No citizenship for immigrants with disabilities. What is the situation across Europe?

by Ivano Abbadessa - 2013.03.18
No citizenship for immigrants with disabilities. What is the situation across Europe?
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It is impossible for immigrants with disabilities in Italy to obtain citizenship. This is a little-known fact that made the headlines in January when the mother of a boy with Down's Syndrome, who was born and raised in Italy, protested that her son was denied citizenship when he reached adulthood. Citizenship was refused because the boy wasn't capable of taking the required oath. While the home office minister stated that the matter is being investigated, it is still unclear whether the incident was an exception or the rule in Italy and the rest of the EU.

A starting point is that granting citizenship is a matter of domestic jurisdiction for each member state. The Commission, for its part, doesn't state how individual countries should process applications for citizenship by people with disabilities. Based on the limited information available, there are no national regulations on the matter. However, in some countries there are exceptions to the requirements for acquiring citizenship.

Both Italy and Spain consider disability to be an obstacle to obtaining citizenship. According to legislation in these countries, having a disability can make it difficult for an immigrant to comply with certain requirements. For example the need to 'maintain a legal status for a relatively long period of time, which is related to integration into the labour market, is difficult to achieve if you have a disability.

The situation is not much better in France where, based on a judgement by the State Council, it is possible to reject a request for citizenship by immigrants with disabilities.

Austria, on the other hand, is a borderline case. While people with a permanent disability have been refused citizenship because they have not been able to prove themselves to be financially self-sufficient, it is also true that Austria's Constitutional Court is now examining some of these cases and will, in all likelihood, declare some of the decisions discriminatory due to the lack of any exception for disabled people.

In many other countries, however, authorities are permitted to legitimately deny citizenship on the basis of disability. One of these countries is Germany, which, although it has no specific federal regulations for immigrants with disabilities, requires applicants to pass citizenship tests, including a language test. Meanwhile, the UK Border Agency, the agency that processes citizenships applications, has issued guidelines that make people with disabilities exempt from the language and culture tests that are compulsory for citizenship. Similarly, in the Netherlands, 3,800 people were exempted from tests on Dutch language and culture during 2005-2009, due to having medically certified physical or mental impairments.

Notwithstanding the significant variations in different European countries, one thing is certain: in Europe, the issue of citizenship for immigrants with disabilities is not well known, even among experts on immigration and citizens' rights. There is no common framework that shows the situation in each country. This would enable authorities to intervene in cases of discrimination against immigrants with disabilities, and to take action under the UN Convention on the Rights of People with Disabilities, which has been ratified by almost all European countries. Article 18 of the convention says: "Member states shall recognize the rights of persons with disabilities on an equal basis with others, [including] the right to acquire and change a nationality."


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