In the wake of the European refugee crisis and the influx of migrants into European countries, migrant integration is at the top of the political agenda. The acquisition of citizenship through naturalization, in this context, is often an important event in the process of settling in a new country. Obtaining a passport, and hence the citizenship of a host country, provides for migrants a secure residence status, rights, and participation opportunities. Besides, it may encourage a sense of belonging.
Yet, politicians and voters have different views on whether citizenship should be regarded as a reward for a successfully completed integration or, by contrast, as an incentive to reach this goal. As a result, the conditions under which citizenship can be acquired vary significantly between countries and have, moreover, changed often over time within individual countries. For example, whereas Sweden liberalized the access to citizenship already in 2001 by accepting dual citizenship, Denmark only accepted dual citizenship in 2015 and the Netherlands is currently considering following these Nordic examples. In terms of residence requirements, in both the Netherlands and Sweden immigrants are eligible for ordinary naturalization after five years, whereas this citizenship can only be acquired after nine years in Denmark. In all three countries, different rules exist for family members, stateless persons and, in Denmark and Sweden, also for Nordic citizens. Moreover, whereas in Sweden – apart from the absence of a criminal record – citizenship is virtually unconditional upon other requirements, both Denmark and the Netherlands have instituted language and civic integration requirements since the early 2000s. Finally, income requirements, fees and administrative discretion may impose additional obstacles in the road to becoming a citizenship and acquiring the rights attached to that status.
In this research symposium, it was discussed how these varying and changing requirements affect immigrant naturalization in these three countries: Denmark, the Netherlands and Sweden. The seminar discussed the available evidence about the (changing) number of naturalizations since the late 1990s, reflected on insights about practical obstacles to citizenship from a migrant perspective and considered the opportunities and constraints of researching these important questions based on population register data which are uniquely available in these three countries.