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IMMIGRATION

In limbo: Why Germany’s reform of dual citizenship laws can’t come soon enough

Having more than one nationality will soon be an option to many more people in Germany under government plans. For those struggling to navigate the bureaucratic hurdles now, the change in law can't come soon enough, writes Caitlin Hardee.

A person holds a German passport.
A person holds a German passport. Lots of third country nationals want to be able to hold more than one citizenship in Germany as soon as possible. Photo: picture alliance/dpa | Fabian Sommer

When the new German government’s plans were published in November 2021, immigrants in the Bundesrepublik zeroed in on a few choice paragraphs on page 118: The Ampel – or so-called traffic light coalition – had resolved to anchor a universal recognition of multi-nationality in federal citizenship law.

For myself and others, this represents a staggeringly significant change in sentiment. Up until now, Germany has clung to a calcified, fearful avoidance of dual citizenship, often capricious and inequitable in execution.

Expats with strong ties to their homelands found themselves in a dreary limbo, unwilling to renounce their old nationalities and so unable to naturalise, deprived of voting rights, security and true belonging, even after decades of integrated, tax-paying residence in Germany. Many of us had lost hope that a meaningful change would come about in the foreseeable future; the notion of dual nationality remained a wistful dream and a political long shot.

Now it’s going to happen. I talked to representatives of all three ruling parties to pin down specifics; while there’s no fixed date to pass the new legislation, all assured that it was a priority.

READ MORE: When will Germany relax its dual citizenship laws?

‘Inhumane experience’

While we wait and hope, for some immigrants, the good news is tinged with bitter memories of prior run-ins with the Byzantine citizenship process, which will continue to flummox and foil our aspirations of integration until the law is changed.

Emily Wachelka, an American living in Munich, married and raising children with a German, knows this frustration well. In the run-up to the election, she spoke with us about her then-ongoing application for citizenship, and her hopes to attain dual through assorted arguments for a hardship-based exemption from renunciation.

By the time the authorities in Munich got around to making a decision in her case, the news had already dropped that federal policy would soon be embracing multi-nationality. Of no consequence, apparently, to local bureaucrats: Her request for leniency was denied, and Wachelka withdrew her naturalisation application, after considerable time and expense. She, like many, remains in limbo for now. Wachelka spoke about her disappointment over the lack of Willkommenskultur (welcoming culture). 

“My Sachbearbeiter (advisor) just seemed to want to get me off his back. There was no offer of putting my application on hold, no willingness to try and find a way to make this happen even when it’s so clear that I’m here for life, my kids have dual citizenship, and there is no way I can give up my US citizenship,” she said.

None of Wachelka’s arguments for an exemption could convince the Munich office: Her family ties to the United States, future inheritance issues, or the renunciation fee exceeding her monthly individual income. “Bavaria has decided to include spousal income in deciding if this exception applies,” she said.

Not even the closed-for-business sign of the US embassy responsible for renunciations, which has stopped offering this service in Germany throughout the pandemic and has no timeline on when it may resume, was enough to tip the scales. “The response was that my application would be approved – with the clause that as soon as renouncements started up, I would need to renounce or face a fee,” fumed Wachelka.

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

Wachelka was not told how much this fee would be, or whether it would still apply if the federal law on dual citizenship had changed by the time the embassy resumed denaturalising citizens. “It’s all quite inhumane and clearly designed to discourage citizenship,” she concluded.

Emily Wachelka, third from left, with her German husband, their children, and her American parents, together in Westpark, Munich.

Emily Wachelka, third from left, with her German husband, their children, and her American parents, together in Westpark, Munich. Photo: Abbie Louise Photography

Wait… or tackle the paperwork now?

And me? Your author has been muddling through the citizenship process for the better part of a year now, having obtained permanent residency last January. In truth, my heart’s only half in it – I desperately want to keep my American citizenship as well as become German. But at every step I don’t know whether it’s better to push ahead at full tilt and see if my own cobbled-together mess of arguments is enough, pray my advisor in Berlin is having a good day, hope authorities can read the writing on the wall – or whether it would be better, cheaper, easier, less infuriating, to throw the brakes on and wait for the law to change.

Just a few anecdotes from the delightful journey so far: I recently paid a couple hundred euros to a certified translator for an approved rehash of my birth certificate, college transcript and some random printouts about my parents’ property in the United States. I had to pay for this, despite being a professional translator myself, because I’m not certified, which of course the Bezirksamt requires for the translations they demand of incredibly basic English documents.

