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INTERVIEW: ‘Germany must finally allow dual or multiple citizenship’

The German Bundestag will debate a draft law allowing dual citizenship in December. The Local spoke to Hakan Demir, rapporteur for the legislation, about the big changes to dual citizenship rights that he’s pushing for.

INTERVIEW: 'Germany must finally allow dual or multiple citizenship'
Hakan Demir, an MdB for Berlin-Neukölln, serves as rapporteur on the new German draft law to allow dual citizenship. Photo: Photothek

Although the three traffic light parties in Germany’s current government agreed to reform the country’s restrictive citizenship law in their coalition agreement, The Local only recently found out precisely when lawmakers might get around to changing it.

Hakan Demir – a Bundestag member and Social Democrat representing Berlin-Neukölln – serves as rapporteur on the citizenship law reform.

In a special interview with The Local Germany, he laid out some more of the reforms foreigners in Germany can expect – and what kind of new nationality law he wants to see.

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

What are the next steps for this law to come into force and also for you as you review it? What will you be looking for in the draft law?

Hakan Demir, MdB: According to our current expectations, Cabinet will pass the citizenship law reform before the year is out. Then the law will be presented to the Bundestag. Once in the Bundestag, I am committed to processing and advancing the law as fast as we can. When it comes to what’s in the law, these are my particular priorities:

  • Germany must finally allow dual or multiple citizenship – in all directions. People who naturalise in Germany should be able to keep the passport of their country of origin. It also means that Germans who accept the passport of a third country (outside the European Union), should be able to keep their German passport. People can have a close connection to several states. This should be reflected in nationality.
  • I want to see faster naturalisation for people who have arrived in Germany, where you can be naturalised after five years instead of eight. And, for example, anyone who speaks German very well – at level B2 or better – or is very integrated and involved in our society, should be able to naturalise after three years. This would make Germany one of the most open countries in the world.
  • I advocate for better hardship regulations and easier naturalisation for the guest worker generation. People who have been living in Germany for decades should no longer have to prove themselves in language and integration courses in order to become an equal part of our society through naturalisation.

Why is this an important issue for Germany and for you in particular?

Demir: Citizenship determines who has the legal rights to take part fully in our society. For example, only people with a German passport can take part in all elections – whether local, state, federal, or European. Yet in my Neukölln constituency, I find myself discussing rent, minimum wage, or the energy crisis and then at the end of the conversation, they tell me they’re not allowed to vote. That’s often because they don’t want to give up their old citizenship or haven’t lived in Germany long enough yet. We must overcome this situation. We can’t again have a federal election in which 10 million people living in Germany aren’t allowed to vote.

On top of all that, naturalisation is also an emotional issue. Whoever receives a German passport is fully included. It doesn’t matter whether you were born in Germany or chose to make Germany home over the course of your life. I think it’s right for us to send that signal – we’re lowering the hurdles. Germany is an open country. No one should have to somehow decide against their home country to come here.

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

Immigrants recieve citizenship documents in Berlin

Two men recieve their German citizenship documents the Berlin district of Neukölln. Photo: picture-alliance/ dpa/dpaweb | Miguel Villagran

How far would the right to dual citizenship extend? Would children and grandchildren of naturalised Germans remain eligible, for example?

Demir: As long as the foreign state allows someone to acquire or keep citizenship, it will be possible to be a dual citizen under German law. After this reform, there will no longer be any restrictions on dual or multiple citizenship from the German side. If a child in Germany has a foreign nationality due to the origins of their parents or grandparents, whether foreign students or workers naturalise here after a few years and want to keep their old nationality, or whether Germans living abroad naturalise there – dual citizenship will be possible across all possible constellations.

In addition to introducing dual citizenship, we also agreed in the coalition agreement to test out the so-called generational cut. This is because the FDP, unlike the SPD and Greens, wants to restrict multiple citizenship again from the third generation (grandchildren). I am in favour of tackling this audit mandate at a later date, so as to not delay urgent reforms. That said, it’s also clear to me that we don’t need a new obligation for grandchildren to choose, but rather an open and modern nationality law, where people no longer have to choose between two identities.

We’re expecting many naturalisation applications to come in at once when the new law comes into force. Are there any plans to make any extra resources available to local offices to meet the demand?

Demir: More people being eligible for naturalisation will also require more administrative resources. From my point of view, at least three improvements are needed – more staff, more specialised skills for the offices in question, and more digitalisation. The state of Berlin is already taking this path as part of introducing the so-called state naturalisation centre. Other federal states will also have to increase capacities so that the high number of additional people entitled to naturalisation doesn’t lead to a backlog in procedures.

Is there any advice you would like to share with our readers as we await this law change?

Demir: Keep up the political pressure. Write to your constituency MP, so that everyone knows how important this issue is for all of us.

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

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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.