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Brexit: How thousands of Brits in Germany will be in limbo after doors close on dual nationality

Brexit: How thousands of Brits in Germany will be in limbo after doors close on dual nationality
People gathering at Brandenburg Gate in Berlin when Brexit happened on February 1st 2020. Photo: DPA
When the Brexit transition period ends, Brits who apply to become German will no longer qualify for dual citizenship. It will force difficult choices onto many people, writes Imogen Goodman.

On January 1st 2021, as the last of the fireworks evaporate across the Berlin skyline, Britons all across Germany will see in the New Year with a new status in the eyes of Europe. For the first time in their lives, they will be third-country nationals. 

Of around 120,000 Brits estimated to be in Germany, most will have entered under very different circumstances: their right to free movement, the right to vote in EU and local elections and the right to be considered for “EU-only” jobs still intact.  

But when 2021 rolls around, all of that will change – and many will be forced into difficult choices. 

In the past few years, Brits have been scrambling to offset the uncertainty they face by gaining citizenship in their European countries of residence. Since the Brexit vote in 2016, the number of British people becoming “German” has risen by around 2,000 percent, with around half of all Brits in Germany set to be naturalised by the end of the year.

For the other half of them, however, the dream of gaining German citizenship and reclaiming their EU rights is still a long way off.

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Britons will be asked to give up UK passport

Due to rules forbidding dual nationality for citizens of non-EU member states, after the UK’s transition period for leaving the EU ends on New Year’s Eve, those gaining a German passport will be asked to give up their UK one. For those with more complicated family backgrounds, it could mean giving up other passports and nationalities, too.

In German debates around citizenship, the question has often been framed in terms of national loyalty and integration. In a 2017 poll by ARD, respondents were asked for their feelings on dual nationality alongside questions on Turkey’s negotiations to join the EU. Fifty-eight percent of people surveyed said they were against dual nationality, while only 35 percent were in favour of it. 

In a comment piece for Tagesspiegel written the same year, the CDU’s Hans-Peter Uhl claimed that “dual nationality harms integration”. Questioning the loyalties of Turkish-Germans in particular, Uhl claimed that granting people two passports could allow hostile states to influence Germany from within. “Dual nationality only enables attempts like Edogan’s to tear our society apart,” he wrote. 

Giving up UK passport will be 'a massively big deal'

Sarah, who lives in Hannover, originally came to Germany as a child, and later returned for her year abroad while studying German at University. She always knew she’d return to Germany, but was initially worried about moving away from family and friends.  

“I really regret not coming back to Europe sooner,” she says. “I really loved being in Germany as a child, I have a lot of happy memories here.”

Still, in spite of her love of German culture, her fluency in the language, and her desire to keep her free movement rights, giving up her UK passport in the future will still be “a massively big deal”.

Asking British migrants to renounce their passport feels, for some, like a rehashing of Brexit: an attempt to get people to “pick a side” in an increasingly globalised and complicated world. For those desperate to keep both passports the past few years have been a desperate search for loopholes, for ways around the knotty legislation mandating a choice between two or more nations. 

READ ALSO: What Brits in Germany should know about travelling after December 31st

For Ben, who lives in Berlin, it was his family history that seemed to offer an escape route. Before the Second World War started, his grandmother fled from what is now part of Germany to escape persecution and death, arriving as a refugee in the UK. 

But, partly since his grandmother left before the war kicked off and came from a part of Czechoslovakia than only later became part of Germany, he was told that his case “didn’t count”. 

Brits who apply for German citizenship in future won't be able to keep both their British and German passports. Photo: DPA

'You don't know how life is going to change'

For the some-60,000 Brits in Germany who won’t meet the 31st December deadline, many may have come to terms with the prospect of losing their citizenship, but most would agree that it is a huge, and frightening, step.

“It suddenly becomes a very emotive decision,” says Dom Turnbull, who arrived in Germany almost five years ago. “I have to reflect on what the UK has offered me and how it’s established me, in terms of education, in terms of health and upbringing and safety, and casting all that away – never mind paying £1,000 for the pleasure of renouncing the passport – is very painful.

“My son has a British passport as well. He's only five and he's brought into the mix, and now I have to make that decision on his behalf.”

Then there are all the unknown factors: changes in health, family life, and career. “You don't know how life is going to change,” said Pete Carvill, who chose residency over citizenship. “I don't know if my parents are going to need me to come home or if I'm going to get offered a job back in the UK or if I might decide to raise the kids closer to family – these are all things that can happen.”

READ ALSO: Q&A – What does Brexit mean for my rights as a Brit living in Germany

So, what of the tens of thousands of British-German dual nationals that will be living in Germany after the Brexit transition period ends? Will they be less ‘integrated’ than those Brits who, in order to be on an equal footing in Germany, end up renouncing their UK passports? 

According to Jochen Oltmer, a social researcher at the Institute for Migration Research and Intercultural Studies at the University of Osnabrück, the answer is a resounding “no”. 

“There is a lot of research that suggests that citizenship facilitates integration,” he told German newspaper WAZ. “We know that identities are always multiple identities. The idea that you can only be German or only Turkish, for example, is absurd.”

In the aftermath of Brexit, dual nationals with links to both the UK and Germany could create vital lines of dialogue and cultural exchange at a time when diplomatic relationships are increasingly sour. For the people fighting to maintain these links, being both “British” and “European” is not a contradiction in terms. 

Though the German government – and the CDU in particular – doesn’t seem likely to change its mind on dual nationality any time soon, there are thousands of good reasons to do so. 60,000, to be precise. And that’s only the Brits.

READ ALSO: What you need to know about applying for German citizenship


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