Obtaining permanent residency status–or gaining citizenship in a foreign county–may seem like a good idea for those who no longer want to live in the country where they were born or whose passport they hold. But some nations make that transition especially difficult unless you marry a citizen of that country (or, in some cases, if you have ancestors who were citizens).

Key Takeaways

  • For those individuals who no longer want to live in the country where they were born, obtaining permanent residency status or gaining citizenship in a foreign county may be a desirable option.
  • In addition to marriage and ancestry, countries with high barriers to attaining citizen status may have special residency or citizenship tracks for certain people, especially highly skilled professionals or investors.
  • Austria, Germany, Japan, Switzerland, and the United States are five nations that make it especially difficult for foreigners to establish permanent residency or obtain citizenship.

In addition to marriage and ancestry, countries with high barriers to attaining citizen status may have special residency or citizenship tracks for people who fit certain categories, such as being a highly skilled professional or investing substantially in a business enterprise. But these situations don't apply to the vast majority of prospective citizens.

Austria, Germany, Japan, Switzerland, and the United States are five nations that make it especially difficult for foreigners to establish permanent residency or obtain citizenship.

Austria

Many countries in the European Union have tough immigration laws. However, Austria seems to have one of the longest processes to become a citizen. Anyone who is not a citizen of a European Union country, and is staying longer than six months, must have a residence permit before entering Austria.

People who plan to stay longer than 24 months must also sign an Integration Agreement, a process designed to enhance their German-language skills and ability "to participate in the social, economic, and cultural life in Austria."

Permanent residents must live in the country continuously for a period of 10 years before being eligible to apply for citizenship. If approved, applicants must renounce any other citizenship.

Germany 

Obtaining permanent residency in Germany is difficult unless you are a citizen of another European Union country.  Foreign nationals living in Germany must demonstrate competency in the German language, and knowledge of the political system and society, in order to gain German citizenship. Applicants must also demonstrate that they have the ability to earn a living and have contributed to the national pension plan. They must also have proof of suitable accommodation.

To become a citizen, applicants must have lived in the country at least eight years (the number is seven if applicants have passed a competency test) and renounce citizenship in any other country.

Japan

It takes longer to be granted a permanent resident visa in Japan than to become a citizen. Those who want to become a citizen of Japan must have lived in the country for five years, receive permission from the Justice Minister, and complete a large amount of paperwork (which may or may not include questions involving the personal lives of applicants).  The process, according to the Japanese Ministry, can take six to 12 months, although those who have gone through it have reported that it can take years. If approved, applicants must be ready to renounce citizenship in other countries.

Switzerland

To obtain a settlement–or a permanent residence visa, unless you are an EU citizen–you must have lived in the country for five or 10 years. If you qualify for permanent residence by the length of time you have lived in the country, you also qualify to apply for citizenship. However, this is not guaranteed; applicants for citizenship must also prove they have been assimilated into Swiss society and do not pose a threat to security. What's more, all cantons and municipalities have their own rules about granting citizenship.  Switzerland permits dual citizenship.

United States

While the United States was founded mostly by immigrants, the process for achieving permanent residency and citizenship has become increasingly more complicated since the early 2000s and the so-called "war on terrorism." Unless a person is coming to the U.S. through a family member or an approved job, it is very difficult to establish permanent residency (sometimes known as receiving a green card). There are special categories for those seeking refugee or asylum status, and a lottery for others who wish to apply. 

Those who have had permanent residency status for five years can begin the process of applying for citizenship by filling out the application and taking a test, which includes knowledge of the history and the government, and of the English language. Before becoming a citizen, people must swear an oath to the Constitution. The United States permits dual citizenship.

The Bottom Line

Moving from a temporary visa to permanent resident status–or citizenship–is particularly difficult in some countries.