Migration is on the rise globally and has been for several decades. With the increase in transportation methods and global awareness of living standards in different countries, more and more people are making the decision to venture abroad in search of greener pastures.
However, fully integrating into a new society is a different question entirely. Different countries have vastly different requirements both for legal entry, for different lengths of stay, and also for gaining citizenship.
In this article, we will look at the five most difficult countries to obtain citizenship in. First, we will look at some general requirements that most countries tend to have in common.
What are the general characteristics of gaining citizenship in most countries?
Although countries do vary significantly from one to another in terms of requirements, there are certain characteristics of the citizenship process that are usually common among them. These include the following:
Residency. In most countries, you have to prove your desire to remain by actually spending a significant period of time in the country before you apply for citizenship. The amount of time varies: In Brazil, for example, you only need to spend one year in the country if you are already a speaker of Portuguese. In San Marino, on the other hand, the period is 22 years.
Language and history knowledge. In many cases, potential citizens are required to gain knowledge of the country’s official language. In many countries, the required test is relatively easy and is more of a nominal requirement than anything else. Nonetheless, for people with poor language learning skills, it can sometimes be a fair challenge.
New citizens are also often expected to pass tests on their new country’s history and culture. These also vary in difficulty, and have sometimes been controversially biased in the past. During the early period of citizenship tests in the US, for example, history tests were known to be skewed in favor of white Anglo-Saxon applicants. The test was modified in 1965, although some people still believe it to be biased.
Legitimate legal status. In most countries, potential citizens need to have entered the country they hope to gain citizenship in legally. Illegal entry can be an intractable barrier to the citizenship process.
In some countries, such as Panama and Brazil, having a child in a country can later lead to citizenship rights, and therefore many people globally attempt to have children in their country of choice with the hope that it will later enable them to gain citizenship, as well. This isn’t always the case, though, and it can lead to complicated family situations.
Financial stability. Potential citizens are often expected to illustrate financial stability sufficient to handling oneself in the new country. Many governments are wary of people’s living off of social assistance.
Dual citizenship laws. This is also something that can vary widely, both for host countries and according to the laws of countries of origin. New citizens may or may not be asked to renounce their citizenship in their country of origin.
Strictest countries in the world for gaining citizenship
With all this in mind, we will look at the countries with the strictest requirements for gaining citizenship. While requirements change frequently, these countries are certainly among the top.
Tiny Monaco has among the strictest requirements in the world for gaining citizenship. Citizenship requirements include the following:
a. Residency. Monaco has fairly stringent residency requirements for residency. In order to even be considered for citizenship, you need to have lived in the country for at least ten years. Even this does not guarantee selection, but it is a minimum.
b. Financial stability. As in many other countries, prospective citizens of Monaco are expected to demonstrate financial stability. Because of the country’s high standard of living, this means having more savings than it would in many other places.
c. Ties to the country. The Monacan government is selective not only in terms of technical requirements, but it also makes subjective decisions for candidates based upon the degree of integration that candidates appear to have within society. This includes such things as involvement in a local community and contributions that candidates might have made to Monacan society. It also includes family ties.
If the government determines that a candidate will be able to make a significant monetary or cultural contribution in the future, he or she will have a much better chance of gaining citizenship.
d. Language. As the official language of Monaco is French, prospective citizens are expected to demonstrate proficiency in this language in order to be considered for citizenship. Unlike many other countries where candidates only need to pass a single test, Monaco requires multiple tests and interviews in order to truly prove proficiency in the language.
e. Character assessment and background check. In addition to an overall character assessment, any legal problems that a candidate might have had in the past can be an obstacle to gaining citizenship.
Even if all of these criteria are met, candidates still might be rejected. Monaco only accepts a few applicants per year, so the process is very competitive.
