Germany reforms citizenship law

Germany is in the process of revamping its citizenship law, streamlining the pathway to obtaining German nationality and also introducing the option of dual citizenship.

The new citizenship law of Germany was unveiled on Wednesday (23.08.2023). Proposed by Interior Minister Nancy Faeser, the legislation aims to simplify the process of obtaining dual citizenship and make naturalization more accessible for non-EU citizens.

In a statement to the press in Berlin, Faeser highlighted that this reform demonstrates Germany’s commitment to modernization. She emphasized that the changes to the citizenship law should be understood within the broader context of the comprehensive reform of Germany’s immigration laws. This reform primarily seeks to attract skilled workers to address the significant labor shortages within the country.

Faeser underlined, “We will be able to attract the most qualified individuals globally only if they can integrate fully into our society, enjoying all democratic rights in the foreseeable future.”

This overhaul has been in development since the fall of 2021 when the center-left coalition, consisting of the Social Democrats, Greens, and the neoliberal Free Democrats, assumed power.

The key points of the new citizenship plans include:

  1. Immigrants who are legally residing in Germany can apply for citizenship after five years, reduced from the current period of eight years. In cases of notable achievements, this period can be further shortened to three years.
  2. Children born in Germany to at least one parent who has been legally residing in the country for five years or more will automatically acquire German citizenship.
  3. Immigrants aged 67 or older will have the option to take an oral German language test instead of a written one.
  4. Multiple citizenships will be permitted.
  5. Individuals solely dependent on state support will not be eligible for German citizenship.
  6. German citizenship will be denied to those who have committed offenses such as antisemitic, racist, xenophobic, or other actions deemed incompatible with a commitment to a free democratic society.

The proposed legislation will undergo parliamentary debates and could potentially come into effect in the fall.

In terms of multiple citizenships, around 14% of the population in Germany, totaling just over 12 million people, do not hold German passports. Approximately five million of these individuals have been residing in Germany for a minimum of a decade. In 2022, there were 168,545 applications for German citizenship, which fell below the EU average.

Currently, dual citizenship is only available for EU and Swiss nationals, citizens of countries that do not permit renunciation of citizenship (such as Iran, Afghanistan, Morocco), children of parents with both German and other citizenships, refugees facing persecution in their home countries, and Israelis. Certain well-integrated Syrian refugees in Germany may also be eligible for expedited German citizenship.

These reforms align Germany with other European nations. In the EU, Sweden had the highest rate of naturalization in 2020, with 8.6% of all foreign residents obtaining citizenship. In contrast, Germany’s rate was 1.1%.

Germany is home to about 2.9 million people who hold more than one citizenship, constituting roughly 3.5% of the population. However, this number is likely higher, as 69% of new German citizens maintain their original passports. Among the most common second citizenships held are Polish, Russian, and Turkish.

Despite these changes, there is opposition. The center-right Christian Democratic Union (CDU), known for consistently obstructing past reforms, expresses reservations. CDU leader Friedrich Merz has voiced caution, stating that German citizenship is a cherished asset that requires careful handling.

The far-right Alternative for Germany party (AfD), which opposes immigration, vehemently opposes these planned changes. AfD lawmaker Gottfried Curio criticized the proposed adjustments, suggesting that they mask integration issues and manipulate statistics.

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