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EXPLAINED: what you need to know about dual citizenship in Germany

Germany has been loosening its rules on dual citizenship in recent years, giving more people the opportunity to hold a German passport while retaining one from a country they have links to via blood or birth. Here's what the rather complicated rules are.

EXPLAINED: what you need to know about dual citizenship in Germany
A German and a Turkish passport. Photo: dpa | Britta Pedersen

Generally, the law on dual citizenship in Germany follows the principle of Vermeidung von Mehrstaatigkeit (avoidance of multiple citizenship). However, over the years what was once a strict rule against dual citizenship has gradually been slackened.

Several changes to the law over the past two decades have made it possible for many people to possess German citizenship and that of another country.

While the exact number of dual citizens living in Germany is unknown, evidence from censuses suggests it is somewhere in the region of 4.2 million people.

Changes to the law

The first major reform of German nationality law came in the year 2000 when the SPD/Green government of the time agreed to a fundamental shift in citizenship rights away from blood lines (ius sanguinis) towards a mixed principle of both ancestry and place of birth (ius soli).

This meant that children brought to immigrants in Germany now automatically qualified for citizenship, while children born to Germans abroad no longer automatically gained citizenship.

The principle of Vermeidung von Mehrstaatigkeit still stood though. At the age of 21 the children of immigrant parents had to choose between German citizenship and that of their ancestral home. But a law passed in 2014 more or less did away with this need to choose, removing it for immigrant children as long as they were born and grew up in Germany.

Meanwhile, a 2007 law had already made it possible for EU citizens to hold both a German passport and one from their home country.

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

Lastly, a law passed last year widened the exemptions that were given to people who take on German citizenship as adults. This new law is particularly intended to help people who are politically persecuted in their home countries and those who face hefty fees for giving up their original nationality.

So, who qualifies for dual citizenship?

Birth rights

The children of a foreign parent and a German parent born on German soil have a right to both nationalities as long as the law of the foreign parent’s home country allows it. These people have always had the right to both passports. Somewhere close to 80,000 children born each year become dual nationals in this way.

Children born to non-German parents in Germany after the year 2000 have the right to dual citizenship as long as they also grew up in Germany.

Children born to at least one German national abroad have a right to dual citizenship so long as the country of their birth also recognises the principle of jus soli. The parents have to register this birth with the local diplomatic mission within the first 12 months of the child’s life. 

It is not known how many people there are who possess German citizenship in this way. Since the year 2000 these people cannot pass on their German citizenship to the next generation.

Adults who become German

If you have lived in Germany legally for eight years, have never committed a crime and have a good grasp of the language then you have the right to become a German. Generally this means giving up other nationalities (unless you can give authorities an exceptional reason that you need to have double citizenship).

There are several exceptions though.

For a start, all EU citizens and citizens of Switzerland have an automatic right to dual nationality.

As the UK left the EU, Brits applying for German citizenship after the Brexit transition period ended (January 1st this year) will generally have to give up their British citizenship. 

READ ALSO: How Brexit pushed thousands of Brits to get German citizenship

People who came to Germany as refugees also have the right to keep their home nationality. That also goes for citizens of Iran and Morocco, two countries which make it exceedingly hard for citizens to give up their nationality.

It is estimated that roughly half of all people who take on German citizenship as adults are able to retain their original nationality.

OPINION: Why Germany shouldn’t be creating second-class citizenship for foreign fighters

Member comments

  1. Regarding dual citizenship, is it only citizens from EU countries and Switzerland can have dual citizenship, or does it apply to EEA/EU/Switzerland?

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How Germany is making it easier for Nazi victims’ descendants to get citizenship                      

Germany has passed new legislation to naturalise some Nazi victims' descendants who had previously been denied citizenship in what it called a symbolic step toward redressing past injustice.

How Germany is making it easier for Nazi victims' descendants to get citizenship                      
Photo: picture alliance / Rolf Vennenbernd/dpa | Rolf Vennenbernd

What’s the latest?

The so-called “reparation citizenship” measure was passed in the Bundestag lower house of parliament on Friday with a large majority. It was approved in a marathon session before the summer recess.

Lawmakers also updated the citizenship law to bar naturalisation of people convicted of a racist, anti-Semitic or xenophobic act. 

The first reform closes legal loopholes which had led to descendants of people who fled Nazi Germany to escape persecution having their applications for a German passport rejected.

“This is not just about putting things right, it is about apologising in profound shame,” said Interior Minister Horst Seehofer when the government passed the draft law in March.

“It is a huge fortune for our country if people want to become German, despite the fact that we took everything from their ancestors.”

READ ALSO: Germany to ease citizenship requirements for Nazi victims’ kin

Why is this happening?

While Germany has long allowed descendants of persecuted Jews to reclaim citizenship, the lack of a legal framework meant many applicants were rejected before a rule change in 2019.

Some were denied because their ancestors fled Germany and took on another nationality before their citizenship was officially revoked.

Others were rejected because they were born to a German mother and non-German father before April 1, 1953.

Passing the 2019 decree into law puts beneficiaries on a firmer legal footing.

How does it work?

Applications for the passport will be free and beneficiaries may retain other citizenships.

Those interested must present proof that their ancestors were persecuted in Germany under Adolf Hitler between 1933 and 1945 or belonged to a persecuted group including Jews and Sinti and Roma as well as political dissidents and the mentally ill.

Germany’s Central Council of Jews, which had long campaigned for a statutory right, called the measure to ease citizenship rights “long overdue”.

 “At the same time, Germany is accepting responsibility to ensure that Jews can live safely in this country” with the hate crime statute, said the Council’s president Josef Schuster in a statement.

READ ALSO: ‘We reclaimed what was taken from my Jewish grandparents – German citizenship’

The difficulties for some in using ancestry claims for citizenship came into focus partly due to the sharp rise in number of applications from Britons evoking Nazi persecution of their ancestors, after the UK voted to leave the
European Union.

From 43 such applications in 2015, the number had soared to 1,506 in 2018, according to Interior Ministry figures.

In 2019, Austria also changed its citizenship law to allow the children, grandchildren and great-grandchildren of those who fled the Nazis to be naturalised.

Previously, only Holocaust survivors themselves had been able to obtain Austrian nationality.

READ ALSO: British Jews take German path to Europe after Brexit