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German citizenship: Can people who apply before the law changes get dual nationality?

Germany is set to permit the holding of multiple nationalities in the near future - but what happens to people who are applying now, or who have already given up their old citizenship?

A German passport on a desk
A German passport on a desk. Photo: picture alliance/dpa | Matthias Balk

Foreigners in Germany are eagerly awaiting a key change in citizenship law that will finally allow non-EU citizens to apply for a German passport and also keep their existing one. 

The Interior Ministry, who is in charge of immigration law, is keen to do this by the end of the year, though there’s no guarantee they’ll be able to meet this deadline. What seems slightly more likely is that we will see a change sometime in 2023. 

With the timeline for the changes still a little hazy, there’s some confusion over what rules will apply to people who have already submitted their applications – or who plan to in the near future. 

With they be eligible for dual nationality if the rules change while they’re waiting for their application to be processed? And will people who give up their existing nationality be able to regain it after the new Nationality Act comes into force?

READ ALSO: INTERVIEW: ‘Changing German citizenship laws is a priority’

According to the Interior Ministry, the rules that will apply to your citizenship application will always be based on the current law at the time.  

“The naturalisation authorities have to decide on ongoing procedures on the basis of the current law until the new Nationality Act comes into force,” a spokeswoman for the Interior Ministry told The Local. “That means applicants still have to give up their previous nationality if none of the existing legal exceptions applies to them.”

This point was reiterated by Berlin Mitte’s Citizenship Office, who emphasised that the changes to dual nationality rules were currently just a plan and that implementation “could take several years”.

“The most current Nationality Act will always apply,” they said.  

British and German dual nationality

Someone holds a British and German passport together. Photo: picture alliance/dpa | Britta Pedersen

However, when pushed for more details, they revealed that a change in the law while your application is being processed would mean that your right to dual nationality would also change. 

“The law that is applicable at the time when German citizenship is granted is the law that is applied,” they explained. 

To clarify this a bit, let’s sum up a few different scenarios in turn.

If the law changes while you’re waiting for your German passport:

In this scenario, you should be granted dual nationality. As the Citizenship Office in central Berlin explained, whoever processes your application should apply the law that is in force at the time when citizenship is actually granted

In other words, it doesn’t matter what the law is when you submit your application. The only thing that matters is which set of rules is in force when you finally come to pick up your German citizenship certificates.

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

If you get your German nationality before the law changes:

In this scenario, you will have to give up your existing nationality – unless you fall under one of Germany’s exceptions to the dual nationality rule. This can include being an EU citizen, being unable to give up your citizenship in your country of origin, being a refugee, or being unable to afford the cost of giving up your existing nationality.

However, if this is your situation, you may not have to give up your citizenship forever. Which brings us to our next point…

If you’ve already given up your citizenship: 

If you have to give up your existing citizenship to become German (or have already done so), there’s some good news: when the law changes, you’ll be entitled to reapply for your original nationality and become a dual national. 

“German law would not be opposed to people reacquiring their previously renounced nationality after the intended change in the law, since due to the intended general allowance of multiple nationality, the acquisition of a foreign nationality would then no longer lead to the loss of German nationality,” a spokesperson for the Interior Ministry told The Local. 

In other words, you’d basically be treated like any other German national applying for another nationality once the law has changed. 

However, you should note that your ability to reapply for your previous citizenship will also depend on the rules in your home country.

In the UK, for example, it’s relatively easy to get your passport back. You’ll just have to prove that you had to give it up as part of the German naturalisation process.

In the United States, the opposite is true: giving up your American citizenship is an irrevocable act, meaning it can only be undone in highly exceptional circumstances.  

READ ALSO: Giving up being British: What you should know about becoming German after December 31st

When is the right time to apply for citizenship? 

As we always say, this is a personal decision. Only you know whether getting German citizenship as fast as possible or becoming a dual national is more important to you.

If you do apply now and want to keep your old passport, you’ll essentially be gambling on the law changing faster than it takes the Citizenship Office to process your application. And though laws can be slow-moving in Germany, this may not be a bad bet to make. 

In some parts of Berlin, for example, it can take months to get an appointment at a Citizenship Office and at least a couple of years to be granted citizenship, so in those cases, if you’re eligible to apply, you may want to consider getting the ball rolling as early as you can.

German citizenship test

An applicant for German citizenship fills in the citizenship test. Photo: picture alliance/dpa | Lino Mirgeler

Meanwhile, the Interior Ministry wants to attempt to get the relevant changes to the Nationality Act through parliament by the end of the year – though of course there could be delays. 

