The reform of nationality law in 2024

The Bundestag and Bundesrat have finally initiated the reform of nationality law. The law for the modernization of nationality law aims to halt the declining naturalization rates of recent years. For instance, this will involve significantly reducing the required period of residence.

Geplante Reform Staatsangehörigkeitsgesetz
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With exceptional integration efforts such as proficiency in language (Level C1) and an outstanding educational attainment, naturalization may be possible after just three years. The changes are expected to come into effect in May or June 2024 (subject to publication in the Federal Law Gazette).

In this article, we provide an overview of the approved changes to nationality law.

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Content:

What does the Nationality Act (StAG) regulate?

The Nationality Act - abbreviated as StAG - essentially regulates who is considered a German national and how one can become a German national. The StAG came into force on January 1, 2000. In addition to the principle of descent (ius sanguinis), the principle of birthplace (ius soli) was introduced.

the reform of nationality law in 2024

Principle of descent and principle of birthplace

According to the principle of birthplace, children of foreign parents can also acquire German nationality. However, being born in Germany alone is not sufficient to acquire German nationality, as is the case, for example, in the USA. The child can acquire German nationality only under certain conditions.

According to the principle of descent, the birthplace does not play a role. Nationality is determined solely by the nationality of the parents. Under the principle of descent, nationality can be determined either by the nationality of both parents. However, it is also possible for the child's nationality to be determined by the nationality of only the mother or only the father.

Acquisition of German citizenship

There are various ways to acquire German citizenship. The legal provisions in § 3 StAG mention several possibilities

  • by birth
  • by declaration
  • by adoption as a child (adoption by German nationals before reaching the age of 18)
  • by naturalization

What changes regarding naturalization are taking place in 2024?

The Bundestag passed the Law for the Modernization of Nationality Law on January 19, 2024. The Bundesrat approved the law on February 2, 2024. This means that the approved changes can come into effect in 2024. Specifically, changes mainly arise in the area of naturalization and its requirements.

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Reduction of the residency requirement to 5 years and 'Turbo Clause'

Previously, those seeking naturalization had to wait for an extended period. According to § 10 paragraph 1 sentence 1 of the Nationality Act (StAG), a lawful residency of eight years was regularly required. The residency requirement has now been reduced to five years.

A new 'Turbo Clause' for naturalization has been introduced. Previously, participation in an integration course could only shorten the residency requirement by one year to 7 years. Now, under certain conditions, naturalization is possible after just three years (§ 10 paragraph 3 StAG).

For this, special integration achievements must be demonstrated (§ 10 paragraph 3 No. 1 StAG). Such special integration achievements may include exceptional academic or professional performance, voluntary engagement, as well as particularly proficient language skills (Level C1). Whether special integration achievements are present is to be assessed as a discretionary decision in the context of an overall evaluation.

Furthermore, financial self-sufficiency must be ensured (§ 10 paragraph 3 No. 2 StAG).

Facilitations for former guest workers and former contract employees

For individuals who entered the Federal Republic of Germany as former guest workers under agreements for the recruitment and placement of workers until June 30, 1974, as well as for individuals who entered the German Democratic Republic (DDR) as former contract employees until June 13, 1990, the legislature has introduced facilitations for naturalization.

The basic requirement for naturalization is generally the ability to support oneself financially without recourse to social benefits. This requirement is waived for former guest workers and contract employees, provided they are not responsible for receiving benefits (e.g., citizen's income under the SGB II) (§ 10 paragraph 1 sentence 1 No. 3 letter a) StAG).

Former guest workers and contract employees are exempt from the requirement to demonstrate German language proficiency at the B1 level if they can communicate in German in everyday life in a simple manner (§ 10 paragraph 4 sentence 3 StAG). Additionally, proof of knowledge of the legal and societal system and living conditions is not required (§ 10 paragraph 6 sentence 1 StAG).

What changes are happening regarding dual citizenship?

Previously, naturalization was generally only possible if the applicant had lost or renounced their previous nationality. Dual citizenship was therefore not possible (§ 10 paragraph 1 sentence 1 No. 4 StAG a.F.). Without renouncing their foreign nationality, naturalization was usually not possible.

With the removal of this regulation, individuals can now be naturalized even if they do not want to or cannot renounce their previous nationality. Dual citizenship is thus made possible. It now only depends on whether the nationality law of the country of origin allows dual citizenship or whether acquiring German nationality results in the loss of the nationality of the foreign state.

German citizens acquiring another nationality can now do so without losing their German citizenship. A so-called retention permit under § 25 StAG a.F. is no longer necessary. The statutory regulation regarding this is being eliminated.

Abolition of the option rule for adult children

Similarly, the so-called option rule under § 29 StAG is abolished. According to this rule, children who were born in Germany but whose parents held a foreign nationality had to decide between German and foreign nationality upon reaching adulthood if the children acquired German nationality through the provisions of § 4 paragraph 3 StAG.

Such a decision is no longer necessary, and dual citizenship is now possible.

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Do I need to be able to support myself financially?

Those seeking naturalization must be able to support themselves financially, generally excluding the receipt of social benefits (§ 10 paragraph 1 sentence 1 No. 3 StAG). In addition to the exception for former guest workers and contract employees (§ 10 paragraph 1 sentence 1 No. 3 letter a) StAG), the law provides for two additional exceptions:

Naturalization is possible if the individual has been employed full-time for at least 20 months in the last 24 months (§ 10 paragraph 1 sentence 1 No. 3 letter b) StAG). Furthermore, naturalization is possible for spouses and life partners whose partner has been employed full-time for at least 20 months within the last 24 months and lives with a minor child in a family household (§ 10 paragraph 1 sentence 1 No. 3 letter c) StAG).

