Naturalisation in Europe: law vs. practice

FCI has analysed global naturalisation practices in several previous posts and infographics. New research by Thomas Huddleston, who recently defended a PhD thesis regarding “naturalisation in action”, and Swantje Falcke gives greater insight into the role of nationality procedures, which according to their findings are as important as the nationality laws themselves. “Nationality acquisition statistics suggest”, according to the authors, “that it is not only abilities and motivations that determine nationality acquisition, but that immigrants with the same characteristics are more likely to acquire nationality in some countries with restrictive laws than in others with similar or even more inclusive laws”.

Nationality procedures have always been understudied relative to the law in the books and many studies do not distinguish between the two. The research shows, however, that some countries (e.g. Denmark and the Netherlands) have higher than expected nationality acquisition shares based on their legal requirements, while others (e.g. Spain and Greece) score lower than expected. The obvious question, according to the scholars, is thus “How can countries with similar levels of inclusiveness or restrictiveness in their nationality policies end up with such different shares of nationality acquisition?”. The answer is partly to be found in the domestic procedures.



Using a dataset developed by the European Social Survey, the analysis finds that nationality procedures are as important as nationality laws and that researchers and policy makers should give equal weight to the former. The law in the books refers to factors previously discussed by FCI such as language requirements, civic integration requirements and good character tests; the procedures, on the other hand, are concerned with the availability of information and courses, the costs, the types of documentation and assessments required as well as the amount of discretion, bureaucracy and judicial review.

As FCI discussed before, there is an ongoing debate on the added value of acquiring citizenship compared to being a legal long-term resident. The work of Huddleston and Falcke contains interesting findings on the categories of immigrants deciding to apply for naturalisation: “Immigrants who are currently married are more likely to be naturalised than those who are single or separated. Women are more likely to naturalise than men. The likelihood to naturalise increases with age and tertiary education. Immigrants are also less likely to acquire nationality if they come from larger origin communities in the destination country or do not speak the majority language. Having a child, being unemployed or belonging to a discriminated group is not associated with past nationality acquisition”.

Residence duration is also a key factor in predicting naturalisation rates. The longer immigrants reside in the country of destination, the more likely they are to naturalise. Relative to immigrants who have been resident for more than 20 years, immigrants who reside in the destination country for 6-10 years are about 85 percent less likely to naturalise and immigrants who reside in the country of destination for 11-20 years are about 53 percent less likely to naturalise.

The collected data show that immigrants from developing countries are most likely to apply and benefit from naturalisation. Immigrants from developed countries are much less affected by both the laws and procedures as “they possess sufficient human capital to interact autonomously with state authorities and overcome any obstacles along the way without their support”. The only exception is the host country’s approach to dual citizenship, as many high-skilled migrants have return plans and giving up the nationality of origin is a major barrier to naturalisation.

Recent research by Floris Peters fits nicely with “naturalisation in action”. Exploring whether citizenship acquisition matters for homeownership of foreigner-born residents of the Netherlands, Peters finds “empirical support for a citizenship premium in the housing market, but only for employed migrants. Citizenship acquisition increases the odds of homeownership for these immigrants by 26%, all else constant”. Possession of the host country citizenship not only signals creditworthiness to lenders and mitigates the negative consequences of discrimination, but also has an impact in the trajectory towards homeownership. At the same time, naturalisation may already have triggered a process of successive increments of opportunity (e.g. in the labour market), leading to more opportunities in the credit market.


Author: Olivier Vonk

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