Before applying, you may want to find out the average time it takes to process an application at your local Citizenship Office and think about how long you’re willing to wait for your German passport. If it takes around a year in your area and you think the law will have changed by next summer (according to the Interior Ministry’s plans), it may make sense to start the application soon if you meet the criteria.

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

However, it’s also important to weigh up the risks of giving up your citizenship in the event that your application is processed faster than expected, or the law changes more slowly than expected. If you’re from a country where it’s easy to regain it, this may not be a big deal, but in countries like the United States, renouncing the passport is an irreversible decision.

Get in touch with an immigration lawyer if you want to talk through the specifics of your application and get some insights on when might be a good time to apply.  

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For members


EXPLAINED: How can Brits visit or move to Germany post-Brexit?

Many Brits may be considering spending time in Germany or even moving for work or to study. Here's a look at the rules.

EXPLAINED: How can Brits visit or move to Germany post-Brexit?

The Brexit transition period ended on January 1st 2021, but it’s been a turbulent few years with Covid-related restrictions, which mean many people may not have travelled abroad since then. Here’s what you should know about the rules for travelling and moving to Germany post-Brexit. 

Can I visit Germany from the UK on holiday?

Absolutely. But you do have to stick to certain rules on how long you can stay in Germany (and other EU countries) without a visa.

“British citizens do not require a visa for the Schengen Member States, if the duration of their stay does not exceed 90 days within any 180-day period,” says the German Missions consular service in the UK. 

You can find a full explanation of the 90-day rule from our sister site, The Local France, HERE, along with the Schengen calculator that allows you to work out your allowance.

READ ALSO: Passport scans and €7 fees: What will change for EU travel in 2022 and 2023

Note that if you were living in Germany before January 1st 2021, different rules apply. People in this scenario should have received a residence permit – known as the Aufenthaltstitel-GB – from the German authorities, which proves their right to remain in Germany with the same rights as they had before Brexit. 

READ ALSO: Reader question: How can I re-enter Germany without my post-Brexit residence card?

Can I move to Germany from the UK after the Brexit transition period?

Yes. But if you are coming to Germany to live and work, you will need to apply for the right documents, like other so-called ‘third country nationals’. All foreigners from outside the EU who want to to stay in Germany for more than three months have to get a residence permit (Aufenthaltstitel). 

As we touched on above, citizens from some countries (including the UK, USA, Canada, Australia, Japan, Israel, New Zealand and Switzerland) are allowed entry into Germany without a visa and can apply for a residence permit while in the country. You can contact the Foreigners Office (Ausländerbehörde) in your area to find out how to get a residence permit.

You’ll need various official documents, such as a valid passport, proof of health insurance and proof that you can support yourself. You usually receive your residence permit as a sticker in your passport.

Passengers wait at Hamburg airport.

Passengers at Hamburg airport. Brits coming to Germany have more things to consider after Brexit. Photo: picture alliance/dpa | Markus Scholz

Germany has a well-documented skilled worker shortage at the moment so there are work permit options to consider that may suit your circumstances. 

For the work visa for qualified professionals, for instance, your qualifications have to be either recognised in Germany or comparable to those from a German higher education facility. 

You may also be able to get an EU Blue Card. This residence permit is aimed at attracting and enabling highly qualified third-country nationals to live in the EU. 

It comes with benefits, including the right to to request and bring family members to the country, and shortcuts for applying for permanent residency. 

READ ALSO: EXPLAINED: How German citizenship differs from permanent residency

When applying for a Blue Card in Germany this year, you have to earn a minimum gross salary (before tax) of €56,400 – down from €56,800 in 2021. 

In so-called shortage occupations (Mangelberufe), where there is a high number of unfilled positions, the minimum gross salary is €43,992 – down from €44,304 in 2021.

Shortage occupations include employees in the sectors of mathematics, IT, natural sciences, engineering and medicine.

If you want to come to Germany from the UK to study then you also need to apply for a visa. For this you may need proof of acceptance to the university or higher education institution of your choice and possibly proof of your German language skills.

Check out the useful government website Make it in Germany for more detailed information, as well as the German Missions in the UK site, which has lots of info on travel after Brexit, and on visas.  

What else should I know?

The German government plans to reform the immigration system, although it’s not clear at this stage when this will happen. 

It will move to a points-based system, inspired by countries like Canada, where foreigners will have to score above a certain threshold of points to get a residence or work permit.

This scoring system will be set by the government, but it will 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.

Keep an eye on The Local’s home page for updates on the changes to immigration laws. 

Have you moved to Germany – or are thinking about moving – after the Brexit transition period and want to share your experiences? Please get in touch by emailing [email protected]