For members


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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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’