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‘We want to have a voice’: How Germany’s tough citizenship rules affect foreigners

Germany's strict citizenship laws have an impact on foreigners in different ways. With the election coming up, Caitlin Hardee spoke to some people affected.

'We want to have a voice': How Germany's tough citizenship rules affect foreigners
An example of citizenship test questions in Germany. Many foreigners don't want to give up their previous citizenship to become German. Photo: picture alliance/dpa | Lino Mirgeler

Jobs, taxes, housing and the Covid pandemic are some of the issues on voters’ minds as Germany goes to the polls on Sunday. 

Yet citizenship rules are another topic that many foreigners are also thinking about – and won’t be able to vote on unless they have a German passport. 

As we’ve reported, rules on citizenship and holding multiple nationalities are not at the top of the political agenda. 

READ ALSO: Could Germany change its dual citizenship rules?

But if the next government fails to overcome the current inertia on multinationality for another four years, the true cost of the current policies, for the country itself as well as for impacted immigrants, is hard to calculate.

For skilled workers from countries like India, Pakistan, or China, the current either-or policy “of course acts as a deterrent,” said Isabelle Borucki, political scientist at the University of Siegen and the University of Duisburg-Essen. “It generally makes it more difficult for qualified professionals to immigrate, now including those from Great Britain (since the end of the Brexit transition).”

Borucki sees further instances of counterproductive immigration policy on other fronts as well: “This already begins during university, when foreign students can only extend their studies with a valid residence permit, but can only obtain said permit if they can verify their place in a university program,” she said. While most

READ ALSO: Where do Germany’s political parties stand on dual citizenship and nationalities? 

“German parties pay lip service to the goals of attracting the best and brightest and fostering integration, so far the situation on the ground tells another story. As long as this is the case, Germany will continue to bleed foreign talent, as global workers move on – or don’t come in the first place.”

An archive photo of a naturalisation certificate which many foreigners in Germany are not able to get for many reasons due to the laws. Photo: picture alliance/dpa | Julian Stratenschulte

‘I wouldn’t have been able to visit my family’

Melissa Maldonado is a classic example of the citizenship law’s heavy-handedness. Born in the United States, Maldonado has been living in Berlin for nearly 21 years. She spent approximately two years and hundreds of dollars navigating the bureaucracy of the naturalisation process, hoping for an exception to the no-dual-nationality rule. Renouncing her US citizenship was out of the question: Much of her family remains stateside.

“I want to have the option to return for an extended period of time, for example if someone were to fall ill,” she pointed out. “And I am so endlessly grateful that I didn’t rescind, because I wouldn’t have been able to visit my family for the past two years with the current Covid travel restrictions on Europeans.”

When her arguments for dual citizenship were rejected, she withdrew her application for German citizenship. “It felt a bit like a slap in the face,” said Maldonado. She pointed to the double standards and inconsistencies riddling the law, as in the case of her German-born friends who live abroad and were able to retain German citizenship when acquiring American and Australian passports without problems.

“It felt arbitrary and discriminatory and in no way transparent since application acceptance and rejection seems entirely contingent on where you apply – Mitte versus Kreuzberg, Berlin versus Leipzig,” Maldonado said.

The experience also left her feeling on the fringes of German society, despite decades of living and working in-country: “Not being able to vote leaves me feeling disillusioned about politics, even though many policies do indeed affect me.” However, her bond with the country remains strong. Would she try again for citizenship if Germany removed the barriers to multinationality? “Absolutely!”


‘Unthinkable to give up citizenship’

Emily Wachelka, also born in the United States, concurs. Wachelka, who has lived in Munich for 16 years, explained the deep nature of her ties to both the US and Germany: “My kids were born here and have dual citizenship, my husband is German, and we are highly engaged in the community.” However, her parents, her brother, and their entire extended family remain in the States. 

“As unthinkable as it would be for us to not live in Germany, it would also be unthinkable for me to renounce my US citizenship,” said Wachelka. “It would keep me from being able to do important things like manage assets that will one day belong to me, and in this pandemic, it would have kept me from being able to even visit.”

Immigrants like Wachelka and Maldonado retain hope that the issue is gaining more visibility and political momentum. Wachelka even noticed a corresponding question on this year’s Wahl-O-Mat questionnaire for the federal election. Hope – but also cynicism, given the parties’ track records and previous failures to make headway. “Yeah, imagine that, given that the group affected can’t vote,” Wachelka said in frustration. Her plea: “It’s a shame that Germany doesn’t welcome engaged, integrated permanent residents with open arms- we want to have a voice!”

Are you affected by Germany’s citizenship laws? Let us know by emailing [email protected]

Member comments

  1. In my view Germany’s multiple citizenship laws are clearly discriminatory (for example by unconditionally allowing Swiss-German multiple citizenship) and would fail to withstand legal challenge.

