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German citizenship For Members

When to consider legal action for your German citizenship application

Aaron Burnett
Aaron Burnett - [email protected]
When to consider legal action for your German citizenship application
If you citizenship application experiences severe delays, there's options for taking the government to court. Photo: picture alliance/dpa | Pia Bayer

German authorities, lawyers, and foreigners living in Germany are anticipating a deluge of citizenship applications when new nationality rules take effect in June 2024. When might a long wait be worth considering legal action?

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Aside from allowing multiple citizenships, the new rules, which cone into effect on June 27th, also make naturalisation possible after the applicant has lived five years in Germany rather than the current eight.

Andreas Moser, a Chemnitz-based immigration and family lawyer who runs a popular blog on German citizenship, says it's still hard to say what exact effects the new rules may have on wait times. That's because although the volume of applications is likely to increase, the most complicated and time-consuming part of many applications historically has been when an applicant petitions to keep their previous citizenship.

With that step no longer necessary, Moser expects the amount of time needed to process individual applications to go down - even as the volume increases. That doesn't mean waiting forever though.

EXPLAINED: How to get a speedy response on your German citizenship application

So when should your patience run out?

How long should you wait before raising a legal fuss?

Moser says a good rule of thumb is to be patient for at least three months. If you file your application and receive no response or update by then, you should consider sending the authorities a letter requesting an update or a timeline.

At the end of your letter, you might even choose to threaten to file an Untätigkeitsklage if you don't get a response within two months.

READ ALSO: Elation and worry as German citizenship law passes final hurdle

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Wait! What's an Untätigkeitsklage?

Roughly translated, an Untätigkeitsklage is a legal complaint for an administrative authority's "failure to act".

You can file such a complaint with a Verwaltungsgericht - or administrative court - if a German public authority hasn't responded to you within three months. That said, Moser recommends waiting for at least three months to threaten one and around six before actually filing one - as your case will be stronger. You can file an Untätigkeitsklage for any process that's held up before a German authority - whether that's a building permit, or a citizenship application.

"The Untätigkeitsklage is honestly something that sometimes does help," Moser tells The Local. "If a citizenship office receives an Untätigkeitsklage through the administrative court, they have two options. One is, they reply to the administrative court and say 'sorry, we have a huge backlog, personnel issues - we're working on it.' The second option is they say 'okay, now this is getting serious - we may as well look at the file and do it.'"

KEY POINTS: What you need to know about Germany's citizenship law reform

Moser says even if your Untätigkeitsklage is successful, you're realistically waiting at least another two months from when you file it.

"But at least it'll get moved to the top of the pile. You might get more attention if you file one," he says. "Even if the citizenship authority replies to the court with that vague answer of 'we're working on it' - the court may still give them a deadline."

German Word of the Day: Untätigkeitsklage

Such deadlines will give typically give the authority at least two months to act. However, German administrative courts have consistently ruled that a lack of staff isn't typically enough justification for a delayed application. The only exception to this is if the personnel shortage is "surprising".

"But this isn't surprising. You can see this coming. This law has been discussed and debated for two years now," says Moser.

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

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When - and how - should you actually file an Untätigkeitsklage? What does it cost?

Moser says that if you threaten an Untätigkeitsklage in your follow-up letter after three months, but receive a response including a defined timeline of when you might be able to expect progress on your application - you can take that as evidence that your threat worked and you can probably avoid actually filing one.

If, however, their answers are vague, you can threaten to file one more time at six months - or actually go ahead and file. That said, actually filing an Untätigkeitsklage is a more complicated endeavour and there's a few things to be aware of before you do, including costs and even required expertise.

First up, you will have to pay around €500 in court fees upfront - even if you choose to file it yourself. If you retain a lawyer to file one, you could be looking at around €1,000 in additional upfront legal costs. It's important to note here though that you will get this money back if you actually win your case before the administrative court - with the negligent authority having to foot your fees. This is one of the reasons threatening to file an Untätigkeitsklage may actually spur your local authority to act before you actually have to file.

Immigration office Berlin

People wait outside of an immigration office in Berlin. The current backlog of German citizenship applications already has some eligible applicants waiting for over two years for their German passport. Photo: picture alliance/dpa | Britta Pedersen

"Responding to an Untätigkeitsklage - or even the threat of one - also costs the caseworker so much time that they may as well just process the application because that's faster," says Moser. "I myself typically have the most success when I inform the authority that I'm about to file. I rarely have to actually file it."

Moser advises that you shouldn't feel the need to retain a lawyer to simply threaten your responsible German authority with an Untätigkeitsklage in letters to them. However, he recommends that you contact one if you actually do wish to file.

"If you file, you'll have to go to German court and argue German administrative law. That's challenging even for people who speak German very well as you need to also make legal arguments. You may as well hire a lawyer to actually file it. But I don't think you need a lawyer to threaten them beforehand," says Moser.

READ ALSO: How much does it really cost to apply for German citizenship?

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How likely are you to win an Untätigkeitsklage case?

You're most likely to win your case if you can demonstrate that you filed a complete and organised application. The more complicated or disorganised your application - the more likely the government can claim the defense that your case requires more time because it's complicated.

You're likely to lose an Untätigkeitsklage case if your application is missing required information or documents - as the government then has a valid defence.

READ ALSO: What documents should you get after obtaining German citizenship?

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When else should you consider consulting a lawyer on your citizenship case?

Moser says most German citizenship cases are fairly straightforward and well-organised applicants should be able to get by in a reasonable time without a lawyer - even if they and up having to threaten their local authorities with an Untätigkeitsklage.

However, certain complex cases might benefit from having a more trained legal eye on them.

These include criminal convictions that are still on your record in Germany and carry a sentence of above 90 days.

"Above that there's a grace period of another 21 days where it's up to discretion. I currently have a client who was sentenced to 110 days for a non-violent crime with no drugs involved," he says.

Another example might be if you have an uncertain period of residence, as might happen for cross-border workers or people who travel back to their home country for an extended period of time to care for an ailing relative, for example.

"These are the cases I would recommend people come in and see someone like me."

READ ALSO: Which criminal offences could get you barred from German citizenship?

Note: The Local's guides are intended as a rough guide only and not as a substitute for legal advice.

Editor's note: We amended the implementation date for German citizenship from June 26th to June 27th 2024 after confirmation from the German government on May 16th. 

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