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GERMAN CITIZENSHIP

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

Germany’s Interior Ministry has confirmed to The Local Germany that parliamentarians will soon see and debate a draft law to permit dual citizenship.

A German and British passport.
A German and British passport. Many people in Germany don't want to give up their original passport to get German citizenship. Photo: picture alliance/dpa | Britta Pedersen

People in Germany looking to naturalise as German and keep their other citizenship now have a date for when the Bundestag will consider their situation: before Christmas.

“Immigrants who want to stay in Germany permanently should be given the opportunity to take part and contribute fully with naturalisation. The modernisation of the Citizenship Act is intended to create the right framework for this,” a federal Interior Ministry spokeswoman told The Local. “Multiple citizenship should generally be permitted. For naturalisation, it will therefore no longer be necessary to give up your previous citizenship.”

PODCAST: Germany’s plans to modernise citizenship and immigration laws, and is cash still king?

According to the Ministry, the new law will also shorten the time someone has to live in Germany before they’re eligible for citizenship through naturalisation. People who demonstrate evidence of integration in German society will also have a shorter wait time for naturalisation, as an incentive.

The news marks the beginning of the end of a long wait for many long-term residents of Germany – who have held off getting German citizenship due to a general requirement for naturalising Germans to renounce their previous citizenships.

Exceptions were only available to those whose other citizenship was from within the European Union, those from countries that don’t allow people to renounce, and those who applied for special permission to keep their original citizenship due to hardship – an often long and bureaucratic process.

READ ALSO: ‘I can’t give up my passport’: Foreigners wait for Germany to change citizenship laws

A “modern” citizenship law

While other countries, such as Denmark in 2015, have already liberalised their laws around dual citizenship, Angela Merkel’s Christian Democrats (CDU) remained firmly opposed.

As Germany’s dominant political force, many long-term German residents had all but given up hope the law would change.

However, 2021’s coalition agreement between the traffic light parties – the Social Democrats (SPD), liberal Free Democrats (FDP), and Greens – froze the CDU out of federal government for the first time since 2005, and rekindled some hopes amongst these German residents.

The three parties declared their intention to reform German immigration law to allow dual citizenship. Yet, for the last year, they haven’t confirmed when they might get around to passing the new law – until now.

READ ALSO: ‘I finally feel at home’: How Germany’s planned changes to citizenship laws affect foreigners

“The SPD has long advocated modernising citizenship law and adapting it to the reality of our immigration society,” Sebastian Hartmann, Chair of the SPD’s contingent within the Bundestag’s Interior Committee, tells The Local. “Even today, due to legal exceptions, many naturalisation decisions are made accepting multiple citizenship. We will end this unequal treatment so that everyone can be naturalised in the future without having to give up their citizenship.”

German citizenship

A newly naturalised German shows her citizenship documents at Rathaus Neukölln in Berlin. Photo: picture alliance / dpa | Klaus-Dietmar Gabbert

Filiz Polat, Migration and Integration Speaker for the Greens in the Bundestag, told The Local that allowing dual nationality was a “long overdue” change.

“A modern citizenship law is essential for an immigration country like Germany,” she says. “Citizenship will become an enduring bond of legal equality, participation, and belonging.”

Stephan Thomae, an FDP member of the Bundestag’s Interior Committee, said naturalisation would be possible after five years, rather than the current eight. With evidence of special integration – including German language proficiency – an applicant for naturalisation should be eligible after three years.

READ ALSO: TEST: Could you pass the German citizenship exam?

“People who come here, build a life for themselves and feel a permanent connection to Germany should be able to naturalise quickly,” he told The Local. “We want people who live with us, who have integrated well linguistically, legally, economically, and culturally, who contribute to our society’s success and fulfill their responsibilities – to also have the associated rights and make them a permanent offer of integration.”

Citizenship test

A woman completes the German citizenship test. Photo: picture alliance/dpa | Lino Mirgeler

Thomae also said the FDP wanted the reform to be accompanied by a campaign to make potential Germans aware of their new rights, helping to encourage naturalisation.

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

Government parties thrashing out the details

While all three government parties agree on the general principle of allowing multiple citizenships, long-term German residents looking to naturalise should still expect a bit of legal wrangling.

For one, it’s not yet clear how many of the smaller details the parties still have to work out.

One potentially open question is how far citizenship should extend generationally. While the children of naturalised Germans wouldn’t have to give up both citizenships, Thomae said there would need to be clear rules on whether the grandchildren of naturalised Germans should have to choose a citizenship if they already have claim to another one.

Neither the Interior Ministry nor parliamentarians will yet confirm exactly when they expect the new law to come into force. However, long-term residents in Germany likely still have a bit of a wait ahead as the Bundestag fine tunes the draft law before passing it.

“The Federal Interior Ministry is currently preparing this draft law and we will examine it carefully,” says Hartmann. “If Cabinet makes its expected decision in December, we should be able to complete the parliamentary procedure by summer 2023 at the latest.”

If, as predicted, the new law passes in summer 2023, the old rules may continue for a short period of time – in order to ensure that civil servants are prepared for the new rules. The exact waiting period is likely to become clearer as the Bundestag begins debating the draft law.

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

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IMMIGRATION

How ‘tolerated’ migrants could soon gain residency rights in Germany

The Bundestag has passed a law that will see people with a 'tolerated stay' gain a new path to permanent residency in Germany. Here's some background on the controversial law - and what it means for migrants.

How 'tolerated' migrants could soon gain residency rights in Germany

What’s going on?

