Earning citizenship makes working and living in Europe much easier | Credit: Picture alliance/dpa/B. Fishman
Earning citizenship makes working and living in Europe much easier | Credit: Picture alliance/dpa/B. Fishman

It usually takes several years of someone living in a country before one can apply for citizenship. But that exact time period depends on the country and how someone is legally defined. InfoMigrants takes a look at the regulations in several countries in the European Union including Germany, France, Sweden and Denmark.

It can be a difficult process for non-Europeans to obtain refugee status in Europe. But once refugee or subsidiary protection status is granted, how long does it take to become a citizen of a European country? And what qualifies you to become a citizen? Other than marriage to a country's citizen, it varies by your age, status and country you are applying for:

Germany (EU)

There are several factors that determine if someone can naturalize into a German citizen. According to the Federal Office for Migration and Refugees (BAMF), that person must have the following:

·        An unrestricted right of residence at the time of being naturalized

·        Passed the naturalization exam

·        Lived in a lawful residence for eight years, which can be reduced to seven years if you attend an integration course, or reduced to six years in case of special integration measures

·        Independent means of living (which includes family members), and not require welfare or unemployment benefits

·        Decent German language skills (usually at least B1 level)

·        No criminal convictions

·        Commitment to the order of the Basic Law

·        Given up their previous nationality

If all of the conditions are met, that person can turn in a naturalization application to the local service that will handle the process (immigration authorities, youth migration services, immigration advice services for adult immigrants, or local town council). It costs €255 per person, or €51 for minors under the age of 16. Minors who are trying to naturalize without their parents must pay €255 each. If someone is attempting to naturalize several children at once, or if they do not make much money, the fee can be reduced or payment can be made in installments.

France (EU)

France offers several different ways for refugees to obtain French citizenship. Forum Refugies says naturalization by declaration is only possible for children who were born by refugees while in France or arrived in France before turning 13 years old.

The 1993 Decree on Citizenship and Civil Code lists the following as the necessary steps to obtain French citizenship:

  • five years of residence
  • strong knowledge of French (at least B1)
  • strong knowledge of French history
  • not be imprisoned for six months or more while in France
  • believe in French values

According to the Asylum Information Database (AIDA), refugees are not bound to the five years of residence requirement. They are candidates for naturalization as soon as they are granted asylum.

Those under subsidiary protection must wait for five years before they can try to obtain citizenship. They can reduce this time to two years if they graduate from a French college, if they provide "exceptional service" to France or if they can prove they are incredibly well integrated.

Italy (EU)

The AIDA says refugees can obtain Italian citizenship after legally residing in Italy for five years. Those who receive subsidiary protection are subject to the general rule and must live in Italy uninterrupted for 10 years.

The application needs to be submitted online through the website of the Ministry of Interior. Applicants must provide a copy of one's original birth certificate as well as one's criminal record from their home country, and they must be translated and legalized. The originals are to be presented to the prefecture where one resides. The application costs €200 to file.

Refugees can replace this documentation requirement if they are able to prove their personal data and legal position in their home country with a written declaration, which is signed in court and in front of two witnesses. People who have received subsidiary protection do not have this option.

One can be denied citizenship if he/she does not have enough Italian language skills or not enough social inclusion. They may request records of the previous three years of income to determine social inclusion and whether it is equal to or higher than the minimum income guaranteed by Italy.

Spain (EU)

The AIDA says the law varies depending on refugee status and where one was born:

  • refugees must live in the country for at least five years, subsidiary protection beneficiaries must live in Spain for at least 10 years before trying to become citizens
  • Andoran, Filipino, Guinean, Portuguese or Sefardi nationals must live in Spain for at least two years
  • applicants who were born in Spain and under public guardianship for two years must wait at least one more year
  • Those who married Spaniards at least one year prior must wait at least one year, as well as widows of Spaniards, and Spanish descendants

The Directorate General for Registers and Notaries manages the process. The application is submitted online and they will request necessary documents and provide a registration number. After that, there are two tests at the headquarters of the Cervantes Institute. The first test examines Spanish language proficiency (except for those who hail from Spanish speaking countries) and the second test is on the constitutional and cultural aspects of Spain (known as the CCSE). Disabled people and children do not go through the tests.

It costs €100 for naturalization, as well as €80 for the first exam and €120 for the second. It typically takes at least 1.5 years from start to finish. 

Austria (EU)

AIDA says that a refugee can become an Austrian citizen after legally residing in the country for 10 years, 15 years for beneficiaries of subsidiary protection. Citizenship must be given to someone who is entitled to asylum after living as a resident in Austria for 10 years if the Federal Office for Aliens and Asylum determines there is no need to terminate the procedure.  A beneficiary of subsidiary protection must also prove:

  • sufficient income for the last three years
  • German language knowledge (at least B1 level)
  • completion of the integration course (Werteskurs)
  • no criminal record (Unbescholtenheit)

Applicants can shorten the waiting period if they obtain a B2 knowledge of German, or prove their personal integration with B1-level German. They must also prove voluntary work in the social field for at least three years. If these criteria are met, along with the general conditions, they may apply for citizenship after just six years of residence. 

