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CITIZENSHIP

What’s the latest on Germany’s plan to change dual citizenship laws?

Many readers are keen to know what's happening with Germany's long-awaited changes to its citizenship laws. So, what's going on behind the scenes - and when could the law be changed? We take a look.

What's the latest on Germany's plan to change dual citizenship laws?
A German and Turkish passport are held up in parliament in Kiel. Photo: picture alliance / Carsten Rehder/dpa | Carsten Rehder

When the traffic-light coalition pact was announced last November, the international community in Germany lit up with excitement at a number of planned liberalisations to citizenship law. In particular, the pledge to finally permit dual nationality was a huge relief to foreigners in Germany who had struggled with the idea of giving up their existing nationality to become German. 

Third-country nationals like Americans, Indians and Australians were given the hope of gaining EU citizenship, while tens of thousands of Brits were thrilled at being able to regain it. For the largest affected groups – the Turkish Gastarbeiter (guest worker) generation and their relatives – the change offered a chance to recognise both the Turkish and German parts of their identity.  

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Since the government has been in power, however, there hasn’t seemed to be much movement on the citizenship front. This has left many wondering whether the issue has been sidelined – and if the government still plans to introduce the changes.

The Local has been in touch with the Interior Ministry and migration policy experts within the traffic-light coalition to find out more. Until then, here’s what we currently know about the plans. 

What are the current rules around citizenship?

Currently, people who want to become naturalised citizens in Germany must prove that they have lived in the country for at least eight years, though this can be reduced to six years with advanced language skills and other signs of integration. 

For those who wait the full eight years, B1-level German is required, as well as proof of financial stability, “integration into German living conditions” and knowledge of German laws and culture, which is proved by taking a Citizenship Test. People from non-EU countries must also sign a form to say that they are happy to give up their previous citizenship, unless the country they’re from doesn’t allow them to renounce citizenship or they would suffer “financial hardship” from doing so. 

People who are married to a German citizen can apply for citizenship after only three years in the country (and two full years of marriage), but must also give up their existing citizenship if they are from a non-EU country. 

Children of German citizens, who are automatically entitled to citizenship, are lucky enough to be exempt from the ban on dual nationality, meaning they can keep two or more passports on a lifelong basis. People from other EU countries are also exempt. 

But for children of non-Germans and non-EU citizens born in Germany, the situation is a little more tricky: this group is only entitled to German citizenship if their parents have lived in the country for at least eight years and have permanent right of residence in the country. Even then, they must choose between German citizenship and their parents’ citizenship by the time they are 23. 

READ ALSO: When is my child entitled to German citizenship?

What are the planned changes to citizenship law? 

In its coalition pact, the government says it wants to develop a “modern citizenship law” that offers a much quicker and easier route to naturalisation for people who want to build a life in Germany.

Rather than having to wait eight years, people will be able to apply for citizenship after a maximum of five, while those who speak good German and are well integrated can even get hold of a German passport after as little as three years in the country.

For Turkish guest workers and their relatives, the path to citizenship will be made even simpler with easier language requirements. A “general hardship clause” will also be created to offer exemption from the language requirement in special cases. In addition, the government says it will replace the requirement for “integration into German living conditions” with what it describes as “clear criteria”. 

Most significantly for non-EU citizens, the coalition agreement states that the government will “permit the holding of multiple nationalities” – meaning there will no longer be any need to choose between one or more passports. 

The children of non-Germans will be granted automatic citizenship if their parents have lived in Germany for at least five years, and they can keep any other citizenships they hold on a lifelong basis. 

When will the law be changed?

In response to a question from The Local, an Interior Ministry spokesperson told us that the modernisation of citizenship law had “very high priority”.

“The careful preparation and implementation of this important reform project is in progress,” he told us. “However, it is not to be expected that the legislative project on the Nationality Act can be completed this year.”

When The Local spoke to MPs from the traffic-light coalition in January, migration policy experts explained that the reform would “definitely” be implemented within the four-year legislative period and that it was likely to be one of the first major projects of the coalition. 

“Our intent as Green parliamentary group, and I think we’re united in this with our coalition partners in parliament, is to encourage the new Federal Minister of the Interior Nancy Faeser to implement this as one of the first big projects,” said Green Party migration spokesperson Filiz Polat. “No small number of people in Germany have already been waiting a very, very long time for the possibility of naturalisation with acceptance of multinationality.” 

SPD politician Serpil Midyatli displays her Turkish and German passports

SPD politician Serpil Midyatli displays her Turkish and German passports. Photo: picture alliance / Carsten Rehder/dpa | Carsten Rehder

READ ALSO: When will Germany relax its dual citizenship laws?

Generally, legislation can take several months to be drafted, put to a vote in the upper and lower houses of parliament and tweaked in the committee and review stages. Then, of course, key questions need to be ironed out about how to implement the change. However, it’s not impossible that there could be significant movement on this in 2023. 

One issue that will need to be ironed out is how to avoid citizenship offices becoming overwhelmed with applications once the rules change. Around 11 million people currently live in Germany without citizenship, and if even half of these were to apply as soon as they could, it could easily lead to delays and bottlenecks. 

Once again, it’s unclear what the plans are to prevent this happening – if any – but we’ll be sure to update you on all of this as soon as we know more.

Will I be eligible for dual citizenship? 

If you’ve lived here for at least five years, can financially support yourself and speak at least B1 German, there’s no reason you shouldn’t be eligible for German citizenship.

If the language requirement is likely to be an issue, now may be the time to enroll in a course so that your skills are up to scratch by the time dual nationality is permitted. 

Students learn German in a classroom in Munich

Students learn German in a classroom in Munich. Photo: picture alliance/dpa | Sven Hoppe

Those who haven’t quite got five years under their belt may well be eligible by the time the rules change. If not, however, the duration of residence can be reduced to three years with a higher level of German (C1 or B2) and possibly an integration course.

We’ll be sure to explain the full criteria for applying for citizenship under the new rules as soon as we know it, but for now, eager would-be Germans can prepare by getting their paperwork in order (digging out old registration certifications and tax returns etc.), making sure their passport is still valid and brushing up on their German skills and the questions in the Citizenship Test (Einbürgerungstest). 

READ ALSO: EXPLAINED: How I got German citizenship – and how you can too

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IMMIGRATION

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’

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