After a fierce exchange of blows between politicians from the governing traffic-light coalition and the CDU/CSU parties, the Bundestag passed their so-called “right of opportunity to stay” (Chancel-Aufenthaltsrecht) law on Friday.

In the parliamentary vote, 371 MPs from the traffic-light coalition parties – the Social Democrats (SPD), Greens and Free Democrats (FPD) – voted in favour of the bill. A total of 226 parliamentarians voted against, including 157 CDU/CSU MPs, 66 MPs from the far-right Alternative for Germany (AfD) party and three independents. 

Politicians from the left-wing Linke party, as well as a number of CDU/CSU MPs and three FDP MPs, were among the 57 who abstained. 

The law aims to provide a new path to residency for people who had lived in Germany on a ‘tolerated stay’ permit for at least five years by October 31st, 2022. This group will now be given 18 months to fulfil the criteria for permanent residency, which includes proving at least B1 German language skills and showing that they can financially support themselves. 

However, people who have committed crimes or given false information about their identity won’t have the opportunity to apply for a residence permit.  

READ ALSO: How Germany is planning new path to residency for migrants

What exactly is a ‘tolerated stay’?

A tolerated stay permit, or Duldung, is granted to people who are theoretically barred from staying in Germany but are, in practice, unable to leave. That could be due to their health, caring duties, the situation in their home country or a lack of identification papers. 

It’s estimated that around 136,600 people have been living in the country on this status for at least five years, including people who have sought asylum but whose applications have been turned down. 

Germany has historically dealt with these tricky situations by suspending deportation and instead offering a ‘Duldung’, which allows the person in question to stay for the time being. 

More recently, special statuses for migrants who end up in vocational training or work have been added, enabling some migrants to enter training or employment while living on a tolerated stay permit. 

However, the situation for many has remained precarious. Since tolerated status is meant to be temporary, authorities often end up issuing multiple permits over time, causing stress and uncertainty for migrants and additional paperwork for the state. 

How will life change for this group of people? 

For those who speak a bit of German and have a secure livelihood, things could become a lot easier in future. 

Those who have been here at least five years will be given an 18-month permit which will give them time to switch from a tenuous tolerated status to official permanent residency. In addition, people aged 27 or under and particularly well-integrated adults will be given this opportunity after just three years of residence.

This in turn would allow them to take up work or training, become self-employed, start a business and also claim social benefits.

Most importantly, they will have the security of knowing that they are allowed to remain in the country as long as they want to and will be able to show an official residence permit to employers, landlords and public authorities.

Woman protests against deportation Germany

A woman holds up a ‘Stop Deportation’ sign at a protest outside Berlin-Brandenburg airport. Photo: picture alliance/dpa | Christophe Gateau

What’s more, they should also have an easier time when trying to reunite with close family members. 

However, some people could still slip through the net. According to official statistics, 242,000 people currently live in Germany on a tolerated status – meaning than more than 100,000 won’t be covered by the new law. And this will also be the case for people who end up with a Duldung in the future. 

Even among those who have been here for five years or longer, one key condition for permanent residency – proving their identity – could remain a major hurdle. However, the law does offer people a chance to get around this if they have taken “necessary and reasonable measures” to clarify their identity.

READ ALSO: How to get fast-track permanent residency rights in Germany

What has the response been to the new law?

Unsurprisingly, the governing SDP – who drafted the law – have argued that their approach will finally give people a humane route to staying in Germany on a permanent basis.

“We are ending the current practice of chain toleration,” said Interior Minister Nancy Faeser (SPD), referring to the practice of giving multiple tolerated status notices over time. “In doing so, we are also putting an end to the uncertainty that often lasts for years for people who have long since become part of our society.”

Adis Ahmetovic, who grew up as a child as a ‘tolerated’ migrant, spoke in the Bundestag of his own difficulties and said he had even faced deportation orders. “It clearly didn’t work, because now I’m an elected MP,” he said, adding that the right of opportunity law was a move towards “fairness, participation, recognition and respect”.

However, not everyone has been positive about the change, with the CDU and CSU parties in particular speaking out against it. Deputy parliamentary party leader Andrea Lindholz (CSU) told the government it would be better to focus “on those who are really entitled to protection”.

CDU Andrea Lindholz

CDU deputy parliamentary leader Andrea Lindholz speaks out against the “right of opportunity” law in the Bundestag. Photo: picture alliance/dpa | Kay Nietfeld

For well-integrated long-term tolerated migrants, there are already enough exceptions and pragmatic solutions, she added. 

Axel Ströhlein, president of the Bavarian State Office for Asylum and Repatriation, also criticised the fact that the path to residency would only apply to people who had already been deemed ineligible for asylum or protection from deportation. He said the new regulation would undermine the meaning and purpose of the right to asylum and could send the signal that a lack of cooperation is worthwhile and leads to a residence title.

Others, however, welcomed the change but said it didn’t go far enough.

Kristian Garthus-Niegel of the Saxon Refugee Council had spoken out in support of the Linke’s proposed amendment to effectively end the ‘tolerated’ status by removing the cut-off date for long-term residence specified in the law. This amendment was rejected in the Bundestag. 

READ ALSO: ‘Dangerous and wrong’: Why German MPs are clashing over citizenship plans

Are there any other important changes to know about? 

Yes. Skilled workers who come to Germany will also have an easier time bringing their family over in future as the government has permanently waived language requirements for spouses of highly qualified workers. 

In addition, they want to make language and integration courses far more widely available and speed up the process of applying for asylum in future. 

People who have committed crimes or who are considered dangerous, on the other hand, will be removed from the country more easily and swiftly. 

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