Germany: Germany eases citizenship laws


Published: 22 January 2024

Germany had the most conservative citizenship laws in the whole of Europe, with migrants even after a long stay not  having much of a chance to become citizens. And it did not allow for holding double citizenship or passports. The centre-left coalition Chancellor Olaf Scholz’s Social Democrats, Free Democrats and the Green Party have at last moved in the positive direction, and made the waiting time shorter than it was till now.

The new legislation was opposed by the conservative Christian Democrats, Christian Social Union and the far right Alternative for Germany (AfD) in the lower House, the Bundestag. From the 639 votes, 382 were in favour of the changes and 234 were opposed to it. There were 23 abstentions.

They have reduced it from eight to five years, and in extraordinary cases of exceptionally skilled people, it is further reduced to three years. Until now, Germany only allowed only other European migrants to Germany to hold dual citizenship. It has now been extended to all the countries. This would benefit the Turkish migrants who had moved to Germany in the 1960s and 1970s as guest-workers.

The need for the changes was felt because of economic compulsions. It became clear that Germany was not able to attract skilled migrants from other countries. The population challenges of falling birth rates and the growing segment of the aged has made it necessary for the policymakers to act on the citizenship laws. But the prerequisite is that the migrants have to swear allegiance to Germany’s “free, democratic basic order in Germany”. Germany’s Interior Minister Nancy Faeser explained the rationale of the new laws. She said, “We have to keep pace in the race for skilled labour. That means we need to make an offer to qualified people from the world over, just as the United States and Canada do. German citizenship is obviously part of that.” To the demand made by AfD that to make German citizenship valued, there has to be a tough stand, the government has said that detention of illegal immigrants and failed asylum-seekers would be extended to facilitate deportation.

The more interesting aspect of the reformed citizenship legislation is that dual citizenship is a recognition that people need not deny or submerge their ethnic, national roots to be part of Germany. Chancellor Scholz said, “We are telling all those who often have lived and worked for decades in Germany, who keep to our laws: You belong in Germany.”

Germany has been one of the conservative countries in refusing to recognise the multi-cultural, multi-ethnic nature of late 20th centuries societies driven by globalisation. Germany had remained a Germans only country. It was difficult for Germany to accept that by offering citizenship to people from different parts of the world, and respecting their cultural and religious identity, Germany can still retain its national ethos in a constitutional framework. It has been a difficult decision to make but economic compulsions have driven to loosen its rules of national identity.

The migrants, of course, have to blend with German society and learn the German language. And the unwritten rules of integrating into a German society remain. But the migrants can do so without denying their ethnic roots. The transition would not be a smooth one even after the legislation becomes law after the upper House of German parliament passes it and the President gives the formal assent. Both sides – the immigrants as well as the Germans – will have to make an effort to reach out to each other. This can only be based on mutual respect.

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