Does granting citizenship to immigrant children affect family outmigration?


This study examines the effect of birthright citizenship on the outmigration behavior of migrant families in Germany. Using the introduction of birthright citizenship on 1 January 2000 and cohort-level data from the German Microcensus from 2001 to 2006, I exploit the differential treatment of birth cohorts around the enactment date to conduct a regression discontinuity analysis. Comparing the outmigration behavior of foreign-citizen families with children born in Germany directly before and after the cutoff, I find evidence that granting citizenship to immigrant children reduces the likelihood that their parents leave the country again.

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  1. 1.

    Constant and Zimmermann (2011) find that the possession of German citizenship increases the frequency of temporary exits from Germany because of the looser restrictions, but not the total time spent abroad. They also do not provide evidence for a higher likelihood of permanent return or outmigration among naturalized immigrants.

  2. 2.

    This feature was disputed, however, since the German Constitution forbids the removal of the German citizenship in most circumstances (see the discussion in Mertens 2004). Consequently, the major parties in Germany changed this regulation in 2014, such that only those children have to opt for one nationality that did not grow up in Germany. That is, any migrant child who got the German citizenship at birth can remain dual citizen permanently, if she lived in Germany for more than eight years, went to a German school for at least six years, or acquired some formal education in Germany (see §29 of the German citizenship law from 2014).

  3. 3.

    Although applications under the transition regulation had to be filed in 2000, it usually took several months to process them, in some cases even years.

  4. 4.

    This assumption is not crucial, however, for the considerations developed in this paper.

  5. 5.

    Own estimation based on data from the German Statistical Office. Three reasons could possibly explain these low take-up rates: (1) Contrary to automatically getting the German citizenship, taking advantage of the option involved incurring some positive monetary, informational, and psychological costs in the form of paying fees, spending time and effort to gather information, get necessary documents, and go to the respective offices, as well as actively deciding on binding your child closer to the host country and thereby reducing the bonds to the parents’ own country of origin. (2) The tangibility and certainty of the involved costs and benefits may be asymmetric. While the costs of the application are known and certain, it is hard to know how much exactly a child would benefit from possessing the German citizenship. (3) Some parents may be inclined to postpone the decision until the child has grown up and can choose for herself, knowing that she will have the right to naturalize later anyway (although at the cost of giving up the former citizenship).

  6. 6.

    The alternative would have been to impose restrictions which vary for each birth-year cohort, e.g., that at least one parent migrated to Germany more than 8 years before the respective year of birth of the child. That way, however, the composition of parents would be different across birth-year cohorts, as the 2002 cohort could contain parents who arrived in Germany in 1993, whereas the 1998 cohort would consist of parents who immigrated prior to 1989.

  7. 7.

    Since the transition component of the reform allowed children born between 1990 and 1999 to obtain the German citizenship retrospectively, there is a small fraction of children in each cohort of the control group who have received the treatment. At the same time, no German citizenship is reported for some children born in 2000 and afterwards. This may be caused by a lack of information in the Microcensus on the legal status of foreigners in Germany, which makes it impossible to exactly identify the set of eligible families. Alternatively, some parents may be either not aware of the German citizenship of their children or not willing to report it.

  8. 8.

    This approach implies that families with more than one child are counted in different birth-year cohorts. Furthermore, it also blurs the sharp distinction between the two groups, since the same family may have children born before and after the enactment date. This is a problem in the case of non-significant results, as it biases the estimates towards zero. On the other hand, it should enhance the credibility of significant results.

  9. 9.

    See Imbens and Lemieux (2008) and Lee and Lemieux (2010) for well-written and conclusive overviews on how to use and interpret RD designs in applied research.

  10. 10.

    The data used in this paper were analyzed using the remote processing tool JoSuA developed by the IDSC of IZA (see Askitas (2008) for details).

  11. 11.

    The choice of 2001 as the starting year for the evaluation is due to the fact that it is the first Microcensus in which the complete birth cohort of 2000 can be identified.

  12. 12.

