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Reader question: When will Germany change its citizenship laws?

Many foreigners are eagerly awaiting the relaxation of Germany's tough citizenship laws - but when exactly will they change? While we don't have a firm answer yet, here's what we know so far.

German passport
A German passport. Photo: picture alliance/dpa | Fabian Sommer

Since the traffic light coalition of the Social Democrats (SPD), Greens and Free Democrats (FDP) officially aired their plans to break down barriers to citizenship by allowing dual nationality, many internationals have been eagerly awaiting the day that they can apply to become German. 

But since the fireworks of the coalition pact announcement back in November 2021, things seem to have gone awfully silent, leading some to wonder whether internationals have dropped off the government’s radar entirely. 

As far as we can gather, this isn’t the case – but you may need to wait another year or so before sending off your citizenship application. 

In response to a question from The Local in April, an Interior Ministry spokesperson told us that the modernisation of citizenship laws – including permitting dual nationality – had “very high priority” but was unlikely to be completed in 2022.

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

“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. 

This would suggest that, even if it isn’t this year, we should see some movement on this in 2023 instead. 

Here’s why it could take that long:

Though it may seem relatively simple to tweak a clause or two in the law, there seem to be a few details that still need to be ironed out, such as the new, simplified criteria for citizenship and proving integration in German society. 

In their coalition pact, the traffic light parties said they wanted to replace a clause on “integration into German living conditions” with what they describe as “clear criteria” – though at present we have no idea what those “criteria” would be. 

Another issue is likely to be a more practical one: ensuring there are enough staff and resources at the citizenship offices to prevent an endless backlog of unreviewed applications, or trying to digitalise the entire system.

READ ALSO: ‘Two years is normal’: How Germany’s citizenship process leaves foreigners hanging

With around 11 million people living in Germany without a German passport, and about five million of these currently eligible for one, you can expect a pretty big queue when the government finally does permit dual nationality for all – something that the Interior Ministry is likely to want to prepare for before suddenly changing the rules.

Keep an eye on The Local’s homepage for more reporting and interviews on this topic 

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German business leaders back proposed citizenship reforms

The latest proposals for reforming German citizenship law have triggered a controversial debate in Germany. But business experts are in support of the changes.

German business leaders back proposed citizenship reforms

Last Friday, new details emerged of the German coalition government’s plans to make German citizenship easier to come by.

Amongst other reforms, the proposed changes will make it possible to become a German citizen after five instead of eight years and, in the case of “special integration achievements”, this should even be possible after just three years.

The proposals have already triggered a backlash from the main opposition party in the German parliament – the Christian Democrats (CDU/CSU) – and from the Free Democrats (FDP), which are a member of the coalition government. Criticisms range from the measures representing a “devaluation” of the German passport to being ill-timed. 

FDP Secretary General Bijan Djir-Sarai said Monday that, as there had been “no progress” on combating illegal immigration to Germany, now is not the right time to relax citizenship rules.

READ ALSO: EXPLAINED: Could Germany’s conservatives block dual citizenship?

However, in view of the current worker shortage in Germany, employment experts and business leaders have come out in support of the proposals. Germany is in the midst of a huge worker shortage and currently needs 400,000 additional workers a year to plug the gap in the labour market and, in their view, simplifying naturalisation laws could help ease this looming crisis. 

The head of the Federal Employment Agency, Andrea Nahles, stressed the importance of immigration for the labour market as a whole and told the Süddeutsche Zeitung on Tuesday: “Because of demographic change, there is no scenario where we can get by without major immigration.” 

What are people saying?

The deputy head of the SPD parliamentary group, Dirk Wiese, told the Berliner Morgenpost that, by making naturalisation easier, the coalition government will “make Germany more attractive as a location for skilled workers”.

Similarly, the head of the German Federation of Trade Unions (DGB), Yasmin Fahimi, told Redaktionsnetzwerk Deutschland that easier naturalisation would be a positive signal to millions of people with a migration background in Germany and, at the same time, to all interested skilled workers abroad.

READ ALSO: EXPLAINED: How Germany plans to make immigration easier for skilled workers

According to the chairwoman of the Council of Economic Experts, making naturalisation easier would also strengthen the integration of foreigners living and working in Germany. 

“In view of demographic change and the growing shortage of skilled workers and labour, this is absolutely to be welcomed,” she said.

Federal managing director of the German Association of Small and Medium-Sized Businesses (BVMW), Markus Jerger, also told the Redaktionsnetzwerk Deutschland that the reduction of bureaucratic hurdles in the naturalisation of software engineers and nursing staff could give Germany a longtime leg up in these fields, which are consistently in need of employees.

Coming to stay

Wido Geis-Thöne from the employer-affiliated Institute of German Economy (IW) pointed out that expeditated naturalisation would also help more immigrants stay in the country and continue working. Until now, many such workers leave Germany again after a certain time, he said. 

READ ALSO: Germany to ease citizenship rules for children of foreign parents

Andreas Jahn, Head of Policy and Foreign Trade at the German Association of Small and Medium-Sized Businesses (BVMW), said that having the German passport should encourage people to stay in agriculture in particular – as well as to integrate better – especially in rural areas.