German Plan Would Ease Path to Citizenship, but Not Without a Fight (2023)


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Months of wrangling over a new law have Germans asking a fundamental question: Are we a country of immigrants?

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German Plan Would Ease Path toCitizenship, but Not Without a Fight (1)

By Christopher F. Schuetze

Reporting from Berlin and Hamburg, Germany

Young, educated and motivated, José Leonardo Cabrera Barroso is just the kind of immigrant the government says Germany needs.

Originally from Venezuela, he settled into Germany, learned the language and got his German medical license. At 34, he is specializing as a trauma surgeon, working at a hospital in the northern port city of Hamburg. It took him a full six years — and because of his expertise, he was allowed to apply for citizenship sooner than the eight years required for most others.

“For me, this date was a must,” he said at the champagne reception in Hamburg after his citizenship ceremony in February. “After all the work I did to get here, I finally feel like I can celebrate.”

But if his path to becoming a German citizen was not easy, neither has been the effort to simplify that process for others who want to realize the same dream.

(Video) Germany's New Immigration Plan: Ease Path to Citizenship, but Not Without a Fight

After months of political wrangling, the government presented a plan this month to make it easier and faster for employed immigrants to become citizens, shortening the time, for people with special skills like Dr. Cabrera Barroso, to as little as three years.

The changes, supporters argue, are urgently needed to offset an aging population and a dearth of both skilled and unskilled workers. Given the majority that Chancellor Olaf Scholz’s three-party coalition government holds in Parliament, the new law is expected to pass this summer.


But before then, even within the government — and certainly for its conservative opponents — the proposals have set off a wrenching debate over a fundamental question: Is Germany a country of immigrants?

On the ground, the answer is clear. Germany is more populous than ever — an additional 1.1 million people lived in the country, now of 84.3 million people, at the end of 2022 than at the end of 2021 — thanks to migration.

One in four Germans have had at least one of their grandparents born abroad. More than 18 percent of people living in Germany were not born there.

In Frankfurt and a few other major cities, residents with a migration history are the majority. People with non-German sounding names run cities, universities and hospitals. The German couple that invented the Pfizer Covid vaccine have Turkish roots. Cem Ozdemir, a German-born Green politician whose parents came from Turkey, is one of the current government’s most popular minsters. Two of the three governing parties are run by men born in Iran.

Many of those changes have only accelerated since reunification 33 years ago, but many Germans still do not recognize the diversification of their country.

“The opposition does not want to accept or admit that we are a nation of immigrants; they basically want to hide from reality,”said Bijan Djir-Sarai, who came to Germany from Iran when he was 11 and is nowthe secretary general of the Free Democratic Party, which is part of the governing coalition.

The changes to the citizenship law are part of wider set of proposals that will also make it easier for skilled workers to settle in Germany and for well-integrated immigrants to stay.

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Besides reducing the time an immigrant must live in the country to apply, the plan will allow people to keep their original citizenship and make language requirements less onerous for older immigrants.

The proposals are the most sweeping since 1999, when, for the first time in modern German history, people who were not born to German parents could get German citizenship under certain conditions.

Before then, it was virtually impossible to become German without proving German ancestry, a situation that was especially fraught for the nearly one million Turkish citizens who started coming to Germany in the 1960s to help rebuild the economy as “guest workers” andtheir descendants.

Since the government announced its plans in November, the conservative opposition has staunchly resisted easing citizenship requirements, criticizing them as giving away the rights accorded German citizens too easily to people who are not integrated enough.

Those arguments have resonated with some Germans at a moment when migration remains a fixation of the anti-immigrant Alternative for Germany party, which has risen in polls, pulling the mainstream opposition Christian Democrats farther right with it.

“Hocking citizenship does not promote integration, but has the opposite effect and will have a knock-on effect on illegal migration,” Alexander Dobrindt, the parliamentary leader of the Bavarian Christian Social Union, told the mass-market tabloid Bild.


Not all of those who have already gone through the longer, arduous process, agree with lightening the requirements, either.

“I think you have to make sure it’s not given away too easily,” said Mohammed Basheer, 34, who came to Germany from Syria eight years ago and was among the roughly 200 immigrants who received their citizenship this year at the ornate Renaissance-revival City Hall of Hamburg. “I had to fight really hard for it.”

Over the months of negotiations, the smallest and most conservative of the parties in the governing coalition fought for changes to make sure applicants are self-sufficient and — apart from few exceptions — did not rely on social security payments.


“If we want society to accept immigration reform, we also have to talk about things like control, regulation and, if need be, repatriation,” Mr. Djir-Sarai said, acknowledging the opposition’s concerns. “It is simply part of it.”

