Creating Togetherness?

Immigrants’ Perspectives on Canada’s Naturalization Process


  • Elke Winter University of Ottawa


Canada, naturalization, Einbürgerung, Kanada, Migration, boundaries, Grenzziehungen


Increasingly, immigrants, especially those from non-Western countries, are suspected of being unwilling to “integrate”, i.e. learn the national language, take up work, and adopt “Western” values. They are also said to naturalize “for the wrong reasons”, reaching from the abuse of social welfare systems to the use of Western passports for terrorism-related travel. As a consequence, almost all Western countries have recently implemented restrictive changes to their naturalization requirements. In the literature, this development is debated controversially as either re-nationalization or liberalization. Goodman (2014) classifies recent policy changes as an iteration of nation-building, which supplements national identity’s emphasis on (ethnic) sameness by means of a state identity’s accentuation of (civic) togetherness. This paper examines the naturalization process – and the nation(-state) project at its core – from the viewpoint of those who are usually ignored: immigrants and new citizens. Specifically, it asks the following questions: As how welcoming or repelling do newly minted citizens in Canada perceive the naturalization process? How do they relate to the factual and symbolic boundaries at stake in naturalization? Deriving almost two thirds of its population growth through immigrants and refugees, the Canadian state has – or should have – a very strong interest not only in transforming foreigners into citizens, but also in assuring that this legally important ritual enables and encourages full citizenship: i.e. combining legal status with specific forms of participation and identification. While naturalization is not a single moment in time and not merely an administrative procedure, in this paper, emphasis is placed on the part of the naturalization trajectory that involves dealing with administrative requirements. The paper draws on semi-directed interviews with new citizens residing in the Ottawa-Gatineau region. Participants were recruited through calls for participation. Inductive interview analysis generated key themes related to various dimensions of the naturalization process (e.g. application, study guide, test, ceremony) by means of vertical and horizontal analyses. Results show that new Canadians are acutely aware of being part of a multi-ethnic middle class nation-state project. Those who can, rely upon their skills and qualifications to downplay what they identify as cultural, linguistic and religious biases inherent to the Canadian naturalization process. Boundaries nevertheless remain bright for the less educated, as well as for those offended or intimidated by these biases.


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Winter, E. 2019. Creating Togetherness? Immigrants’ Perspectives on Canada’s Naturalization Process. Komplexe Dynamiken globaler und lokaler Entwicklungen. Verhandlungen des 39. Kongresses der Deutschen Gesellschaft für Soziologie in Göttingen 2018. . 39, (Juli 2019).



Ad-Hoc: Belonging and Symbolic Boundaries in the Perception of Immigrants