Dual citizenship in Germany set to become easier

- Tuesday, 23/05/2023, 10:31

Germany's government is getting closer to allowing immigrants multiple citizenships after overturning a decadeslong ban. The idea, a long-standing tradition in many countries, is well overdue, say those affected.

Dual citizenship in Germany set to become easier
Source: DW

Germany's government is getting closer to allowing immigrants multiple citizenships after overturning a decadeslong ban. The idea, a long-standing tradition in many countries, is well overdue, say those affected.

The German government has announced that its new citizenship law is in the final drafting stages. Legislation proposed by Interior Minister Nancy Faeser will make dual citizenship easier as well as naturalization for non-EU citizens.

It is a reform that has been in the works since the coalition of Social Democrats, Greens and Free Democrats took office in the fall of 2021. DW has reported on the government's plans several times, and last December interviewed several people affected by the issue.

For example, Marc Young, for whom Germany's reform to allow dual citizenship came 10 years too late:  "Back then I would have been the keenest German citizen you could have imagined," he told DW. "But I refused to give up my US passport. Retaining your old citizenship does not mean you have split loyalties, like so many German conservatives claim. It just reflects who you really are. Changing it is way overdue."

Young said that he had been living in Germany for 20 years and had long wearied of the political debate.

The reforms the Social-Democrat-led government are part of a wide-ranging overhaul of Germany's immigration law that is mainly aimed at encouraging more skilled workers to come to Germany and fill the massive shortages in the labor market. 

Planned changes to the law

The new citizenship plans boil down to three changes:

Immigrants legally living in Germany will be allowed to apply for citizenship after five years, rather than the current eight;
Children born in Germany of at least one parent who has been living legally in the country for five or more years will automatically get German citizenship;
Multiple citizenships will be allowed.

The opposition center-right Christian Democratic Union (CDU), which has consistently blocked any such reforms in the past, attacked the government's plans in December. "German citizenship is something very precious, and one should treat it very carefully," CDU leader Friedrich Merz told public broadcaster ARD.

Immigrants currently include EU and Swiss nationals, those whose country of origin does not allow people to renounce citizenship (e.g. Iran, Afghanistan, Morocco), children of parents with German and other citizenship, refugees who are threatened with persecution in their home country, and Israelis. Syrians who came to Germany as refugees and are considered to have integrated well may also be fast-tracked to German citizenship.

The reforms will bring Germany in line with other European countries. In the EU, Sweden had the highest naturalization rate in 2020, with 8.6% of all foreigners living there naturalized. In Germany, the rate was 1.1%.

"The German citizenship law is based on the principle of avoiding multiple citizenships," Greta Agustini, a German-based lawyer who specializes in immigration, told DW in December. "Other European countries, such as Italy, Sweden, Ireland, France, etc, allow dual citizenship and they have less bureaucratic laws regarding this issue."

Many of Agustini's clients had struggled to find a way to gain German citizenship. "They refuse to give up their home country citizenship, yet they also want to gain the German one," she said. 

According to Germany's Federal Statistics Office, there are about 2.9 million people with more than one citizenship living in Germany, about 3.5% of the population. Though the actual number is likely to be higher, as it has recorded an uptick, with 69% of new German nationals holding on to their original passport. People with Polish, Russian, or Turkish passports top the list.

'Too late for the guestworker generation'

The group that has felt the effect of Germany's citizenship laws more keenly than any other is the Turkish community, many of whom came to Germany the last time the country needed workers: In the 1960s.

At this time, a rapidly growing West Germany signed deals with several states to recruit "guest workers," mainly for menial industry-based jobs.

By far the most came from Turkey, and there are now an estimated 3 million people of Turkish heritage living in Germany — 1.45 million of whom still have Turkish citizenship. Aslihan Yeşilkaya-Yurtbay, co-leader of the Turkish Community in Germany organization (TGD), said the reforms came "too late" for many of that original generation — "but [it's] better late than never."

"For the guestworker generation, this reform means recognition and respect for their lives and their work in and for this country," Yeşilkaya-Yurtbay told DW. "A lot of Turkish people of the second and third generation will, I think, feel empowered by it because they always had an identity dilemma."

"Many people have waited for this, and have maybe given up hope," she said. "And if it really happens, then I think many will become German."

Yeşilkaya-Yurtbay said that Germany would have been a different country if the reform had been brought in earlier. "People would have identified more with Germany if that possibility had been in place," she explained. "I'm sure people would have been more politically interested and more active in society if this opportunity had been there 20 or 30 years ago."