possible. We have more than a typical client / lawyer relationship with them. They are our fellow countrymen and women… maybe even long lost cousins trying to come ‘home’. Since we see it like this we provide many initial services that other firms would normally charge for. We literally do weeks worth of work to properly assess their eligibility through the efforts of our talented team of genealogists before even taking on an individual as a new client….this is all done free of charge. Determining eligibility entails lengthy research along with the gathering of documentation so we know the eligibility of a potential client before they opt-in for our services. In order to help a person, it is most important to know if they are indeed eligible for Italian citizenship before we even would consider accepting any payment. We have heard horror stories through members of the dual citizenship community about other firms that have assisted clientele for long periods of time… over the course of a year or more without having done some of the basic ground work and only for their client to later find out after having paid large sums of money, that they are actually not eligible for Italian citizenship. We believe it is important to lay strong foundational groundwork at the very beginning before any financial transaction has even taken place. The quality of our services and the satisfaction of our clientele are among our top most priorities.
3. What is the achievement or contribution that you are most proud of and why?
Each and every case and smile that we see from our clients reaching the “finish line” by achieving their goal of gaining Italian citizenship with their passport in hand, is a heartwarming and very fulfilling achievement every single time. It’s not a feeling that ever gets old to know that we have helped someone connect to their Italian past and to bridge that gap between their familial Italian past and their future or their children’s future. Many of our clients come to us without even knowing some basic information about their ancestors, sometimes not even the names or where the family was from. Through our research we help them to ‘connect the dots’ and create the picture and find the missing pieces of their family heritage puzzle. We have received so many heartwarming emails, and have had countless calls with people very emotional with tears of joy so happy to have connected with something so important as the discovery of their own heritage giving them insight into their identity. This opens up a whole new reality for so many and they learn about things and become Italian legally which they may not have even known was possible until just before contacting us. People report to us that this process seems to open up a whole new world for them, connecting them to their past in a deep and meaningful way. Being part of this process and helping people through this is something I am very proud of.
4. How do you define success?
Success is knowing that your client has had all of their needs met and that you have helped them accomplish the goals that were originally set out. We try to do this by building awareness and moving forward and helping as many people in the global Italian diaspora as possible… this is what we see as one of many forms of success.
5. Chronologically describe what you go through; feelings and thoughts on your way to work.
Every morning I wake up ready to take on the day and help people move forward through the complicated system which has been put in place dealing with acquisition/recognition of Italian citizenship.
On my way to work I take time to listen to some good music and I start the day off right with a traditional Italian style breakfast of a coffee and a cornetto. Although I must admit during this time of the coronavirus crisis, it has been a surreal experience. Having not been able to return to the USA, I have been in Italy since before the caronavirus crisis began. I must say that driving through the empty Italian streets is quite strange. In Italy as a lawyer, we are among a few lines of work that are considered to be a vital service to the nation and at this point I am the only one in our office who continues to actually work in our office. We’ve been able to figure out a contingency plan for the rest of our global team to be able to continue our work. I also work both from home and from our office and follow the rules of limiting personal interactions. We are all trying to limit going out as much as possible. Even though this crisis has slowed down a lot of the world, we, at ICA are pushing forward harder than ever to make sure that our clients will be able to make the claim to their birthright in as timely manner as possible even during this difficult period.
6. What was your biggest challenge that you faced and how did you solve it?
Thus far the biggest challenge that I have faced has been how to be able to continue helping our clients through this difficult period. We have been accomplishing this through a lot of creative solutions and flexibility that may feel out of the ordinary. My team and I have come up with solutions for how we will continue to serve our clientele during this very tumultuous period.
7. What do you see for the future of Italian citizenship. How are you adapting to the current changes in citizenship?
It is very necessary to stay on top of the laws and regulations as there are constant updates to the laws in Italy in addition to how they are used in practice. We have challenged many interpretations of the laws with successful outcomes. It has become necessary for us to regularly challenge the Italian government because perhaps there are old understandings of italian laws not to mention from time to time more modern areas of law haven’t been as clearly defined as they need to be. Some people may be familiar with the term “1948 Case” which leads some Italian Americans to have to circumvent the normal procedure for Italian citizenship by descent and go through the Italian courts for their Italian citizenship, if their case falls into certain categories and ticks certain boxes. We are constantly having to adapt and move forward through all situations regardless of any roadblocks that may be thrown in our way. It is only by pushing forward that we can truly help people with procuring their Italian citizenship by descent not only in the United States but around the world.