Pathways to citizenship for third-country nationals (EMN)

Integration through acquisition of citizenship has become an important topic in many EU Member States in recent years, as the number of new migrants arriving in the EU has increased in recent years. The EMN study found that citizenship is seen by Member States as either the culmination of the integration process or as facilitating the integration process. However, in most Member States, third-country nationals are not actively encouraged to apply for citizenship. 

Belgian report

The study takes as basis the major reform of the rules on acquisition of nationality undertaken in 2012.

One of the main innovations of the 2012 reform was the introduction of an integration requirement for third-country nationals applying to obtain Belgian nationality. The system adopted by Belgium in 2012 is quite peculiar: instead of relying on an integration test or assessment, Belgium has chosen to examine the production by applicants of documents as evidence in relation to various dimensions of integration.

Two main difficulties have been identified in relation to the current legal framework for acquisition of nationality by third-country nationals:

  • a large implementation gap: the highly codified system which was put in place does not address all situations. Authorities have been faced with a series of situations which were not addressed in the regulations.
  • a risk of unequal treatment: as decisions on applications for acquisition must be taken by various actors, who must apply a highly codified legal framework but one which leaves many questions unaddressed, there is room for divergent treatment of similar applications.

One of the conclusion stresses the fact that no thorough evaluation has been carried out yet of this major reform. Until now, the only assessment which has been carried out is a limited quantitative evaluation which focuses exclusively on the numbers – i.e. number of applications, number of requests granted, gender distribution of applications, etc.


EU synthesis report

Trends in the numbers of individuals granted citizenship of an EU-28 Member State showed an overall decline between 2014 and 2018. Policies on the acquisition of citizenship have evolved over time, with Member States reporting trends that render access to citizenship either more liberal or more restrictive. As of 2019, policies have been adopted to facilitate integration and adapt to societal changes, such as the drive to improve gender equality  and social inclusion , or to address issues relating to historical conditions and family ties. Conversely, more restrictive measures have been introduced in some countries to protect state security.

The main pathways to citizenship are ordinary naturalisation, special naturalisation and acquisition of citizenship by birth. All Member States offer the possibility to acquire citizenship through ordinary naturalisation, although the rules differ across countries. For instance:

  • citizenship or integration test can be part of the application procedure; 
  • special naturalisation procedures are frequently available and they can include grounds such as exceptional merit or benefit for the country or recovery of lost citizenship; 
  • no Member State currently grants citizenship unconditionally to children born on their territories to non-nationals (in general, a minimum residence period is required);
  • most Member States grant citizenship if an individual would otherwise be stateless, and the majority of them now allow for dual citizenship.

The criteria for granting citizenship and the procedures in place are broadly similar across the Member States but the specific conditions such as processing times, costs to applicants and available support all vary significantly. Naturalisation can be a lengthy and costly process, with limited available support, and a positive outcome is in general not guaranteed, even where all conditions have been met.

Recently, the COVID-19 pandemic-related containment measures have hindered the processing of citizenship applications. Some Member States reported either a full suspension of services or at least delays and most Member States have cancelled or postponed oral appeal hearings due to the closure of courts.

Publication Date:
Wed 08 Jul 2020
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