SHARE
COPY LINK
For members

GERMAN CITIZENSHIP

Dual nationality: Can former Germans regain their passports after rule change?

Over the years many Germans have given up their citizenship in order to naturalise elsewhere. We look at whether they'll be able to get dual nationality once the law has changed.

A German passport
German passport. Photo: picture alliance / Rolf Vennenbernd/dpa | Rolf Vennenbernd

Under its new traffic-light government, Germany is instigating a massive shakeup of its immigration rules.

Perhaps most notably, this includes permitting people to hold more than one passport – a huge change for migrants who are desperate to become German. However, there are many people, both in Germany and abroad, who have given up their previous nationalities already under the current rules.

These include people who have ditched their previous citizenship in order to become German, as well as (former) Germans who have given up their German citizenship in order to settle in a non-EU country. (The dual nationality ban only applies to countries outside Switzerland and the European Union.)

According to the latest immigration statistics, more than a million German emigrants currently live in non-EU countries like Canada, Australia, the UK and USA. 

With the new law likely to be passed in Germany at some point in the next 12 months, many of these migrants are now wondering whether they now stand a chance of regaining their previous citizenships.

According to a spokesperson for the German Interior Ministry, the end of the dual nationality should pave the way for people who gave up their previous passports to regain them.

That’s because there will no longer be any law against holding multiple nationalities, so in theory, anyone is free to become German without losing their current passport.

In the case of former Germans, this presents a chance to once again become a citizen of the Bundesrepublik

However, there are some things to bear in mind: firstly, the rules around regaining German citizenship and secondly, the rules on dual nationality in the country where the person holds citizenship.

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

The rules on regaining German nationality

As it stands, the rules for regaining dual nationality as German are fairly strict. For those who have given up their passport anytime after January 1st, 2000, the main route for reapplying for German citizenship is intended for those who would have been eligible for a ‘Beibehaltungsgenehmigung’ but didn’t apply in time.

If you’re understandably wondering what a Beibehaltungsgenehmigung (BBG) is, it’s essentially a permission slip from the German government that allows you to keep your German citizenship alongside the new one.

A man works on his laptop

A man fills in an application for a “Beibehaltungsgenehmigung” at home. Photo: picture alliance/dpa | Sina Schuldt

To get one of these, you need to prove that there are strong reasons for you to keep your German passport, which generally include continued links to Germany through close family, language, work and so on. You’ll also need to show compelling reasons for having taken a foreign nationality, which might include being eligible for better university scholarships or having access to a different segment of the job market in that country. 

Normally, the application for the BBG needs to be submitted several months before you apply for the new citizenship, so that you don’t have to give up your German citizenship when the other is granted. However, there is a way to get this permission retrospectively if you feel like you should have it.

If you think you would have been eligible for one of these but didn’t know about it at the time – or didn’t apply in time – then you may be eligible to reapply for your German citizenship. 

In addition to making the case for the BBG, you also have to meet a set of other criteria, including:

  • Existing connections to Germany
  • German language skills of at least B1 level
  • A clean criminal record
  • Financial security and self-sufficiency 

READ ALSO: ‘European again’: How changes to citizenship rules will affect Brits in Germany

If you lost your passport before January 1st, 2000: 

For people who gave up their German citizenship before 2000 (or who don’t fall under the BBG exception), personal reasons unfortunately aren’t given much weight when it comes to regaining citizenship. 

Instead, officials say there has to be a “public interest” in granting that person their German citizenship. It’s unclear exactly what the public interest entails, so the government recommends that anyone interested send an email to the Federal Office of Administration (BVA) at [email protected] to see if their application stands a chance of succeeding before submitting it. 

It’s important to note that there are other exceptions that can make it easier to regain citizenship, such as a carve-out for women who automatically lost their German citizenship after marrying a foreigner, so it’s worth checking with the BVA to see what your options are. 

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

How other countries treat dual nationality 

Of course, regaining German citizenship doesn’t just depend on the rules in Germany – it also depends on the rules in your current country of residence. 

