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POLITICS

EXPLAINED: What Germany’s new government means for citizenship and naturalisation

Reform to citizenship rules, including allowing for double citizenship, is one of the central planks of the new German government’s manifesto. Here’s what you need to know.

A picture of a German passport seen up close
Getting one of these bad boys just got a little easier. Photo: DPA

Germany’s new coalition government released its coalition agreement in November. It laid out its intention to “simplify the path to German citizenship” and move towards a modern citizenship law.

The agreement expressly states that it will allow for “multiple citizenships”, thereby relaxing existing rules which usually required people to give up their other citizenship if they wanted to become German. 

While the specific parameters of the policy have not yet been set in stone, several details have emerged so far. 

READ ALSO: Germany’s new coalition government to allow dual nationality

Here’s what you need to know. 

What has the government announced? 

In the lead up to the election, several parties had laid out plans for how to reform Germany’s citizenship rules. 

The coalition government, which was sworn in on December 9th, said it had developed a suite of policies which would “create a new beginning in migration and integration policy that does justice to a modern immigration country”. 

Significantly, the agreement states that the law will be changed to enable ‘multiple citizenships’, suggesting that the traffic light parties will permit dual nationality for non-EU citizens.

While holding dual nationality is permitted for citizens of other EU nations, for those from outside the bloc – generally known as ‘third-country’ citizens – this is only allowed in very narrow cases. 

This is the realisation of a long-desired policy change by the Social Democrats, who have been held back from expanding dual citizenship by the CDU for the past 20 years. 

This coincides with efforts at a state level to speed up administrative processes for gaining citizenship, for instance those in the capital Berlin. 

READ ALSO: What you need to know about the current dual citizenship laws in Germany

What are the specific policy proposals? 

Under the plan, children who are born in Germany will receive German citizenship if at least one of their parents have lived in Germany for at least five years.

The proposal also indicates that the language requirement for naturalisation among ‘guest workers’, i.e.  

The agreement will also shorten the time frame for applying for naturalisation to only five years – or three years in the case of special integration achievements.

Citizenship test
A woman completes the German citizenship test. Photo: picture alliance/dpa | Lino Mirgeler

Until now, non-Germans who are not married to a German could only apply for naturalisation after having continuous legal residence in Germany for eight years. 

This could be reduced to seven years with completed integration course, or six years with German language skills better than level B1.

READ ALSO: EXPLAINED: How German citizenship differs from permanent residency

Easier process for the guest-worker generation

The coalition has also laid out their intention to make naturalisation easier for members of the so-called “guest worker” generation which helped to rebuild the country after the Second World War. 

Guest workers were mainly Turkish workers from abroad who were recruited to work in industries such as agriculture, construction, steel, automotive and mining from the mid 1950s to early 1970s.

The agreement wants to “recognise the lifetime of achievements” of this generation, by lowering the language level that must be proven for this group, and by introducing a general hardship regulation for the required proof of language proficiency.

The coalition also intend to launch a campaign to inform people about the possibilities of acquiring German citizenship and to expressly welcome the holding of naturalisation ceremonies.

How will it work? 

The exact details of how the new framework will operate have not been indicated expressly, however once it comes into force, people will no longer need to decide whether to give up their other citizenship when undergoing the process of naturalisation. 

Currently, non-EU citizens who move to Germany and wish to obtain German citizenship are required to give up the citizenship they were born with, except for in a narrow minority of cases.

Dual British and German nationality
A dual British and German national holds up their passports. Under new rules, Brits will be able to take on German citizenship after living in Germany for five years. Photo: picture alliance/dpa | Holger Hollemann

They do this by ticking a box on their citizenship application form signally that they are willing to renounce all other nationalities.

Under the new framework, this box is likely to be removed, meaning non-EU citizens will be able to keep their third-country citizenship as well as acquiring German citizenship. 

‘Repatriation offensive’: What about asylum, deportation and refugee status?

The coalition agreement also lays out policy changes regarding asylum, refugee status and deportation, with the new government saying they are committed to “fair, fast and legal” asylum procedures in Germany. 

Put simply, there will be additional protections for people who cannot be deported, but deportation will be made easier for those who can be sent home. 

People who have not been awarded a residency permit but cannot be deported – i.e. those who have had their asylum application denied but who cannot be sent home due to conditions in their home country, i.e. ongoing war – will receive an “opportunity residence permit” (Chancen-Aufenthaltsrecht) provided they have lived in Germany for five years, speak German, do not have a criminal record and are committed to the free and basic democratic order in German society. 

This residence permit is probationary and will last for one year. 

The agreement also includes a ‘repatriation offensive’, which will speed up deportations of people with criminal records or those deemed dangerous. German authorities came under fire after the Berlin Christmas Market attack in 2016 when it emerged that the Islamist attacker had avoided a deportation order. 

Family reunification will also be expanded for refugees. 

READ ALSO: What Germany’s coalition proposals mean for citizenship and immigration

Please note, this report is intended as a guide only and should not take the place of legal advice from a qualified person. 

Member comments

  1. This is great news. Does anyone know if the rules have changed if you are married to a German? How soon can citizenship be applied for then?

    1. Would like to know this too. Plan to visit local authority early next year. If i find out anything useful will post back

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For members

GERMANY EXPLAINED

EXPLAINED: How October 3rd became Germany’s national holiday

Compared to many other countries, October 3rd is a relatively new nationwide holiday, marking 32 years since German reunification. Aaron Burnett explains the background to it and why it's celebrated on this particular date.

EXPLAINED: How October 3rd became Germany's national holiday

Independence Day in the United States dates all the way back to 1776. Canada Day, celebrated on July 1st, goes back to 1867. France’s Bastille Day on July 14th commemorates the storming of the Bastille in 1789.

