New draft citizenship law
On 6 January 2023, the German Federal Ministry of the Interior (Interior Ministry) forwarded the draft of a new citizenship law to the other federal ministries for consultation. Based on the draft and after discussing it at length, the German government has reached consensus on a new “Draft Act to Modernise Citizenship Law”. This draft also draws from the government’s white paper on a modern immigration act [Key issues paper on a modern immigration act (noerr.com)] issued last fall. According to Germany’s Interior Minister, Nancy Faeser, the aim is “[to create] incentives for integration instead of setting up hurdles and requiring long waiting periods”.
How would acquiring citizenship be simplified?
The draft provides for significant changes in the rules on acquiring citizenship found in section 10 of the German Citizenship Act (Staatsangehörigkeitsgesetz – StAG).
Relaxing requirements for German language proficiency
If passed, the draft law will relax the requirements placed on proficiency in the German language for certain categories of people. For everyone who is at least 67 years old, the draft will lower the requirements for proving proficiency in German and eliminate the obligation to take a naturalisation test. For younger people wishing to become German citizens, there will be a hardship clause for proving language proficiency. By way of exception, for example if a family member needs care, proficiency that makes it possible to communicate in German in everyday life without significant problems will be considered sufficient. However, evidence will be required that despite serious, sustained efforts, acquiring sufficient language proficiency has proved impossible or will always pose significant difficulty for the foreign person. For foreign workers who have been in western and eastern Germany for many years (Gastarbeiter and Vertragsarbeitnehmer, respectively), everyday language competency will be deemed sufficient, and no corresponding proof of efforts to learn the language will be required.
Reducing the minimum residence period
The draft law also intends to reduce the length of the required residence period in Germany. If the draft is passed, it will be possible to acquire citizenship after only five years of residence in Germany instead of eight years. This will even be possible after only three years’ residence if there have been “extraordinary integration achievements”, for example special academic, vocational or professional achievements or volunteer work and a particularly good command of German (passing the level C1 language test).
If the draft becomes law, the same shorter period of residence in Germany will also apply to children born to foreign parents in Germany. The current requirement for German citizenship is that one parent must have been a resident of Germany for eight years, but under the new law, a mere five years will be sufficient.
Dual citizenship to be possible
The principle of avoiding dual citizenship enshrined in section 10(1) first sentence, no. 4 StAG is abandoned in the draft law. If the law is passed without changes, those who attain German citizenship will no longer be required to give up their existing citizenship. The general acceptance of dual citizenship is said to be justified in the light of the fact that aspects such as language proficiency, education, occupational integration, the basic ability to provide for one’s own living necessities, social participation, civic engagement, an understanding of one’s civic rights and responsibilities and a commitment to Germany’s free and democratic constitutional order are far more important for integration into German society than the issue of whether a person is a citizen of one or more countries.
Accordingly, the current rules on “dismissal” from German citizenship would be repealed under the draft. The loss of German citizenship would then be limited primarily to cases of renunciation, rescission of illegal naturalisation and entry into the armed forces of a foreign country or concrete participation in combat operations of a terrorist group abroad.
“Conforming to the German way of life” no longer required
The requirement to “conform to the German way of life”, which was only introduced as a prerequisite in 2019, mainly to prevent people with more than one spouse from becoming citizens, would be deleted again under the draft law. Nevertheless, to prevent polygamy in Germany, this would be included in section 11 StAG as grounds for exclusion from German citizenship. Another new reason for exclusion would be disregard for the principle of equal rights for men and women.
Exclusion from citizenship due to certain crimes
Instead, the new law would exclude those who commit antisemitic, racist or xenophobic acts or other violations of human dignity, particularly criminal offenses, from attaining German citizenship because such acts are incompatible with the principle of the German Basic Law (Constitution) that “human dignity is inviolable” and thus constitute a violation of Germany’s free and democratic constitutional order.
The Interior Ministry’s draft includes several significant changes to current citizenship law, most notably abandoning the principle of avoiding dual citizenship. Shortening the required residence periods is also intended to pave the way for attaining German citizenship sooner. It remains to be seen whether these changes will be watered down in the political discussions in the German federal states or whether the draft’s plans to modernise the law will remain intact. In any case, the law is intended to be passed this summer and enter into force promptly.