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GERMAN RESIDENCE

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

Brits who lived in Germany at the end of 2020 were able to get a special type of residency title proving their right to live and work in the country. We look at how that differs from ordinary permanent residency and what rights you do (and don't) have in Germany post-Brexit.

Reader question: Is my British residency title the same as permanent residency in Germany?
A Union Jack and European flag fly in London. Photo: picture alliance/dpa/SOPA Images via ZUMA Wire | Andres Pantoja

Let’s start with the basics. What even is the Aufenthaltsdokument-GB

The Aufenthaltsdokument-GB is a residence document proving the rights that British people have in Germany under the Withdrawal Agreement.

People covered by the Withdrawal Agreement include British citizens who were living in Germany before December 31st, 2020 – in other words, by the time the UK left the European Economic Area (EEA) and ended free movement after Brexit.

Some other Brits are also covered by the Withdrawal Agreement, even if they weren’t living in Germany on this date. This includes people who had lived in Germany before and had spent less than six months out of the country by the cut-off date, for example.

As mentioned, the card is considered proof that your rights in Germany after Brexit are the same as the ones you had beforehand. In other words, in legal terms, you are an honorary EU citizen while in Germany. That means you have the right to live in the country, take up employment, study, work as a freelancer and claim benefits, among other things. 

The same rights are also conferred onto the existing spouses and children of Brits from third-countries (i.e. Canadians married to Brits in Germany) under the Withdrawal Agreement. However, spouses and children must apply for their own documentation separately. 

Brits not covered by the Withdrawal Agreement will need to apply to a residence permit in the same way as other third-country nationals if they want to live in Germany.

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

Is there a limit on how long I can live in Germany with the Aufenthaltsdokument-GB?

No. Under the Withdrawal Agreement, there is no cap on the amount of time you are allowed to stay in the country you were residing in before Brexit. (In this case, Germany.) After Brexit, you continue to have lifelong residency rights – assuming you don’t move away for too long. We’ll cover that side of things in a bit. 

There is sometimes a bit of confusion about this, since your new residency card will have an expiry date on it. If your passport expires in more than five years, the expiry date will be the same as the one on your passport. If your passport expires sooner, the card will be valid for five years. The maximum length of time the card can be valid for is 10 years. 

A British and a German passport.

A British and a German passport. Photo: picture alliance / dpa | Britta Pedersen

This doesn’t mean you’ll suddenly be turfed out of the country once your passport (or the card) expires. However, it does mean you’ll need to apply for both a new passport and/or a new residency card. That’s because the Aufenthaltsdokument-GB should be linked to valid ID in order to prove your identity to the officials, or others such as landlords and potential employers.

READ ALSO:

How does this differ from ordinary permanent residency?

This is a very good question. On first glance, the two are pretty similar:

  • Both grant you lifelong residency rights in Germany (assuming you don’t move away for too long)
  • Both give you the freedom to change your employment status, i.e. by becoming a freelancer or changing jobs, without a loss of residency rights 
  • Both give you the right to study at a German university or undertake vocational training
  • Both give you access to social security and health insurance
  • Both can confer residency rights onto your immediate family 
  • Neither grant you freedom of movement rights (i.e. the automatic right to live and work in another EU country) 
  • Neither grant you the right to vote in Germany 
  • Neither enable you to apply for EU-only jobs 

There are also, however, a couple of important differences: 

  • With some versions of the Aufenthaltsdokument-GB, you can stay out of the country for longer periods of time without losing your rights in Germany
  • Brits covered by the Withdrawal Agreement don’t have to apply for their status like third-country nationals applying for permanent residency do: your rights are assured automatically if you fulfil the conditions, and you simply have to declare your residence in Germany to receive proof of that status via the Aufenthaltsdokument-GB
  • People with permanent residency in Germany can sometimes benefit from simplified routes to live, work or study in another EU country. This isn’t automatically the case for Brits covered by the WA. 

READ ALSO: Is new court ruling the end for Britons fighting to remain EU citizens?

How long can I live abroad for without losing my residency rights?

That all depends on the type of Aufenthaltsdokument-GB you have and how long you have lived in the country.

If you received your residence document after living in Germany for less than five years, you’ll be able to live abroad for up to six months (or 12 under exceptional circumstances such as leaving for vocational training or study) without any loss of rights. 

If you received your residence document after living in Germany for at least five years, you’ll be able to live abroad for up to five years at a time without losing your post-Brexit rights. 

OK, but why are people who have been here for five or more years treated differently?

People who’ve lived in Germany for at least five years fulfil the conditions for Daueraufenthalt, which essentially means permanent or long-term residency. This doesn’t affect how long you can stay in Germany, but it does affect how long you can be outside of the country and still keep your rights intact. 

Sound confusing? That’s because it is! But the main thing to understand is that if you’ve been here for long enough, you’ll have more flexibility with how long you can live abroad. 

Application for residence permit in Germany

An application for a residence permit. Brits covered by the Withdrawal Agreement don’t have to apply for permanent residency but simply declare that they have been here at least five years. Photo: picture alliance / dpa | Wolfram Kastl

What’s more, you don’t have to have to worry about all the other conditions that people have to fulfil to get permanent residency, such as B1 language skills or pension contributions. All you have to do is book an appointment at the Ausländerbehörde (Foreigner’s Office) and bring proof that you’ve lived in Germany for at least five years, alongside any other documents they ask for, such as proof of income. 

If you’re thinking of leaving the country for more than six months, make sure you have the right Aufenthaltsdokument-GB that recognises your Daueraufenthalt status. You can check this with the Foreigner’s Office if you’re unsure. 

