European citizenship in practice: implementation and effectiveness of naturalisation policies across Europe (PhD project)

Research Theme: Citizenship and Immigrant Integration

PhD researcher: Thomas Huddleston (Migration Policy Group and part-time PhD fellow Maastricht University, Campus Brussels)

PhD supervisors: Maarten Vink (Maastricht University, Faculty of Arts and Social Sciences) and Gerard-René de Groot (Maastricht University, Faculty of Law)

A growing body of quantitative studies of citizenship (e.g. Vink et al. 2014) confirms that the uptake of citizenship among the foreign-born is to an important extent determined by the inclusiveness of countries’ citizenship policies and the characteristics of its immigrant population. Policies have a selection effect because they create certain opportunities and obstacles to naturalise. The characteristics of the immigrant population also have what’s known as a ‘self-selection effect’ based on immigrants’ inherent abilities and motivations to naturalise. However, the differences in laws and immigrant populations do not fully explain the differences in naturalisation rates across Europe. These gaps may be explained by differences in implementation. Immigrants must apply through a naturalisation procedure in order to access the opportunities enshrined in law. Authorities may interpret or apply the law in a correct and consistent way at national or even local level. Without the proper procedures in place, the law will not have the expected effects on naturalisation rates.

As its main research question, this PhD project is determining whether the differences in naturalisation procedures and implementation matter more than differences in naturalisation laws for immigrants’ uptake of citizenship in practice. Gaps will be identified between countries’ naturalisation laws on paper and immigrants’ actual naturalisation rates. Problems in implementation and procedures are the missing factors that are notoriously difficult to measure. The project is deploying several quantitative comparative research methods to measure the effects of problems in implementation and procedures:

  • Input indicators on the practical obstacles and opportunities in ordinary naturalisation procedures across Europe
  • Statistical analysis of the links between these practical obstacles and naturalisation rates across Europe
  • Use of a targeted survey to analyse the links between laws and procedures and immigrants’ underlying interest and ability to apply
  • Comprehensive analysis of the naturalisation obstacle faced by humanitarian migrants
  • Evaluation of the effectiveness of information and promotional measures in three European countries

This PhD will make use of unique and under-exploited datasets collected by the Migration Policy Group: the CITIMP Implementation Indicators, the Immigrant Citizens Survey, the National Integration Evaluation Mechanism and MPG’s ongoing Citizenship Campaigns. The research will cover as many European countries as possible depending on the availability of comparable data.

This comparative analysis of policy implementation significantly expands the current scope of international quantitative citizenship studies, which is mostly focused on comparisons of citizenship laws and uptake. This analysis will also go beyond existing national case studies on implementation by comparing several national and sub-national contexts. This analysis will account for many often-neglected contextual factors that influence naturalisation rates across different countries, whose impact on integration is poorly captured and understood.

Thomas Huddleston is Programme Director on Migration and Integration at the Migration Policy Group. He coordinates MPG’s research on legal immigration and the integration of migrants and refugees, which largely focuses on national and EU policies and their effectiveness for integration outcomes. His areas of expertise focus on the quantitative measurement and evaluation of the success or failure of integration policies to respond to the specific needs of migrants and refugees and to facilitate their integration process over time. He designed and supervises as International Research Coordinator of the Migrant Integration Policy Index (, the Refugee Integration Evaluation Mechanism (NIEM) and the recent EU content of the European Website on Integration (EWSI). He has coordinated research for the EU’s Indicators on Migrant Integration, the third edition of the European Commission’s Handbook on Integration, the Immigrant Citizens Survey and the UNHCR Budapest’s pilot of the Refugee Integration Evaluation Tool. He is a member of the consortium of EUDO-Citizenship, the main source of information on citizenship policies in Europe and the Americas. His specific thematic areas of expertise include family reunification, naturalisation, immigrant political participation and the education of migrant and refugee children (SIRIUS network). He also chairs the quarterly migration subgroup of the NGO Platform on EU Migration and Asylum.