11. Encourage naturalisation

Citizenship is a powerful asset that can positively impact various aspects of life. Acquiring citizenship legally enables full social and civic participation and also builds a sense of belonging (Hainmueller, Hangartner and Pietrantuono, 2017[111]; Bloemraad, 2006[112]; OECD, 2011[113]).

What is more, citizenship is associated with better labour market outcomes for youth with migrant parents. As nationals, children of immigrants are more likely to work in high-skilled jobs and the public sector than their peers with foreign nationality. The citizenship premium can play a vital role when youth start to look for a job, as youth who are nationals receive more invitations to job interviews. Reasons include perceived lower administrative costs to hire a national, as opposed to a foreigner, as well as positive signalling of skills and broader social integration (OECD, 2011[113]). Finally, holding host country nationality facilitates access to financial resources. Advantages include access to scholarships and credits, enabling youth with migrant parents to start or expand business ideas.

In spite of all these advantages, many youth with migrant parents who would be eligible for host-country citizenship do not take it up.

The share of native-born children of immigrants holding the nationality of their country of residence varies widely across OECD countries. Much of this variation reflects differences in legislation for birthright citizenship. In countries, where the principle of birthright citizenship (jus soli) applies, such as in Canada and the United States, native-born children of immigrants have automatic citizenship. The same is essentially true for countries with a modified version of jus soli like France and the United Kingdom. In other countries, native-born youth can naturalise easily. In Sweden and the Netherlands, more than 90% of the native-born children of immigrants aged 20-29 are nationals. In contrast, in countries where citizenship descends based on parents’ nationality (jus sanguinis), like Austria and Switzerland, shares of native-born children of immigrants nationality are lowest (OECD, 2011[113]).

Countries have a range of policy tools at their disposal to encourage citizenship take-up among children of immigrants. Among the most common measures are the following set of actions:

  • Ensuring that native-born youth and those raised in the country access citizenship easily, by creating birthright entitlements for native-born and facilitated pathways for others

  • Allowing for dual citizenship

  • Promoting citizenship take-up by disseminating information about naturalisation and the favourable impact it can have on life

The most straightforward way to ensure that native-born children of immigrants become nationals is to automatically attribute nationality at birth to those born in the country. This jus soli principle is prevalent in the OECD countries settled by migration. However, recently, a number of European OECD countries made amendments to their citizenship laws to facilitate access to citizenship among native-born children of immigrants. Almost half of all OECD countries have integrated elements of jus soli into their citizenship legislation. Often, however, birthright citizenship in Europe is conditional upon a parent having resided for a specified period in the country. In countries where nationality is still largely transferred via descent (i.e. jus sanguinis), regulations can be more or less stringent. Minimum residence requirements for regular naturalisation range from three to ten years with an average of five years. Applicants often need to prove a certain level of language proficiency, knowledge of institutions and civic values, self-sufficiency, and a clear criminal record.

In the vast majority of countries, native-born children of immigrants enjoy certain facilitations, including shorter residency requirements, exemptions from tests or other obligations, and an entitlement to declare citizenship at a certain age. Typically, the option to declare citizenship exists only within a specified time window following legal age. However, in a few countries, children (or parents on their behalf) may declare citizenship earlier. In Sweden, for example, children (or their legal guardian) may declare citizenship after three years of residence. In Greece and Portugal, this option exists at the start or upon completion of primary school. Australia and Luxembourg automatically attribute nationality to children born and raised in their country who are not eligible to birthright citizenship at age 10 and 18, respectively.

Enabling youth with migrant parents to keep other nationalities is a critical way to encourage citizenship take-up. Indeed, for many youth, the cost associated with giving up the nationality of a parent constitutes a significant obstacle. In the past, several countries have required children of immigrants to choose one nationality. The rationale behind such policies were fears that dual and multiple citizenship might decrease loyalty to the country of residence and lead to abuse of rights. However, it is increasingly recognised that such fears are unwarranted and dual citizenship is now recognised in more than three-quarters of OECD countries. In some countries, this possibility is subject to conditions. For instance, in Germany, since 2014, children of immigrants who have been growing up in the country can maintain dual nationality. As a precondition, they must have lived in Germany for eight years, when turning 21 and have attended a German school for six years or completed vocational training. Previously, such youth were obliged to choose one citizenship upon becoming 18 until the age of 23.

Public information campaigns to promote naturalisation among eligible immigrant groups can help to increase citizenship take-up. Such programmes typically explain the required steps to naturalise, as well as the benefits of holding citizenship. Countries settled by migration have made such efforts for many years, in line with a longstanding perception of newly arrived immigrants as future citizens.

Canada, the OECD country with the highest citizenship take-up rate, has a long tradition of encouraging and facilitating naturalisation among permanent residents. An example is the ‘Citizenship Awareness Program’, an initiative of the federal government, with support of provinces and local communities. The programme includes the distribution of the citizenship study guide ‘Discover Canada’, the organisation of an annual citizenship week, and social media campaigns for promoting citizenship. Initiatives to reach immigrant youth include emails to school principals to use citizenship material and school visits of citizenship judges, who are expected to conduct outreach activities one half-day per month. According to a survey-based evaluation of the programme, activities that reinforced feelings of belonging and permanency facilitated naturalisation (Government of Canada, 2014[114]).

In the United States, the National Partnership for New Americans (NPNA) co-operates with community partners, mayor’s offices, members of congress, and labour unions to co-ordinate the nationwide nonpartisan ‘Naturalise NOW’ campaign. Through application assistance events, communication, outreach, and co-ordinated policy strategies, the campaign encourages eligible lawful permanent residents to naturalise.

High fees for naturalisation might hinder youth from naturalising. In many countries, fees are negligible, though not everywhere. In an attempt to address this barrier, a range of countries have lowered fees or introduced fee waivers. In the United Kingdom, for example, the ‘Citizenship Payment Plan’ supports families to cover the cost of their children’s citizenship application fees. The programme includes legal support to immigrant families, a one-off loan to the family to cover the high cost of a citizenship application, as well as a 12-month repayment plan. In the United States, the use of partial fee waivers as well as credit card fee payments to raise naturalisation rates among low-income immigrants have been tried. An example is the ‘NaturalizNY’ initiative, a public-private partnership. The programme, which uses a lottery to offer immigrants in the state of New York a voucher, is covering the naturalisation application fee of USD 725. An evaluation of the policy intervention suggests that those who were offered a voucher were twice as likely to apply as those who had to cover the fee themselves (Hainmueller et al., 2018[115]).

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