    Three reasons could potentially explain why German citizenship is only reported for 46 % of the children in the assignment group in 2001. (1) Due to the missing information about the legal status of the parents, the identification of assignment families is not exact and may therefore include some proportion of ineligible children. (2) There is a time gap of up to several months between registering a newborn child and finally getting the information that it indeed fulfilled all requirements and thus became German citizen at birth. For some families with children born in late 2000, it could therefore be the case that the parents had not been informed about the German citizenship of their child yet. (3) As the information in the Microcensus is self-reported, it may be that some parents were not fully aware of the citizenship status of their child at the time and thus did not report it.

  13. 13.

    Running a linear regression of assignment status on all the covariates that are not significantly different by construction (i.e., excluding the number of children born before and after the reform, age, and German citizenship of the child) shows that these covariates do not explain a family’s assignment status, neither individually nor jointly (the F test statistic is only 1.02). The detailed results are available from the author upon request.

  14. 14.

    For the cohorts of children born in 2001 and 2002, the Microcensus data of 2002 and 2003 are used to compute the initial cohort size, as these two cohorts could not be identified before. As consequence, their computed OM rates only represent their behavior over a period which is 1 and 2 years shorter, respectively, than for the other cohorts.

  15. 15.

    The German Socio-Economic Panel, which is often used for migration-related research, would produce a far too small sample size to conduct this kind of RD analysis.

  16. 16.

    The probability to die within 5 years is a bit higher for newborn children (5 out of 1,000), since all the birth-related deaths are counted in for them. So even if the youngest cohorts in the sample (the children born in 2000, 2001, and 2002; see footnote 14) were completely composed of newborns, this difference in mortality rates would be too small to significantly influence estimated return migration rates.

  17. 17.

    This assumption is supported by the finding that, for each cohort, the fraction of families fulfilling the minimum residence requirement is basically the same over the Microcensus years, independent of whether or not answering the year-of-arrival question is compulsory.

  18. 18.

    Children who are born in that year and migrate to Germany later cannot influence the estimated OM rate, because only children born in Germany without any later arrival are included in the computation of the cohorts.

  19. 19.

    This could be if the non-responses were, for instance, completely composed of foreign-citizen parents who were born in Germany themselves and therefore skipped the year-of-arrival question. Counting all cases of non-response into the respective cohort size increases the average OM rate to +3.4 % but does not significantly change the results reported below (see Section 7.2).

  20. 20.

    The only difference is that the Microcensus years 2001 to 2005 do not provide information on whether one or both foreign-citizen parents naturalized themselves after 2000. Since this would lead to undercounting cohorts in which many parents became German citizens during this period, I use the Microcensus of 2006 to identify for each cohort the number of families in which one or both parents naturalized between 2000 and the respective year and add this number to that year’s cohort size.

  21. 21.

    The computed OM rates for the other time intervals are examined and discussed as robustness check in Section 7.2.

  22. 22.

    Running the same regressions without the “robust” option lowers the significance of the assignment coefficient somewhat, but it is still significant on the 10 % level in the preferred specification 2.

  23. 23.

    The Microcensus follows a rotating sampling scheme in which every household remains in the sample for 4 years and every year one quarter is renewed. This means that after 4 years, none of the original households is remaining in the sample anymore.


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Financial support from the Agència de Gestió d’Ajuts Universitaris i de Recerca (AGAUR) is gratefully acknowledged. I further thank the Institute for the Study of Labor (IZA) for the data services of the IDSC and Libertad Gonzalez, Bernd Fitzenberger, seminar participants at Universitat Pompeu Fabra, ESPE 2010, AEDE 2010, SAE 2010, and the NORFACE conference on “Migration: Economic Change, Social Challenge,” as well as two anonymous referees for many helpful comments and suggestions.

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Correspondence to Christoph Sajons.

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Responsible editor: Klaus F. Zimmermann



Table 4 RD regressions of 2001–2006 OM rates for birth-year cohorts 1997 to 2002
Table 5 RD regressions of 2001–2006 OM rates with different adjustments for non-responses
Table 6 RD regressions for different time intervals

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Sajons, C. Does granting citizenship to immigrant children affect family outmigration?. J Popul Econ 29, 395–420 (2016).

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  • Birthright citizenship
  • Integration
  • Outmigration
  • Germany

JEL classification

  • F22
  • J15
  • K37