Here are a few popular non-EU destinations for German expats and the nationality rules in place:

United States of America

The USA permits the holding of multiple nationalities, so Germans in the USA won’t have to choose between their German and American citizenship once the rules change. 

Canada

There are no rules against dual nationality in Canada.

United Kingdom

The United Kingdom permits citizens to hold other nationalities. 

Dual nationality

Union Jack bunting hangs outside of a London pub. The UK is one of many countries that permits dual nationality. Photo: picture alliance/dpa | Sebastian Gollnow

Australia 

Since 2002, Australians who apply for another citizenship no longer lose their Australian citizenship, 

New Zealand

Dual nationality is allowed in New Zealand. 

Countries that ban dual nationality

The vast majority of countries in the world permit their citizens to hold more than one nationality. However, there are a few exceptions to this rule, including Spain, Austria, the Netherlands and Japan. That means that, in rare cases, the law in your new country of residence may stand in the way of holding dual nationality even if German law does not. 

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

Will the rules for regaining German citizenship change?

Though Germany is planning on shaking up its citizenship rules in the near future, making it easier for Germans to reapply for their former citizenship doesn’t appear to be top of the agenda.

“The coalition agreement of the governing parties, which provides for a modernisation of the citizenship law, does not contain any provisions on the re-naturalisation of former Germans who have lost their citizenship according to Section 25 of the German Citizenship Act (StAG),” a spokesperson for the Interior Ministry told The Local.

“It is not yet foreseeable whether and, if so, to what extent there will be changes to the existing re-naturalisation regulations.”

Personal ID card germany

A German ID card. Photo: picture alliance/dpa | Karl-Josef Hildenbrand

That doesn’t necessarily mean that there won’t be change on the horizon, however.

At the moment, the details of the law are being worked out, so it could be that the government decides it’s contradictory to ask people to retrospectively apply for a BBG after dual nationality is allowed. 

Whatever happens, we’ll be sure to keep our ears to the ground for any updates in the coming months. 

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

Member comments

Log in here to leave a comment.
Become a Member to leave a comment.
For members

READER INSIGHTS

‘Lack of transparency’: What it’s like to apply for permanent residence in Germany

Getting permanent residency can be a great way to secure your rights in Germany - but what's it like going through the application process? The Local spoke to readers about their experiences.

'Lack of transparency': What it's like to apply for permanent residence in Germany

For non-EU citizens living in Germany, permanent residence is often the go-to status when they decide to build a life here. For years, there have been strict rules that make it difficult to obtain dual nationality, so those who aren’t keen on losing their old citizenship can secure their rights by becoming permanent residents instead.

On the Make it in Germany website – set up by the Federal Office for Migration and Refugees (BAMF) – information in English states that most applicants simply need to fulfil a short list of requirements. They need to prove they know German, are well integrated, have a secure livelihood, and have held another residence permit for at least five years.

But how are these rules applied in practice, and how long does it take to switch from a temporary visa to permanent residence?

When The Local spoke to readers about their applications, we found hugely varied experiences for people on different types of visa and in different parts of the country.

“The requirements for permanent residency are clearly defined in the law,” said 27-year-old Manpreet J., who’s originally from India. “What is not defined is how to prove that they are met. This is where the problem begins.”

According to Manpreet, there are even different definitions of a secure livelihood in different regions. In Aachen, for example, a temporary work contract wouldn’t be enough to fulfil this requirement, while just 30km away in Heinsberg, it would.

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

‘Bring everything you can think of’

Jaton’ West, a 77-year-old retiree who lives in Berlin, found the criteria for accepting applications similarly inscrutable.

“We applied twice,” She told The Local. “The first time they only renewed our visa – no explanation as to why. We reapplied when it expired and were granted it. Seems like it’s a crapshoot and just depends on the whim of the person processing your application.”

For Jonathan in Nuremberg, the whole process was marked by a “lack of transparency” – starting with the fact that there was no available information, in English or German, about what documents would be needed during the process.

