Significant changes in citizenship law

Freedom of movement throughout Europe, an unrestricted right to vote, a passport that is one of the "most valuable" in the world - German citizenship brings many advantages. Those who have not already acquired it by birth through a German parent can apply for naturalization, and thus take the final step on the long road to integration. On average in the EU, however, Germany is in a rather poor position as far as naturalizations are concerned: only just under 1.1 percent of all foreigners living in Germany applied for naturalization in 2022. As a result, many people, more than five million in total, have been living in Germany for many years, are well integrated, but still cannot participate in German democracy on an equal footing.

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The Federal Government has now also recognized this problem and therefore passed a bill to modernize citizenship law in August 2023. The Bundestag passed this bill on January 19, 2024, and it has also already passed the Bundesrat. When the law finally comes into force on 26 June 2024, it will bring far-reaching changes to the issue of naturalization. We explain exactly which ones here.

What is the legal situation at the moment?

In order to understand the scope of the proposed changes, it is helpful to first understand the current legal situation regarding naturalization, which is primarily found in Section 10 (1) StAG. This standard requires, among other things, that applicants have been legally resident in Germany for at least eight years. In some exceptional cases, for example if voluntary work or particularly good language skills can be proven, this period can be shortened to up to six years. In addition, Section 10 StAG stipulates that naturalization is generally only open to people who are willing to give up their previous citizenship. A detailed explanation of all the requirements that must be met for a successful application can be found on our main page on naturalization.

Reduction of the prescribed length of stay

In future, naturalization in accordance with Section 10 StAG will be possible after only five years of legal residence in Germany (and not eight years as previously). As with the current legal situation, it should still be possible to shorten this period by up to two years due to special integration achievements in school, training or work or particularly good language skills. According to the new law, the waiting period for naturalization can be shortened from five to three years.

Dual citizenship possible in the future

In addition to this shortening of the period of residence, the draft law also provides for a second significant change: Multiple nationality is to be possible in future. This means that naturalization applicants will no longer have to give up their previous citizenship in order to obtain a German passport.

This facilitation of dual citizenship not only has far-reaching consequences for naturalization, but also changes the legal situation with regard to the acquisition of German citizenship by birth. Until now, children of foreign parents who are born in Germany and acquire German citizenship in addition to that of their parents in accordance with § 4 Para. 3 StAG must choose which of the two citizenships they wish to retain after reaching the age of 21 if they have not grown up in Germany. The new law abolishes this option provision in Section 29 (1) StAG.

Relief for guest worker generation

The draft law provides further relief for the group of guest workers and contract workers. In order to recognize their contribution to Germany's development, the requirements for naturalization are to be adjusted for them. In future, former guest workers will no longer have to take a naturalization test in order to obtain a German passport. In addition, the requirement of sufficient language skills will be considered fulfilled for them if they can communicate in everyday life "without significant problems", whereby only oral skills are sufficient.

Other changes

In addition to all these major changes, the law also introduces several minor amendments. For example, in future, foreigners who are married to several spouses at the same time will not be eligible for naturalization. Behavior that expresses a disregard for the equal rights of men and women will also be grounds for exclusion in future.

On the other hand, the requirements for naturalization applicants have been relaxed. In future, it will be assumed that an applicant's livelihood is secure if they are in full-time employment and have been for at least 20 months in the last 24 months. The receipt of social benefits for up to four months should therefore no longer prevent a claim to naturalization.

Since the bill reduces the minimum duration of residence, as already described above, the possibilities of crediting a previous residence in the Federal territory within the framework of Section 12b (3) StAG will also be limited. In the future, only up to three years of prior residence (and not up to five years as before) will be eligible for credit.

Last but not least, the new law will also introduce a symbolic change: Anyone who acquires German citizenship through naturalization will in future be presented with their naturalization certificate at a public naturalization ceremony.

When does the law come into force?

After the bill was passed by the Bundestag on January 19 and subsequently also passed the Bundesrat, it was promulgated in the Federal Law Gazette on March 26. Three months after this promulgation, i.e. on June 26, 2024, it will come into force. Until then, the previous legal situation will remain in place, with the requirement to renounce previous citizenship and a required residence period of eight years.

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