Germany Changes Its Tune on Dual Citizenship

Germany Changes Its Tune on Dual Citizenship
©iStock/bluejayphoto

Germany has long had one of the world's most restrictive naturalization laws. It was difficult to become a naturalized citizen, and dual citizenship wasn't allowed… Until last week.

Last Friday, the Bundestag voted to shorten the path to citizenship and accept dual nationality.

Under the new law, foreigners will be able to apply for a German passport after five years. “Exceptionally well-integrated” applicants can naturalize after three years. German-born children will automatically gain citizenship if one parent has been a legal resident for five years, down from eight.

Immigration has long been a sore point. Despite the catastrophic outcome of its obsession with race purity during World War II, Germany continued to link nationality with German “blood.” Even now, a coalition of conservative parties voted against the changes, arguing they would “dilute” German nationality.

Germany has the largest proportion of foreign-born residents in Europe. Fourteen percent of its 84.4 million residents lack German citizenship. More than five million have been living in Germany for at least a decade. The rate of naturalization of immigrants is significantly lower than the rest of Europe.

The biggest group of non-citizen residents are of Turkish extraction. Faced with serious labor shortages after the war, Germany allowed tens of thousands of Turks into the country as “guest workers.” The assumption was that they would work for several years and return to Turkey, but some families have lived in Germany for three generations.

The principal obstacle to naturalization has been the ban on dual citizenship. Naturalizing as a German citizen meant giving up a Turkish passport, which most were unwilling to do. This is even though most Turks are fully integrated into German society.

In addition to meeting the residency requirement, prospective citizens must show they aren't dependent on social services, and have a clean criminal record, including no history of antisemitism, a crime in Germany.

Interior Minister Nancy Faeser said the new law was needed to compete for skilled labor with countries like Canada and the United States. The German Economic Institute says 630,000 jobs went unfilled in 2022 because there weren’t enough qualified people.

In addition to providing justice for Turkish Germans, the new law also opens the door to broader immigration from non-EU countries. Germany offers an independent means visa, which allows foreigners with sufficient passive or non-German active income to live in the country. But the country’s ban on dual citizenship has long discouraged Americans and Canadians from seeking German residency.

Now the equation has changed. Prospective residents will now be greeted with “Willkommen in Deutschland, fühlen Sie sich wie zu Hause!” (Welcome to Germany, make yourself at home!)