Citizenship at Crossroads: Comparing Peer Naturalization Rates


By Adiba Hasan

In an era of global mobility, the concept of citizenship has stood as a cornerstone of belonging and identity. In February 2023, the Institute for Canadian Citizenship released new StatCan data revealing a steep decline in the number of recent immigrants choosing to become citizens. We found that only 45.7% of eligible permanent residents naturalized within 10 years — a 40% decline for this cohort since 2001.

But how does Canada compare to other countries? As part of our ongoing efforts to explore what might be behind the decline, this article seeks to benchmark Canadian naturalization patterns with available data and information from other peer nations.

Peer country comparisons

Data on immigration is critical for understanding the dynamics of naturalization, as is an understanding of the rules governing citizenship eligibility. Immigration data availability and eligibility criteria differ across jurisdictions. The following table provides a breakdown of key details related to citizenship across five peer countries, including Canada.

Country Residency Time Required Prior to CitizenshipLegal Status Prior to CitizenshipDual Nationality AllowedStatistics Office Immigration Office
Australia4 YearsPermanent ResidentYesAustralian Bureau of StatisticsDepartment of Home Affairs;
Department of Immigration and Border Protection
Canada3 of 5 YearsPermanent ResidentYesStatistics CanadaImmigration, Refugees and Citizenship Canada
France5 YearsPermanent ResidenceYesMinistry of Interior – Ministerial Statistical Office of ImmigrationThe Ministry of Foreign Affairs
United Kingdom5 YearsIndefinite leave to remain/settlementYesOffice of National StatisticsHome Office
United States5 Years Lawful Permanent Resident/ Greencard HolderYesOffice of Immigration StatisticsDepartment of Homeland Security; U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services
This table shows a comparison of naturalization requirements and relevant government departments in Australia, Canada, France, the United Kingdom, and the United States.

While there are certain distinctions, the table reveals a number of similarities across jurisdictions, which makes them interesting from a comparative perspective. Here are some key highlights:

  1. Overall, residency requirements for citizenship are similar across the five countries; Canada and Australia have slightly shorter residency requirements by comparison.
  2. Permanent residency is a common prerequisite for citizenship across all countries.
  3. All of the peer countries allow dual nationality.
  4. Each country has designated statistical and immigration offices responsible for gathering and managing immigration-related data. The United States is the only country that does not have a dedicated Statistics office but rather the main government departments have branches that are responsible for immigration-related data.

Benchmarking challenges – data consistency and availability

During this analysis, we discovered that data on citizenship uptake is released at different intervals and through different statistics offices, depending on the country. In particular, it was not possible to find consistent cohort-based naturalization trends across the different countries (eg. comparative naturalization rates for permanent residents who arrived less than ten years ago). Accordingly, we had to take a longer view in order to compare naturalization rates, looking at overall naturalization rates for all immigrants.

Trends in the naturalization rate (OECD data)

Very few recent studies have looked at comparative naturalization rates. One organization in particular, the Organization for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD) consolidates and tracks naturalization data from all of its member countries, with the most recent data coming from 2017. These naturalization rates reflect the proportion (%) of immigrants who acquired citizenship within their respective “host country”. The following table shows comparative rates between 2006-7 and 2017.

CountryNaturalization (%) 2006-07Naturalization (%) 2017
United Kingdom68.158.1
United States of America6262.3
OECD Total66.862.8
EU Total67.858.6
The table provides a comparative analysis of naturalization rates in selected OECD countries, highlighting the changes over a decade from 2006-2007 to 2017.

In 2006-2007 Australia had a naturalization rate of 81.7%, while France and the United Kingdom had naturalization rates of 64.9% and 68.1%, respectively. The United States had a lower naturalization rate among the selected countries with only 62% of immigrants becoming citizens.

By 2017, Australia managed to maintain a relatively consistent naturalization rate (81.4%), and the rate in the United States also remained relatively stable, albeit lower compared to its peers (62.3%).

Naturalization is decreasing across OECD member countries and the EU

The 2017 data for the rest of the peer countries, including the overall rates for the OECD and the EU, show a notable decline in naturalization rates. France had a decrease of 5.3 percentage points with a rate of 59.6%, and the rate for the United Kingdom fell 10 percentage points to 58.1%. Naturalization across all OECD members decreased 4 percentage points from 66.8% in 2006-2007 to 62.8% in 2017, and across the EU it declined almost 10 percentage points from 67.8% to 58%. Generally speaking, the data show that naturalization rates have declined across the peer countries as a whole.

Naturalization in Canada was stable, but is now trending downward

OECD data show that Canada has maintained a stable and relatively high overall naturalization rate over the examined period. However, more recent data from Statistics Canada show a different story; Canada’s overall naturalization rate has declined significantly in recent years.

All Immigrants81.
Adult Immigrants81.683.784.585.786.386.281.7
Adult Immigrants arrived 5-9 years ago68.675.475.173.067.560.445.7
Source: Statistics Canada, “Trends in the Citizenship Rate Among New Immigrants to Canada” by Feng Hou and Garnett Picot; 2021 citizenship rates were specifically provided to the ICC by Statistics Canada

According to the 2021 census, only 80.7% of eligible permanent residents overall have chosen to become citizens. This high-level trend in Canada’s overall naturalization rate is all the more troubling given that the rate among recent immigrants has sunk to 45.7%.

Annual figures: Citizenship acquisition (OECD data)

When it comes to the number of people acquiring citizenship (rather than the proportion of all immigrants), the United States consistently recorded the highest number of citizenship acquisitions between 2010 and 2020, with a peak of 843,593 in 2019.

Canadian citizenship acquisition numbers fluctuated throughout the period, with a peak of 259,274 in 2014. The United Kingdom also experienced fluctuations in its numbers, reaching a peak of 208,021 in 2013. (NOTE: You can track up-to-date monthly data on new Canadian citizens and permanent residents by visiting our Citizenship and Immigration Dashboard. Click here).

Australia and France had lower overall numbers compared to Canada, the United Kingdom, and the United States. Australia experienced fluctuations throughout the period, while France saw a relatively stable number of acquisitions of nationality.

Key takeaway: Naturalization rates are in decline in many places

Despite fluctuations in the number of people becoming citizens, this analysis reveals that overall naturalization rates are in decline in many places beyond Canada.

The Canadian government has launched some initiatives to promote the value and benefits of Canadian citizenship such as streamlining the citizenship application process and simplifying the language and knowledge requirements for citizenship applicants. However, to the best of our knowledge, there is no clear government strategy aimed at pushing against declining naturalization rates in Canada.

Other countries are acting.

The United States, for example, has established the Interagency Strategy for Promoting Naturalization, an initiative that aims to address low naturalization rates by bringing together various government agencies to enhance outreach and education efforts to provide assistance to people who are eligible to become citizens.

Moving forward, it will be crucial for countries like Canada, the United Kingdom, France, and Australia to continue exploring innovative strategies to reverse the decline in naturalization rates and encourage eligible individuals to embrace citizenship.

You can learn more about the ICC here. Join the conversation and be part of building a more inclusive Canada.


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