Germany eases citizenship requirements for foreign nationals
James Westmacott – 5 February 2024
In the midst of a faltering political climate gripped by crises, the Bundestag last week passed a law loosening the requirements to acquire German citizenship in a long-awaited and much-anticipated move. The current coalition government led by Chancellor Olaf Scholz had promised that reform of the nation’s ‘archaic’ citizenship laws would be one of its lasting legacies, and although the law changes must still be ratified in the Bundesrat for it all to become official, it seems as though that has been achieved. Critics have long argued that the country’s present restrictions have held it back, as the predominant aim of the citizenship amendments is to make Germany a more attractive proposition for skilled workers from abroad.
Under current laws, foreign nationals seeking German citizenship only become eligible after eight years of residence, whilst dual citizenship is not permitted for those from non-EU countries. Whilst non-German EU citizens have generally avoided these challenges, the situation greatly contrasts to the country’s large non-EU population. Germany’s most notable immigrant population are those from Turkey, with regular migratory patterns from Anatolia hailing from the Gastarbeiter days post-WWII. Faced with having to relinquish their Turkish citizenship to gain a German passport, the country is yet to establish a route to fully cementing rights in Germany whilst retaining strong links elsewhere. Given that birth in the country does not automatically grant citizenship rights either, many children of immigrants (who have opted to keep their original (non-EU) citizenship) may have been born in Germany, grown up in the country, speak German fluently, and attended school and university, without ever having been able to acquire citizenship. As a result of the reforms, it is estimated that up to 50,000 German residents with Turkish roots will apply.
It is also reported that there are currently around 10 million people living in Germany who do not hold a German passport – almost 12% of the nation’s entire population – with over half of those having lived in the country for more than 10 years. Whilst the ban on dual citizenship will now be lifted for everybody irrespective of prior nationality, individuals will now be able to apply for citizenship after five years, so long as applicants retain no criminal record and can boast B2 level of German language ability as per the Common European Framework or Reference for Languages. Those who are considered to have made ‘special’ efforts to integrate – i.e. speaking C1 German or conducting voluntary work – are able to apply after a mere three years. The new law also proposes that children born of non-EU citizens will automatically be granted German citizenship at birth if their parents have been living in the country for at least five years.
Whilst the move brings Germany in line with the citizenship law in many other European countries, how do the changes compare to the situation in the UK? Before 1983, any individual born within the United Kingdom and its Crown Dependencies automatically received British citizenship regardless of the nationality of their parents. However, the law then changed, meaning that anyone born in the UK today only becomes eligible for British citizenship if at least one parent is either a UK or Irish citizen. Similar to Germany’s new law, foreign nationals are also able to naturalise as a British citizen after five years of residence, whilst the need for confirmation of indefinite leave to remain (ILR) – which must have been held for at least a year – acts as an additional requirement. The five-year residency requirement is reduced to three if the individual in question is married to a British citizen, in which case they would immediately qualify for citizenship anyway once receiving ILR. On top of proving their proficiency in either English, Welsh, or Scottish Gaelic, applicants must also pass an exam called Life in the United Kingdom.
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