Good German is required to get German citizenship. One lawmaker says it's time to do long-term immigrants a favor and loosen up that rule.
The proposal would make becoming a citizen easier for some
New legislation introduced in the German parliament could allow certain groups to get a German passport more easily and quickly, as well as granting more people the right to hold dual citizenship.
Currently, immigrants who want to get German citizenship must take a naturalization test and show that they have a firm grasp of the language. In addition, they generally have to renounce their previous citizenship.
Pensioners who came to the country as immigrants are one of the groups that would benefit most from a change to the law. If the bill were passed, a person who is over 53 years old and has been living in Germany for at least 15 years could apply for a passport without meeting the language requirements.
Kilic wants to see an immigrant's work rewarded
"If a person has made a contribution to this society, I want to make it easier for them to become citizens," Green party parliamentarian Memet Kilic told Deutsche Welle. "Especially older immigrants - who gave their youth and health to build up this country - should be able to obtain citizenship without a language requirement. That way, we can win the hearts of their children and grandchildren for this country."
Kilic's bill comes as the integration of immigrants is under the microscope in Germany. Chancellor Angela Merkel, a Christian Democrat, said earlier this month that multiculturalism had failed in Germany. There have also been repeated calls for immigrants to integrate better into German society by learning the language and customs.
Kilic, who was born in Turkey, said the legislation he sponsored would be welcome news to immigrants.
"Third-generation immigrant children in Germany hear three times a day that they don't belong to this country," he said. "What good is that? I want to turn the tables."
Integration is hard to define in Germany
In support of the bill, Kilic cited statistics showing that the number of citizens naturalized in Germany each year had fallen by 20 percent since 2004. This was an indication that becoming a German citizen was simply too difficult, he said.
Without citizenship, many of Germany's 6.7 million immigrants do not have the right to vote in the country. But citizenship goes beyond the legal realm.
"Integration means more than simply structural integration," said Guelistan Guerbey, a political scientist at Berlin's Free University. "It has a very strong emotional and psychological dimension."
This is especially true for dual citizens. If the bill became law, an immigrant would no longer have to give up their passport to become German. Guerbey said this would have a positive effect.
"A person has emotional ties in both directions," she said, "and dual citizenship is a legal recognition of this emotional state."
Time to learn German
But while legal benefits and emotional satisfaction might encourage a retired immigrant with less-than-perfect German to apply for citizenship under the loosened rules of the proposed law, they may never get the chance.
Learning German is essential for integration, says Grindel
On Thursday in the Bundestag, Reinhard Grindel of the governing Christian Democrats, was clear about what his party thought of the proposal.
"When someone wants to become a German citizen," Grindel said, "then I have to be able to say, as an incentive, that you must learn German if you haven't learned it well enough already. That's a part of the integration process - to finally learn German."
And there is reason to believe that many retired immigrants in Germany wouldn't apply for a German passport if the rules were loosened. Some come from other European Union countries, where moving across borders isn't problematic, though they do not have full voting rights in Germany.
But Kilic says there are some 2,000-3,000 retirees from other countries who would gladly take advantage of the opportunity.
Author: Matt Zuvela
Editor: Nancy Isenson