German and Nigerian passports. Anyone who naturalises in Germany will no longer have to give up their previous citizenship / Photo: AfricanCourierMedia

Germany’s reformed citizenship law: What you should know

The reformed Citizenship Law entered into effect on 27 June 2024 and it’s expected to make it easier for foreign residents to become German nationals.

Among the features of the legislation, the ‘Act on the Modernisation of Citizenship Law’ (das Gesetz zur Modernisierung des Staatsangehörigkeitsrechts (StARModG)), are that foreigners living legally in Germany will be able to apply for a German passport after only five years. The requirement was usually eight years.

In the case of “special integration achievements” of the applicants, naturalisation can now even be possible after three years, according to the law. These achievements could be, for example, good language skills, voluntary work or very good performance in school or at work.

In the past, the principle that anyone who accepts German citizenship must renounce their old citizenship – with a few exceptions – applied. Henceforth, multiple citizenship is to be possible in principle.

In addition, all children born in Germany to foreign parents are to be granted German citizenship without further reservation if at least one parent has lived legally in Germany for more than five years. Previously, the residency requirement was eight years. Moreover, children born in Germany can obtain and permanently retain German citizenship and the citizenship of their parents.

Here are the 7 main features of the law:

  1. Naturalisation now does not require renunciation of the original citizenship. All regulations that provided for the renunciation of the old citizenship or the loss of German citizenship through naturalisation elsewhere have simply been removed from the law. There are no longer any regulations from the German side with regard to multiple nationalities.
  2. The required period of residence in Germany has been reduced from 8 to 5 years – under certain conditions even to 3 years (good knowledge of German/social activities/success in education and employment). For example, as the spouse of a German national and with particularly good integration (language skills at C1 level), naturalisation is possible after just three years.
  3. Children born in Germany whose parents do not have German citizenship will also receive German citizenship at birth if one parent has resided here for 5 years (no longer 8 years) and has a permanent residence permit, i.e. a settlement permit or EU permanent residence
  4. The “first generation” of immigrants (guest workers from Turkey and other countries) will not have to take a Language test and the “Knowledge of Germany” test will not be held in writing.
  5. Unemployed persons can only be naturalised under exceptional circumstances. Naturalisation is possible while receiving benefits if you have worked full-time for at least 20 months in the last 24 months or you live together with an employed person and a child in a partnership or are married. The opportunities for sick people to become naturalised have therefore decreased just as much as for single parents.
  6. Naturalisation applicants must “prove” that they respect the Basic Law, women’s rights and the Jewish faith.
  7. Application for naturalisation will be rejected if the applicant is married to several spouses and/or his behaviour shows that he disregards the equal rights of men and women laid down in the Basic Law. (§ 11)

Also new is that the naturalisation certificate is to be presented at a public naturalisation ceremony. It’s, however, not a must for the applicants to participate at the ceremony. But until now, naturalised citizens often received their certificate immediately.

Despite the improvements in the citizenship law, analysts and migrant organisations say the improvements do not go far enough. They point to the fact that people who have become unemployed through no fault of their own can only be naturalised under exceptional circumstances. Moreover, “false information” in the application form could lead to the loss of German citizenship in the first 10 years of acquiring it (but only if the person does not become stateless as a result).

Generally, the improvements have been praised for making it easier for foreign residents to acquire the citizenship which provides for full participation in society.

In 2023, around 200,100 foreign nationals were naturalised in Germany, the highest number since the time series began in 2000. According to the Federal Statistical Office (Destatis) in a report published in May, the number of naturalisations rose by around 31,000 (+19%) in 2023 compared to the previous year, having already increased by around 37,000 (+28%) in 2022 compared to the year before that. There were around 84.7 million people living in Germany at the end of 2023 – 23.9 million of whom had a history of migration (10 million of these were German nationals).

Femi Awoniyi

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