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Charting the life course of migrants

MiLifeStatus Migrant Life Course and Legal Status Transition Project Objectives

Debate continues over whether citizenship should be viewed as an incentive for migrants to integrate in local communities, or as a reward for doing so. The MiLifeStatus project is probing deeper into the relationship between migrant naturalisation and integration, research which holds clear importance to citizenship policy, as Professor Maarten Vink explains. The post-war period was marked by large flows of migrants into Western Europe. While this was initially thought to be a temporary phenomenon, over time it became apparent that many migrants didn’t intend to return to their country of origin and instead planned to stay and put down roots in their new home. “Not only did they want to stay, they also wanted to bring their spouse and children, who would grow up here,” explains Professor Maarten Vink, the Chair of Political Sociology at Maastricht University. The question of how to integrate migrant communities into national life has since become increasingly important. “There are cases where the descendants of long-standing migrant communities grow up in countries where they don’t hold citizenship. So they don’t have any political rights, and they haven’t got certainty as to their legal status,” continues Professor Vink. “This is problematic from both a community perspective and the perspective of the individual.” MiLifeStatus This topic is central to the work of the MiLifeStatus project, an initiative looking into the relationship between migrant naturalisation and integration, something which remains high on the political agenda in the wake of the European refugee crisis. There’s an ongoing political debate in the Netherlands, and indeed many other countries in Western Europe, about whether citizenship should be seen as an incentive


for migrants to integrate, or as a reward for doing so. “Some people on the political left argue that citizenship should be seen as an incentive. So it is said that we need to make citizenship accessible for migrant groups, and once they receive citizenship status they will be able to consolidate their lives,” outlines Professor Vink. People on the political right however tend to see citizenship more as a reward for integration. “The most wellintegrated immigrants will be rewarded with citizenship,” says Professor Vink. The underlying assumptions behind these ideological positions have not been properly tested, now Professor Vink and his colleagues aim to build a stronger evidence base in this respect. The project’s research is focused on four countries – Sweden, Denmark, Germany and the Netherlands – each with different rules around migrant naturalisation, starting with residency. “Here we see great variations – there is a five year residency requirement in the Netherlands and Sweden, eight in Germany, and nine in Denmark,” outlines Professor Vink. There is also usually a good behaviour component to acquiring citizenship, yet some countries choose not to put up many other barriers. “The most liberal country in the project is Sweden, where there is essentially no language and integration requirement. So if you have lived for five years in Sweden, are not a security threat and don’t have a criminal record, then you can become Swedish,” continues Professor Vink. There are more stringent integration

requirements in other countries however. Migrants applying for a Danish passport must reach quite a high level of language proficiency for example, while Professor Vink says many countries have citizenship tests, with questions on issues that are seen to be important in terms of integration into national life. “In the Netherlands the questions tend to be more attitudinal, while in Germany there are questions about the constitution and national history,” he outlines. These different requirements have a long-term impact. “It’s really quite remarkable”, Professor Vink says, “as after fifteen years, three-quarters of migrants in Sweden have naturalised, but in the Netherlands only around half and in Denmark and Germany not more than a third.” Researchers are now investigating the extent to which making citizenship more or less accessible gives it a different meaning, looking at data available from each of these four countries. “We use big data from population registers, and we also look at the integration of migrants on the labour market. Most politicians would agree that they expect migrants to be self-sufficient, to contribute to the national economy,” continues Professor Vink. A migrant’s citizenship status is an important factor here, as employers may be wary of offering a job to somebody without permanent residency rights or good language skills. It might therefore seem logical that naturalised migrants are more likely to be in

EU Research

The MiLifeStatus research team will disentangle the relationship between migrant naturalisation and integration in a longitudinal and comparative manner. The central - and innovative - idea of the research is to model migrants’ legal status transitions as life course events, which are in turn shaped by their origin, their family context, and societal structures and institutions..

Project Funding Naturalisation ceremony, Maastricht, The Netherlands.

secure, paid employment and have a higher income, something which is borne out by the project’s research so far. “We see that those migrants who have acquired citizenship generally do better on the labour market,” explains Professor Vink. This is to some extent a chicken-and-egg type question, so Professor Vink and his colleagues are looking into this in more depth to tease out the causal effects. “Does acquiring citizenship lead to better integration? Or are these better-integrated immigrants more likely to naturalise anyway?” he continues. “We use longitudinal data, where we track migrants over time. We can also compare their labour market status before and after naturalisation.”

Citizenship and integration The wider backdrop to this research is the ongoing debate about the relationship between citizenship and integration. Researchers aim to contribute to this debate and help assess the likely impact of policy ideas, such as a proposal by a previous government in the Netherlands to extend the residency requirement for naturalisation from five years to seven. “The idea was that migrants would be better integrated after seven years,” explains Professor Vink. This proposal has since been shelved, partly drawing on the research of Professor Vink and his colleagues. “We were able to contribute to the debate by showing that this proposal was likely to

We see great variation in how many migrants become citizens. After fifteen years, three-quarters of migrants in Sweden have naturalised, but in the Netherlands only around half, and in Denmark and Germany not more than a third. This allows researchers to identify whether these integrated migrants who are doing well on the labour market are also those who are more likely to naturalise. To some extent the process of naturalisation can incentivise migrants to acquire skills that might also benefit them on the labour market. “We found that naturalisation encourages migrants to do well on the labour market,” outlines Professor Vink. This effect is heightened when a migrant acquires citizenship relatively soon after they have completed the residency requirement rather than later on, when maybe their career trajectory is more defined. “The effect of naturalisation to some extent precedes the acquisition of citizenship, because migrants have invested in their own skills by acquiring language capability and learning about the country they’re living in,” says Professor Vink.

have counter-productive effects, as making migrants wait longer for naturalisation might actually dis-incentivize them, and diminish the potential for effective integration,” he outlines. “We want to contribute to ongoing political debates, and to help politicians make more reasoned decisions.” This work is ongoing, with the project currently in the third year of a five year funding term. Researchers are currently analysing the data and drawing comparisons, looking to gain deeper insights about the situation in Western Europe. This could form the basis for wider comparative research in future, for example looking at data on citizenship from North America. Professor Vink intends to bring this work to wider attention. “I have even taken up tweeting. We want to publish our results in high-ranking peer-reviewed journals, but we want to make sure that we also share those results with the broader public,” he says.

MiLifeStatus has received funding from the European Research Council (ERC) under the European Union’s Horizon 2020 research and innovation programme (grant agreement No 682626).

Project Partners

MiLifeStatus collaborates with researchers from Malmö University, Lund University and the Danish Human Rights Institute (see:

Contact Details

Project Coordinator, Professor Maarten Vink Professor of Political Sociology Department of Political Science, Faculty of Arts and Social Sciences Maastricht University T: +31(0)43 388 3376 E: W:

Professor Maarten Vink

Maarten Vink is Professor of Political Sociology at Maastricht University, where he is Co-Director of the Maastricht Center for Citizenship, Migration and Development (MACIMIDE). Vink leads the 5-year research project ‘Migrant Life Course and Legal Status Transition (MiLifeStatus)’ funded by a Consolidator Grant of the European Research Council (2016-2021). He is Co-Director of the Global Citizenship Observatory (GLOBALCIT)


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