Res Publica

, Volume 25, Issue 1, pp 55–81 | Cite as

Linguistic Integration—Valuable but Voluntary

Why Permanent Resident Status Must Not Depend on Language Skills
  • Anna GoppelEmail author


Over the last decade, states have increasingly emphasised the importance of integration, and translated it into legal regulations that demand integration from immigrants. This paper criticises a specific aspect to this development, namely the tendency to make permanent residency dependent on language skills and, as such, seeks to raise doubts as to the moral acceptability of the requirement of linguistic integration. The paper starts by arguing that immigrants after a relatively short period of time acquire a moral claim to permanent residency in their host country. Accordingly, states may not limit residency at their discretion. Nevertheless, three arguments may seem promising for defending the requirement of linguistic integration: (a) that the immigrants’ moral claim conflicts with a stronger moral claim on the part of the larger society, and this makes an infringement of the immigrants’ claim proportionate; (b) that language requirements may be legally demanded as a precondition for permanent residency for the immigrants’ own sake; and (c) that language requirements are defensible, as far as immigrants may be understood to have consented to such regulation upon entry to the country. This paper argues that all three must be rejected.


Ethics of immigration Linguistic integration Permanent residency Language requirements Integration requirements 



I have presented versions of this article in several contexts: Society for Applied Philosophy Annual Conference 2013; Working Group on Normative Theory of Migration; Research Colloquium at the Ethics Research Institute Zurich; Konstanz-Zurich Research Colloquium. I thank all the participants for their valuable comments and criticism. In particular I would like to thank two anonymous referees, David Archard, Jan Brezger, Andreas Cassee, Terry Classen, Luara Ferracioli, Kieran Oberman, Tiziana Torresi, and Peter Schaber.


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© Springer Nature B.V. 2017

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.Institute for PhilosophyUniversity of BernBernSwitzerland

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