Pathways to Citizenship for Third-Country Nationals in the EU

While the number of new migrants who have arrived in the EU in recent years has increased, the number of individuals granted citizenship of an EU Member State has declined, according to the new European Migration Network (EMN) study. The study provides a comparative overview of access to national citizenship through naturalisation for new migrants from third countries, in 25 EU Members States. It also includes information on the impacts of the COVID-19 pandemic on the processing of applications for citizenship.

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.  

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 (Sweden, Finland) and social inclusion (Malta), or to address issues relating to historical conditions (Austria) and family ties (Germany, Greece, Portugal, Luxembourg). Conversely, more restrictive measures have been introduced to protect state security for example in Germany, Finland and Portugal.

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, a citizenship or integration test is part of the application procedure in almost half of the Member States. Special naturalisation procedures are available in most Member States 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. As an example, the time for processing applications varies from 6 to 48 months and the application costs range from no fee at all to € 1 500, depending on the Member State. 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. Nine 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.


The study

  • Title: “Pathways to citizenship for third-country nationals in the EU”.

  • Period covered: 2014-2019

  • Subject: Frameworks in place and developments over the past five years across the Member States of the European Union (EU) for new migrants to access national citizenship through naturalisation. 

The European Migration Network (EMN)

The European Migration Network (EMN) is a Europe-wide network consisting of National Contact Points (NCPs) in the Member States and Norway, providing information on migration and asylum. The EMN was officially set up in 2008 by the European Commission on behalf of the European Council in order to satisfy the need for a regular exchange of reliable information on migration and asylum related issues on a European level.

The study is the result of a collaboration of migration and asylum experts representing EMN contact points across the EU.


European Commission – EMN

Mr. Magnus Ovilius

Head of Agencies and Networks Coordination, DG Migration and Home Affairs