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Foreign nationals currently make up around 48 per cent of Luxembourg’s population, which officially stood at 602,000 at the beginning of 2019.
The proportion would have been even higher but for a rising trend among foreign residents to take Luxembourgish nationality.
According to figures provided by justice minister Félix Braz, a total of 13,185 people acquired Luxembourg passports in 2018, up from 10,095 the previous year and just 2,796 in 2016 — the year before the introduction of legislation that eased the requirements significantly.
Last year’s total included 4,632 people who obtained nationality through “recovery”, which restores citizenship to people obliged to give it up through marriage, or for those with an ancestor from Luxembourg. Most, however, were foreign nationals living in the country.
Despite the looming threat of Brexit, the largest number were French nationals at 2,785, followed by 1,601 Belgians, 1,593 Portuguese, 931 Brazilians and 667 Americans. Britons were down in eighth place with 435.
The nationality law, which took effect in April 2017, reduced the number of years of residence required from seven to five. Applicants must also pass a Luxembourgish language test, although those with 20 years’ residence or more only have to attend classes. They must also either take a course or pass an exam on “living together in the grand duchy” — a subject that encompasses citizens’ rights, Luxembourg institutions and history, and European integration.
The naturalisation procedure is a habitual topic of small talk among expats in the country. “I know many people who came to Luxembourg years ago and decided to stay, and who systematically have been going through the process to take Luxembourg nationality,” says PwC partner Steven Libby, who arrived from California in 1991.
Briton Carol Abel came to Luxembourg in 1984 to join the European Parliament while her husband Paul made a career in the grand duchy’s financial industry. She says they took Luxembourg nationality seven years ago when concern began to grow that the UK’s EU membership might be at risk.
“Having already lived in Luxembourg for more 20 years, we qualified to apply for nationality, and the process was quite straightforward. Today we are happy and proud to be Luxembourgers and Europeans.”
There are other benefits. According to the Nomad Passport Index 2018, a Luxembourg passport is the best of 199 worldwide for ease of international travel, ahead of Ireland and Switzerland, allowing visa-free entry to 177 countries. By comparison, the UK and the US rank 22nd and 35th.
Many applicants for Luxembourg nationality today are non-EU citizens who would benefit from the ability to change employer more easily, says Tina Moeller, a language teacher who was born in Denmark but has lived in Luxembourg since childhood.
Ms Moeller has been coaching candidates for the language test for the past 17 years — she averages around 20 a year — and says none of her students has failed to pass first time.
“Over the years more and more expatriates have been coming to Luxembourg to work for a specific company, then decide to make it their permanent home,” she says.
“Demand is biggest from non-EU nationals led by Russians, Chinese, Americans, Canadians and Indians, especially from people in the financial sector. Once they have an EU passport, their life is much easier, so they are very focused on passing the test. But I also have clients whose priority is communicating with their children, who have learnt Luxembourgish in the national school system.”
Ms Moeller also teaches staff sent by the Big Four audit firms and by Luxembourg’s Centre Hospitalier medical centre.
EU nationals do not require a work permit to take up a job in the grand duchy. Non-EU nationals — which may soon include Britons — must have a work permit, usually applied for by their potential employer.
Organisations first need to be able to demonstrate that they are unable recruit an EU or EEA national for the post.
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