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IMMIGRATION

A dual citizenship double standard in Germany

As Germany this week marks a half century of mass Turkish immigration, The Local’s Marc Young explains why it’s time to end the country’s hypocritical stance towards dual citizenship.

A dual citizenship double standard in Germany
Photo: DPA

With all immodesty, I’m a perfectly integrated foreigner in Germany.

I speak German without a thick American accent, I voluntarily opted for state health insurance and, unlike many Germans, I even willingly pay my TV licence fees.

I have a German wife and a half-German child. There’s just one thing I won’t have for the foreseeable future: a German passport.

That’s not because I don’t want one – just the opposite. After almost 14 years in this country, I’d gladly become a German citizen. I would have eagerly voted in the Berlin state election last month. But I don’t care to sacrifice my American passport for the privilege. Fifty years after the first Turks came to Germany, there are millions of people here in a similar situation.

And why should we be forced to abandon our cultural ties? The United States, Canada, Britain, France, Sweden and countless other countries have no problem with dual citizenship. But Germany, so modern in so many ways, sadly still clings to horribly antiquated concepts of nationality.

Some German politicians – often conservative and Bavarian – believe that I and more than two million Turks simply aren’t worthy of German citizenship because we refuse to surrender our other passports.

If I were French, I wouldn’t have this dilemma. I could vote and participate in this country’s political life – despite retaining my old citizenship. Hoping to foster Franco-German friendship, the otherwise so stingy Germans allowed their pals west of the Rhine to have dual citizenship back in 2003. This was a nice gesture however, it also happened to be rather hypocritical one.

Shortly thereafter, Germany was compelled in 2007 to give this right to all EU citizens, and not just the French, since defending such a blatant double standard would have been impossible in the European courts.

But three generations Turkish immigrants – and a few well-integrated Americans – are still discriminated against. I’m aware our countries of origin aren’t part of the European Union, but that doesn’t justify German inconsistency.

I know a Mexican living in Munich who recently became a proud German because Mexico simply refuses to strip people of their citizenship as Germany requires of naturalized immigrants. Once a Mexican, always a Mexican. Yet conservative Bavarian politicians appear to be handling this affront in their midst just fine.

The state premier of Bavaria, Horst Seehofer, and many other German politicians claim you can’t be a loyal German citizen while holding onto a second passport. But speaking as someone with experience in both Europe and America, that’s nationalistic nonsense.

Perhaps Seehofer should ask himself if his conservative colleague David McAllister is qualified to be the premier of Lower Saxony. The Christian Democrat just happens to be half Scottish with both British and German passports. Does anyone seriously question his loyalty to Germany?

Apparently what goes for David the top politician doesn’t apply to Mehmet selling fruit and veg on the corner. Because just like the nasty stereotype that Turks in Germany are only up to being greengrocers, Germany’s immigration policy allows for the clear discrimination against “unwanted” foreigners. This double standard on dual citizenship is an institutionalized form of the prejudice displayed during the acrid integration debate sparked by ex-central banker Thilo Sarrazin last year.

Making matters worse, the so-called Optionspflicht forces many young German citizens to choose between two nationalities simply because their parents are foreigners. It’s almost as if they have to reject their family heritage if they wish to remain German after the age of 23. The centre-left Social Democrats and Greens are supporting an initiative in the upper house of parliament to end this damaging practice, but Chancellor Angela Merkel’s conservatives are staunchly determined to torpedo their efforts.

This is extremely detrimental to integration efforts, since it ensures foreignness is passed from generation to generation. It’s also ironic because it’s often the conservatives warning loudest against the threat of Turkish “parallel societies” in Germany. Allowing dual citizenship, on the other hand, would help ensure most families became thoroughly “German” by the third generation.

This isn’t rocket science – other immigration countries have shown Germany the way. The United States, for example, requires people to prove they spent at least five years there for them to be able to pass on their US citizenship to their offspring born abroad. Such measures are completely acceptable. This isn’t about handing out passports – it’s about someone’s commitment to their new homeland.

Fortunately, my child will never have to choose between Germany and America because my wife is German. But until Germany catches up with the rest of the world, I’ll remain a US citizen – and a German taxpayer.

Marc Young

[email protected]

twitter.com/marcyoung

A version of this commentary was first published in German by the Berlin newspaper Der Tagesspiegel.

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What Germany’s plans for a points-based system mean for foreigners

To tackle its ever-widening skills gap, Germany wants to encourage talent from aboard to move to the country by introducing a points-based immigration system. Here's what foreigners need to know about the changes.

What Germany's plans for a points-based system mean for foreigners

What’s a points-based system?

A points-based system is an immigration model where foreigners have to score above a certain threshold of points in order to obtain a residence or work permit in a country. The exact scoring system is set by the government, but can include factors like language skills, family connections to the country, specific qualifications or work-related skills, or the amount of money in your bank account. 

Points-based systems can also be known as “merit-based systems”, because there tends to be a pretty big emphasis on what you can offer a country in terms of education or skills. 

