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EU migrants to the UK still less likely to become UK citizens than those from outside the EU

17 Mar 2020

New briefings from the Migration Observatory at the University of Oxford examine two key dimensions of migrant integration: the take-up of UK citizenship, and migrants’ social relationships and participation. They show that despite the widely reported increase in citizenship grants since the referendum, EU migrants are still less likely to become British citizens than those from outside the UK.

The new briefings – Citizenship and Naturalisation for Migrants in the UK, and Migrants’ social relationships, identity and civic participation in the UK – highlight different patterns of integration for people from different areas of the world.

Notably, EU migrants in the UK are less likely to become British citizens compared to those from outside the EU, even since the referendum. Among EU-born migrants who had been in the UK for at least 6 years by 2018, 22% reported that they were UK citizens. Among non-EU citizens, the share was three times higher (66%).

EU citizens have traditionally had less motivation to become British citizens as their EU citizenship allowed them to live and work in the UK. And while the total number of EU citizens becoming UK citizens more than quadrupled between 2010-2014 and 2018-2019, EU citizens are still less likely to apply for UK citizenship than non-EU citizens. In 2019, 30% of naturalisations were to EU citizens, who make up around 60% of non-citizens living in the UK.

Dr Mariña Fernández-Reino, integration researcher at the Migration Observatory at the University of Oxford said: “Becoming a British citizen is expensive, costing more than £1,300 per person, which may be one of the reasons EU citizens have been reticent to do so over the years. There’s a good chance that numbers will go up in the coming years, especially once EU citizens can no longer use their passport to show that they’re eligible to live and work here.”

The briefing documents the sharp increases in the cost of becoming a citizen over the past 15 years, with fees for adult applicants rising from £268 in 2005 to £1,330 today.

The second briefing highlights that social integration is complex: different measures show different trends and vary depending on factors like where someone is from and how long they have been in the UK. For example, migrants who had lived in the UK for more than 10 years were more likely to be a member of a club or association, and more likely to participate in volunteering.

Dr Fernández-Reino added: “Moving to a new country is often presented as an economic decision, but it also has a big impact on people’s social lives and identity, including how they find friends and build networks – things that naturally take time.”


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