Still, surveys show that more than two-thirds of Germans believe that changes making immigration easier are needed to alleviaterampant skilled-worker shortages, according to a recent poll. Industry; employers, like the German association of small and medium-size enterprises; and economists welcome the changes, seeing them as a way to attract skilled workers.


Petra Bendel, who researches migration and integration at the Friedrich-Alexander-University in Erlangen-Nurnberg, thinks that in addition to attracting new workers, the changes are crucial for integrating those immigrants already living in Germany.

“The problem is that we exclude a very large number of people who have long been part of us, but who still do not have full citizenship and are therefore also excluded from full political participation,” she said.

Although it naturalized the fifth largest number of people in the European Union in 2020, the most recent year for which such numbers are available, Germany ranks comparatively poorly in naturalizing permanent residents: 19th out of 27 E.U. member states, one spot lower than Hungary.

“Other European countries,” Professor Bendel noted, “naturalize much faster, namely mostly after five years and not after eight years, and that is why we ended up in the bottom third.”

In the coming weeks, the bill will be presented to Germany’s 16 states for comment before returning to the cabinet for approval. The government hopes to get it to Parliament for discussion and a vote before lawmakers break for the summer in early July, though the vote could be delayed until they meet again in September.

For some, likeBonnie Cheng, 28, a portrait photographer in Berlin, the changes are welcome, if too late. Shehad to give up her Hong Kong citizenship status when she became German last year.

Ms. Cheng is happy that others will not have to face the same choice. If she ever had any doubts about becoming German, she said, it was when she realized she would be the only one in her family with a different citizenship.

“If you want make people to feel integrated,” she said, “you should not tear apart their identities.”


A correction was made on

May 27, 2023


An earlier version of this article misstated the number of states Germany has. It has 16, not 18.

How we handle corrections

Christopher F. Schuetze covers German news, society and occasionally arts from the Berlin bureau. Before moving to Germany, he lived in the Netherlands, where he covered everything from tulips to sea-level rise. @CFSchuetze

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How does Germany decide citizenship? ›

German citizenship is mainly acquired and passed on through descent from a German parent. The parent has to be German citizen at the time of the birth of the child. Children who are born to former German citizens do not acquire German citizenship.

What was the German Citizenship Act in the version of 1871 1914? ›

The German Citizenship Act in the version of 1871-1914 stipulated that a German automatically lost his/her citizenship by residing outside of Germany for more than 10 years.

What were reasons for German immigrants to leave their homeland and move to the Americas? ›

In the decade from 1845 to 1855, more than a million Germans fled to the United States to escape economic hardship. They also sought to escape the political unrest caused by riots, rebellion and eventually a revolution in 1848.

What was the major motivation for German immigration to the US in the mid nineteenth century? ›

Most German immigrants came for economic reasons. The United States seemed to offer greater economic opportunity and freedom from government regulation. While most Irish immigrants were Catholics, German immigrant groups included Catholics, Jews, and Protestants.

Do I lose my German citizenship if I become a US citizen? ›

If you willingly apply for a foreign citizenship and obtain it, your German citizenship is automatically lost. If you obtain a foreign citizenship without an application for naturalization, you remain a German citizen.

Is citizenship easy to get of Germany? ›

German Naturalization

Naturalization is a process, which makes it possible for a foreigner to become a German citizen. To be eligible to apply for German citizenship through naturalization you must be a resident of Germany for at least 8 years.

When did Germany stop dual citizenship? ›

The German citizenship law underwent a paradigmatic amendment in 2000. One often overlooked change of this reform was the abolishment of the domestic clause (“Inlandsklausel”) that implied a substantial restriction to de facto dual citizenship acceptance.

Will Germany allow dual citizenship? ›

Under the current law, only those with an EU passport or those who have one parent from Germany are eligible to hold dual German citizenship.

Does Germany allow dual citizenship with us? ›

A child born to an American parent and a German parent acquires both American and German citizenship at birth, regardless of place of birth, if the parents satisfy the jus soli or jus sanguinis requirements of their respective countries.

Why did Americans dislike German immigrants? ›

Because Germany was one of America's adversaries in the war, many Anglo-Americans began to fear that German Americans were still loyal to the Kaiser, or German emperor.

What pushed German immigrants out of Germany? ›

Push: This emigration was largely caused by religious persecutions following the Thirty Years' War (1618-1648), and by economic hardship, including heavy taxation and overpopulation.

Why are Germans leaving Germany? ›

Better climate & climate change. According to a survey, the weather is a major reason why German expatriates left their country.

