Establishment of German Citizenship and Naturalization
Ever since the British voted to leave the EU in June 2016 our law firm has noticed an increased number of requests from British citizens seeking to apply for German citizenship. British citizens living and working in other parts of the EU are reluctant to give up their rights stipulated in the treaties, most importantly the right to freedom of movement and other benefits associated with EU-membership.
The Brexit vote demonstrates that German/ EU citizenship provides a great advantage. Particularly, the fact that there exists no such thing as a EU-wide residence and work permit makes German citizenship more appealing to EU-nationals and third country nationals alike.
There are different ways to obtain German citizenship:
Establishment of German citizenship
In general, German citizenship is determined based on the right of blood (“ius sanguinis”).
In order to determine whether an applicant is a German citizen proof is necessary that the parents were holding German citizenship when the applicant was born. Often, however, the applicant´s ancestors have lived abroad for generations. The starting point of the establishment of citizenship is the ancestor who was born in Germany and resettled to start a new life abroad. It needs to be determined, whether or not German citizenship was passed on to the descendants. And applicants need to bear in mind that citizenship might have been lost due to a variety of reasons, including marriage or naturalization.
Eligible persons can file an application for the establishment of German citizenship.
German citizenship can also be acquired by naturalization.
Firstly, a person can become a naturalized citizen after having legally resided in Germany for a certain amount of time (generally between 6 and 8 years).
Secondly, there is the opportunity of restoration of German citizenship in the course of compensation according to Art. 116 (2) Basic Law.
This provision allows for the application for restoration of citizenship for persons who have been illegitimately stripped of their German citizenship on political, racial or religious grounds between 30th January 1933 and 8th May 1945. The same applies to their descendants. Art. 116 (2) Basic Law is predominantly aimed at persons of Jewish origin, who lost German citizenship during the Nazi Regime.
During that period a large number of Jewish people fled from Germany to seek protection. The descendants of those persons, no matter what country they are now residing, may now be eligible for restoration of German citizenship.
Thirdly, former German citizens or persons with ties with Germany residing abroad may apply for naturalization.
When it comes to the acquirement of German citizenship it is of utmost importance to keep legislative changes in mind. German law generally does not have retroactive effect. This means that the law effective at the time of the relevant incident (e.g. time of birth) is applicable.
For example, the current version of Section 4 (1) StAG (German citizenship law) stipulates that a child obtains German citizenship if a parent holds German citizenship. However, from 1933 to 1964 section 4 (1) stated that a child born in wedlock to a German father obtains the father’s German citizenship whereas a child born out of wedlock to a German father obtains the citizenship of the mother. As a result, a child born in wedlock to a foreign father and a German mother was unable to obtain German citizenship.
Today this is an unconstitutional provision which still has consequences. To right this wrong, the Federal Ministry of the Interior has therefore decided that it is in the State´s interest to give descendants of such constellations the opportunity to apply for naturalization. However, amongst other requirements applicants will have to prove particularly close ties with Germany.
Many of our clients worry that by obtaining German citizenship they will have to give up their former citizenship and with it a great deal of their identity. As a matter of fact, Germany generally does not allow dual citizenship. However, there are many exceptions to this rule and our lawyers are happy to advise on the possibilities of dual citizenship.
In the case of a possible Brexit: Britain allows dual citizenship and Germany abstains from its general rule that people who become naturalized have to give up their former citizenship.
People who live abroad may submit their applications for naturalization to German diplomatic and consular missions, who will then submit the applications to the BVA (Federal Administration Office). Applicants who reside within Germany should directly contact the competent immigration office at their place of residence.
A great number of British citizens is eager to obtain more information about their options. Between June and August 2016, the German Embassy in London has received hundreds of requests for information about naturalization and formal applications. These numbers will certainly rise.
Naturally, we are happy to provide legal assistance on all issues related to obtaining German citizenship.
Katja Ponert (VPMK Lawyer)