Germany sees steep rise in number of foreigners becoming citizens

More than 130,000 foreigners gained German citizenship last year, with a large jump in the number of Syrians becoming naturalised.

A German passport.
A German passport. The number of naturalisations rose last year. Photo: picture alliance/dpa | Rolf Vennenbernd

In 2021, around 131,600 foreigners were naturalised in Germany, according to figures released by the Federal Statistical Office (Destatis) on Friday – an increase of around 21,700 – or 20 percent – more than in the previous year.

The steep rise is due to the high number of Syrians who gained German citizenship after fleeing war. 

In total, around 19,100 Syrian nationals were naturalised – almost three times as many as in 2020. 

As well as Syrians, Turkish (12,200), Romanian (6,900), Polish (5,500) and Italian (5,000) nationals were the nationalities who received citizenship most frequently last year. 

In total, people with 173 different nationalities were given citizenship in Germany.

Every fourth person to gain a German passport last year was an EU member state national. Germany allows EU citizens to have dual citizenship, meaning they can keep their original passport.

However, in most cases, non-EU nationals have to give up their original citizenship to become German, unless there are exceptional circumstances.

Refugees, for example, are entitled to keep their original nationality, as are citizens from countries like Syria and Afghanistan where renouncing your nationality is not permitted. 

As The Local has been reporting, the government plans to relax its dual nationality rules, which will make a huge difference to the lives of many foreigners in Germany. 


What’s behind the rise in Syrians gaining citizenship?

The high number of naturalisations of Syrians is related to the influx of refugees who fled war and came to Germany in the years 2014 to 2016. Many of those people who came to the country then now fulfil the requirements for naturalisation.

These include sufficient language skills, a secure livelihood and, as a rule, a minimum period of residence of eight years. However, the vast majority (81 percent) of Syrians naturalised in 2021 had not yet lived in Germany for eight years.

But people can get naturalisation earlier under Germany’s citizenship rules if they show “special integration achievements”. These can include speaking German particularly well as well as community or social achievements.

The average duration of residence in Germany for Syrians who naturalised last year was 6.5 years. The number of naturalisations for this group is expected to rise further in 2022. 

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TEST: Could you pass the German citizenship exam?

Obtaining German citizenship involves clearing numerous hurdles - including a multiple-choice citizenship test that will quiz you on your knowledge of German history, culture, geography and politics. Could you pass it?

TEST: Could you pass the German citizenship exam?

The German passport is one of the most powerful in the world – but getting your hands on one is no mean feat. 

Alongside strict residency and language requirements, people who want to become a naturalised German citizenship will have to sit an exam known as the Einbürgerungstest (Citizenship Test).

The exam is designed to ensure that migrants understand important aspects of Germany’s political system, like the rights enshrined in the constitution, and can deal with aspects of day to day life and culture in the Bundesrepublik.

READ ALSO: TEST: Is your German good enough for citizenship or permanent residency?

Additionally, there are usually questions on important milestones in German history such as the Second World War and the GDR, and you may encounter some geography questions and questions on the European Union as well. 

The test is in German and consists of 33 questions: 30 questions on Germany in general, and three related to the specific federal state you live in. 

It’s all in German, so people sitting the exam need to be fairly confident with their reading skills – but since it’s multiple choice, writing skills thankfully aren’t required. 

Though this may sound daunting, people are given a full hour to complete the test – and, anecdotally, most tend to finish much more quickly than that. You also only need to score 17 out of 33 (so just over 50 percent) to pass.

In addition, there are only a set number of questions that the Citizenship Test alternates between. You can find a list of all of them (in German) here, and also take a German-language practice test here.

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

If you’d like to test your knowledge in English, however, we’ve put together a representative list of 16 questions to get you started. Viel Glück! (Good luck!)