New report: ‘Supporting integration? International practices on civics and language requirements linked to naturalisation: policy implications for Ireland

29 Sep 2020

A new Economic Social Research Institute and Department of Justice and Equality report, ‘Supporting Integration: International practices on civics and language requirements linked to naturalisation: policy implications for Ireland’ , aims to contribute to Ireland’s Migrant Integration Strategy 2017-2020 by investigating requirements linked to naturalisation in Europe.

Several European states have introduced language and knowledge of society (civics) requirements related to naturalisation, though there are no requirements in Ireland. Action 12 of Ireland’s Migrant Integration Strategy 2017-2020 states that the introduction of both civics and language tests for those seeking citizenship will be examined. This research study, carried out by the Economic Social Research Institute on behalf of the Department of Justice and Equality, aims to contribute to such an assessment by investigating language and civic requirements for naturalisation elsewhere in Europe. This report provides an overview of requirements adopted for naturalisation in EU Member States and the UK, and a ‘deep dive’ into practices in selected case study countries particularly relevant for Ireland.

Drawing on a wide range of sources, including a related European Migration Network study, a mapping exercise was undertaken across 27 EU Member States and the UK. Case studies on Belgium, Finland, Portugal and the UK, as well as on three English-speaking countries outside of Europe, were compiled.

Key findings;

  •  A total of 24 Member States plus the UK require naturalisation applicants to show language proficiency. National practices and the level of competence required varies widely.
  • 18 Member States plus the UK require applicants to show civic knowledge or proof of integration, again with much diversity in practices found.
  • No one-size-fits-all, but each individual country-level approach to citizenship requirements must be seen as part of the wider citizenship and migration policy context.
  • The introduction of language or civic requirements for naturalisation would represent a significant new direction for Ireland, and potential costs are considerable.
  • Consideration should be given to the availability and accessibility of English language courses and supports currently in place in Ireland and their capacity to meet demand, should language acquisition be linked to citizenship.
  • The possibility of providing applicants with the option to demonstrate proficiency in Irish and Irish Sign Language, with associated supports, should also be considered.
  • Requirements should take account of the needs of vulnerable groups, such as those with low levels of literacy and formal education, and people with disabilities.
  • Research suggests that if the goal is to promote the societal integration of migrants, requirements should focus on learning opportunities such as courses, rather than on exams.
  • Little research was found on the effect such requirements have on the integration of migrants; it is therefore difficult to reach any conclusions about the long-term effects of language and civics requirements linked to naturalisation.
  • Ex-ante analysis and ongoing evaluation are essential and need to take into account diverse voices (employers, educators, the wider public and the migrant community).

This research was funded as part of the ESRI research programme on equality and integration.

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