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Waiting for passports

Samira Shackle, LondonSeptember 11, 2016

Post-Brexit, German citizens resident in the UK are having to wait months to renew their passports. Meanwhile, British nationals are clamoring for German citizenship. Samira Shackle reports from London.

Deutscher Reisepass
Image: picture-alliance/dpa/R. B. Fishman

When Till Bruckner decided to get his passport renewed, he got an unpleasant surprise. Bruckner, who is resident in London, made an appointment through the German Embassy in London on July 27. Passport applications cannot be made online or by post - applicants must attend an appointment at the embassy. The first appointment available was on November 3. The embassy states that it then takes 4-6 weeks to actually print the passport. "Including delivery times to the UK, that would have made Christmas in Germany seem a doubtful prospect," Bruckner told DW.

Many other German citizens living in the UK have faced similar delays in recent months. A spokesman for the ministry of foreign affairs confirmed that the average waiting time for an appointment in London is currently 2-3 months, compared with just a few weeks in Paris. "Demand for appointments for applying for a passport will increase in line with the peak tourist season," the spokesman told DW. "And the number of inquiries has increased noticeably further after June 23, 2016."

Passport copyright: picture-alliance/dpa/A.Rain
Not so fashionable these daysImage: picture-alliance/dpa/A.Rain

In the aftermath of the vote in favor of Britain leaving the European Union, the number of British citizens inquiring about other European citizenships soared, with Germany and Ireland the most popular countries. Ireland's embassy and post offices received 4,000 inquiries about citizenship on the Monday after the referendum. It usually receives about 200 per day.

The German Embassy in London told reporters that in the first week after the referendum, it fielded around 200 inquiries a day, a 10-fold increase from the usual 20 or so daily requests for information. While this initial surge did reduce, a steady flow of around 100 inquiries a day has continued throughout the summer.

British applications

"I decided to apply for citizenship because I don't want to be left in any kind of political limbo thanks to Brexit," says Michael Blochberger, a British man who is married to a German and has lived in Germany since 2013. "Prior to Brexit I figured that maybe in eight years or so I might take up German citizenship if it suited me."

There are several means by which a British citizen can qualify for Germany nationality. The simplest is if the individual has at least one German parent. The alternative is to spend a minimum period of continual stay in the country and pass a German language skills and naturalization test, similar to the citizenship test for Britain.

three flags (c) picture-alliance/dpa/G. Fischer
Applications for German citizenship have soared in the wake of the UK's vote to leave the EUImage: picture-alliance/dpa/G. Fischer

Germany also offers special citizenship rules for descendants of Jewish refugees who fled the UK to escape Nazi persecution; the German Embassy has seen an increasing number of these requests. "I looked into German citizenship after Brexit because my grandmother fled the Nazis, but unfortunately I was not able to provide the required documentation," Sarah Leigh, a London resident, told DW.

Blochberger found out he did not need to wait eight years. "As I've been married for two years and lived here for three years, I am eligible for early naturalization - something I was informed of by the British Embassy rather than the German government, who seemed a little more vague than I would have expected."

Ripple effect

Added to the usual increased demand on services seen during the summer, this surge in requests appears to be at least partly behind the long delays at the embassy in London.

"I applied to renew my passport in mid-August, and was very surprised that I couldn't get an appointment until early December," says Julian Schmidt, who has lived in London for four years. "I don't think my situation qualifies as an emergency, but it is a great inconvenience to wait for so long," he told DW. The ministry of foreign affairs spokesman stressed that German citizens are reminded six months in advance to renew their passports, and that fast-track appointments are available in an emergency.

"My key question is why they don't extend their opening hours, or outsource passport application processing to a back office in Berlin," says Bruckner. "It would be an easy way to accelerate all this."

However, he did manage to have his application speeded up, and will be home in time for Christmas after all.