Figures released by Eurostat, the statistical office of the European Union, show that almost 820,000 people were granted citizenship by the 28 member nations of the EU in 2012. The maximum number of passports – just under 194,000 – were handed out by the United Kingdom, representing about 24% of the total. The UK’s share is followed by Germany (14%), France (11.7%), Spain (11.5%), Italy (8.0%) and Sweden (6.1%).
Moroccan and Turkish nationals were the two biggest groups of beneficiaries of these citizenships in 2012, while the median age of the new citizens as a whole was 31.4 years, with more than a third younger than 25, and more than half aged between 25 and 54. Only 6% were aged over 55.
The United Kingdom’s colonial history and close ties to Commonwealth nations is believed to be the reason behind the high number of citizenships granted by the country. According to the report, almost 15% of the UK passports issued were granted to Indians, with 9.5% going to Pakistani nationals and 4.6% to Nigerians.
“Many people born in these countries have significant family and community networks in the UK as a result of the long relationships between Commonwealth states and the UK. This means the UK is more likely to see immigration from these countries than other EU member states,” says Carlos Vargas-Silva, acting director of the Migration Observatory at Oxford University.
The report also reveals that Hungary registered the highest rate of naturalization in the EU in 2012, with 12.8 citizenships granted per 100 resident foreigners. Hungary is followed by Sweden (7.8) and Poland (6.6).
The high rate of naturalization in Hungary is believed to be due to a new law introduced by Hungary in 2011 aimed at simplifying the requirements for attaining Hungarian citizenship. The new rules allow non-resident foreigners to get a Hungarian passport just by showing that they have a basic knowledge of the Hungarian language and have a direct Hungarian ancestor.
Most of the Hungarian passports were given to Romanians, who accounted for 78.3% of the total number. They were followed by Ukrainians (7.8%), Serbians (7.2%) and Slovakians (1.7%).
Of the total number of people who were granted EU citizenship in 2012, more than 85% originated from non-EU countries. Moroccans received the highest number of EU passports in 2012 (59,300), followed by Turkey (53, 800), India (36, 900), Ecuador (28,900), and Iraq (27,500).
The Eurostat report also highlighted the surge in the number of new passports Ireland has handed out since joining the EU – increasing from just 4,500 in 2009 to 25,000 in 2012. The Irish fees for citizenship application are amongst the highest in the world – €175 for the application and €950 for the certificate.
About 22.7% of Irish passports were granted to Nigerians in 2012, followed by Filipinos (15.3%), Indians (10.5%) and Pakistanis (5.1%).
According to Eurostat, this increase was due to a backlog in processing previous applications. Immigration support groups in Ireland say that before the 2012 reforms, the immigration process in the country was quite restrictive and some migrants had to wait for up to five years for a decision. The government of Ireland says that ever since the changes were introduced, 80% of citizenship applications were processed within six months. “2012 saw significant reforms in the citizenship process, which included a dramatic increase in the number of successful applications, as well as the introduction of citizenship ceremonies. However we still have concerns around the application process – the lack of guidelines or documented criteria for eligibility means that ministerial discretion is still exercised with little transparency,” says Jennifer DeWan of NASC, the Irish Immigration Support Centre.
Another country that saw a significant increase in the number of passports issued was Sweden, which handed out 50,200 citizenships in 2012, its highest figure in six years, representing an increase of 37.1% since 2011. According to Eurostat figures, the ratio of Swedish passports granted in relation to both foreign and local populations was among the highest in the European Union.
Sweden granted 5.3 citizenships per 100 people, becoming the third highest in the EU, after Luxembourg and Ireland.
In proportion to the total population of each EU member, the maximum number of citizenships were granted by Luxembourg (8.7 citizenships per 1,000 inhabitants), followed by Ireland (5.5) and Sweden (5.3).