Sweden (EU)

Sweden's Citizenship Act says anyone attempting to naturalize into the country, that person must be able to do the following:

  • prove their identity
  • be at least 18 years old
  • have a permanent residence permit, right of residence, or residence card
  • have conducted themselves well in the country

The amount of time that one must stay in the country before applying for citizenship depends on the applicant's living and legal conditions. The general rule is that the applicant must live in Sweden for at least five consecutive years. However, if the applicant is classified as a refugee, that period is only four years.

If the applicant has a permanent residence permit or residence permit for settlement as soon as they arrived in Sweden, the period starts upon arrival. Otherwise the duration begins as soon as the application is submitted and approved. If the residency application was initially rejected, the time starts when the applicant submitted a new reapplication and was accepted.

If the naturalization applicant is married to, living in a registered partnership with or co-habiting with a Swedish citizen, the waiting period to apply for citizenship is three years. Those planning to apply this way must have lived together for at least two years. If the applicant's co-habitor used to have another nationality that wasn't Swedish, or was stateless, this person must be a Swedish citizen for at least two years. 

If the applicant trying to naturalize into Sweden previously entered under a different or false identity, or if they thwarted a refusal-of-entry, this may make obtaining citizenship in a timely manner difficult.

The decision to grant citizenship is made by the Migration Agency (Migrationsverket). 

Denmark (EU) 

Eva Ersbøl, who works at the Danish Institute of Human Rights, tells refugees.dk that naturalization is only granted by Danish parliament (Folketinget). The Ministry of Immigration and Integration (Integrationsministeriet) works as a secretariat for the Naturalization Committee (Folketingets Indfødsretsudvalg). The application must be sent to the Integrationsministeriet, and applicants must meet the following conditions:

  • sign a declaration of loyalty to Denmark and Danish society
  • have a clean criminal record
  • no overdue debt to public authorities
  • must not have received social benefits (with few exceptions)
  • be proficient in Danish (at least B2 level)
  • pass citizenship test of 2015
  • participate in a citizenship ceremony, sign a declaration of compliance with the Danish Constitution and shake hands with an official

Certain exceptions can be made for those who are not physically or mentally able to meet certain conditions. 

Stateless persons must be granted Danish citizenship if they are born on Danish territory and do not obtain citizenship in another state. Stateless refugees can stay in the country for eight years before applying for citizenship. Statelessness people are defined as followed:

  • a stateless child born in Denmark who applies for citizenship before turning 18 and is lawfully residing in Denmark
  • a stateless person born in Denmark between the ages 18-21 and applies during this timeframe, has been stateless since birth, resided in Denmark for five years immediately before turning in the application or eight years in total, and is not found guilty of an offense against national security which would result in a prison sentence of at least five years

The fee to apply for naturalization is 3,800 Danish Krone (€509, $572) 

Dual citizenship has been accepted in Denmark since 2015. 

United Kingdom (likely to become non-EU)

People with refugee status and subsidiary protection cannot apply for naturalization in the UK until they receive an Indefinite Leave to Remain for at least 12 months. The Home Office laid out the requirements for those who are not married to British nationals as the following:

  • at least 18 years old
  • is of full capacity ("not of unsound mind")
  • meets residence requirements
  • is of good character
  • has sufficient knowledge of English, Welsh or Scottish Gaelic and can provide evidence
  • has sufficient knowledge of life in the UK and can provide evidence to support this
  • intends to continue living in the UK or enter the Crown Service, serve under an international organization that the UK is a member of or work with a company established in the UK

If the applicant is married to a British national, the guidelines are as followed:

  • at least 18 years old
  • is of full capacity
  • meets the residence requirements
  • is of good character
  • has sufficient knowledge of English, Welsh or Scottish Gaelic and can provide evidence of language knowledge
  • has sufficient knowledge of life in the UK and can provide evidence to support this

There are some cases where it would be appropriate to exempt an applicant from the language and life knowledge requirements if they are married.

Minors under 18 years old cannot be naturalized by themselves. If a child has an automatic claim to British citizenship, it must be informed in writing. This includes if they were born stateless inside or outside of the UK. They 

The AIDA says the fee to apply for naturalization can go as high as 1,236 pounds (1,430 €, $1,609).  