Forms for visa applications at the Foreigners' Office.

Forms for visa applications at the Foreigners’ Office. Photo: picture alliance/dpa | Jonas Walzberg

Six weeks after sending in his application for permanent residency, his local Foreigner’s Office emailed him to inform him that he would need 10 additional documents – including a German language test and integration test that he didn’t know he’d have to take.

With his residence permit due to expire in a matter of weeks, he was left with no time at all to find hard copies of all the other documents, let alone manage the 14-week turnaround for booking and receiving results for the tests. 

“The frustration is that I could have taken these tests anytime in the past year, if I had known that I needed them,” he said.

Düsseldorf resident Dmitry, 33, also received incomplete information about the documents he needed to provide – both on the website of his local Foreigner’s Office and in an email he was sent.

“As far as I recall, no list mentioned bringing the work contract, and the contract for the flat was also required. Finally, I had to provide them translations of my degrees, despite already having provided them for my Blue Card,” he said. “In the end, it’s worth bringing everything a person can think of.”

READ ALSO: Reader question: Is my British residency title the same as permanent residency in Germany?

‘Smoother than expected’ 

For the vast majority of respondents, the sheer amount of paperwork involved in the application was the hardest thing about securing permanent residency.

Others said they had found it tricky to brush up their German skills to meet the B1 language requirement.

However, a number of people said they been pleasantly surprised by how relaxed their case workers had been and how simple the process was.

This was the case for 32 year-old Angela, who moved to Berlin from Colombia. 

“I prepared a lot of documents, but in the end all they checked was my salary and that I had contributed to the pension fund and Krankenkasse (health insurance),” she told us. “I don’t know why it was so easy for me – my intuition tells me higher income people have it easier.” 

Folders filled with documents sit on a windowsill.

Folders filled with documents sit on a windowsill. Photo: picture alliance / dpa | arifoto UG

For 39 year-old Shila, who lives in Mainz, the experience of applying for permanent residency was similarly hassle-free. After emailing the Landesamt and her local case worker, she was given an appointment and a list of documents to bring with her. 

Despite the fact that she wasn’t able to supply a language certificate, the application was a success – and her case worker even offered to talk to her in English.

“It was in 2021 in the middle of lockdown, but it was a very positive surprise to me after hearing all the bad experiences on Facebook groups,” Shila said.

The huge variation in experiences even extended to the amount of time it took for permanent residence to be granted.

While some lucky applicants managed to complete the whole thing within a month, others have waited as long as a year and a half – and in some cases are still waiting for an outcome. 

Easier with a Blue Card

Among those respondents who had an easier time, many told us they had originally come to Germany on a Blue Card – a special EU visa for skilled workers on high incomes.

Blue Card holders with basic German language skills are able to receive permanent residency after living in the country for just 33 months. Meanwhile, those with slightly more advanced skills (B1) can secure their permanent status after just 21 months.

Berlin resident Steven, 50, told us he was pleasantly surprised to find out that he’d only need an A1 language certificate, thanks to the fact that he’d been living in Germany on a Blue Card.

Others took advantage of the fast-tracked option and secured their B1 certificate in order to get a permanent residence permit after less than two years.

Adi Singh, 33, said getting a hold of permanent residence in Munich had been an incredibly smooth process – largely because he’d applied through his employer.

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

With his B1 language skills, Adi was able to apply after just 21 months, and he received his card within just six months.

“I had one in-person appointment at the KVR close to the approval stage, but that was quick and short,” he said. “But they make it a point to speak to you in German, likely to establish that B1 level.”

Compared to the experience of applying for his Blue Card himself, Adi said applying via his employer had helped him avoid bureaucratic issues.

“I was fortunate to do it through my firm, and I would recommend that if your company does not apply for it for you, it is a good idea to hire an immigration firm that will do the process,” he advised. “It’s worth the time and energy saved.”

SHOW COMMENTS