Acquisitions of nationality

The acquisition by an immigrant of the nationality of the country where her/she resides can often be taken as an indication of an intention to stay for good. Because naturalization is subject to conditions, among them generally a minimum period of residence in the country and often knowledge of the language of country, persons who acquire the nationality of their country of residence will have invested a certain amount of time, effort and indeed financial resources in their adopted country. This obviously does not obviate the possibility of maintaining ties or transferring funds back to relatives in the country of origin, but because of the advantages conveyed by naturalization, it does reduce the incentive to return. Studies have shown, for example, that naturalization tends to have a beneficial outcome on labor market outcomes, even after taking into account characteristics associated with the acquisition of nationality, such as the level of educational attainment or the presence of family (OECD 2011).

Holding the nationality of the country of residence can also serve as a sort of insurance that guarantees the holder’s residence rights, should he/she wish to return to the country of origin for a period of time and be ensured of the right to re-enter.  Still, the relative ease of access to citizenship in countries such as Australia and Canada has not led to higher rates of return to origin countries in those countries, suggesting that immigrants do often have permanent immigration strategies. This is all the more the case if they arrive with their families, as both Australia and Canada encourage their permanent immigrants to do.

Naturalization rates in countries of the Americas tend to be low in relation to permanent immigration levels (Table 4). Statistics for Canada and the United States, which are long-standing immigration countries, again provide a useful benchmark in this regard. For both, the ratio of acquisitions to permanent immigration levels is in the vicinity of 0.7. Since a certain proportion of permanent immigrants do not stay in the destination country, the actual naturalization rate of persons who reside in the country long enough to be naturalized is likely to be even higher. 86% of foreign-born persons in Canada, for example, have Canadian citizenship (SC 2013).

For most Latin American and Caribbean countries, the ratio statistic is generally less than 0.3.  In many of these countries there is relatively easy immigration to neighboring countries in the context of regional trade agreements, so there may not be a significant incentive to take out the nationality of the destination country. A similar behavior is observed for nationals of European Union countries who emigrate to other countries of the Union (OECD 2011).

There are three exceptions to the low naturalization rates observed for Latin American and Caribbean countries, namely Barbados, Belize and Peru, but this may be related more to differences in what is recorded as an acquisition of nationality than to fundamental legal differences. In Barbados and Peru, the statistics include persons born abroad to nationals of these countries and who, in the case of the latter country, acquire the citizenship of the country of their parents at their majority provided they reside in that country. The high ratio for Belize may reflect the impact of migration from other Central American countries, which has not always been through formal channels. The acquisitions thus include persons who may not have entered into the immigration statistics being presented here.

Table 4 also shows the incidence of acquisitions over the period 2011-2013 compared to the previous three years. On average there is little change observed, although there appears to be an increasing trend in a number of countries, among them Bolivia and Costa Rica, which mimics the increase in permanent immigration levels in these countries.

Table 4. Acquisitions of nationality, recent evolution and frequency relative to permanent immigration, 2007-2013

Country 2007 2008 2009 2010 2011 2012 2013 Percent change 2011-2013 / 2008-2010 Acquisitions to permanent flow ratio (2000-2013)
Barbados 880 790 1110 990 970 730 2150 1.3321799307958 2.729859571323
Belize 1610 1550 760 500 1050 na na 1.1209964412811 1.3693237504084
Bolivia na 1230 1380 1260 1160 1630 1750 1.1731266149871 0.93085585585586
Brazil 350 1120 1060 2120 1120 1190 1590 0.90697674418605 0.10315111703684
Canada 199880 176580 156360 143680 181420 113150 129010 0.8887163778272 0.70273011506476
Colombia 140 140 60 110 130 80 80 0.93548387096774 0.30059120108515
Costa Rica 1810 2190 2360 3350 3380 na na 1.2835443037975 0.15876658300466
Dominican Republic 770 630 910 1190 na na 340 na 0.27172312223859
Ecuador na na na na 650 1310 2080 na 0.14740656685823
El Salvador 40 60 60 80 60 50 10 0.6 0.084287200832466
Guatemala 440 470 510 550 120 160 180 0.30065359477124 0.25758957654723
Mexico na 4470 3490 2150 2630 3590 3580 0.96933728981207 0.26031940865625
Paraguay 20 20 10 10 10 30 na 1.5 0.0053424679059097
Peru 750 940 1020 920 1220 1130 730 1.0694444444444 1.5116734447959
United States 660480 1046540 743720 619910 694190 757430 779930 0.92588904517109 0.66393229622733
Average over all countries               0.97794777334576 0.62945945667545


Although the liberalization of movements in the region might be thought to act as a disincentive to taking out the nationality of the country of residence, the distribution of acquisitions is nonetheless dominated by immigrants from other countries of the Americas (Figure 6). Only in Canada, Ecuador, the United States, Colombia and Brazil are less than half of acquisitions from other countries of the Americas. For these, acquisitions by Asian and European immigrants make up the difference.  

Figure 6. Acquisitions of nationality by continent of previous nationality, 2000-2013