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Giving up being British: What you should know about becoming German after December 31st

After the Brexit transition period ends, Britons will have to give up their British citizenship if they want to become German.

Giving up being British: What you should know about becoming German after December 31st
A pro-EU demonstrator in London on October 21st 2020. Things will change drastically for Britons after December 31st. Photo: DPA

From December 31st 2020, at the end of the UK’s Brexit transition period, the immigration status of Brits in Germany will change. For most people this will mean that, if you apply for German citizenship in the future, you will first need to give up your British citizenship. 

While this undoubtedly sounds scary, the process is actually quite simple – or at least a lot simpler than making the decision to get citizenship in the first place! So, if you’re thinking about swapping your British passport for a German one, here are five key questions to consider, along with some tips for navigating the complex world of citizenship law.  

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

Will I need to get German citizenship to stay in Germany?

The short answer is no – but there are several benefits to doing so. Under the terms of the Withdrawal Agreement agreed between the UK and the EU, British citizens who move to Germany before December 31st can register for a residence permit which will allow them to live and work here as before. 

READ ALSO: Brits in Germany urged to apply for residence status before 2021 deadline

The German and Union Jack flags. Photo: DPA

Of course, whether you plump for German citizenship over British is an entirely personal decision. Many people are perfectly happy to live in Germany on a residence or permanent residency permit, which allows them to live here unimpeded and retain most of the rights they enjoyed previously.

Be aware though: without German citizenship, you won’t have the right to vote in any elections, whether local, European, regional or national, and you will lose your right to free movement – i.e. the ability to live and work – throughout the EU. You may also lose access to certain jobs that are reserved exclusively for German or EU citizens, unless you have another ‘backup’ EU citizenship like Irish, French or Polish.

There is another side to the story, however. In giving up your UK citizenship you may make returning to Britain much more difficult for you and your family in the future, and could lose other benefits such as access to social security support.

If you’ve weighed up the pros and cons and decided that German citizenship is best for you, then you’re ready to start the process of renouncing your British citizenship.

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

How do I go about giving up my British citizenship?  

It may be a major life event for you, but as with most modern bureaucracy, your first step to renouncing British citizenship is to fill in an online form. This form – known as “Form RN” – is around six pages long, and simply asks for your personal details, the nationality you are giving up, and the nationality you hope to gain afterwards.

After filling it in, you’ll need to sign it and also find a countersignatory who can confirm that you’re of “sound mind” and that you believe that giving up your British citizenship is in your best interest. 

Along with your application, send the Home Office proof of your British citizenship, such as a passport or birth certification, and a letter from your local Citizenship and Naturalisation Office in Germany stating that you will be conditionally entitled to citizenship once you’ve renounced your British one.

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

How can I prove to the German authorities that I’m no longer “British”? 

After submitting your RN form on the UK government website, you should receive a ‘declaration of renunciation’ to confirm that your application has been accepted. This is basically a copy of your application that has been signed and stamped. The date at which you lose your British citizenship – six months from the date of application – will also be printed on the form.

Archive photo shows British Prime Minister Boris Johnson and German Chancellor Angela Merkel in Berlin. Photo: DPA

You can use this declaration as evidence that you’ve successfully asked to give up your old citizenship. Submit the documentation along with your other citizenship documents, which will include copies of your birth certificate, information relating to your residence and work in Germany, confirmation of your German language skills (B1 or higher) and a certificate to say you’ve passed your citizenship test.

The exact documents you need will be dependent on your personal circumstances, and you should always speak to a citizenship advisor at your local Citizenship & Naturalisation Office (or Einbürgerungsbehörde) before you start the process.

A word of warning, though: due to rules in the UK designed to protect citizens from becoming stateless, your application to give up British citizenship will expire within six months. This means that, should you not receive your German passport within that time, your application to renounce your citizenship will be cancelled and you may have to reapply.  

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

Can I get my old citizenship back after I renounce it? 

Generally speaking, yes. If you decide to leave Germany to move back to the UK, there’s always the chance of regaining your British citizenship, although this will probably mean swapping one passport for the other again. 

At this point, you will probably be familiar with how it all works: just hop online once more and fill in yet another government form: in this case, Form RS-1. This time, the form will be quite a bit longer, and you’ll need to show that you’re of “good character”, which essentially means not having any prior criminal convictions or involvement in extremism or terrorism. 

You will also be asked to prove that you are entitled to British citizenship, and that you were required to give it up in order to gain German citizenship. Again, a letter from your local Citizenship & Naturalisation Office will probably suffice. 

If you’re still not sure about the best way forward, it may be worth talking to an immigration lawyer about your situation. Choosing a citizenship can have huge implications for social security payments, right of abode and more, so it’s best to learn the full ramifications of your choice before making a final decision. 

As a best-case scenario, a lawyer may also be able to inform you further about any relevant exceptions to the dual nationality rule under German immigration law. Who knows? You may even be able to dispense with Form RN altogether.

Is there still a chance for me to get dual nationality before the deadline?

If you’re lucky enough to qualify for citizenship now (which usually means being in the country for at least eight years, or being married to a German for two and resident in the country for three, but there can be exceptions so check with local authorities), you absolutely still have time to apply and qualify for dual nationality.

Regardless of when your application is accepted, the exception on dual nationality will still apply as long as you get your application in by the 31st December this year. If you’re in this position, don’t wait around: get a phone appointment with your local citizenship office and kickstart the process as soon as possible.

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

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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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