Welcome to the website of the research project ‘’.

Naturalization promotes integration

In the Swiss debate about integration, opinions are divided about when foreign nationals should receive Swiss citizenship. Some people believe that immigrants should be naturalized as soon as possible to promote integration. Others think that naturalization should happen after many years to mark the successful integration of immigrants. In a study funded by the Swiss National Science Foundation (SNSF), researchers at the universities of Zurich, Stanford and the London School of Economics have been able to show that the naturalization of immigrants is a catalyst for integration. It is particularly beneficial for foreigners who are part of a marginalized immigrant group at the time of naturalization. In this study, the people who benefited most were from Turkey and former Yugoslavia.

The researchers analyzed data from a controversial naturalization process which is no longer permitted today: the secret ballot on individual applications for naturalization in 46 local councils in German-speaking Switzerland between 1970 and 2003. On the basis of this quantitative database comprising 2225 applications overall, the researchers identified 768 people whose applications were either narrowly accepted or rejected. There are no significant differences between the two groups regarding their age, sex, language skills, number of years in Switzerland or country of origin. “In some cases, the difference between them was merely a few votes, which turned 49% into 51%. It was down to luck whether people received Swiss citizenship or not,” says Professor Jens Hainmueller of Stanford University.

The researchers interviewed people whose applications were narrowly accepted or rejected by telephone. They asked questions such as: are you involved in politics? Do you read Swiss newspapers? Are you a member in a club or association? Do you feel discriminated against? Do you plan to spend your retirement in Switzerland?

The results show that migrants who became Swiss citizens by a narrow margin more than 15 years ago are much more integrated than migrants whose applications were narrowly rejected. The largest difference was found in the migrant groups faced with the most prejudices: “Our analysis shows that people from former Yugoslavia and Turkey as well as people not born in Switzerland benefited most from naturalization,” says Giuseppe Pietrantuono of the University of Zurich.

The effects of naturalisation are just as pronounced with regard to political integration: the political knowledge of people who were only narrowly naturalized rises to the level of people who were born Swiss. Migrants whose applications were narrowly rejected remain politically marginalized to this day.

“Our study shows that naturalization promotes social and political integration in the long term. The earlier a person receives citizenship, the greater the positive effect,” says Dominik Hangartner, political scientist at the University of Zurich and the London School of Economics. This should be a wake-up call for Switzerland, he adds: “Migrants have to wait twelve years for naturalization, a long time compared to other European countries. Our study shows that a reduction of this waiting period would promote integration, and this would have a positive impact on society as a whole.”

Click on the video above for a short documentary about the project. Further information can be found here. The published reports and working papers are available for download in the upper-right panel.