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INTERVIEW: 'Germany's dual citizenship law on track for April 2024'

Rachel Loxton
Rachel Loxton - [email protected]
INTERVIEW: 'Germany's dual citizenship law on track for April 2024'
People enjoy sunny weather in Hamburg. Germany is changing citizenship laws. Photo: picture alliance/dpa | Georg Wendt

Germany's dual citizenship reform is to be debated in parliament in November. We spoke to MPs to find out when it's likely to become law and what it means for foreign residents.

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Overhauling Germany's naturalisation laws is one of the coalition government's biggest projects. 

It will see many of the barriers to getting citizenship lowered and holding multiple nationalities will be allowed - a privilege only EU nationals have currently unless there is an exception. 

But unfortunately for foreign residents in Germany eagerly watching this debate, the path to making the law a reality is taking longer than initially planned. 

As The Local has been reporting, the first reading of the draft legislation is expected in the Bundestag in the second week of November after the cabinet passed the draft bill in August.

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Hakan Demir, an SPD MP who has been working on the development of the new law, told the Local about the latest predicted timeline as things currently stand. 

"We will have the first reading in November, and then hopefully the second and third reading of the law in December or January," he said.

"And I think it will come into force - hopefully - on April 1st (2024). This is the track we are working on right now."

Hakan Demir, an MdB for Berlin-Neukölln, serves as SPD rapporteur on the new German draft law to allow dual citizenship.

Hakan Demir, an MdB for Berlin-Neukölln, serves as SPD rapporteur on the new German draft law to allow dual citizenship. Photo: Photothek

As part of the sweeping reforms there are plans to reduce the residence requirements in Germany to five years in ordinary cases and to three in cases of special integration and C1 language skills.

People from non-EU countries will be allowed to hold more than one nationality, meaning somebody from Turkey, for example, will no longer have to give up their existing passport to gain a German one.

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'Global competition'

Social Democrat member of the Bundestag Jens Zimmermann told The Local that the current German citizenship laws are "outdated".

"We think it is necessary to give people living for quite some time in Germany, sticking to the rules, learning the language -  to give them that opportunity to become German citizens and so this is at the core of that reform," he said.

The changes come amid a wider initiative to entice people to live, work and settle in Germany as the country deals with a worker shortage.

Zimmermann believes the reforms - including the move to extend dual citizenship to all - will attract more people to Germany. 

Two Blue Cards for foreign skilled workers are on a table at the Federal Office for Migration and Refugees in Bavaria.

Two Blue Cards for foreign skilled workers on a table at the Federal Office for Migration and Refugees in Bavaria. Photo: picture alliance/dpa | Daniel Karmann

"The times are over when you could have an arrogant German view that everybody wants to come to Germany," he said. "Now we are in a global competition for skilled labour so it is crucial to also show that we appreciate people coming and helping us."

The draft law includes special carve-outs aimed at making it easier for members of the so-called 'guest worker generation - many of whom came from Turkey - who relocated to work in Germany in the booming post-war economy. 

For instance, people over the age of 67 will no longer be asked to sit a formal B1 language exam when applying for citizenship and members of this community will not have to prove certain income levels. 

Demir said: "We have some measures that will make it easier for them to get German citizenship, and I think that's fair."

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However, not all parts of the law are being relaxed. There has been some controversy over plans to tighten up the general financial requirements for future applicants. 

Under the proposals, the majority of applicants will have to prove they can support themselves and their families without any reliance on social support such as Sozialhilfe (social welfare) or Bürgergeld (long-term unemployment benefits).

In the current law, people who cannot work full time and receive social benefits are able to get German citizenship if it is due to circumstances beyond their control such as caring for a relative or having a disability. 

READ ALSO: Reader question: Can I still get German citizenship after claiming benefits?

But the new law intends to remove this sentence from the legislation. Applicants who are receiving some form of benefits will have to demonstrate that they have been engaged in full-time employment or work for at least 20 out of the previous 24 months at the time of their application.

Concerns have been raised that this could discriminate against people with young children or those with long-term disabilities.

"That will lead to some problems, and we have to discuss it with the (SPD's coalition partners) FDP and the Greens," said Demir, adding that he hoped this could be reversed for the final draft. 

"I hope that we will change it in the parliamentary session and, hopefully, we will have a new agreement on that."

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'Further polarisation'

Not everyone is happy about the plans to reform citizenship laws. 

The opposition Christian Democrats and their Bavarian sister party, the CSU, say lowering the hurdles as Germany is grappling with a surge in migration sends the wrong signals, illustrating the balance politicians are trying to strike when sending messages to attract skilled workers while keeping a check on the borders. 

The coalition government has taken a battering recently, with polls (and recent state elections) showing voters are more enthusiastic about far-right and anti-immigration parties like Alternative for Germany (AfD). Migration also continues to top the agenda in recent surveys asking Germans about the biggest political issues of the day. 

READ ALSO: Six surprising German citizenship rules you should know about

Alexander Dobrindt, parliamentary speaker of the centre-right CSU, recently said: "To lower requirements at times of record migration means to provoke a further polarisation of society."

On Friday Chancellor Olaf Scholz said in an interview with German magazine Der Spiegel that Germany needs to start deporting migrants who don't have the right to stay in the country "on a large scale", as he sought to take a tougher stance on irregular migration.

Meanwhile, international residents in Germany are keeping an eye on the state of public authorities, with some cities - like Berlin - already reporting major backlogs for citizenship applications. 

Demir said some of the bureaucracy will be eased by getting rid of the rule that limits dual citizenship. 

German passport on desk

A German passport on a desk in the home. Photo: picture alliance/dpa | Matthias Balk

"Staff will have less work because they don't need to check what kind of passport someone has," he said.

Demir said politicians are discussing with the states on how to make the process quicker  - but ultimately it is in the hands of the local authorities rather than the federal government. 

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Michael Kruse, a MP with the Free Democrats, told The Local that they are pushing for more digitalisation. 

"Skilled workers coming to Germany and applying for citizenship need easy processes," he said.

"They also want the German authorities to communicate in English because many people we want to attract don’t speak German. So this is something that needs to be pushed forward and we are doing this in the German government."

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