The transcript is needed, along with an open-ended freelance translation contract I have with a German chamber of commerce, and course certificates from my time at a German university, and whatever other German documents I can find, to support my assertion that I (a German studies major, cum laude, working in German-language office environments for the better part of a decade) am sufficiently fluent to avoid scheduling, sitting and paying for an additional language test. I discussed this course of documentation on the phone during my Erstberatung (initial consultation) an extensive phone call in, dare I say, pretty spectacular German. But how can a bureaucrat know if I can actually speak the damn language, without paperwork?

READ ALSO: How I got German citizenship

Caitlin Hardee isn’t sure whether to try and continue her application for dual citizenship, or wait until the change in law. Photo courtesy of Caitlin Hardee

The page on my parents’ house is to support one of many arguments I would advance for potential economic hardship, in this case regarding long-term care versus relative care as relating to potentially selling the property and losing inheritance. Probably useless. I considered getting a photography license in Washington state, which you don’t need to do photo work there, just so I could have something else to pay to have translated and show threatened revenue – photography legitimately being another of my side hustles – but I had to draw the line somewhere.

So now I’m sitting on a sheaf of expensive documents, but without extra certified copies, so I can either go all-in right now on this attempt, get the rest of my paperwork together, pay another couple of hundred euros up-front for the Amt to consider my case, most likely get denied, and then receive half of the fee and hopefully my documents back to reuse in future – or I can wait.

Germany, you make me tired.

‘I deserve to be recognised as the German citizen I am’

I’m not the only one: Wachelka is pretty burned out on the whole adventure as well. She tries to think about how it will feel, someday when the law is changed, to finally be recognised as a citizen of two countries, but can’t quite picture it.

“It’s hard for me to envision this moment, and honestly, thinking about it makes me quite emotional,” she said. “I want very much to become a German citizen. I would like to have a German passport like the rest of my family, and of course most of all I would like to have a voice, in local, regional and national elections.” Wachelka’s ties to her chosen home are beyond reproach: “I live here, my family is here, my kids are dual citizens. I speak the language fluently, I studied here, I pay taxes, and I do my very best to be involved in my community.”

Wachelka’s simple desire is that of so many who share her position, trapped in-between and disenfranchised: “I deserve to be recognised as the citizen that I am, in all ways except officially.”

The intentions of the new government represent the realisation of that dream – and the new law can’t come soon enough.

Keep an eye on thelocal.de for further articles on how foreigners are affected by these planned changes, and your thoughts on relaxing citizenship laws.

Member comments

  1. Her situation is ludicrous in the extreme, whereas I obtained dual citizenship relatively easily being a brit living in germany when brits were still members of the e.u. As for the language test (telc b1), I crammed learning the day before the test and forgot most of that five minutes afterwards. Can hardly string a sentence together in deutsch.

      1. Hi Rachel, no I didn’t! Quite the opposite. Long story short . . .

        I booked the wrong (B2) level of test and the 200€ fee was not refundable, so I went and took it anyway. To my surprise, I failed by *only* 10%, despite completing just half of the written part. I passed the comprehension and the oral parts. During the whole three hour test, I worked out how the tests were constructed and used that knowledge to pass the B1 test about a month later, “mit der befriedigende Stufe”, which was one step further than adequate for my needs.

        Having booked the correct (B1)

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RESIDENCY PERMITS

How Germany is trying to streamline the process of getting an ID card

For many people in Germany, getting new official documents requires two appointments - one to apply for the document, and one to pick it up. But there are plans to change that.

How Germany is trying to streamline the process of getting an ID card

According to the Interior Ministry, Germany’s federal printing office (the Bundesdruckerei) is examining whether it could send any new ID documents directly to people as soon as they are printed, meaning that residents won’t have to pick them up. 

A spokeswoman for the ministry told DPA that the government department had asked the Bundesdruckerei to investigate whether posting the documents would be workable, and to submit a price estimate for the scheme. 

Though some states do send ID cards in the post, most German residents face a second trip to the Bürgeramt (citizens office) or Ausländerbehörde (immigration office) to pick up their new ID. There have been calls to speed up the system for some time. 

READ ALSO: What to do if you lose your residence permit in Germany

If new identity documents were sent directly by the Bundesdruckerei, there would be no need for people to collect them from the relevant office. This could be a relief for both residents and local authorities.

The Association of Towns and Cities of North Rhine-Westphalia welcomed the news and urged the government to move quickly in changing the system.

At present, the Federal Ministry of the Interior hasn’t specified when the change could come into force. It is also unclear whether it would also affect things like driving licences. 

The spokesperson said the public would be updated as soon as the proposals for the scheme were available and a timetable for implementation had been drawn up.

German states are responsible for local passport and identity card authorities and would also need to be informed about a possible new system.

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