What’s the impact of granting immigrants citizenship? There are two schools of thought. One sees citizenship as the completion of an integration journey - so actually becoming a citizen shouldn’t influence an immigrant’s trajectory much. Another view sees citizenship as a catalyst for deeper integration - so we might expect that the career prospects of new citizens accelerate. Integration is a hot political topic, but it’s been a tough question to answer.
A fascinating new study
uses Switzerland’s unusual predilection for holding referenda on everything
to reach a compelling conclusion: citizenship matters a lot. Remarkably, some Swiss municipalities held referenda on individual
applications for citizenship during the 1990s. It’s therefore possible to compare candidates whose applications narrowly succeeded with those whose narrowly failed. The study finds that immigrants granted citizenship earn much more over the next ten years than similar people who miss out.
The difference is large: around $4,500 of average annual earnings difference for a decade! The effect is greatest for those in the lowest earning quartile. This suggests that many rich countries may be undervaluing citizenship as a policy lever, both economically and politically. I suspect it’s not just good policy, but good politics. It would be good to see pro-immigration political parties incorporate the language of citizenship into their rhetoric.