A restrictive liberalisation? Czechs follow EU trends on citizenship

Written by Thomas Huddleston, MIPEX Research Coordinator, Co-author and Policy Analyst, Migration Policy Group

Based on EUDO-Citizenship commentary by Andrea Barsova

This October, the Czech government’s new citizenship bill received both praise and criticism from NGOs for following two contradictory trends in Europe’s new and old countries of immigration. While the acceptance of dual nationality and entitlements for the children of foreigners remove two major obstacles to citizenship, the new conditions for naturalisation are more restrictive than in most EU countries.

A transition to the norms of a established country of immigration

As major countries of emigration since democratic transition in the 1990s, the countries of Central Europe are undergoing a slow but certain transformation into countries of immigration. In recent years, Poland and the Czech Republic have attracted immigrant workers, in addition to recurring flows of people seeking international protection. Citizenship reform is one indicator of a nation’s increasing awareness of its new role as a country of destination. For example, countries around the world tend to adopt some form of birthright citizenship (ius soli) as they become more democratic, more politically stable, and more diverse.

This October, the Czech government introduced a citizenship bill that marks this highly symbolic transition in state-building. The bill not only puts an end to the special regime for former Czech0slovak citizens that was part of the breakup of Czechoslovakia. More importantly, the Czech Republic follows the trend of reforming new countries of immigration in Europe by adopting dual nationality and citizenship for the children of foreign residents. However, the Czech government also follows the trend in several older countries of immigration towards greater conditions for naturalisation, much criticised by Czech NGOs.

The new Czech citizenship bill presents its own form of ‘restrictive liberalisation’, at the intersection of these two contradictory trends in Europe’s new and old countries of immigration. I assessed the bill’s potential impact on naturalisation through an unofficial MIPEX impact assessment, based on the excellent commentary by EUDO-Citizenship expert Andrea Barsova. The bill’s major changes are outlined in the final table.

A citizenship bill ‘halfway favourable’ for integration

Under the current legislation, immigrants have slightly unfavourable access to Czech nationality, scoring 33/100 on the MIPEX scale. Overall, the new bill represents a major improvement for integration, rising the Czech Republic’s nationality score by 18 points. The chart below presents the legislation before (labelled 2007) and after (labelled 2010) the proposed bill:

This achievement is explained by two European trends.

First, the acceptance of dual nationality for all Czech citizens removes one major obstacle to naturalisation, while doing little-to-no harm to integration. This map illustrates that dual nationality is the norm in most established countries of immigration as well as Central European countries like Slovakia, Hungary, and Romania.

Second, the Czech Republic creates a basic entitlement to Czech citizenship for children of foreign residents who are born in the Czech Republic (‘second generation’) or socialised there (‘1.5 generation’). Some form of birthright citizenship is found in nearly all major countries of immigration as well as most recent citizenship reform across Europe. The form proposed in the Czech Republic is rather restrictive compared to other European countries. Similar restrictions in Italy have been deemed dysfunctional by a wide range of actors, from the President, to the Integration Ministerleft and right parties,an NGO movement, and the majority of the public.

But more restrictive conditions for naturalisation…

Notwithstanding these two improvements, the new bill is only ‘halfway favourable’ for immigrant integration, according to MIPEX. Czech authorities retain and even slightly expand their already wide discretion in naturalisation decisions. New demanding conditions will restrict the number of first-generation immigrants able to apply and benefit from this improved access to Czech nationality.

With few exceptions, applicants must wait a long time to apply and then must pass a strict criminal background check, a demanding language test, a new economic requirement, a new civic knowledge test, and new good character requirements. The Czech government has borrowed from the trends towards more selective naturalisation and integration conditions among Europe’s established countries of immigration, such as Austria, Denmark, France, Netherlands, and United Kingdom.

Czech citizenship bill: an indicator of a established country of immigration?

Put together, these contradictory EU trends would lead in the Czech Republic to a slightly improved but incomplete pathway to citizenship. The chart below compares the Czech bill to the average pathway to citizenship in established countries of immigration (the so-called ‘EU15’ including Western Europe and Greece) and the emerging countries of immigration (the so-called ‘EU12’ including Central Europe, Cyprus, and Malta):

Dual nationality emerges as a clear trend in most established countries of immigration and already some emerging destinations. The Czech Republic is also relatively similar to EU15 countries in terms of ‘security of status’, although immigrants naturalising in the Czech Republic face slightly more discretion to acquire citizenship and slightly better protections from losing it.

The Czech pathway to citizenship still differs from the opportunities in established countries of immigration in terms of the eligibility and conditions for naturalisation. While the children of immigrants would be somehow entitled in the Czech Republic, the first generation would still have to wait much longer to naturalise than in most EU15 countries (5 years of permanent residence). The bill’s proposed conditions for naturalisation are more restrictive than most EU15 or EU12 countries. Only 6 countries are more restrictive according to MIPEX (e.g. Austria, France, Denmark, Romania, Slovakia, Switzerland. For example, the new civic knowledge and language tests may set slightly less favourable conditions for immigrants to succeed unless all applicants are guaranteed sufficient free courses and materials to pass. What’s more, the bill sets a required language level higher than most EU countries. The one minor improvement in these conditions is that the language assessment will become more professional.

 

Final table: major changes in new Czech citizenship bill (MIPEX unofficial impact assessment)

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