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Until now, immigrants acquiring German citizenship have had to give up their other nationality. In Germany, dual citizenship is only possible under a few exceptions. But upcoming elections could bring change.
For a long time, Germany didn’t see itself as a country of immigrants. Immigration policies were mainly created by conservative governments afraid of too much foreign influence and splits in society. These governments demanded transparency and loyalty – and they said this wasn’t possible if citizens hold passports from another country as well.
The Christian Democratic party of Chancellor Angela Merkel is sticking to a German citizenship law passed in 1913, which generally refuses citizenship for other countries. The Social Democratic Party and the Greens tried to modernize the law during their ruling period in 2000. This would have made it easier for foreigners to acquire German citizenship, and allow dual citizenship.
Naturalization can now be acquired after living in Germany for six to eight years, not after 15 years as was the case previously. But dual citizenship didn’t make it into the updated law. The upper chamber of parliament – dominated by the Christian Democrats back then – prevented these changes.
Rules with exceptions
Foreigners acquiring German citizenship must generally give up their original citizenship. But there are only some exceptions, for example for immigrants from the former Soviet Union, for children of parents from the United States and for immigrants from European Union countries.
More than a dozen countries don’t allow their citizens to give up their citizenship – like Morocco, Syria and Iran. Therefore, foreigners from these countries can also acquire a dual citizenship upon application. All other immigrants, however, must choose.
Children of immigrants born in Germany are allowed to have dual citizenship until they are 18 years old. After that, they have five to decide if they want to keep the German citizenship. If they choose this option, they have to apply for denationalization with the other country first, which can take months.
“Anyone not denationalized from his second citizenship at the age of 23 automatically loses German citizenship,” said Susanne Worbs of Federal Office for Migration and Refugees. One study conducted by the office showed that only few young immigrants know about this law. “A person who misses the deadline might have to re-apply for a residency,” Worbs told DW.
Choose your favorite nationality
The biggest immigrant group in Germany are those with Turkish roots. They, too, have to choose which nationality to keep, as Turkey is not part of the EU.
Many German Turks who were born in Germany feel that the policy forces them to turn their backs on their parents’ country, and give up a piece of culture and home. It is unfair, they say, pointing to exceptions for immigrants of other nationalities.
A German passport gives them the right to vote and thus help shape German policy. But giving up the Turkish nationality can also be a disadvantage: This makes it more difficult or even impossible to work in certain professions in Turkey, and can also cause problems when accepting an inheritance in Turkey.
Changes to come?
Serkan Tören, a German parliamentarian with Turkish roots, decided to become German years ago. “You get to be a part of the society in which you live. That was very important to me,” said Tören, who belongs to the Free Democratic Party.
Nowadays, he opposes the law forcing people to choose between two nationalities. He says all immigrants and their children should be allowed to keep two citizenships. “Many other countries allow that. If we want to compete with these countries for immigrants as skilled employees, we have to make dual citizenship possible,” Tören asserted.
Tören’s opinion is typical for the Free Democratic party, which supports dual citizenship. Elections for the German parliament this fall will show if the Free Democratic Party can broaden its political influence. The Social Democrats, the Greens and the Left party all intend to allow dual citizenship, if they make gains in the elections.
In any case, change may be in the air, as surveys also show that an increasing number of Germans think that immigrants should be allowed to keep their foreign citizenship.