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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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POLITICS

Can German Chancellor Scholz create a Merkel-like buzz at the G7 in Bavaria?

The last time Germany hosted a G7 summit, then-chancellor Angela Merkel produced a series of viral images with Barack Obama, clinking giant mugs in a traditional Bavarian beer garden and communing against a verdant Alpine backdrop.

Can German Chancellor Scholz create a Merkel-like buzz at the G7 in Bavaria?

Her successor Olaf Scholz, hobbled in domestic opinion polls and of modest global stature, may struggle to match that convivial atmosphere when leaders gather again from Sunday.

The centrist Scholz, 64, assumed the presidency of the Group of Seven rich countries in January, just a month after taking office in Berlin.

Since then his handling of the Russian invasion of Ukraine, soaring inflation and energy supply complications have put his government to the test while sending his approval ratings plunging.

READ ALSO: Opinion – Scholz is already out of step at Germany – it’s time for a change of course

Scholz told parliament on Wednesday he was ready to seize the three days of talks at the Elmau Castle mountain resort – the same remote, picturesque venue Merkel chose in 2015 – to burnish Germany’s global image and the standing of the West.

“In Europe’s biggest security crisis for decades, Germany as the economically strongest and most populous country in the EU is assuming special responsibility – and not just for its own security but also for the security of its allies,” he said.

A series of summits in the coming days must show “that G7, EU and NATO are as united as ever” and that the “democracies of the world are standing together in the fight against (Russian President Vladimir) Putin’s imperialism,” Scholz said.

READ ALSO: Germany tightens border controls ahead of G7 summit

German Chancellor Olaf Scholz arrives at the EU summit in Brussels on June 23rd.

German Chancellor Olaf Scholz arrives at the EU summit in Brussels on June 23rd 2022. Photo: picture alliance/dpa/AP | Olivier Matthys

‘Merkel tradition’

Joachim Trebbe, a professor of political communication at Berlin’s Free University, said Scholz had a “huge opportunity” with the G7 to dispel any doubts about his leadership skills or resolve against the Russian president.

“At the start of his term and even when the war began, Scholz was quite reserved – perhaps a little bit in the tradition of Ms Merkel,” a
still-popular conservative the Social Democratic chancellor has sought to emulate, Trebbe said.

She also “tended to manage crises and didn’t pay much attention to informing the media at every step”.

Former US President Barack Obama and ex-German Chancellor Angela Merkel sit during a concert visit in Elmau (Bavaria) in June 2015 as part of the G7 summit.

Former US President Barack Obama and ex-German Chancellor Angela Merkel at a concert visit in Elmau (Bavaria) in June 2015 during the G7 summit. Photo: picture alliance / dpa | Karl-Josef Hildenbrand

After accusations of foot-dragging, Scholz’s attempts at a reset were on display during a long-delayed visit to Kyiv last week, joined by the leaders of France, Italy and Romania.

A journalist from the daily Süddeutsche Zeitung travelling with the chancellor noted that he had a tendency to make gaffes under pressure – like “an old tap that either releases ice-cold or boiling water”.

‘Symbols’

His trouble finding the middle ground had led him to exercise too much caution when it came to sending weapons to Ukraine, or too little, as when on a visit to Lithuania this month he significantly overstated German arms deliveries.   

The chancellor, whose sometimes robotic style has earned him the nickname Scholzomat, has also found himself outflanked in his own unwieldy ruling coalition of his Social Democrats (SPD), ecologist Greens and liberal Free Democrats.

A poll this week showed that the Greens – with popular Foreign Minister Annalena Baerbock and Economy Minister Robert Habeck, both credited with clearer messaging on Ukraine — were leading the SPD in voter intentions for the first time since July 2021.

Both parties, however, are currently trailing the conservative opposition, which has relentlessly criticised Scholz’s Ukraine and energy policies as too timid.

READ ALSO: Why has Germany been so slow to deliver weapons to Ukraine?

Trebbe said that initiatives at the G7 bearing Scholz’s imprint on issues including future political and economic support for Ukraine, climate
protection and strengthening democracies worldwide were crucial if he hoped to gain political tailwinds from the summit.

But he said the gathering was nearly as much about generating images, such as the instant meme of Merkel, arms outstretched, explaining her world view to a nonchalant Obama, draped in repose on a wooden bench.

“That’s where symbols of unity, common strategy and strong leadership are created,” Trebbe said.

“I’m pretty sure Scholz has a team of professionals ready to take full advantage of that aspect of the summit.”

By Deborah COLE

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