What was one cause of German immigration to the United States? ›

They migrated to America for a variety of reasons. Push factors involved worsening opportunities for farm ownership in central Europe, persecution of some religious groups, and military conscription; pull factors were better economic conditions, especially the opportunity to own land, and religious freedom.

How were German immigrants treated when they came to America? ›

As Europe was ravaged by fighting, German immigrants in the US suffered harassment, internment, lynchings - and even the humiliation of being tarred and feathered. Although a little-remembered part of history today, America was wracked by the fear and paranoia that swept from coast to coast during the Great War.

What was the significance of German immigration to America? ›

Germans introduced physical education and vocational education into the public schools, and were responsible for the inclusion of gymnasiums in school buildings. More important, they were leaders in the call for universal education, a notion not common in the U.S. at the time.

Can an American be a German citizen? ›

To be eligible for naturalization, a person has to have lived legally in Germany for at least eight years and possess the appropriate residence permit. Foreigners who have successfully completed an integration course are eligible for naturalization after seven years.

Can you be a U.S. citizen and a citizen of Germany? ›

Retention Permit to keep German citizenship when naturalizing in the US / “Dual citizenship” German citizens who wish to naturalize in the US require a so called Retention Permit to keep German citizenship (“Beibehaltungsgenehmigung”) in order not to lose their German citizenship through naturalization abroad (Sect.

Can a U.S. citizen also have German citizenship? ›

Dual Citizenship USA/Germany

Based on US and German law, you can have citizenship in both countries. Dual German/US citizenship can happen only when the child is born to one American and one German parent.

Is it hard to move to Germany as a US citizen? ›

Do I Need a Visa to Move to Germany From The US? As a US citizen, you do not need a long-stay visa to enter Germany. But, if you plan to stay longer than three months, you must apply for a residence permit in the first few days of your arrival.

How hard is German citizenship test? ›

The test consists of 33 questions including three questions which apply only to the German state where the applicant lives. Applicants must choose the correct answer from four possible responses. To pass, applicants must answer 17 questions correctly. In recent years, more than 90% of applicants have passed the test.

How fast is German citizenship? ›

If you have completed the integration course, you can obtain German citizenship after seven years. If you are very well integrated, e.g. if you speak German very well or have been involved in voluntary work in Germany for many years, you can become naturalised after just six years.

Does the US allow dual citizenship? ›

Does the United States allow dual citizenship? Yes, the U.S. allows dual citizenship by default. The government does not require naturalized U.S. citizens to give up their citizenship in their country of origin.

How do I get a German passport in the US? ›

If you are a German citizen living abroad and you would like to apply for a German passport, you can do this at the German mission in your country of residence. You are required to make an appointment in advance, fill in a passport application form and then attend the appointment with all your required documents.

What is the new law for German dual citizenship? ›

With the new law, this minimum period will likely be shortened to five years. Additionally, the new law will allow non-EU citizens to hold dual citizenship with their new German passport. Until now, only EU citizens in Germany can keep both their original passport and German passport simultaneously.

What is the dual citizenship law in Germany 2023? ›

Germany's new citizenship bill seeks to transform the process of obtaining citizenship by allowing for dual and multiple citizenships and aims to shorten the required minimum stay in Germany before a resident can apply for German citizenship.

What are the benefits of dual citizenship in Germany? ›

The Advantages of Dual Citizenship

The German passport will make international travel much easier if your profession entails many stays abroad. You can travel to over 170 countries without a visa and use German consular services worldwide.

Which country doesn t allow dual citizenship? ›

Today, most advanced economies allow dual citizenship; notable exceptions which restrict or forbid it are Austria, Japan, the Netherlands, and Singapore.

Does a child born in Germany get citizenship? ›

Yes. A child born in Germany (on or after 1 January 2000) can acquire German nationality, even if neither of the parents is German. The only precondition is that one of the parents has been legally and habitually resident in Germany for eight years and has a permanent right of residence.

Can a U.S. citizen marry a German citizen? ›

If a U.S. citizen marries a German citizen, he or she does not acquire German citizenship, nor does the German citizen acquire U.S. citizenship. If you wish to live in the United States after marrying, the U.S. spouse will need to apply for an Immigrant Visa on behalf of the foreign spouse.

How long can a German citizen stay in the United States? ›

You are traveling for business, pleasure or transit only. Your intended stay in the United States does not exceed 90 days. You must hold a valid return or onward ticket. Onward tickets may not end in Canada, Mexico or the Caribbean.