Netherlands (EU)

In order to apply for Dutch citizenship, the Immigration and Naturalization Service (IND) says one must do the following:

  • be 18 or older
  • lived in the Kingdom of the Netherlands (which includes the Netherlands, Aruba, Curacao and Sint Marteen, as well as the municipalities of Bonaire, Sint Eustatius and Saba) for at least five years
  • have a civic integration diploma to show that one is properly integrated into Dutch society
  • have no criminal proceedings ongoing during the application process, and not have been convicted or sentenced to a conditional discharge in the Netherlands or any other country in the five years before applying for citizenship
  • declare solidarity to the Netherlands

Applicants must also renounce their previous citizenship. But this is not the case if you(r):

  • country does not allow you to give up your nationality
  • are married to or are a registered partner of a Dutch citizen
  • are under 18 years old
  • have an asylum residence permit
  • are a citizen of a nation that is not recognized by the Netherlands
  • must pay a large sum of money to your country of origin in order to renounce your citizenship there
  • lose certain rights if you give up your nationality
  • must fulfill (or buy out) your military service before renouncing your citizenship

There are several exceptions to the five-year term of residency before applying for citizenship. These include:

  • marriage or registered partnership to a Dutch citizen. One can apply for citizenship after three years of marriage or partnership and have lived together during the three years before application. The two can live together outside of the Netherlands for the three years prior to application, but they must have been registered as a marriage or partnership during these three years.
  • living in the Kingdom of the Netherlands for three consecutive years with a Dutch partner (not married) and with a valid residency permit. You must live together during these three years
  • statelessness. One can apply for naturalization after three years of living in the Netherlands
  • being adopted in the Kingdom of the Netherlands by at least one Dutch citizen after coming of age

Minors can only apply for Dutch citizenship by parents or legal representatives. 

If one does not have a passport or birth certificate, and it is impossible to obtain them from one's consulate or embassy, then they may be allowed to appeal to a lack of documentary evidence.

Portugal (EU)

The Portuguese Refugee Council (CPR) states that all foreigners, including refugees and beneficiaries of subsidiary protection, are eligible for naturalization so long as the following requirements are met:

  • 18 years old
  • legally residing in Portugal for at least six years
  • proof of Portuguese language abilities (at least A2 level)
  • no criminal conviction that is punishable with a prison sentence of at least three years
  • not being a danger or threat to national security due to activities related to terrorism

Children who are born in Portuguese territory to non-Portuguese parents are eligible for citizenship under the following circumstances:

  • proof of Portuguese language abilities (at least A2)
  • no conviction of a crime punishable by at least a three-year prison sentence
  • at least one parent legally residing in the country for the past five years at the time of application, or one parent's completion of basic education in Portugal (four years)

Marrying a Portuguese citizen speeds up the process. If the applicant is married to, or in a civil union with, a Portuguese citizen for three years, they can apply for citizenship. CPR says the Central Registrations Service (Conservatoria dos Registos Centrais, CRC) is more lenient for refugees when it comes to providing identity documents. This is not the case for beneficiaries of subsidiary protection.

Typical costs for the naturalization process varies between 150 and 250 euros. There are some exceptions that may reduce the costs, though.

Switzerland (non-EU)

The amended Federal Act on the Acquisition and Loss of Swiss Citizenship in 2018 dictates naturalization in Switzerland. 

The initial application is handled by the State Secretariat for Migration (SEM). The SEM determines whether the applicant has properly integrated into Switzerland, but the application is also examined by the canton and community. Both the applicant's canton and community have their own requirements for naturalization. 

The federal requirements for naturalization include:

  • being successfully integrated
  • is familiar with Swiss culture and poses no threat to Switzerland

If the SEM finds that the applicant is acceptable to continue, then the application is sent to the cantonal naturalization authority. If the canton does not make their decision to grant federal citizenship within one year, the application is no longer valid. If it is granted, municipal, cantonal and Swiss citizenship can be acquired.

The SEM states that it is necessary to hold a permanent residence permit and reside in Switzerland for ten years before applying for citizenship. Temporarily admitted people must wait five years more than refugees. If an applicant lived in Switzerland between the ages of 8 and 18, those years count double, but the applicant must have lived in the country for at least six years.   

The Portal for Swiss Authorities says the fee to naturalize in a commune can vary between 500 and 1,000 Swiss Francs (€440-880, $495-990) per person. It can cost upwards of 2,000 Francs to naturalize in a canton. It costs an additional 150 Francs for a married couple to apply for naturalization, 100 Francs for an unmarried adult, and 50 Francs for a minor to apply for naturalization with the federal state. These costs may not necessarily include other fees including a residence certificate, criminal record certificate or debt registry certificate.

Norway (non-EU)

The Norwegian Directorate of Integration and Diversity says to apply for citizenship in Norway, one must have a valid residence permit for Norway. Applicants then must meet the following requirements:

  • identity must be documented
  • must be a resident of Norway and intend to continue living in Norway
  • completed 300 hours of education in Norwegian language skills or be able to document proficiency in Norwegian or Sami
  • must not have been convicted of a criminal offense or ordered to undergo enforced psychiatric treatment
  • willing to renounce former citizenship

Minors who arrived in Norway before the age of 18 must have lived in the country five of the last seven years before applying. Separate rules apply to children under 12 and seniors over 55.

The process to apply for citizenship can vary by the applicant's home country. For more information, the Norwegian Directorate of Immigration (Utlendingsdirektoratet, UDI) has a page that explains the differences for each previous nationality.

The UDI said Norway will likely introduce new rules that will allow dual citizenship in 2020. This varies depending on the applicant's home country's rules on whether dual citizenship is allowed. If one is currently in the process of naturalization, or is planning to apply before the new rules come into effect, these new rules on dual citizenship will not apply. 

 

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