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PASSPORT

What you can learn about becoming German – from people who have done it

Applying to become a German citizen can seem like a daunting and long-winded task. We talked to a range of people who have gone through the process of applying to become a German citizen, to find out what it's really like.

What you can learn about becoming German - from people who have done it
Photo: DPA

This article is available to Members of The Local. Read more Membership Exclusives here.

Martin Cairns tells The Local that getting German citizenship was a surprisingly straightforward process.

“I had to book an initial consultation at the Bürgeramt to get the ball rolling,” he says. “Then I booked the Einbürgerungstest (citizenship test) at the Abendakademie in Mannheim around September 2015, and a language test.”

The event manager, who is originally from England, moved to Germany in 1999 for work and decided to become a citizen in 2015 after losing his right to vote in UK elections.

At the initial consultation at the Bürgeramt, he had to fill out an official application form and was later sent a list of all the relevant documents he needed to provide.

It took Cairns a while to get all the documentation in order. He was required to provide an official translation of his UK birth certificate, various certifications from his work, pension and health insurance – and even information about the location and date of his parents’ marriage.

“Then once I collected it all, I had to make an official 'handover of documentation' at the Bürgeramt and pay the €255 fee,” he recalls.

Cairns found that waiting for his application to be processed actually took less time than he had expected.

“The first appointment I could get was in early February 2016 and I was told it could take around eight weeks. To my surprise, I received the official confirmation that my application had been accepted around the 20th of February.”

But the process still wasn't over.

“I had to make another appointment to receive the certificate, to make my pledge to Germany, and to register for the Personalausweis (German ID card) and passport,” he says.

After all that, he finally received his Ausweis in early March 2016.

READ MORE: How to get German citizenship (or just stay forever)

A citizenship test. Photo: DPA

'I waited two hours to make an appointment two months in the future'

Paul Duke (47), from Australia, found it relatively straightforward applying for citizenship but says the process was delayed simply due to a backlog of applicants.

He moved to Germany in 2001 after meeting his wife and, much like Martin Cairns, applied for German citizenship 16 years later so that he could vote.

“Getting an appointment for the citizenship test was painful,” Duke said, “I waited two hours to make an appointment which was two months in the future.”

While delays such as this seem unavoidable, it appears a proactive approach did save him a little time when proving his language level.

“Fortunately I had done a B2 test seven years ago just for fun,” Duke told The Local, meaning it was very easy to prove he spoke adequate German.

Key to getting citizenship is the ability to show that one can “cope in German with daily life in Germany, including dealing with the authorities, and being able to conduct conversations commensurate with one's age and education,” the Interior Ministry states.

'Instructions not always consistent'

Maribel Restrepo, from Colombia, came across complications regarding the required language test. The 33-year-old is married to a German and works for a trading company in Hamburg.

She says that the process took her around five months. But she felt that the instructions she was given at the start and midpoint of the process were not always consistent.

“At some point they called me and said that the German B1 exam, which is what they told me to do, will not be enough and that I had to do B2,” Restrepo told The Local. “I refused since I followed their instructions, the exam costs around €150, and I would have had to take more days off work for the registration and for the exam itself.”

Fortunately, after further discussion, a compromise was reached. In the end, Restrepo was not required to take a second language test, but instead had to provide extensive proof of language courses she had taken almost a decade ago.

“I had to ask for registration certificates of my previous German courses, from the time when I did my internship in 2008, as bills where not enough proof!”

A woman signing legal documents as part of the naturalization process. Photo: DPA

'The paperwork was out of this world'

Abdul Chehab (28), a communications and digital media specialist from Lebanon who has lived in Germany since 2014, is currently waiting to hear whether or not his application for German citizenship has been successful.

According to Chehab, “the paperwork was out of this world, but this is understandable as it’s an application for citizenship, not ordering a pizza.”

“I had to provide a lot of papers dating to the day I moved to Germany and had to bring papers from Lebanon and translate them,” he told The Local.

Getting documents officially translated into German is costly and Chehab feels that he received conflicting information about whether or not having his English work contract translated was actually necessary.

“I work for an international company so my work contract is in English,” he said. “I rang up to ask if this was okay and was advised to translate it. This cost me an extra €200, but then when handing in the paperwork I was told it wasn't necessary to have it translated after all.”

'Took close to a year'

Quite often applicants are required to provide evidence dating back a number of years – sourcing these documents was a very common cause of delays in the citizenship process among the people we spoke to.

Manda Dannemann, a 62-year-old actress born in Canada to German parents, didn’t apply for dual German and Canadian citizenship until her adult life.

Although she did not find the process difficult overall, one of the main delays she came across was in sourcing evidence relating to her German father.

“It took a while to get documents for my dad from his birthplace in northern Germany,” Dannemann said. “The citizenship process probably took close to a year since I had to wait for my dad’s birth certificate to arrive.”

Delays can also be caused when one has to revoke one's original citizenship. Paul Duke from Australia, was required to renounce his previous citizenship.

“Giving up my Aussie citizenship took about four months which put the German one on hold for a while,” he said.

English and German passports. Photo: DPA

Changes in the law

Getting a German passport is often very simple for people with one or more German parent, but things can be a little more complicated for the descendants of such individuals, as there have been a number of changes to citizenship laws throughout the years.

Barbara Simpson (72)  grew up in England but now lives in Marseille, France. She did not find out she had German nationality and citizenship until after all three of her children were born. This unfortunately complicated matters for her eldest son.

“I found out that I was a German citizen – born in Germany and two German parents – in 1984,” Simpson told The Local, “I got my German passport and the two for my younger sons – at the time I couldn’t even apply for one for my eldest son!”

This was due to restrictions which ended shortly after her eldest son Charles was born on April 12th 1974.

According to the Pappe Law Office and Notary, “until December 31, 1974, citizenship could be obtained only through the father,” or if their mother was the only one with German citizenship and “declared her desire to transfer her German citizenship to her descendants.” 

Unfortunately for Simpson she did not know she was German at the birth of her eldest son and therefore couldn't declare her desire to transfer her German citizenship.

Although he is not automatically eligible for German nationality like his younger brothers, in early 2016, Simpson’s eldest son applied for citizenship through the German consul in Marseille.

Unfortunately the processing of his application is taking quite some time and almost two years later he is still waiting to hear if he was successful.

Copies of the German Constitution ready to be given out at a citizenship ceremony. Photo: DPA

'I was invited to be welcomed by the Bürgermeister'

Once an application has been officially accepted, the person must make one final appointment to attend a citizenship ceremony where they say a pledge to Germany and recieve their citizenship certificate.

The scale of this ceremony is also dependent on location and number of local applicants.

For some, it is a very low-key affair, and they may even be the only person in attendance, save for the official who is presenting them with the certificate.

But others say that a large number of other successful applicants attended the same ceremony, which some people have described as creating a feeling of community and cammeraderie.

Martin Cairns, who is based in Mannheim, said he was even invited to attend a further celebratory event.

“I also was invited to be welcomed by the Bürgermeister at the Mannheimer Schloss in October,” Cairns says, “which I thought was a nice gesture.”

This kind of 'Einbürgerungsfest' is not a mandatory step in the process but simply a chance to celebrate with your family and other new citizens.

For members

IMMIGRATION

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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