Language, integration testing and citizenship in the European Union and the European Economic Area




In times where people are forced due to various, more or less perilous reasons to abandon their original countries of citizenship, there has been a surge on migration and citizenship legislation. It seems, however, especially when it comes to citizenship, that laws have one common denominator, which is in a sense, quantifying integration, through scholastic procedures, such as language and culture testing. These procedures aim to highlight the importance of integration and assimilation. The logic behind this, is basically “if you want to be one of us and share the same rights with us, you need to prove you are one of us”. Even though several countries present financial self-sufficiency, socio-political participation or other prerequisites to attempt to quantify integration, this article will only give an overview on the language testing aspect of the citizenship procedure, in the EU, EEA and Switzerland as well as highlight the difficulty of achieving that desired level. The reduction of the residence requirement due to marriage is prevalent in all countries, viewing marriage or cohabitation with a citizen as an indicator of successful integration.

Starting with Austria, for example, a German language level of B2 at the CEFR, as well as substantial personal integration, will reduce the normal residence requirement from 10 to 6 years. As far as the second generation of minor migrants is concerned, they are even required to submit a school report, which demonstrates a favorable mark in the course subject of German language. Additionally the applicant needs to have extensive knowledge, regarding the political and democratic institutions of the Republic of Austria.

Belgium requires its citizenship applicants to know at least one of its official languages, with no reduction, when it comes to the residence requirement. Additionally, it requires a wide range of indicators quantifying integration, such as a diploma from a public education institution, or financial self-sufficiency, without providing any reductions to the residence requirement. Similar requirements are adopted by the Czech Republic, who requires knowledge of the language, successful professional integration and participation in academic institutions, with Czech as a primary language of instruction. Linguistically, Finland follows the same requirement, asking its citizenship applicants to master either Finnish, Swedish or Finnish sign language.

Bulgaria, on the other hand, does not explicitly state the language requirement and instead puts its focus on a social and professional integration, highlighting self-sufficiency and renunciation of the applicant’s former citizenship. These requirements presuppose good working skills of the language, but it is not explicitly mentioned within the law on nationality of that particular country. Cyprus adopts the same measure, putting more emphasis on the uninterrupted residence requirement. The same pattern is followed by numerous countries, such as Hungary and Iceland, who do not explicitly state the language requirements but put requirements such as self-sufficiency, which presuppose good working knowledge of the respective languages.

Croatia, however explicitly requires good working knowledge of Croatian language, culture and customs.

Denmark is known to have one of the most strenuous citizenship application procedures. Beyond the residence and self-sufficiency requirements, its citizenship test is known to be notoriously difficult. In 2016, only 31.2 of the applicants, who took the citizenship test, passed. This test has been criticized for its overreliance on history as well as obscure questions, regarding Danish culture and questions challenging the applicants’ religious beliefs, which, according to experts, go beyond the question of integration and reach assimilation issues. Another country with a significantly difficult citizenship procedure is Switzerland, whose residence requirement is the longest in Europe, even though it is linguistically flexible, the integration quantification is very strict. There have been reports of a woman of Turkish descent being refused the citizenship for not knowing her neighborhood’s local shops, which signified insufficient integration skills.

Estonia follows the same pattern, additionally acknowledging that students attending an educational institution are assumed to already know the language, thus exempting them from the language test. The applicants are also required to take an examination on the Constitution as well as the political institutions of Estonia. There are also specific provisions on the modules, in which the applicant is going to be tested.

The state of France has a much more facilitated quantification of integration. The minimum level required for the French language is B1, according to the CEFR, and France also provides incentives for minor applicants who have received their education in France. There is specifically a clause, according to which a master’s degree in French instruction, reduces the residence requirement to two years from the original five years. This stipulation has, however, never been implemented. In July 2015, the Greek government restored a similar law on citizenship for minor applicants and applicants who have received education in Greek schools. The latter categories are able to just make a declaration by presenting certificates of promotion through the different grades of the Greek educational system. A new article was introduced where people who have successfully completed higher education are able to apply for citizenship through a facilitated procedure.

Germany has fluctuating residence requirements. Normally, the residence requirement is at 8 years and the naturalisation procedure is called Anspruchs-EinbĂĽrgerung (naturalisation by entitlement). However, the German state takes into consideration significant attempts at integration. The residence requirement is reduced to seven years, when the applicant has attended an integration course and this type of naturalisation is named In-der-Regel-EinbĂĽrgerung (naturalisation by-the-law). Finally, there is the so-called ErmessenseinbĂĽrgerung (naturalisation by discretion), which regards exceptional integration skills. In this case, the residence requirement is reduced to six years. In the first case the minimum requirement stands at B1 level, whereas in the third case B2 level and higher suggests exceptional integration, which is still at the authorities’ discretion. Participation in German educational institutions of any level can also exempt the applicant from taking the naturalisation test.

Italy requires its citizens to take a “path to citizenship” (percorso di cittadinanza),  to receive knowledge of the Italian culture, constitution and customs, within two years of applying for the citizenship.

Luxembourg has facilitated its citizenship procedures, since April 2017. According to the new promulgated law, applicants are required to pass a language test of A2 level in oral expression and B1 level in comprehension, with the two examinations being correlated, which means that if one module is failed, the applicant will still not fail the entire test, which can be passed through compensation. Additionally, the applicants need to pass the “Vivre ensemble au Grand-DuchĂ© du Luxembourg” (Living Together in the Grand Duchy of Luxembourg) citizenship test, or just attend the course of the same name.

This was an overview of the requirements of some of the most notorious countries of the European Community. Even though, most of them seem to have significantly exacerbated their citizenship stipulations, they still provide extra incentives for children aged under 18, to have an easier integration trajectory, also considering their educational trajectory. It remains to be seen how in a world with more reactionary and right-wing heads of government, what the future of this integration will be and what demographic shape Europe is going to take.



Introducing multilingualism: A social approach
K Horner, JJ Weber – 2013;jsessionid=B7184F8BAACEC923080D847107923BF5.1_cid287







Blendi Halilaj is a student of the Master in Learning and Communications in Multilingual and Multicultural Contexts in the University of Luxembourg. His Bachelor is in English Language and Literature, majoring in Linguistics. He was born in 1993 in Albania and migrated to Greece in 1995 at the age of two. He has been living in Luxembourg for almost a year now.