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German citizenship For Members

Which criminal offences could get you barred from German citizenship?

Aaron Burnett
Aaron Burnett - [email protected]
Which criminal offences could get you barred from German citizenship?
A police officer stands inside a court room in Lüneberg, Lower Saxony. Photo: picture alliance/dpa | Philipp Schulze

After Germany's dual citizenship law was passed in the Bundestag, many more people will be hoping to apply - but foreigners with a criminal record may run into issues. Here are the offences that bar you from citizenship - and those that are treated more leniently.

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Back in 2023, a Frenchman who had been living in Switzerland for around 40 years had his Swiss citizenship application denied over a speeding ticket. Meanwhile, Danish laws could theoretically bar someone from citizenship there for more speeding on the motorway. So what about Germany?

Many long-time German residents preparing their applications for the upcoming changes around dual nationality may be asking this exact question.

If you're one of them, you'll be pleased to know that while minor offences like speeding, jaywalking, and riding the U-Bahn without a ticket may earn you a lot of dirty looks, they aren’t likely to affect your citizenship application.

One criterion for applying for German citizenship is respect for German law. Applicants must declare their willingness to adhere to the principles of the German Basic Law - including equality between men and women - and have no record of committing serious crimes.

What qualifies as serious? 

It seems that 90 days is the magic number.

In general, if you’ve been convicted of a crime that’s landed you in jail for 90 days or more, you can forget about German citizenship. If your offence is a minor one, or even if you have served time in jail - you’re still often okay to apply for German citizenship if your sentence was less than 90 days.

Got caught for speeding? You’re probably fine. Got a 100-day sentence for a bloody bar fight? Nope.

READ ALSO: What you need to know about Germany's citizenship law reform

Repeat offences and foreign criminal convictions

The 90-day rule isn’t always so hard and fast though. Some crimes, like certain drug offences, may carry a sentence of fewer than 90 days. But authorities have some discretion to bar repeat offenders from naturalisation.

Furthermore, it’s not just convictions in the German justice system that count. When naturalising, Germany will also take into account any foreign convictions you might have.

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Here, there are two things they will consider. First, is the crime you committed abroad an offence under German law? This is important because many political dissidents coming from other countries to Germany may have been arrested and sentenced for peaceful protests or speaking out against the government. Under German law, these convictions and sentences will not count as they’re not considered crimes under German law.

Second, if you’ve been convicted of a crime abroad, was the sentence you received proportionate? Someone sentenced to five years abroad if the crime they committed would carry a 30-day sentence in Germany would still have a shot at German citizenship.

READ ALSO: When and how can I apply for German citizenship?

Tougher rules around hate crimes

Following the October 7th attacks by the terrorist group Hamas and Israel's subsequent bombardment of Gaza, there has been a steep rise in both anti-Semitic and Islamophobic hate crimes in Germany.

Acknowledging this highly charged atmosphere, the government has recenty moved to tighten up the rules around hate crimes in the new citizenship law.

In the words of the draft law, which is expected to come into force in May, "anti-Semitic, racist or otherwise inhumanely motivated acts" are incompatible with the German Basic Law and would therefore bar the perpertrator from citizenship.

German citizens naturalisation

New German citizens gather for a naturalisation ceremony in Frankfurt am Main. Photo: picture alliance/dpa | Frank Molter

The bill also sets out plans to improve information sharing between public prosecutors and citizenship offices to allow officials to investigate whether an offence had an anti-Semitic or racist motive behind it. 

That means that otherwise more minor offences can be enough to block someone from becoming German if the offence is deemed to be motivated by views that are incompatible with the German consititon. 

How long do convicted criminals remain ineligible for German citizenship?

Germany maintains a federal register of criminal sentences. Sentences remain recorded there for up to 20 years from the day the sentence ended - although some of the most serious violent crimes are never erased from the register. As long as a criminal sentence of more than 90 days remains in the register, the convicted person is generally ineligible for German citizenship.

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Sentences of less than 90 days are normally erased from the register after five years. Sentences of between 90 days and one year are normally erased from the register after ten years.

Do I have to declare my foreign convictions when applying for German citizenship?

Lying on the German citizenship application is in itself a criminal offence. Anyone found to have lied on the application can expect fines or even a jail sentence of up to five years. Obviously, a sentence like that would itself make someone ineligible to apply for German citizenship.

READ ALSO: What do I need to apply for German citizenship under the new law?

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