For members


EXPLAINED: What you need to know about applying for German citizenship

Many people, including Brits, are considering applying for German citizenship. Here’s what you need to know about the process.

EXPLAINED: What you need to know about applying for German citizenship
Should you try and get a German passport? Photo: DPA

Those who live in Germany will be no stranger to its red tape and bureaucracy.

But it's not impossible to navigate through the system and actually become German. We’ve put together a guide to help you get informed about the process. 

Why’s it important for British people to think about citizenship?

The UK left the EU at the end of January.

But due to a law passed by the German government, Brits who meet the conditions to apply for German citizenship will have until the end of the transition period (December 31st 2020) to apply.

And if they've applied during that time, they will be allowed to get dual citizenship and keep their British passport.

READ ALSO: 'No big bang but things will change down the line': How Brexit will affect Brits in Germany

This is normally only an option for EU citizens. After the transition period, Brits who apply for German citizenship would likely have to give up their British passport to become German. 

After the UK general election in December 2019, Matt Bristow from citizens’ rights group British in Germany told The Local: “Assuming the withdrawal agreement is passed then it means that British people living in Germany have until the end of the transition period to apply for German citizenship, and still keep their British citizenship (assuming they meet all other criteria at the point of application). 

“This is important for people who meet the criteria before the end of 2020 to get their applications in on time if they want to keep both.”

What about if you're not from the EU?

For other nationalities from outside the EU (and for Brits in future), becoming German will probably mean renouncing your current citizenship, but there’s also the option to gain permanent residency. You can read our articles and talk to your local authority for advice to find out what's best for you.

READ ALSO: 'Brits should try for German citizenship even if they think they don't qualify'

Permanent residency

If completely saying farewell to your Stars and Stripes doesn’t quite feel right, permanent residency to guarantee you can stay long-term might be a better bet.

The general requirements for these permits are that you have adequate German skills, can support yourself financially, have health insurance and have no criminal record.

Photo: DPA

READ MORE: How to secure permanent residency in Germany

For non-EU residents there's also the possibility of getting an EU Blue Card holders (people with a gross income over €49,600, or €38,688 depending on the profession) can get permanent residence after working 33 months, or just 21 months with a B1 language certificate.

Plus, self-employed people with a successfully established business can also apply within three years.

Germany also will grant immediate permanent residence to “highly qualified” immigrants, such as scientists, instructors or researchers, who also have firm job offers.

READ MORE HERE: How to get a 'Blue Card' to live and work in Germany

If you want citizenship

To become a naturalized citizen, you have to have lived in Germany under a limited residence permit for at least eight years. But you can also get this shortened to six years if you take a German-language integration course, which can be done fairly affordably through a local Volkshochschule.

But very crucially, you also have to know German.

“The ability to speak German is an absolute necessity. Being able to communicate in German is essential for social and economic integration,” writes the Interior Ministry.

So how good does your German have to be?

You have to be able to pass a B1 exam (or B2 in some cases, for example if you are applying after six years of residence and meet other integration conditions).

“Sufficient command is defined as being able to 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,” says the Interior Ministry.

“As a rule, this includes being able to read, understand and orally reproduce a German text on a general topic.”

READ ALSO: ''Paperwork was out of this world' the ups and downs of getting German citizenship'

Anything else?

On top of that, you have to prove you can support yourself financially and have a clean criminal record.

Non-EU citizens must also give up their current nationality – except for in circumstances where this isn’t possible, like countries that do not allow citizens to do this. EU citizens are permitted to hold dual nationality with Germany and their native EU country.

Do I have to sit the test?

Yes. The naturalization test has 33 questions in B1 level German about the country’s laws, history and people.

READ ALSO: Quiz: Can you pass these German citizenship test questions?

“By passing the naturalization test you can prove that you have the knowledge of the legal and social system and living conditions in Germany that you need in order to be German,” officials say.

You can apply to sit the test at the Federal Office for Migration and Refugees’ test centres.

In the exam you have 60 minutes to answer the questions, and must select the correct answer to each question from four possible answers.

Photo: DPA

If you answer a minimum of 17 questions correctly, you have passed the test. You will then receive a certificate with your test results.

You can use this certificate to provide proof of your civic knowledge to the naturalization authority. And don't worry if it all goes wrong – you can repeat it.

It costs €25 to take the test.

How much does everything cost?

You must pay a fee of €255 for the whole process.

A fee of €51 applies to children who are to be naturalized with their parents. Minors who are to be naturalized without their parents must also pay €255.

If you are on a very low wage or have several children who will be naturalized at the same time as you, the fee can be reduced, or payment in instalments can be agreed.

If you’re married or have kids

If you’re already married to a German, or in a same-sex partnership, this can make things way easier. Spouses must live in Germany legally for three years and have been married to their partner for at least two years at the time of application.

And the general requirements of naturalization also apply: good command of German, no serious criminal record, and the like.

Children born to at least one German parent, even outside the country, are also eligible for German citizenship.

But kids born inside of Germany to non-German parents – on or after January 1st 2000 – can also get citizenship under certain circumstances. At least one parent must have lived in the country legally and regularly for at least eight years and have a permanent right of residency.

Still, between 18 and 23 years of age, the child has to decide which nationality to keep, if they have more than one.

Is anyone else entitled to citizenship?

Earlier this year, the German government eased rules allowing the descendants of people who fled Nazi Germany to reclaim citizenship.

Relatives of people who left Nazi Germany before their nationality was evoked by the regime can now reclaim it under the new decree.

People who previously would not have been accorded German nationality, because their father was a foreigner and whose mother lost her German citizenship under the Nazis, for example, can now also benefit from the new rules.

For more information check out the official German government website here.

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For members


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’