The model was first introduced in Canada way back in 1967 as the country tried to move past a system based on race and nationality to one that favoured language fluency, youth and educational or vocational background. A similar step was taken in Australia just a few years later in 1972 and, since Brexit, the UK has also introduced its own points-based model. 

How does this relate to Germany?

When the new ‘traffic-light’ coalition of the Social Democrats (SPD), Greens and Free Democrats (FDP) took office last December, the parties pledged to reform Germany’s immigration system and bring a fresh cohort of workers into the country.

“In addition to the existing immigration law, we will establish a second pillar with the introduction of an opportunity card based on a points system to enable workers to gain controlled access to the German labour market in order to find a job,” the coalition agreement read.

This would apply to third-country nationals who don’t otherwise have the right to live and work in the country. 

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

German language course poster

A sign advertising German courses. Language skills can count towards points in a points-based system. Photo: picture alliance / dpa | Bernd Wüstneck

FDP migration specialist Dr. Ann-Veruschka Jurisch, who is working on these reforms, says the policy is driven by Germany’s desperate need for workers. 

“The Liberal Party (FDP) is convinced that we need more labour migration,” she told The Local. “We do have a lot of options for coming into Germany as a labour migrant – but it’s a bit complicated – and if you want to come to Germany to search for a job and you don’t come from an EU country, it’s much more difficult.”

That’s why the coalition is aiming to offer a second route for people who don’t have job lined up in Germany, but who otherwise have the skills or talent to find one. 

What will this look like?

The plans for the points-based system are still at an early stage, so the exact criteria haven’t been worked out yet.

What’s clear at this stage, however, is that the points-based option would run parallel to the current model, which generally permits people with a concrete job offer in a skilled profession to come and work in the country. 

“It’s about (people having) a good opportunity to come to Germany when they have either a job offer in sight or a direct job offer,” Chancellor Olaf Scholz (SPD) said in response to parliamentary question in January. 

“Next to that, we want to achieve a further possibility for talent – for qualified men and women whose skills we need in Germany, who still don’t have a work contract but, if given access, could use that opportunity. That’s what we’re talking about with this Canadian points-based system. It shouldn’t replace our current system, but rather improve it.”

In short, that means that people with a job lined up won’t be disadvantaged – but there will be alternative routes for those without them. It also won’t affect the EU blue card scheme

READ ALSO: ‘I finally feel at home’: How Germany’s planned changes to citizenship laws affect foreigners

Will people need formal qualifications? 

Probably not – though it will obviously depend on the sector someone works in and their level of experience in their chosen field.

“I personally am convinced that you shouldn’t place too much emphasis on formal qualifications, because it’s very complicated getting your formal qualifications recognised in Germany,” said Jurisch.

“A medical doctor, for example, is one where you can’t say, ‘Okay, you’ve got some experience so we don’t need to see your papers.’ But there are a lot of other jobs which do not have this restriction and they are not formalised but rather based on practical experience.”

Carpenter wood

A carpenter sands down a block of wood in Cologne. Photo: picture alliance/dpa | Federico Gambarini

The issue of recognising qualifications is also a problem that the traffic-light coalition has set their sights on solving during their time in office.

At the moment, the process of getting qualifications officially recognised in Germany is done on a state-by-state basis, so somebody who gets their degree recognised in Brandenburg may have to redo the entire process again in Bavaria, for instance.

According to Jurisch, there have already been conversations between the Ministry for Labour and Social Affairs and the Ministry of Education on the issue, and Labour Minister Hubertus Heil (SPD) has also promised to take steps to solve it.

But, she said, it’s complicated: “I’ve started to dive into this issue, and the more I dive into it, the more complicated it becomes – so there are no silver bullets.” 

How many workers are needed – and where? 

In order to plug its labour shortages, Germany needs around 400,000 new workers every year, according to the Federal Employment Agency. In 2020, Germany’s net migration was just 200,000 and 150,000 people of working age entered retirement – which means the country is currently falling well short of its targets. 

“We have shortages everywhere,” Jurisch said. “We need 400,000 new workers every year, and these people won’t be born in Germany – or if they are, they won’t grow up for another 20 years.

“We haven’t managed to get more women into the labour market, or they work part time, so I don’t think this will make a big difference, and I don’t think we will close the gap by training people.”

In this sense, it seems that immigration is the only option for filling major staff shortages in almost every profession. 

“Whoever I talk to, be it nurses, nannies, IT workers, industrial workers, teachers, lawyers – everywhere we have a shortage,” Jurisch said.

staff shortages Germany

A sign outside a restaurant informs customers of a closure due to staff shortages. Photo: picture alliance/dpa | Stefan Sauer

When will the points-based system be introduced?

Unlike with the plans to reform citizenship, which the SDP-led Interior Ministry wants to achieve by the end of the year, there’s no firm timeline in place for the points-based system.

However, the FDP is fighting for the policy to be given higher priority and would like to introduce the new visa system before the next federal election in 2025. 

“I hope it will be done in this legislative period,” said Jurisch. “I’m pushing to get it a little bit higher up on the agenda.” 

READ ALSO: INTERVIEW: ‘Changing German citizenship laws is a priority’

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