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Germany's citizenship law changes take effect

Published June 25, 2024last updated June 27, 2024

Germany's citizenship reform takes effect, making it easier for long-term residents to gain citizenship. The law now allows dual nationality and speeds up the naturalization process.

A woman originally from India holds up her new German passport, smiling
The new rules will give new rights to non-Germans who have been living in Germany for some timeImage: Fabian Sommer/dpa/picture alliance

More people are set to become German citizens as the government's new citizenship reforms came into effect on Thursday, June 27, 2024.

The liberalization means Germany will, for the first time, allow multiple citizenship on principle — rather than as an exception for EU and Swiss nationals and those who can prove "special hardships."

"Finally, our law is doing justice to our diverse society," Federal Interior Minister Nancy Faeser said in a recent statement. "Finally, we recognize the life stories and achievements of many people in our country who immigrated a long time ago and have helped our country to move forward. The message is very clear: You belong to Germany!" 

Around 14% of the population in Germany do not have German citizenship. According to government statistics, 168,545 people were naturalized in Germany in 2022 — just 3.1% of foreign nationals who have been living in Germany for at least 10 years, though the number has been rising in recent years.

That number is set to increase substantially in the coming year: State governments across Germany have already reported a rise in applications.

The new rules will give new rights to non-Germans who have been living in Germany for some time. The center-left government, made up of Social Democrats (SPD), Greens and the neoliberal Free Democrats (FDP), hopes to increase the number of naturalizations and thus create incentives for faster integration.

The opposition parties, the Alternative for Germany (AfD), which is partly made up of right-wing extremists, and the conservative Christian Democrats (CDU) claim that the German passport will become cheapened.

Here are the main changes:

Multiple nationalities

Applicants to become naturalized citizens will no longer have to give up their previous nationality to become German.

Accelerated procedure

People will be able to apply for German citizenship after lawfully living in the country for five years, rather than the previous eight.

Special achievements rewarded

Naturalization will be possible after just three years for something the German Interior Ministry calls "special achievements in integration." Such achievements might include not only learning German, but also excellence at school or in professional life, engaging in civic life or running for political office.

Easier access to citizenship for children

All children born in Germany to foreign parents will in future acquire German citizenship if at least one parent has been living in Germany lawfully for more than five years and has permanent residency.

The controversial "option regulation" — which forced the children of foreign parents to choose a nationality at 18 — is now abolished.

Special recognition for 'guest worker' generation

The so-called guest worker generation — mainly Turkish people who moved to West Germany in the 1960s to work — will no longer have to take a naturalization test. They simply have to prove oral language skills to gain German citizenship. Many are expected to use this opportunity

The same also applies for foreign workers who moved to the former East Germany to work under a similar program.

Earning a living

Though the new rules apply to everyone in principle, applicants for naturalization will still have to prove they can earn their own living (though again, people from the guest worker generation can still apply regardless).

Commitment to democracy and anti-racism

A commitment to the democratic order set out in the German constitution has always been a requirement for anyone applying for naturalization. This now specifically excludes anyone found to have committed antisemitic, racist or other inhumane acts. Those who reject equal rights for men and women or live in polygamous marriages are also not eligible for a German passport.

Newly naturalized Germans are also required to commit to protecting Jewish life​​​​​​​. The list of questions in the naturalization test is expected to be adapted accordingly.

Edited by: Rina Goldenberg

Three perspectives: What does German citizenship mean?

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Ben Knight Ben Knight is a journalist in Berlin who mainly writes about German politics.@BenWernerKnight
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Peter Hille Peter Hille is a multimedia reporter with a strong background in African affairs@peterhille