German-passport

Easing the Path to Citizenship: German Law Reforms Aim to Increase Unity Within the Country

On January 19th, German lawmakers approved changes to the naturalization standards that will increase the ability of individuals to obtain citizenship in the country. The law, presented by Chancellor Olaf Scholz, has four main goals: facilitating the receiving of dual citizenship, increasing access to citizenship for minors, lowering time requirements for residents to begin the naturalization process, and specifying conditions under which individuals could be denied citizenship. Each of the changes updates Germany’s current standards to reflect the country’s diversity and the laws of many other countries in the EU.

The country is aiming to overcome its reputation for having one of the strictest naturalization requirements by aiding the 12 million residents who are not citizens. The German government is confident that these adjustments will foster a sense of acceptance for millions of residents who have been unable or uninterested in applying for citizenship due to strict standards. Additionally, officials hope the new law will reduce the labor shortage impacting the economy. Germany’s unemployment rate reached new heights in 2022, as the country had an estimated 1.74 million unfilled jobs. This lack of employees has become increasingly worrying to politicians as it has been reported to be “one of the biggest brakes on economic growth in Germany.” Lawmakers expect that in facilitating the naturalization process, they will attract up to 60,000 workers a year from outside of the EU.  

Many argue that the passage of a new law is necessary, as current German law regarding naturalization is considered quite stringent. In addition to other stipulations, the Nationality Law dictates that one must reside in the country for eight years, or six for those who demonstrate “special integration accomplishments,”  to be eligible to apply for citizenship. Similarly, to be recognized as citizens, the parents of children born in the country must have been residents for the same increment of time. Additionally, those who hope to gain citizenship in Germany who currently hold citizenship from countries outside of the EU and Switzerland must surrender their citizenship, forcing them to choose between their roots and the country in which they reside. Standards dictating who is ineligible to apply are also not well defined, as the law states that “acceptance of German social norms must be assured,” but it does not outline which norms the law intends to protect. These standards make it particularly difficult for immigrants to apply for citizenship and have contributed to the low naturalization rates in the country. 

While the fundamental principles of many of these standards will remain in the updated law, they will be significantly relaxed to encourage the pursuit of German citizenship. The law lowers the number of years an immigrant needs to spend in the country before they can apply for citizenship from eight to five and from six to three for those who demonstrate high levels of integration. This change will apply to the requirements of immigrants to have German-born children, as they will automatically be citizens if their parent has been a resident for that increment of time. To further incentivize naturalization and motivate skilled workers to immigrate to the country, the new law dismisses restrictions on dual citizenship. In addition to lowering current regulations, the new law clarifies “anti-Semitic, racist, or otherwise inhuman behavior” that goes against fundamental constitutional principles as behavior sufficient for denial of naturalization. The new law aims to be more inclusive and welcoming to immigrants by ensuring an easier naturalization process while enabling them to remain connected to their countries of origin. 

The new law did not pass without difficulties, as members of the AfD, a far-right German political party, openly opposed the changes. The criticism that the law “would cheapen German citizenship” appeared to impact Parliament’s voting, as 234 members voted against the new law. In response, legislator Reem Alabali-Radovan defended the law by explaining that dual citizenship “is the most normal thing in the world in 2024.” She used her perspective as an immigrant to highlight how the law creates a sense of inclusivity and acceptance that is currently lacking in the country. The widespread support for the new law was ultimately reflected in Parliament voting, as it was passed with a 382-234 majority. Expected to formally be implemented in April following Presidential and Council State approval, the law is expected to bring a sense of unity and hope to millions across the country.

 

Emma Fulton is from Houston, TX, studying Public Policy

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