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Immigrant Citizenship Campaigns


This is an 8 month pilot project funded by the Open Society Institute for Europe (OSIFE). It will lay the foundation for citizenship campaigns to be implemented in up to 10 European countries in order to promote naturalization and political mobilization of migrants as citizens.

Unlike in traditional countries of immigration such as Canada and the US, most immigrants in Europe do not naturalize and consequently cannot participate in elections. Whereas voter registration and turnout can be an issue, it is striking how little attention has been paid to the fact that most immigrants in Europe are absent in the political landscape simply because they are not citizens. Being barred from voting on the national, regional and European level therefore leaves a considerable part of the European population disenfranchised and hence with little opportunities to influence political decision-making. Furthermore, policy makers do not have to consider them as an important interest group that needs to be consulted and taken seriously.

Both MPG research and a growing body of literature demonstrate that naturalization promotes social integration and political participation. Compared to non-naturalized immigrants, citizens of immigrant descent enjoy higher employment rates and income as well as better housing and legal protection. Seeing that there is abundant evidence to support naturalization as beneficial to both migrants and the state, it is surprising that there are no comprehensive efforts on a national level to encourage citizenship acquisition. 


Previous MPG-led research on citizenship acquisition has identified personal, administrative and legal obstacles that immigrants faces in the process of naturalization. Drawing from this knowledge, this pilot project on “Citizenship Campaigns” will:

  • facilitate campaigns that directly support immigrants in becoming citizens, assist with voter registration and increase election turnouts
  • fill the gap of comprehensive approaches to citizenship acquisition on a national level
  • facilitate advocacy, strengthen the voice of immigrants as a political interest group and lay the foundations for future campaigns on a national level
  • raise awareness about immigrant disenfranchisement as a major democratic deficit in Europe
    in the long run, increase political participation of immigrant citizens, thereby improving policies and discourse on diversity and migrants’ rights

Working steps

Between February and September 2014, MPG will:

  • consult experienced European and US practitioners on the issues of naturalization, political mobilization and electoral participation
  • develop a best practice model on citizenship campaigns with a transnational team of experienced immigrant and NGO practitioners
  • secure commitment of up to 10 national NGO lead partners and their respective collaborative partners who will then implement citizenship campaigns in countries with a large immigrant population and comparatively inclusive pathways to citizenship
  • use European elections to raise awareness about the need for naturalization and political participation of migrants


Countries to pilot citizenship campaigns will be chosen based on the numbers of immigrants eligible to naturalize, the inclusiveness of the country’s naturalization legislation and the presence of experienced NGO lead partners. National lead partners will be identified based on their interest,  experience, national network and capacity.

Building a common model for Immigrant Citizenship & Voter Mobilisation Campaigns across Europe: Full citizenship is within reach

On 9-10 April 2014, 25 experts representing 21 national and regional organisations from 13 countries met in Brussels to discuss different practices in the US and across the EU to encourage immigrants to naturalise and go out and vote.

Taking a practical look at the aspects that need to be considered to develop a successful campaign for citizenship and voter mobilisation, we discussed how best to set up a campaign, recruit and train volunteers, develop an outreach strategy, offer guidance to the applicants to make sure they meet requirements and fundraising possibilities in order to be able to support the work of partner organisations as they carry out the campaign.

Joshua Hoyt and Gustavo Torres gave very useful insights on the strategies used by the Illinois Coalition for Immigrant and Refugee Rights, Casa Maryland and now the National Partnership for New Americans to mobilise immigrants for empowerment.  They explained the potential of naturalisation to develop immigrant’s latent political power and the effective improvement on their own lives. More practically, anyone wishing to develop a campaign should consider:

  • Group Processing Workshops: Carefully managed group processing workshops will enhance flow of applicants while ensuring everyone receives great service. Considered one of the most practical tools, they provide information on legislation to possible applicants and screen them to see if they are eligible for citizenship, help them process their application form and provide legal assistance.
  • Outreach:  Targeting and reaching out to the legal permanent resident population and engaging media.
  • Building strategic partnerships with local government, schools, libraries, colleges, law bar associations, other non-government organizations, and local businesses.
  • Volunteers: Recruiting, training and retaining legal and general volunteers are the core to naturalization and civic engagement campaigns. Making sure that immigrant communities are involved in this is very important as that allows the campaign to be driven of, by and for immigrants.
  • Trainings: Trainings for volunteers on basic aspects of immigration law to get a better grasp of the legal technicalities.
  • Using new technologies: Incorporating technologies similar to CitizenshipWorks (US example guiding users through language and civics tests) or the interactive diagram (Belgian example that allows applicants to see if they qualify for citizenship), automated texting services, developing a Hotline, and using Skype for long distance applicants
  • Voter mobilization targeted to maximize power makes efficient use of resources 

Working with migrant volunteers, developing contacts with migrant communities and spreading the message through ethnic and minority media is given great priority by the US partners and this is the main way in which they try to empower immigrants.

European partners put the US experience into context and explained why or why not certain aspects of the US campaign would (not) work well in their national or regional context. They also put their country’s situation into context, briefly explaining the policy lie of the land and the good practices that have already been carried out in their country. (For further information on citizenship policies across Europe, consult EUDO Citizenship)

Following on from this meeting, MPG has contacted all of the participants to see if they would be willing and able to carry out campaigns on citizenship and/or voter mobilisation in their region/country in the foreseeable future. An additional meeting will take place at the end of June to discuss the best practice model that MPG is currently compiling on naturalisation, voter registration and voter turnout based on the US and EU examples identified during the meeting in April. This model will identify critical success factors for each region/country’s campaign and specific elements to be adapted in each context. Upon completion, it will be available for dissemination via MPG’s and partners’ websites.

The objective of this project, funded by the Open Society Institute for Europe, is to directly assist thousands of eligible immigrants to apply and become citizenship, register to voter and turn out for elections. Furthermore, the campaigns will create the missing consistency on immigrant citizenship and an internationally-recognised best practice that will expand to other cities, regions and countries. A campaign will also facilitate advocacy. Working with immigrants on-the-ground raises stakeholders’ awareness of legal and procedural barriers to naturalisation and voter participation. The increasing number of immigrant citizens and voters will also raise politicians’ interest in immigrants as their constituents, which can help improve policies and discourse on immigrants’ rights and diversity.


1Naturalisation Campaign Overview (National Partnership for New Americans)

2Evidence base for campaigns on citizenship and political participation for immigrants (Thomas Huddleston – Migration Policy Group)

3Naturalisation / Immigrant Voter Mobilisation for Empowerment (Joshua Hoyt – National Partnership for New Americans, Gustavo Torres – Casa Maryland)

4Second generations speak for themselves (Ezequiel Iurcovich – Seconde Generazioni)

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