Citizenship acquisition and spatial stratification: analyzing immigrant residential mobility in the Netherlands

Blog post by Christophe Leclerc, Maarten Vink and Hans Schmeets

5 May 2021, 9:12 a.m.
Christophe Leclerc, Maarten Vink and Hans Schmeets



Foreign born nationals moving to European countries tend to settle into neighbourhoods that have a high proportion of other migrants. This can have various implications for their well-being and integration process. While there is a consensus on which factors may be driving this phenomenon, the question of immigrants’ subsequent residential mobility is still being debated. It is with the aim of contributing to this discussion that our research investigates immigrants’ subsequent mobility out of these migrant neighbourhoods in the Netherlands between 2003 and 2016.


Research show that immigrants are often obstructed in their mobility by housing market discrimination, a phenomenon that has been observed in many instances in the Netherlands. Housing market discrimination can be based on skin colour, religious affiliation, ethnicity but can also be caused by immigrants’ citizenship status. Because becoming a Dutch citizen may be considered by private rental actors and mortgage lenders as a positive signal of economic and cultural integration, and may also indicate a desire to permanently stay in the country, we argue that naturalised immigrants are less exposed to discrimination in the housing market and are, as a result, better able to have access to predominantly  non-migrant neighbourhoods.


We test these mechanisms with a survival analysis that estimates the effect of naturalisation on the expected duration of time until immigrants leave a migrant neighbourhood. Using register data from Statistics Netherlands, we include in our analysis all non-EU foreign born individuals who settled in the Netherlands in 2003, 2004, 2005 and moved upon arrival to a  migrant neighbourhood and track them for a maximum period of 13 years. In total, this amounts to 29 400 individuals spanned across 234 912 observations.


We find that becoming a citizen increases the odds of moving out of migrant areas. Yet, this effect is not straightforward and also depends on the immigrants’ economic situation. For instance, we observe a smaller impact of naturalisation for immigrants with a low income, something that may be explained by the fact that low-income immigrants may see their housing application being denied due to a lack of financial stability, regardless of their citizenship status. Naturalisation also matters less for high income individuals, possibly because these individuals are not at-risk of being discriminated. In the same vein, our findings indicate that becoming a Dutch citizen is particularly relevant for individuals with a permanent contract, especially for people moving within the renting sector.


Overall, our research contributes to the literature on immigrant residential mobility in the Netherlands. It also shows the potential of naturalisation as a facilitator of integration. At a time when the Netherlands is considering increasing the language requirement for naturalisation, which may significantly delay the naturalisation procedure for already vulnerable immigrants, these findings raise questions regarding the appropriateness of such restrictions.


Read the accompanying article on Urban Studies OnlineFirst here.




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