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

'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
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.

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? 

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“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!”

READ ALSO: 

‘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]


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  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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