Paths to European citizenship


Illustration by Pete Reynolds ©

In 2022, the European Union naturalized fewer than 1 million individuals, representing a minuscule fraction of its non-national residents. European countries offer various naturalization paths, ranging from standard residency requirements to special provisions for achievements in fields like sports and culture. The criteria and implementation are inconsistent, with some countries offering expedited processes while others maintain rigid, lengthy procedures.

This investigation, coordinated by Civio, highlights significant disparities in naturalization processes across the European Union, exposing the often arduous journey for non-nationals seeking citizenship and the challenges they face, including extensive documentation requirements, mandatory language and culture tests, and significant administrative delays that can extend the naturalization process for years.

Main findings:

  • Most European countries offer shortcuts to naturalisation to a small number of people for achievements in specific areas, such as science, sports, or culture, while others leave the conditions up to the current government. For some years, Malta, Cyprus and Bulgaria included investments in the country as a path to citizenship, even for non-residents.
  • European countries naturalise only a small fraction of their non-national residents each year: 2.64% in 2022. Among member states, Sweden stands out with over 10% of its non-national population naturalized, followed by the Netherlands and Italy. In stark contrast, countries like Austria, Estonia, and Latvia naturalize less than half a percent of their non-national populations, underlining the vast differences in national policies.
  • A common method of obtaining naturalisation is to document a certain number of years of legal residency, alongside meeting additional integration requirements. Other methods include marrying a citizen, usually along with demonstrating some years of legal residency, or being a descendant of a citizen.
  • Even people who do manage to overcome the official and unofficial barriers to apply often face uncertainty in the timing of the response to their application.
  • Overcoming all these barriers to naturalisation is in the interest of the host countries, as citizenship offers people better lives in terms of employment and housing, consequently ensuring better integration.


The data unit

María Álvarez del Vayo (Civio, coordinator) is a journalist specialising in access to healthcare, public policy, forest fires and gender issues.

EDJNet members which took part in this investigation: