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German citizenship For Members

INTERVIEW: What is the biggest problem foreigners face when applying for German citizenship?

Rachel Loxton
Rachel Loxton - [email protected]
INTERVIEW: What is the biggest problem foreigners face when applying for German citizenship?
The Reichstag building, where the Bundestag is located. The German government has been working on reforming citizenship laws. Photo: picture alliance/dpa | Fabian Sommer

Many foreign nationals are considering applying for German citizenship, especially as the law is set to change in future. The Local's Germany in Focus podcast asked an expert for advice on the process.

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For lots of people building a life abroad, applying for citizenship of their country of residence is a major step that cements integration. 

But the German rule that means non-EU nationals can't hold more than one citizenship if they become German - unless they can argue an exception - means lots of people hold off from naturalising. 

That is all set to change under new plans from the German government which will allow people to hold more than one nationality when they become German. 

The plans would also see the number of residency years needed slashed from eight to five - and even to three in some cases. 

Although the government's plans are still in the works, Berlin-based immigration lawyer Sven Hasse told the Germany in Focus podcast that he expected the reform, which is likely to come into force next year, to prompt a wave of new applicants. 

"The timeline for naturalisation is shortened from eight years to five years (in the draft law) - that of course brings a lot more applications at the moment the law is enforced because you have three years more on the application process," he said. 

"It's possible to shorten it to three years if you have C1 language skills and other special achievements like a good job, a good education or you work in an NGO or even in a football club. So that brings a lot more applicants to the process and the right to apply."

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Hasse added that because Germany will in future allow people to hold multi-nationalities, it would encourage those living in Germany who are originally from countries like the US, Australia and Canada to get a German passport.

"My clients from these countries do not apply for citizenship (currently) for this reason," he said. "So they of course would love to do so after the law has changed."

But what are some of the hiccups people face when applying for citizenship in Germany?

"The main problem people run into at the moment is the appointment situation," said Hasse.

He said part of the issue is that in most cities, there are scores of people looking to get naturalised, particularly those who came to Germany as refugees in 2014 and 2015 and now qualify for citizenship. 

"They (authorities) are not capable to offer the amount of appointments required for the number of applicants who want to apply for citizenship so that is the main and the biggest problem."

From 2024, the capital Berlin plans to run a centralised office for dealing with German citizenship in the hope that it will transform the process. 

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Currently, citizenship applications are being processed by the administrative offices (Bürgeramter) in each of Berlin’s districts. Through the new office, set to belong to the foreigners’ authority (Landesamt für Einwanderung), the capital’s senate aims to increase the number of residents who receive citizenship each year from 8,000 to 20,000.

"They (district offices) are letting the applicants know that they will contact them again in 2024 knowing that another authority will contact them," said Hasse, regarding the situation in Berlin.

"Some district offices frankly say - 'please apply in 2024 once the new authority is in force'. That (waiting times) is the biggest problem. But the same situation you're going to see in Frankfurt, Potsdam, in other cities."

A sign on the State Office for Immigration (LEA) on Friedrich-Krause-Ufer in Berlin.

A sign on the State Office for Immigration (LEA) on Friedrich-Krause-Ufer in Berlin. Photo: picture alliance/dpa | Jörg Carstensen

Berlin is planning to increase the number of caseworkers from 70 to 200 under the centralisation plans. 

But Hasse said he's "not optimistic that the appointments situation is going to change after the new law has been implemented".

"I expect a high number of new applicants," he added. 

Should people who still want to keep their current citizenship apply now or wait until the new law is in force?

Hasse pointed out that the application form currently asks people if they are willing to give up their citizenship. 

"If you are not willing to give it up, the authorities can ask for reasons or exceptions or they can reject their application," he said.

"Once the law has changed no one is going to ask you to give it up. But of course, it is still in the process and there is no guarantee that it is implemented in January next year, although it is highly probable.

"So the answer is: if you want to be sure that you become a German citizen (and hold onto your citizenship) then you should wait until the law is in force or at least signed by the president. And if you consider giving up your citizenship, or if you are willing to gamble a little bit, then, of course, you should apply."

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