Integration Requirements and Citizenship Tests


Theoretical background and objectives

This project looks at the recent development of integration requirements as a condition for immigration, residence or citizenship. These integration requirements usually comprise knowledge of the host country's language, democracy, history, geography, and society. Proponents argue that they are a necessary and legitimate way for liberal democracies to defend their principles and rally new citizens behind them and that states, even though this may seem rather paternalistic, should help immigrants improve their human capital and become more competitive on the labour market. Opponents on the other hand argue that these policy measures create unnecessary conflicts by excluding immigrants who do not fulfil these requirements and by applying criteria that are at odds with political liberalism. While the opponents of the tests and integration requirements criticise that they oblige immigrants to adopt certain cultural traits of the host society, proponents argue that they do not oblige anybody to give up his or her identity and that the tests are above all capacity-enhancing.

The project contributes to this debate by applying a systematic content analysis to citizenship tests in Germany, the UK, the US, the Netherlands, and Austria as well as to curricula for civic education courses addressed to immigrants who want to become permanent residents in Germany, France and the Netherlands. The objective is to find out what the content of these integration requirements and more particularly of the civic education component of these requirements really is. Can these citizenship tests and civic education curricula be classified as an attempt at cultural assimilation or do they stay within the confines of procedural liberalism?

Research design, data and methodology

The data used for this study are citizenship test questions or detailed guidelines for these tests that have been made publicly available in the countries compared, as well as curricula and learning materials for civic education courses targeted at immigrants who want to become permanent residents. While France is part of the second sample of countries, it is not part of the first one because it does not have an established citizenship test comparable to those in Germany, the Netherlands, Austria, the UK and the US. All questions and answers were systematically content-coded by attributing every question and (if public) correct answer to particular themes (e.g., democracy, history, cultural norms) and normative categories (distinguishing formal questions about legal rules pertaining to "what is right" from questions about cultural customs and social norms referring to "what is good"). The content of the civic education courses has similarly been analysed with regard to its thematic and normative content.


The analyses show that the content of the citizenship tests and civic education curricula in almost all countries corresponds to a Rawlsian definition of political liberalism (Rawls 1993), a finding that rebuts the thesis of citizenship tests and integration requirements as an instance of "forced cultural assimilation" (Orgad 2010). In addition, the research suggests that the content of citizenship tests and other integration requirements tells us more about the role that a certain state claims to have in the governance of cultural, ethnic and religious diversity than it actually tells us about how the population on the ground defines and understands notions of citizenship and national belonging.

Main content

Selected Publications

Michalowski, Ines (2014): "Legitimizing Host Country Institutions. A Comparative Analysis of the Content of Civic Education Courses in France and Germany". In: John R. Bowen/Christophe Bertossi/Jan Willem Duyvendak/Mona Lena Krook (Eds.): European States and Their Muslim Citizens. The Impact of Institutions on Perceptions and Boundaries. Cambridge Studies in Law and Society Series. New York, NY: Cambridge University Press, S. 164-188.
Michalowski, Ines/Oers, Ricky van (2012): "How Can We Categorise and Interpret Civic Integration Policies?". In: Journal of Ethnic and Migration Studies, Vol. 38, No. 1, S. 163-171. (Vorab online publiziert 19. Dezember 2011)
Michalowski, Ines (2011): "Required to Assimilate? The Content of Citizenship Tests in Five Countries". In: Citizenship Studies, Vol. 15, No. 6-7, S. 749-768.
Michalowski, Ines (2010): "Citizenship Tests and Traditions of State Interference With Cultural Diversity". In: Rainer Bauböck/Christian Joppke (Eds.): How Liberal are Citizenship Tests?. EUI Working Paper, No. RSCAS 2010/41. San Domenico di Fiesole: European University Institute, S. 5-7.
Michalowski, Ines (2010): "Naturalisatietoetsen en concepten van staat en natie". In: Migrantenstudies, Vol. 26, No. 2, S. 121-141.
Michalowski, Ines (2010): "Integration Tests in Germany. A Communitarian Approach?". In: Ricky van Oers/Eva Ersbøll/Dora Kostakopoulou (Eds.): A Re-Definition of Belonging?. Language and Integration Tests in Europe. Immigration and Asylum Law and Policy in Europe, No. 20. Leiden/Boston, MA: Martinus Nijhoff Publishers, S. 185-210.
Michalowski, Ines (2009): Citizenship Tests in Five Countries. An Expression of Political Liberalism?. WZB Discussion Paper SP IV 2009-702. Berlin: WZB.
Project-related events

Michalowski, Ines, 04.10.2010: "A transatlantic comparison of civic integration/citizenship policies" (workshop organised by the Dutch Directorate-general for Housing, Communities and Integration, Metropolis Conference, Den Haag, Netherlands)

Michalowski, Ines, 13.09.2010: "Required to assimilate? The content of citizenship tests in five countries" (Colloquium, Vrije Universiteit Amsterdam, Netherlands)

Michalowski, Ines, 09.09.2010: "Citizenship tests in liberal countries" (Long-term Residence and Citizenship in Contemporary Britain, Middlesex University, London, England)

Michalowski, Ines, 15.04.2010: "Citizenship Tests in Five Countries – An expression of political liberalism?" (The Revenge of the European Model? 17th International Conference of the Council for European Studies, Montreal, Canada)

Michalowski, Ines, 08.02.2010: "Testing norms and values" (INTEC Seminar, Radboud Univer­siteit, Nijmegen, Netherlands)