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Germany’s ‘traffic light’ parties sign coalition agreement in Berlin

Two and a half months after the federal elections on September 26th, the three parties of the incoming 'traffic light' coalition - the SPD, Greens and FDP - have formally signed their coalition agreement at a public ceremony in Berlin.

Traffic light coalition
Germany's next Chancellor Olaf Scholz (front, left) on stage in Berlin with other members of the new coalition government, and their signed agreement. Photo: picture alliance/dpa | Michael Kappeler

The move marks the final stage of a 10-week week process that saw the three unlikely bedfellows forming a first-of-its-kind partnership in German federal government. 

The SPD’s Olaf Scholz is now due to be elected Chancellor of Germany on Wednesday and his newly finalised cabinet will be sworn in on the same day. This will mark the end of the 16-year Angela Merkel era following the veteran leader’s decision to retire from politics this year. 

Speaking at the ceremony in Berlin on Tuesday morning, Scholz declared it “a morning when we set out for a new government.”

He praised the speed at which the three parties had concluded their talks and said the fight against the Covid crisis would first require the full strength of the new coalition.

Green Party co-leader Robert Habeck, who is set to head up a newly formed environment and energy ministry, said the goal was “a government for the people of Germany”.

He stressed that the new government would face the joint challenge of bringing climate neutrality and prosperity together in Europe’s largest industrial nation and the world’s fourth largest economy.

Green Party leader Annalena Baerbock spoke of a coalition agreement “on the level of reality, on the level of social reality”.

FDP leader Christian Lindner, who managed to secure the coveted role of Finance Minister in the talks, declared that now was the “time for action”.

“We are not under any illusions,” he told people gathered at the ceremony. “These are great challenges we face.”

Scholz, Habeck and Lindner are scheduled to hold  a press conference before midday to answer questions on the goals of the new government.

‘New beginnings’

Together with the Greens and the FDP, Scholz’s SPD managed in a far shorter time than expected to forge a coalition that aspires to make Germany greener and fairer.

The Greens became the last of the three parties to agree on the contents of the 177-page coalition agreement an in internal vote on Monday, following approval from the SPD and FDP’s inner ranks over the weekend.

“I want the 20s to be a time of new beginnings,” Scholz told Die Zeit weekly, declaring an ambition to push forward “the biggest industrial modernisation which will be capable of stopping climate change caused by mankind”.

Putting equality rhetoric into practice, he unveiled the country’s first gender-balanced cabinet on Monday, with women in key security portfolios.

“That corresponds to the society we live in – half of the power belongs to women,” said Scholz, who describes himself as a “feminist”.

READ ALSO: Scholz names Germany’s first gender-equal cabinet

The centre-left’s return to power in Europe’s biggest economy could shift the balance on a continent still reeling from Brexit and with the other major player, France, heading into presidential elections in 2022.

But even before it took office, Scholz’s “traffic-light” coalition – named after the three parties’ colours – was already given a baptism of fire in the form of a fierce fourth wave of the coronavirus pandemic.

Balancing act
Dubbed “the discreet” by left-leaning daily TAZ, Scholz, 63, is often described as austere or robotic.
But he also has a reputation for being a meticulous workhorse.
An experienced hand in government, Scholz was labour minister in Merkel’s first coalition from 2007 to 2009 before taking over as vice chancellor and finance minister in 2015.
Yet his three-party-alliance is the first such mix at the federal level, as the FDP is not a natural partner for the SPD or the Greens.

Keeping the trio together will require a delicate balancing act taking into account the FDP’s business-friendly leanings, the SPD’s social equality instincts and the Greens’ demands for sustainability.

Under their coalition deal, the parties have agreed to secure Germany’s path to carbon neutrality, including through huge investments in sustainable energy.

They also aim to return to a constitutional no-new-debt rule – suspended during the pandemic – by 2023.

FDP cabinets
Volker Wissing (l-r), FDP General Secretary und designated Transport Minister, walks alongside Christian Lindner, FDP leader and designated Finance Minister, Bettina Stark-Watzinger (FDP), the incoming Education Minister, and Marco Buschmann, the incoming Justice Minister. Photo: picture alliance/dpa | Michael Kappeler


Incoming foreign minister Annalena Baerbock of the Greens has vowed to put human rights at the centre of German diplomacy.

She has signalled a more assertive stance towards authoritarian regimes like China and Russia after the commerce-driven pragmatism of Merkel’s 16 years in power.

Critics have accused Merkel of putting Germany’s export-dependent economy first in international dealings.

Nevertheless she is still so popular at home that she would probably have won a fifth term had she sought one.

The veteran politician is also widely admired abroad for her steady hand guiding Germany through a myriad of crises.