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Woman holding German and Turkish passports into the camera
Many immigrants will now be able to get naturalized while holding on to their original nationalityImage: Daniel Bockwoldt/dpa/picture alliance
SocietyGermany

Germany's dual citizenship reforms 'way overdue'

December 5, 2022

Germany's government is planning to allow immigrants multiple citizenships, overturning a decadeslong ban. The idea, a long-standing tradition in many countries, is well overdue, say those affected.

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Germany's plans to allow dual citizenship have come 10 years too late for Marc Young. "Back then I would have been the keenest German citizen you could have imagined," he told DW. "But I refused to give up my US passport. Retaining your old citizenship does not mean you have split loyalties, like so many German conservatives claim. It just reflects who you really are. Changing it is way overdue."

Young has been living in Germany for 20 years and has long wearied of the political debate that re-emerged after last week's announcements by Chancellor Olaf Scholz's government.

The reforms the Social-Democrat-led government is planning are part of a wide-ranging overhaul of Germany's immigration law that is mainly aimed at encouraging more skilled workers to come to Germany and fill the massive shortages in the labor market. 

Chinese nurse tending to old German woman in nursing home
Germany urgently needs to encourage immigration into its labor marketImage: picture-alliance/dpa/J. Wolf

Planned changes to the law

The new citizenship plans boil down to three changes:

  • Immigrants legally living in Germany will be allowed to apply for citizenship after five years, rather than the current eight;
  • Children born in Germany of at least one parent who has been living legally in the country for five or more years will automatically get German citizenship;
  • Multiple citizenships will be allowed.

The opposition center-right Christian Democratic Union (CDU), which has consistently blocked any such reforms in the past, immediately attacked Scholz's plans. "German citizenship is something very precious, and one should treat it very carefully," CDU leader Friedrich Merz told public broadcaster ARD last week.

Immigrants currently entitled to dual citizenship in Germany include EU and Swiss nationals, those whose country of origin does not allow people to renounce citizenship (e.g. Iran, Afghanistan, Morocco), children of parents with German and other citizenship, refugees who are threatened with persecution in their home country, and Israelis. Syrians who came to Germany as refugees and are considered to have integrated well may also be fast-tracked to German citizenship.

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The reforms would bring Germany in line with other European countries. In the EU, Sweden had the highest naturalization rate in 2020, with 8.6% of all foreigners living there naturalized. In Germany, the rate was 1.1%.

"The German citizenship law is based on the principle of avoiding multiple citizenships," Greta Agustini, a German-based lawyer who specializes in immigration, told DW. "Other European countries, such as Italy, Sweden, Ireland, France, etc, allow dual citizenship and they have less bureaucratic laws regarding this issue."

Many of Agustini's clients have struggled to find a way to gain German citizenship. "They refuse to give up their home country citizenship, yet they also want to gain the German one," she said. 

According to Germany's Federal Statistics Office, there are about 2.9 million people with more than one citizenship living in Germany, about 3.5% of the population. Though the actual number is likely to be higher, as it has recorded an uptick, with 69% of new German nationals holding on to their original passport. Here, people with Polish, Russian, or Turkish passports top the list.

'Too late for the guestworker generation'

The group that has felt the effect of Germany's citizenship laws more keenly than any other is the Turkish community, many of whom came to Germany the last time the country needed workers: In the 1960s, when a rapidly growing West Germany signed deals with several states to recruit "guest workers," mainly for menial industry-based jobs.

By far the most came from Turkey, and there are now an estimated 3 million people of Turkish heritage living in Germany — 1.45 million of whom still have Turkish citizenship. Aslihan Yeşilkaya-Yurtbay, co-leader of the Turkish Community in Germany organization (TGD), said the reforms have come "too late" for many of that original generation — "but [it's] better late than never."

"For the guestworker generation, this reform means recognition and respect for their lives and their work in and for this country," Yeşilkaya-Yurtbay told DW. "A lot of Turkish people of the second and third generation will, I think, feel empowered by it because they always had an identity dilemma."

"Many people have waited for this, and have maybe given up hope," she said. "And if it really happens, then I think many will become German."

Yeşilkaya-Yurtbay says Germany would have been a different country if the reform had been brought in earlier. "People would have identified more with Germany if that possibility had been in place," she said. "I'm sure people would have been more politically interested and more active in society if this opportunity had been there 20 or 30 years ago."

infographik showing the rising number of foreign nationals in Germany from 1970 to 2019
The number of foreign nationals in Germany has been rising

The TGD condemned as "racist" and "ill-informed" many of the comments made by the CDU this week. "Honestly, I'm shocked that these voices, which are racist, still exist," said Yeşilkaya-Yurtbay. "These arguments aren't fact-based, and I think they're very dangerous for society. They're not even arguments for me, they're just stirring emotions among certain people, whoever they are."

Marc Young also thinks that his own experience has given him a "small inkling" of what people with Turkish roots have had to put up with for decades. But he has raised German children and has no intention of leaving, and will probably apply for German citizenship if and when Scholz's reforms are passed.

"I would still apply if Germany allowed dual citizenship but I would see it now far more transactional in nature," he said. "I've paid my taxes and one day will be a German pensioner whether CDU leader Friedrich Merz likes it or not. Maybe that would change once I became German, but right now the bloom is off the Teutonic rose for me."

Edited by: Rina Goldenberg

While you're here: Every Tuesday, DW editors round up what is happening in German politics and society. You can sign up here for the weekly email newsletter Berlin Briefing.

Benjamin Knight Kommentarbild PROVISORISCH
Ben Knight Ben Knight is a journalist in Berlin who mainly writes about German politics.@BenWernerKnight
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