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This report describes the different legal approaches to immigration, citizenship, and border control taken by Australia, Brazil, Canada, China, Germany, India, Italy, Japan, Mexico, Russia, South Africa, Spain, and the United Kingdom. The report also discusses the European Union’s border control and visa regime for the Schengen area. A summary that compares and contrasts specific elements of the legal systems surveyed is included. (PDF, 185KB)

Comparative Summary

The Comparative Summary compares and contrasts the different legal approaches taken by thirteen countries with regard to immigration, citizenship, and border control. The section on border control also discusses border control in the EU and the visa regime for the Schengen area.

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Australia

Australia has a universal visa system with various visa options available for visitors, students, skilled workers, business people, and investors. The work visa system is primarily focused on enabling skilled workers to live in the country either temporarily or permanently. The main visa for temporary employer-sponsored skilled workers allows for accompanying family members and provides a pathway to permanent residence. A program for seasonal workers from certain countries is in place, but workers are required to leave at the end of their employment period.

Persons in the country unlawfully are required to leave and could face immigration detention and removal. A database that records movement and visa records is among a range of border management measures used to prevent and deter illegal entry.

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Brazil

Constitutional principles grant rights and duties to aliens living in the country, and federal law regulates immigration issues in general. Citizenship may be acquired by birth or naturalization. Brazil is in the process of changing its immigration legislation, and human rights are being emphasized in proposed legislation.

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Canada

In Canada, immigration is primarily regulated by the Immigration and Refugee Protection Act. Canada admits immigrants under economic, family, and refugee categories. Nationality law is governed by the Citizenship Act, which provides for citizenship through birth, descent, or naturalization. In order to become a Canadian citizen through naturalization, a person must meet requirements relating to age, permanent resident status, length of residence in Canada, language abilities, criminal history, and knowledge of Canada.

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China

In general, every foreigner needs one of four categories of visas (diplomatic, courtesy, service, and ordinary) to enter China. Chinese nationality law basically follows the jus sanguinis principle and does not recognize dual citizenship. A foreign national or stateless person may be naturalized, although this is rare outside marriage. Foreigners illegally entering, staying, or working in China may be fined and deported and Chinese citizens who assist them may also be punished. Border security is a shared responsibility between China’s military and civilian authorities.

To provide for its border and coastal defense, China practices a system of sharing responsibilities between the military and civilian authorities and makes use of border control troops, border inspection stations, and the People’s Liberation Army border control units.

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Germany

Germany’s immigration system, which applies to persons from non-EU countries, limits long-term admittance of skilled workers by granting residence permits on a temporary basis that can be renewed or eventually made permanent. The path to German citizenship is gradual, requiring lawful residence, a permanent residence permit, a high degree of acculturation, and a solid status of financial self-sufficiency. As a member country of the Schengen Agreement, Germany also recognizes the Schengen visa and contributes information to Schengen border control databases. Germany’s Federal Police Force is responsible for border control.

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India

Citizenship in India is by birth, descent, registration, and naturalization. The Foreigners Division of the Ministry of Home Affairs formulates and administers policies, statutes, and rules related to immigration and citizenship. Border security is administered by the Department of Border Management of the Ministry of Home Affairs. However, a variety of law enforcement, paramilitary, and military forces under both the Ministry of Defence and the Ministry of Home Affairs assist with border protection, which has reportedly lead to issues of coordination.

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Italy

Italy has a comprehensive legal framework dealing with citizenship pathways and mechanisms for border management and security. Italy’s borders are generally open to immigration, but under very stringent requirements. As a member of the EU, Italy benefits from and has a duty to apply all of the rights and obligations concerning the right of entry and residence held by other European citizens. While Italy still relies on jus soli and jus sanguinis principles to determine citizenship, it has extended the acquisition of citizenship to other grounds.

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Japan

Foreign nationals are required to have one of seven types of visas to receive landing permission in Japan. In order to work, a foreigner must have an appropriate status of residence. A points-based system provides highly skilled foreign professionals with preferential immigration treatment. Nationality is based on lineage. A foreigner may acquire Japanese nationality through naturalization by meeting a list of requirements; however, a foreigner with a family member in Japan may be exempted from some of these requirements. The Japan Coast Guard is in charge of coastal border security.

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Mexico

Mexico’s Law of Migration provides a broad immigration policy framework and rules regulating visas, establishing penalties applicable to unlawful entry and overstays, establishing a legalization process for undocumented immigrants, and governing naturalization procedures.

Border security is composed of units of federal and local police officers supported by military forces. Current plans include the creation of a National Gendarmery to strengthen control of strategic assets, such as borders, ports, and airports.

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Russian Federation

Management of migration is a significant problem for Russian authorities, due to a growing influx of illegal immigrants. Individuals seeking employment in Russia are required to apply for entry visas based on their labor contracts, and, except for highly skilled employees, are not eligible for permanent residency (and therefore, citizenship), public welfare, or admission of family members. Citizenship is acquired through the principles of jus soli, jus sanguinis, and other grounds. The five-year permanent residence requirement for those seeking citizenship through naturalization may be reduced for refugees; former citizens of the Soviet Union or Russia; individuals of high achievement in science, technology, and culture; and those who have rendered service to the Russian Federation. The Federal Migration Service monitors the enforcement of migration legislation in the country and border protection troops are assigned to the national borders.

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South Africa

South Africa’s immigration system admits nonresident aliens only when issued one of the thirteen different types of temporary residence permits, each with its own range of requirements. A holder of a temporary permit may apply for a permanent residence permit, on the basis of direct residency, a relationship with a citizen or permanent resident, possession of exceptional skills or qualifications, or business investment. South African citizenship may be acquired by birth, descent, or naturalization.

Border protection and security in South Africa is a task shared by various government institutions including the South African National Defense Force and the South African Police Service, coordinated through the Border Control Operational Coordinating Committee.

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Spain

Spain has a visa-based immigration system that applies to persons from non-EU countries and countries with which Spain does not have bilateral agreements. It makes naturalization available to holders of residence permits, provided they are well-integrated, speak Spanish, and have the required number of years in residence, which vary from one to ten years, depending on the country of origin of the applicant.

Spain uses high-tech tools, such as the Advance Passenger Information System and an advanced surveillance system called Sistema de Vigilancia Exterior (SIVE), in its border control operations.

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United Kingdom

The United Kingdom has extensive laws relating to immigration and citizenship, recently moving to a points-based migration system to help retain talented migrants in the country and curb illegal immigration. The UK Border Agency is responsible for policing the borders. Individuals can obtain British citizenship through double jus soli, adoption by British citizens or persons settled in the United Kingdom, descent, or naturalization and registration. Citizenship is not granted automatically to individuals who have legally resided in the United Kingdom for any period of time, nor to spouses of British citizens or babies born in the UK.

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EU Schengen Area

The Schengen area, composed of twenty-six European countries, has no internal borders and a common external border. Current members include all EU Members with the exception of the United Kingdom and Ireland and four non-EU Members. EU citizens and qualified third-country nationals are guaranteed free movement within the Schengen area, though third-country nationals are subject to thorough checks. Participating countries are mainly responsible for managing their external borders and are allowed to enter into bilateral agreements with neighboring states. Visa issuance for third-country nationals in the Schengen area is harmonized throughout the area based on EU regulations.

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Last Updated: 02/28/2014