When did German Americans stop speaking German? ›

By 1910, an accounted 554 newspaper issues were being printed in the standard German language throughout the United States as well as a number of schools which taught in German with class-time set aside for English learning. As a result of anti-German sentiment during WWI, the use of German declined.

Why are there so many Germans in New Mexico? ›

World War I and new immigration laws after World War I concluded the influx of Germans into New Mexico, but those who had arrived before continued their acculturation to the Southwest as well as the celebrations of their heritage.

What happened to German culture in America? ›

During World War I, U.S. Government Propaganda Erased German Culture As the U.S. entered World War I, German culture was erased as the government promoted the unpopular war through anti-German propaganda. This backlash culminated in the lynching of a German immigrant.

What percentage of the US population is German? ›

Such people have a duel identity, with traditions steeped heavily in Germanic language and culture. German-Americans make up the largest self-reported ancestry group within the United States accounting for roughly 49 million people and approximately 17% of the population of the US.

What is the most German state in the United States? ›

Pennsylvania has the largest population of German-Americans and is home to one of the group's original settlements, Germantown in 1683. The state has 3.5 million people claiming German ancestry -- more than in Berlin.

Why does Germany accept so many immigrants? ›

It has the financial and administrative resources to deal with these enormous numbers of newcomers. The country also needs immigrants because of serious demographic challenges, especially within the labour force. The German economy could actually benefit from refugees.

What is the main problem that Germany is facing until nowadays? ›

Low Wage Growth and Inflation

One challenge Germany faces is improving wage growth for workers. Following the 2008 global financial crisis, German workers accepted low wage growth in return for job security.

Why did Lutherans leave Germany? ›

During the middle of the 19th century Confessional Lutheran doctrines like justification by faith were under threat by rationalism. This, together with "unionism" or the merging of various Protestant groups together, drove many German Lutherans to emigrate.

Is Germany welcoming to immigrants? ›

Long reluctant to open its doors, Scholz's Germany is now fully embracing its role as a country to host immigrants, taking to the world's largest forums to invite foreigners to come to the country.

Can I get citizenship if my great grandfather was German? ›

German citizenship by descent does not come from any German ancestor. It is through the direct family line that determines whether a claim can be justified. This means that if your parents, grandparents or great-grandparents were born in Germany, it is possible to qualify for German citizenship.

Does Germany allow dual citizenship by descent? ›

As a rule, children born to a German and a non-German parent, or to parents with dual nationality, acquire the nationalities of both parents at birth, according to the principle of descent.

How powerful is German citizenship? ›

Along with Spain, Germany is among the two most powerful passports in Europe, as German citizens can travel to 190 countries or territories where they either don't need a visa - or they can get one on arrival.

Can an American become a German citizen? ›

To be eligible for naturalization, a person has to have lived legally in Germany for at least eight years and possess the appropriate residence permit. Foreigners who have successfully completed an integration course are eligible for naturalization after seven years.

How many generations back can you claim German citizenship? ›

All three generations that came before you could be German citizens, as would you. Citizenship by descent helps one reclaim citizenship that's rightfully theirs but, due to various circumstances, has been lost throughout the years.

Can I get a German passport if my great grandmother was German? ›

If you do have family ties, then you may be eligible to apply for German citizenship by descent. This means that if one of your parents, grandparents, or great-grandparents was a German citizen, then you may also be one!

Is Germany good country to live? ›

Global Peace Index ranks 163 countries based on their overall level of peacefulness; Germany was ranked 16th in 2022. The crime rate is low, and Germans place a high value on law and order. Some areas are always more dangerous than others, but Germany is generally a very safe place.

Can you have 3 citizenships in Germany? ›

German citizenship law is based on the principle of avoiding multiple citizenships. As a consquence anyone applying for German citizenship will generally be required to give up their other citizenship(s) and German citizens who apply for a foreign citizenship will automatically lose their German citizenship.

Can you have 3 citizenships? ›

Yes, the U.S. does allow for triple citizenship and does not require naturalized U.S. citizens to give up citizenship in their home country or other countries.

Which passport is stronger German or American? ›

The most powerful passports in the world

Both passports allow for passport-holding citizens to 192 countries without a visa. Germany and Spain tied for third with access to 190 destinations. The U.S. passport tied in seventh place with Belgium, the Czech Republic, New Zealand, Norway and Switzerland.

What is the hardest citizenship to get in Europe? ›

Austria is located in the heart of Europe and is bordered by eight other countries, making it one of the most difficult places to become a naturalized citizen. The process requires 12 years of continuous residency, including three years of marriage to an Austrian citizen, and passing a language test.


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