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‘So many barriers’: What it’s like applying for permanent residency and citizenship in Germany

Applying to settle in Germany - whether it's residency or citizenship - involves long waiting times, bureaucracy and hurdles, as one Local reader found out.

People stand in front of the Berlin State Office for Immigration.
People stand in front of the Berlin State Office for Immigration. Photo: picture alliance/dpa | Britta Pedersen

When Christopher Payne came to Erfurt, Thuringia, for work in 2013 from the UK he had no idea he’d end up wanting to make Germany his home. 

The 35-year-old, who’s originally from Barbados and works in aerospace engineering, told The Local: “Originally I came to Germany on a temporary transfer to fill a specific role in my company which has offices in both the UK and Germany. The transfer to Erfurt was intended to be for one or two years, but was extended to a four-year stint.”

READ ALSO: ‘I never thought I’d settle in Germany’: The expats who stayed years longer than planned

When the transfer ended, he had become so impressed with Germany and the German way of life that, rather than return to the UK, he decided to explore other opportunities within the local branch of his firm.

“Through this avenue I ended up moving to Berlin,” he said.

Like many other non-EU nationals, Payne applied for a Blue Card. After around 15 months he decided to apply for permanent residency, citing Germany’s quality of life and work-life-balance as the major draws for settling here long-term.  

“I wanted to settle down in Berlin and decided to make Germany my home,” said Payne. 

Payne got everything ready – such as his B1 German language certificate – to apply for permanent residency at the Ausländerberhörde or immigration office in August 2019.

“It (the process) was meant to take eight weeks,” he said. “I waited about 10 weeks – sent them an email – heard nothing. Waited a couple more weeks – heard nothing. Tried to get through on the phone, I printed out a letter and posted it… and I heard nothing.”

At this point, the Covid pandemic was coming into view, leaving many people worried about the future.  

Payne said it was at this point that he got in touch with a lawyer to ask them to look into his application. The lawyer requested the file from authorities in April 2020, and then told Payne that it had been forgotten about. 

“It was only because the lawyer requested to see it that they sent it to the correct department to process it,” said Payne. The Ausländerbehörde then said that, due to Covid, they were unable to allow Payne to come in to the office. 

Christopher Payne, pictured here in Berlin, faced difficulties applying for permanent residency and citizenship.

Christopher Payne, pictured here in Berlin, faced difficulties applying for permanent residency and citizenship. Photo courtesy of Christopher Payne

“My lawyer wrote a harsh letter saying that if they don’t do something ‘we’ll have to sue you guys’,” said Payne. “It was only at that point they said, you can come and get your permanent residency.”

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

Engaging with a lawyer cost Payne around €1,000. “It was a fiasco,” he said, referring to the way that Berlin handled his case. 

Sabine Beikler, spokesperson for the Berlin Senate for Interior, Digitalisation and Sport told The Local that Payne’s application for a residence permit submitted in August 2019 “was unfortunately not initially answered, to the regret of the State Office for Immigration (LEA)”.

“This omission was noticed with the request for file inspection by the lawyer in April 2020,” said Beikler. “Of course, the processing of the case would have been started without the involvement of a lawyer if the error had been noticed otherwise.”


Despite the turbulent experience of gaining permanent residency, Payne was determined to reach his long-term goal of getting German citizenship.

He became eligible to apply to become German in March 2021 after reaching eight years of residency in the country. 

Payne said he was surprised when he tried to get the initial naturalisation appointment a few months before in January 2021 at the district office in Steglitz where he lives – and found the first available appointment was in August. 

Nevertheless he took that slot, and in the three months’ following that appointment, he gathered all of the documents required, from birth certificate to language and residency test requirements. The completed application was submitted in November 2021.

Payne said he was told that the citizenship application takes around 20 months to process after authorities receive his application. 

“In February 2022 I got the letter saying they were starting to process my application,” he said. “I thought it must be pretty quick and maybe they’re doing it way faster.”

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

However, after speaking to others applying for citizenship in Berlin, he realised that the 20 month wait usually starts from the receipt of the application.

For Payne, the timeline feels painfully slow.

“It has been a very disheartening experience,” he said. “I’m proud to live here in Germany and contribute to the country and society, and am willing to give up citizenship in my country of birth to do so. However, it feels as if I am in limbo with so much bureaucracy and so many barriers in the way.”

There are also different waiting times depending on the district office where applicants live. At present, citizenship applications are handled at a district level, meaning areas with a higher concentration of expats are likely to have longer waiting times. 

Sabine Beikler, spokesperson for the Berlin Senate for Interior, Digitalisation and Sport, said that Payne’s “regrettable” case is “not representative of the duration of naturalisation procedures in the state of Berlin, even if a high volume of applications can lead to longer processing times in some cases”.

Beikler said the city of Berlin plans to centralise the system to make it more efficient. 

“In order to significantly shorten the processing times of naturalisation procedures in the state of Berlin, the Senate is planning to centralise responsibility for naturalisations and to provide the future central authority with adequate personnel and technical equipment,” she said. 

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

Member comments

  1. I had a more positive experience. I applied for German citizenship at the beginning of February 2020, and was able to collect my certificate just a month later. I live in Baden-Württemberg, Waldshut-Tiengen area. I was actually surprised at how fast it went…

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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.