Are there any benefits to getting another residency title instead of the Aufenthaltsdokument-GB?

The short answer is: no. Your status in Germany under the WA is much the same as it was before Brexit. That means that, as well as not needing to apply for any other residency documents, you also aren’t allowed to. For that reason, people who were in receipt of an ordinary permanent residency card before Brexit had to swap it for an Aufenthaltsdokument-GB.

The one key exception is if you are keen to live, study or work in another EU state. As mentioned, EU permanent residency (Daueraufenhalt-EU) offers the holder some simplified routes for working and studying in other member states. That isn’t the case with the Aufenthaltsdokument-GB. 

In this case, the Interior Ministry has this to say: “Another, limited possibility for mobility within the EU exists if you meet the requirements for a permit for permanent residence in the EU or for the EU Blue Card. You can also apply for these residence rights intended for third-country nationals if you are eligible under the Withdrawal Agreement.”

If you’re curious about whether you may be eligible for these additional rights, the best thing to do is contact your local Foreigner’s Office and discuss it with them in person. 

When it comes to German citizenship, that’s a different question. German citizenship not only gives you genuine lifelong residency rights (regardless of how long you spend abroad), but also gives you numerous other benefits like the ability to vote and enjoy free movement elsewhere in the EU.

For more on the difference between citizenship and permanent residency, check out our explainer below:

EXPLAINED: How German citizenship differs from permanent residency

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CITIZENSHIP

‘Dangerous and wrong’: German MPs clash over citizenship plans

In a heated debate in the Bundestag on Thursday, MPs traded blows over plans to liberalise Germany's tough citizenship laws, with both sides accusing each other of "dangerous" behaviour.

'Dangerous and wrong': German MPs clash over citizenship plans

The debate saw emotions running high across the political spectrum as parties fought over what they saw as the future of the German economy and its identity. 

As MPs from the traffic-light parties – the SPD, Greens and FDP – heckled from the sidelines, CSU politician Andrea Lindholz delivered a scathing attack on what she described as the “irresponsible” and “unprofessional” behaviour of the Social Democrats (SPD).

Instead of pushing through far-reaching reforms, the Interior Ministry should have dealt with the “sensitive” topic of migration and citizenship in a more careful way, she argued. 

“I’m convinced that everyone that wants to become German should give up their previous citizenship,” Lindholz said. “Do you think it’s a good thing when German dual nationals take up military service for another country?

“Do you not think people from authoritarian countries should give up their old citizenship?”

READ ALSO: HISTORY: What’s behind the push to reform dual citizenship laws in Germany?

Taking the floor later in the debate, CDU MP Ariturel Hack took an even stronger line against the government’s plans to allow non-EU citizens to obtain dual nationality in Germany.

“You cannot share national loyalty between two countries,” he said, referencing demonstrations in favour of Recep Erdoğan, the president of Turkey, which he claimed numerous Turkish-Germans had participated in.

“The coalition’s plans for dual nationality are false, dangerous and they have to be stopped.” 

‘Shameful’

Tensions had been building throughout the week after CDU parliamentary leader Thorsten Frei accused the government of wanting to “flog off” German nationality.

“The German passport must not become a junk commodity,” he told right-wing tabloid Bild on Friday. 

His comments – which were echoed in Bild’s headline – were a response to the Interior Ministry’s planned citizenship reforms, which include cutting down the years of residence required for German citizenship, allowing non-EU citizens to hold multiple nationalities and lowering language and integration requirements for people from the guest worker generation. 

Referring to the lower requirements for gaining citizenship, Frei accused the centre-left Social Democrats (SPD) of turning German nationality into a “Black Friday deal” and lessening its value.

But his words drew fierce opposition during the emergency debate on Thursday, with SPD politician Mahmut Özdemir describing the comments as “shameful”. 

“They come out of the same drawer as ‘benefits tourism’,” he said, referring to the language CDU leader Friedrich Merz had used in recent weeks when describing Ukrainian refugees in Germany. “That drawer should stay closed.”

The conservatives’ rhetoric was also criticised by Reem Alabali-Radovan (SPD), who accused the CDU and CSU of peddling myths about migration that were “dangerous to society”.

“Chancellor Olaf Scholz and I recently met a few people who this relates to: women and men who bring our country further, whose parents and grandparents did the same,” she said. 

“Think about these people when you’re throwing around these words: it’s a slap in the face to all those people with a migrant background.”

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

Citizenship reform plans

The urgent debate had been requested by members of the CDU and CSU parties in order to address the government’s proposals for removing barriers to naturalisation.

The conservatives have said they are vehemently opposed to the plans, arguing that the changes remove the incentive to integrate into German society and encourage people to move into the benefits system rather than working.

However, the proposals have drawn support from the left-wing Linke, who argue that denying long-term residents of Germany the right to vote is damaging to democracy.

In a combative speech in the Bundestag on Thursday afternoon, Linke leader Janine Wissler described the idea that the German passport would be devalued by higher levels of naturalisation as “insane”.

“What did you do for your German passport, Herr Merz?,” she shot at the CDU leader. “Exactly the same as me: nothing. It’s a pure accident, it’s a lottery.”

The passport isn’t devalued by more people becoming German, Wissler said. “You devalue people with this kind of language.”

Currently around 10.7 million people live in Germany without a German passport, meaning they are unable to participate in state and federal elections.

According to Özdemir, around half of this group has lived in the country for seven years or more.

If the government’s plans go through, however, non-EU migrants could be able to gain dual nationality as early as next summer. 

READ ALSO: EXCLUSIVE: German Bundestag to debate law allowing dual citizenship in December

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