German passports elude too many migrants | Germany| News and in-depth reporting from Berlin and beyond | DW | 02.09.2013
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German passports elude too many migrants

A test introduced five years ago is just one of the hurdles to becoming a German citizen. And it's not the most challenging one. If Germany wants more immigration, experts say, such barriers need to be lowered.

What is Germany's national emblem? What does "popular sovereignty" mean?

Those are just two of the 33 questions that Ketevan Jandieri answered during a citizenship test at a community college in Bonn. The 51-year-old woman, originally from Georgia, has been living in Germany since 2005 with her German husband and two children. She prepared long and hard for the citizenship test.

"There are different training programs on the Internet, and you can get a grasp of all the questions online," she told DW.

A controversial test

The German citizenship test was introduced nationwide five years ago. At the time, critics complained of questions that were formulated clumsily, of others that included too much detail. Even today, immigration researcher Dieter Thränhardt considers the test too complicated.

It's hard for immigrants who have had limited access to education, and also for people who don't cope with the German language very well," he told DW.

The researcher worries that certain groups of migrants will be scared off from applying for German citizenship.

A hand holding a pencil prepares to write on a white piece of paper with German-language writing on it. (Photo: Uli Deck / dpa)

Of those who take the test, 98 percent pass

Initially, the number of naturalizations fell in Germany after the introduction of the test. For the last four years they have risen, though. Last year, 112,000 immigrants were naturalized, an increase of five percent on 2011.

Kenen Araz, who works at a citizenship "action office" in the city of Bochum, has been advising immigrants for years on becoming a German citizen.

"You take the test as if it were for a drivers' license," he told DW. "As the years go by, people are regarding it as something normal."

For the Georgian-born Ketven Jandieri, applying herself to that task in her adopted country turned out to be a positive experience. "You have to know important things about the country you're going to live in for the rest of your life," she said.

Jandieri answered all 33 questions correctly. But 17 would have been enough.

Immigrants wanted

If everything works as planned, Ketevan Jandiere will soon be among the many people who take on German citizenship each year. Most new arrivals to Germany have their roots in Turkey, a group that also constitutes the largest migrant base within the country.

An Indian man wearing a white, short-sleeved dress shirt sits at a table in a classroom setting and smiles over his shoulder at the camera. (Photo: Patrick Pleul / dpa)

Kulminder Singh from India was a part of the first group to take the test officially in October 2008

But southern Europeans are also showing an increasing desire to become nationalized German citizens. Countries hit by the euro crisis are represented in particularly high numbers. The number of Greeks who acquired a German passport last year rose 80 percent; Italian-Germans increased by 30 percent. Among those nationalized were many young, well-educated individuals with few professional chances in their home countries due to economic conditions there. Many view Germany as a country with more opportunities.

With professionals needed in many industries, the German government has reinforced efforts to attract qualified migrant workers. Through targeted advertisements, some states are encouraging migrants to obtain a German passport. The slogan, "Ja, ich will," - "Yes, I'd like to" - is emblazoned across billboards and flyers throughout North Rhine-Westphalia, Germany's largest state.

"That's eyewash. Ten thousand euros were wasted there," said Kenen Araz. "These campaigns might help one politician or another, but not the people."

Far more important, he says, is to target groups specifically and to approach them in their own language.

An early-20s Korean girl wearing a white knitted cap sits across the table from a female employee in a bureaucratic setting.

A potential future citizen: Korean Miran Kim applies for a student visa to study in Germany

Immigration isn't easy

Even though many German states would like to see more immigrants naturalized, it is still not easy to obtain a German passport. In addition to the citizenship test, one has to have lived in Germany for at least eight years, cannot have criminal delinquencies and must prove that their earnings are high enough to avoid reliance on the social welfare system. Beyond that, a working knowledge of the German language is obligatory.

According to the Federal Ministry of the Interior, the citizenship test is meant to contribute toward the integration of immigrants in Germany. Immigration researcher Thränhardt, however, does not agree with that assessment.

"I don't think that you can improve fidelity to the constitution or a sense of belonging with this test," he said. Instead, the test lends a feeling of mistrust, he says. If it were up to him, he would do away with it entirely.

Generally, Thränhardt sees an urgent need to simplify the immigration process in Germany. "Compared to other countries, Germany's lagging behind," he said. "The only country where it's more difficult is Austria." Only every other immigrant in Germany possesses a German passport.

But the greatest hindrance of all, he says, is that immigrants must choose between passports. A person from Turkey, Serbia or Montegro, for example, must give up his or her passport in order to become German. Many immigrants do not want to completely sever their foreign roots.

"Immigration numbers would definitely go up if you didn't have to do that anymore," he said.

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