Another tiny country with an exceptionally difficult citizenship process is Liechtenstein. In order to be considered for citizenship there, candidates need to meet the following requirements:
a. Residency and permanent residency. Liechtenstein has arguably the strictest residency requirement in the world for prospective citizens. Most people need to first obtain permanent residency in the country. This generally involves being employed, having invested in, or having family ties to the country.
Beyond this, residents need to have lived in the country for at least 30 years before applying for citizenship.
b. Cultural ties and language skills. The official language of Liechtenstein is German. Candidates are expected to be proficient in this language. In addition, candidates must prove cultural ties to the country.
c. Background check. Candidates for citizenship are expected to undergo background checks, and any criminal history could be a cause for rejection.
Prospective citizens of Liechtenstein are expected to renounce their previous citizenship upon being granted citizenship by the country. As in Monaco, the selection process is competitive, and candidates might be rejected even if they meet all the eligibility criteria.
The Swiss requirements for gaining citizenship are particularly complicated, because each of the regions in the country have their own specific criteria. However, there are several things that they have in common:
a. Residency. While residency requirements are not as strict as in Liechtenstein, they are still fairly extensive by global standards. In most of the Swiss “cantons,” candidates need to have lived in the country for ten years before applying for citizenship.
Beyond this, candidates need to have already obtained a permanent residency permit, otherwise known as a C permit. Permanent residency has its own requirements, and they generally include having been employed in the country and proven financial stability.
b. Cultural ties and language skills. As in other countries, candidates for citizenship must illustrate cultural ties to the country. The government assesses the extent to which candidates are involved in community affairs and contribute to Swiss society.
Because of the distinct nature of each of the Swiss cantons, candidates for citizenship must meet the language requirements of the canton in which they hope to live. This could mean proving proficiency in any one (or possibly more) of the Swiss national languages: French, German, Italian, and Romansch.
c. Background check. The Swiss also conduct background checks on potential applicants, and conduct reviews of candidates’ financial histories in order to assess their overall financial stability.
If all of the above criteria are met, candidates are assessed by the local government of whatever canton they apply to in order to determine overall eligibility. It is only after passing through the cantonal level that candidates are then reviewed by the federal government. The Swiss also ask new citizens to renounce their previous citizenship.
4. Saudi Arabia
The Saudi government has different paths to citizenship and can include the following requirements:
a. Residency and permanent residency. Candidates for citizenship need to have lived in the country for at least five years. One of the paths that candidates can pursue is by getting a green card. This is a special visa type for highly qualified specialists and investors. It provides a basis for gaining permanent residency, after which holders can apply for citizenship.
An alternative means of becoming eligible is by marriage to a Saudi citizen. Even if a candidate has a Saudi spouse, he or she must reside in the country for five years before applying.
b. Language. Candidates must illustrate proficiency in Arabic.
c. Background check. The Saudi background check process is particularly extensive and can involve multiple interviews and require extensive documentation.
There are a very small number of cases in which certain individuals are able to bypass these requirements, usually through having made significant contributions to the country. New citizens are expected to renounce their previous citizenship.
Qatar has similar standards for obtaining citizenship, and some of its own particularities. Among other things, it allows for a naturalization process among certain candidates. General requirements include the following:
a. Residency. Residency requirements vary, depending on each individual’s situation, but the average is 25 years, making the country among the strictest in the world in this area.
Candidates who are married to Qatari citizens might also be eligible, but marriage is not a guarantee that citizenship will be granted.
b. Cultural ties and language. Candidates must illustrate sufficient knowledge of Qatari culture and obtain proficiency in Arabic.
c. Background check. Candidates must be able to pass a criminal background check and also have exhibited good conduct during their residency in the country.
As in Saudi Arabia, there are some exceptions made to the rules for people who have made significant contributions to Qatari society. These are rare exceptions, though.
Although each country has its own rules governing the citizenship process, the categories listed here generally exist in some form in most countries of the world.
In addition to meeting residence, language, and other general requirements, candidates generally have to pay an application fee to the government to which they apply and wait for a certain period. They must usually recite an oath to the new country, as well.