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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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How the EU aims to reform border-free Schengen area

European countries agreed on Thursday to push towards a long-stalled reform of the bloc's migration system, urging tighter control of external borders and better burden-sharing when it comes to asylum-seekers.

How the EU aims to reform border-free Schengen area
European interior ministers met in the northern French city of tourcoing, where president Emmanuel Macron gave a speech. Photo: Yoat Valat/AFP

The EU home affairs commissioner Ylva Johansson, speaking after a meeting of European interior ministers, said she welcomed what she saw as new momentum on the issue.

In a reflection of the deep-rooted divisions on the issue, France’s Interior Minister Gérald Darmanin – whose country holds the rotating EU presidency – said the process would be “gradual”, and welcomed what he said was unanimous backing.

EU countries backed a proposal from French President Emmanuel Macron to create a council guiding policy in the Schengen area, the passport-free zone used by most EU countries and some affiliated nations such as Switzerland and Norway.

Schengen council

Speaking before the meeting, Macron said the “Schengen Council” would evaluate how the area was working but would also take joint decisions and facilitate coordination in times of crisis.

“This council can become the face of a strong, protective Europe that is comfortable with controlling its borders and therefore its destiny,” he said.

The first meeting is scheduled to take place on March 3rd in Brussels.

A statement released after the meeting said: “On this occasion, they will establish a set of indicators allowing for real time evaluation of the situation at our borders, and, with an aim to be able to respond to any difficulty, will continue their discussions on implementing new tools for solidarity at the external borders.”

Step by step

The statement also confirmed EU countries agreed to take a step-by-step approach on plans for reforming the EU’s asylum rules.

“The ministers also discussed the issues of asylum and immigration,” it read.

“They expressed their support for the phased approach, step by step, put forward by the French Presidency to make headway on these complex negotiations.

“On this basis, the Council will work over the coming weeks to define a first step of the reform of the European immigration and asylum system, which will fully respect the balance between the requirements of responsibility and solidarity.”

A planned overhaul of EU migration policy has so far foundered on the refusal of countries such as the Czech Republic, Hungary, Poland and Slovakia to accept a sharing out of asylum-seekers across the bloc.

That forces countries on the EU’s outer southern rim – Italy, Greece, Malta and Spain – to take responsibility for handling irregular migrants, many of whom are intent on making their way to Europe’s wealthier northern nations.

France is pushing for member states to commit to reinforcing the EU’s external borders by recording the details of every foreign arrival and improving vetting procedures.

It also wants recalcitrant EU countries to financially help out the ones on the frontline of migration flows if they do not take in asylum-seekers themselves.

Johansson was critical of the fact that, last year, “45,000 irregular arrivals” were not entered into the common Eurodac database containing the fingerprints of migrants and asylum-seekers.

Earlier, German Interior Minister Nancy Faeser suggested her country, France and others could form a “coalition of the willing” to take in asylum-seekers even if no bloc-wide agreement was struck to share them across member states.

She noted that Macron spoke of a dozen countries in that grouping, but added that was probably “very optimistic”.

Luxembourg’s foreign minister, Jean Asselborn, hailed what he said was “a less negative atmosphere” in Thursday’s meeting compared to previous talks.

But he cautioned that “we cannot let a few countries do their EU duty… while others look away”.

France is now working on reconciling positions with the aim of presenting propositions at a March 3rd meeting on European affairs.