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German and Turkish passports (Photo: picture-alliance / dpa)
Image: picture-alliance/dpa

Dual citizenship

Nils Naumann / sgb
March 25, 2013

Hundreds of thousands of Turks could be granted dual citizenship, if Greens and Social Democrats have their way. They argue this will increase immigrants' loyalty to Germany.


Birthdays are usually a cause for celebration. But for one German-Turkish woman from the Hanau region in Hesse, her 23rd birthday brought a nasty surprise. "It has been determined," the Darmstadt Regional Council wrote to her, "that by reaching the age of 23, you have lost your German citizenship by law."

Until then the young woman, daughter of Turkish parents who grew up and went to school in Hesse, held both German and Turkish citizenship. But the so-called option model states that she had to choose between the two when she turns 23.

"Option children" is what the German bureaucracy calls these people. Permanent dual citizenship is not possible for them. The young woman had already submitted a request to be released from Turkish citizenship at the Consulate General. Too late - because the process takes several months. And so she missed the statutory deadline. The authorities say they do not have any discretion.

Birthday candles (Photo: Robert Neumann)
Currently, many immigrants must choose German citizenship before their 23rd birthdayImage: Robert Neumann / Fotolia

Soon tens of thousands per year

This is not an isolated case: since the beginning of the year, Martin Jungnickel, department head of the Darmstadt Regional Council, said in his area alone twelve "option children" had missed the legal deadline, and thus lost their German citizenship.

In principle, Germany does not allow anyone to hold two citizenships permanently. But there are many exceptions. Citizens from other EU countries and Switzerland, for example, may hold German nationality in addition to their own. If the old country, such as Iran or Syria, does not release its citizens from citizenship, exceptions are possible. In addition, everyone who has at least one German parent may have two passports.

Martin Jungnickel said he had no understanding for this difference in treatment: he wants a general approval of dual citizenship. In addition, the administrative burden of the option model is enormous. That's mainly because the number of option cases will rise massively in the years ahead. Right now there are about 3,000 a year, in five years there are expected to be 40,000.

Turks would be main beneficiaries

The three million German Turks are the largest group affected. Kenan Kolat, head of the Turkish community in Germany, calls for the abolition of the option requirement. He says that could strengthen identification with Germany much more than the necessity of choosing one nationality or the other.

German passport in jeans pocket (Photo: babimu)
Naturalization was made easier for foreigners in 2000Image: Fotolia/babimu

Kolat said he wants "a more general acceptance of the rule of the naturalization." Dual citizenship, Kolat said, meant the "recognition of the culture" of those affected. It is important "that there is no discrimination between nationalities," he said. "This violates the sense of justice." North Rhine-Westphalia Minister for Integration Guntram Schneider, a member of the Social Democratic Party (SPD), has called for an end to the option requirement: "We do not need German citizenship for a time, but a legal basis without ifs and buts that saves the option population who are born here from having to decide between two passports."

The majority of state integration ministers who belong to the SPD or the Green Party support dual citizenship. Schneider believes introducing it would promote integration. The states governed by the two parties now want to examine a draft law in the Bundesrat, the upper house of parliament.

Divided loyalties

So far, however, the chances of success of such an initiative before the election in the autumn have been rather poor. The coalition government of the Christian Democrats (CDU/CSU) and Free Democrats (FDP) is divided on this issue. While senior FDP politicians support the plans, the CDU and CSU are more skeptical.

The German Commissioner for Migration, Minister of State Maria Böhmer (CDU), spoke out against multiple citizenship. At present, 98 percent of young people with the option requirement would choose to be German. That is a sign of integration, she said, while abolishing the option requirement is "not justified." Bavarian Social Affairs Minister Christine Haderthauer (CSU) believes that an "inner assignment to a specific state is necessary to ensure that the integration is to succeed."

Kenan Kolat (Photo: dpa)
Kenan Kolat believes dual citizenship will bring recognition of Turkish cultureImage: picture-alliance/dpa

Psychologist Deborah Maehler sees this differently. She has been researching migration at the University of Cologne for several years. She also examined the identification of migrants with Germany: "In this study, it came out very clearly that people who have, or were allowed to retain, dual citizenship identify strongly with both cultures, both with Germany and with their culture of origin." Multiple citizenship, she said, was thus no obstacle to forming a bond with the German state.

The young German-Turkish woman from Hesse has not filed an appeal against the cancelation of German citizenship. "For those affected," Jungnickel said, "there is of course only anger and frustration." But there is a way out, he said: "They can apply for re-naturalization." That costs 255 euros, but generally has a good chance of success.

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