Compared to those national holidays, Germany’s October 3rd is fairly recent, having only been around since 1990.

October 3rd – or Tag der Deutschen Einheit – marks the date that the former West and East Germany officially became one country again, after being divided since the end of WWII. In 2022 it’s celebrated on a Monday, meaning many people will get a long weekend. 

Between 1945 and 1949, the country was split into four occupation zones – held by the Americans, British, French, and the then Soviets. In 1949 the Soviet zone became the communist East Germany – or Deutsche Demokratische Republik (DDR), while the rest of the country became the West German Bundesrepublik Deutschland (BRD).

The Bundesrepublik continues today, but now with the five eastern federal states, plus East Berlin, that were formerly in the DDR.

Why October 3rd and not November 9th?

Less than a year before official reunification on October 3rd, 1990, the Berlin Wall fell on November 9th, 1989.

At first glance, November 9th might seem a better day to commemorate as a national day.

Growing up in Canada, my Gelsenkirchen-born Oma used to talk about the Berlin Wall falling with a slight waver in her voice – and sometimes even tears – decades after it crumbled before her eyes on her television screen.

November 9th, 1989 is remembered by many Germans as the happiest day in the history of the country, but the anniversary of the Berlin Wall’s fall is not observed as a national holiday.

‘It was the happiest day in German history,’ she told me at the time. ‘People were just so amazed at seeing that and no one really thought it would actually happen and guck mal – there it was. It was very emotional at the time and I guess I still am too,’ she would say.

READ ALSO: ‘There was a human tide moving’: Berliner remembers crossing the Wall

For Oma and many other German-Canadians I grew up around, Unity Day felt a little less momentous than November 9th. To them, October 3rd was an important day to observe, but conjured up a few less emotions.

‘November 9th suddenly made the dream of having a unified Germany again seem possible,’ my teacher at Calgary’s German-Canadian Club told me years ago. ‘By the time it was actually official, it just seemed like the final step of something that had been going on for a while already.’

To my Oma, my teacher, and others I grew up around who remembered that time – German reunification seemed inevitable within days of the Wall falling. But it wasn’t necessarily guaranteed. Even after the Wall fell, the DDR and BRD remained separate countries at first.

The months between November 9th, 1989 and October 3rd, 1990 were momentous – and saw several additional events that would pave the way for reunification.

On March 18th, 1990, the DDR would hold its first – and only – free and democratic elections. Won by the East German Christian Democrats, their leader Lothar de Maiziere served as GDR Premier until reunification on October 3rd.

Lothar de Maiziere, the first and only democratically elected leader of East Germany, at a German reunification celebration on October 3rd, 2020.

In Spring 1990, Bonn and Berlin agreed to convert the East German Ostmark – which was practically worthless at the time – to the West German Deutschmark on a largely 1 for 1 basis, with most salaries, prices, and savings being converted straight over.

Finally, the process for legal reunification took months, with the signing of an economic and currency union, the reconstituting of the five eastern federal states that had been abolished in communist times, the official reunification treaty, and the treaty that saw the WWII allies renounce all rights and responsibilities in Germany.

READ ALSO: What unity means to eastern Germans

At the stroke of midnight on October 3rd, 1990 – a reunified Germany became a fully sovereign state for the first time since WWII. That was thanks in large part to both political will and legal work in the months immediately following the Wall’s fall.

Although it seems so normal now, reunification was never guaranteed, which is part of why October 3rd enjoys and deserves its own special commemoration.

November 9th – German history’s double edge

The other major reason why October 3rd serves as Germany’s national day instead of November 9th is that November 9th, while associated with the happy elation of witnessing the Berlin Wall crumble, is also linked to many other momentous – and often solemn – historical commemorations.

On November 9th, 1918, Kaiser Wilhelm II abdicated. Within hours, the Social Democrats and the Communist Party both declared the Weimar Republic and a ‘free, socialist republic,’ respectively. It would serve as the first sign of political instability that eventually allowed the Nazis to take power.

On November 9th, 1923, Adolf Hitler attempted a coup that started in a Munich beer hall. He was arrested and wrote Mein Kampf during his time in jail.

November 9th was not chosen as Germany’s national day partly because of the solemn commemorations attached to it, such as Kristallnacht on November 9th, 1938.

And on November 9th, 1938, Jewish businesses and synagogues were violently targeted during Kristallnacht, or the “Night of Broken Glass.” At least 90 Jews were killed and 30,000 deported.

As happy as November 9th, 1989 was, commemorating it as Germany’s national day would be problematic given the other solemn observances attached to it, which is also part of why October 3rd was chosen.

READ ALSO: Why November 9th is a fateful day in German history

What days does October 3rd replace?

Both East and West Germany had national holidays before reunification. The DDR observed ‘Republic Day’ on October 7th, the anniversary of its founding in 1949. Before 1990, the BRD commemorated June 17th, or the anniversary of the East German uprising in 1953.

October 3rd replaced both days as the national day of celebration. 

Where can you celebrate it?

Unity Day is a national holiday with celebrations readily found around the country.

In Bavaria, Oktoberfest remains open until October 3rd partly to mark the occasion. In Berlin, festivities are readily found around the Brandenburg Gate.

However, each year, a major city plays host to official celebrations and the Unity Day Bürgerfest, or ‘Citizen’s Festival.’ The host city is in the federal state presiding over the Bundesrat – Germany’s upper legislative chamber – that particular year.

For 2022, Erfurt – the state capital of Thuringia – is the host, and next year will see Hamburg take over hosting duties.

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