The new provision regarding financial self-sufficiency represents a deterioration compared to the previous legal situation since it previously depended on whether the receipt of benefits under the SGB II/XII by the naturalization applicant was attributable to fault. The regulation is likely to be unconstitutional, at least to the extent that it permanently excludes sick and disabled individuals from naturalization.

What changes are happening regarding the naturalization of children born in Germany?

The acquisition of German nationality for children born in Germany to foreign parents according to the principle of birthplace (ius soli) is being facilitated. For acquisition through ius soli, one parent of a child born in Germany now only needs to demonstrate a residency period of five years instead of the previous requirement of eight years (§ 4 paragraph 3 sentence 1 No. 1 StAG).

Another requirement for the acquisition of German nationality for the child remains that one parent must possess an indefinite residence permit (based on EU law or a settlement permit).

When is naturalization excluded?

A new requirement for naturalization applicants has been added, stating that they must affirmatively acknowledge

  • Germany's special historical responsibility for the Nazi regime's injustices and their consequences,
  • Particularly for the protection of Jewish life,
  • As well as for peaceful coexistence among peoples and the prohibition of waging aggressive wars (§ 10 paragraph 1 sentence 1 No. 1a StAG). This obligation means that naturalization is excluded if there are factual indications that the commitment made to these goals is factually incorrect (§ 11 sentence 1 No. 1a StAG).

Prohibition of polygamy and commitment to equality

Furthermore, additional requirements have been introduced that lead to exclusion from naturalization. Marriage to multiple women results in exclusion from naturalization (§ 11 sentence 1 No. 3 letter a) StAG). Such polygamous marriage is alien to the German legal system and, according to the legislature, often raises doubts about the recognition of equality between men and women.

Those who demonstrate through their behavior that they disregard gender equality also cannot be naturalized (§ 11 sentence 1 No. 3 letter b) StAG).

These two exclusions from naturalization replace the previously very vaguely formulated requirement of "integration into German living conditions" (§ 10 paragraph 1 clause 2 StAG a.F.).

When will the new Nationality Act of 2024 come into effect?

As of mid-February 2024, the Law for the Modernization of Nationality Law has already been finally approved by the Bundestag and the Bundesrat. According to Article 6 paragraph 1 of the Law for the Modernization of Nationality Law, the amendments will come into effect three months after publication in the Federal Law Gazette. Thus far, the law has not yet been published in the Federal Law Gazette, so the changes will come into effect no earlier than the end of May 2024.

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Conclusion

  • The Law for the Modernization of Nationality Law was adopted by the Bundestag on January 19, 2024. The Bundesrat approved the law on February 2, 2024. After publication in the Federal Law Gazette, the law will come into effect three months later. The planned entry into force is expected to occur at the end of May or in June 2024.
  • Naturalization process accelerated: The residency requirement for naturalization is reduced from 8 to 5 years, and a "Turbo Clause" allows for expedited naturalization under certain conditions, potentially after 3 years.
  • Facilitated ius soli acquisition: Children born in Germany to individuals with foreign nationality can now be naturalized more quickly. The lawful residence requirement in Germany is reduced from 8 to 5 years.
  • Recognition of the contributions of the guest worker generation: Former guest workers and contract employees receive facilitations for naturalization, including exemption from demonstrating German language proficiency and the elimination of the financial self-sufficiency requirement.
  • Dual citizenship generally permitted: The requirement to renounce previous nationality for naturalization is lifted, allowing for dual citizenship.
  • No option rule for children: The option rule for adult children is abolished, enabling dual citizenship for children as well.
  • Acknowledgment of German history and protection of Jewish life: The prerequisites for naturalization are expanded to include an acknowledgment of Germany's historical responsibility, protection of Jewish life, and recognition of gender equality.

FAQ

When will the new Nationality Act come into effect?

According to Article 6 paragraph 1 of the Law for the Modernization of Nationality Law, the amendments are supposed to come into effect three months after publication in the Federal Law Gazette. So far, the law has not been announced, therefore it is expected to come into effect by the end of May 2024.

What changes are there regarding the duration of residency requirements?

The residency requirement for naturalization has been reduced from eight to five years. A "Turbo Clause" allows for naturalization after three years under certain conditions. Special integration achievements are required for this.

What facilitations are there for former guest workers and contract employees?

Former guest workers and contract employees receive facilitations for naturalization, including exemption from demonstrating German language proficiency and exemption from the requirement of financial self-sufficiency.

Can one possess dual citizenship?

Yes, with the removal of the requirement to renounce previous citizenship, dual citizenship is possible. However, this also depends on the regulations of the country of origin, whether acquiring citizenship leads to the loss of nationality in the country of origin.

What changes for children born in Germany to foreign parents?

The acquisition of German citizenship by birthright (ius soli) is facilitated. One parent only needs to demonstrate a residency period of five years instead of the previous requirement of eight years.

What are the new requirements for naturalization?

New requirements for naturalization have been introduced, including an affirmation of Germany's historical responsibility, protection of Jewish life, recognition of gender equality, and the prohibition of marriage with multiple women.

When is naturalization excluded?

Naturalization is, for example, excluded if there are factual indications that the commitment to specific goals is factually incorrect. Moreover, certain behaviors such as polygamy or the disregard for gender equality lead to exclusion.

Picture credits: Christian Horz | Canva.com

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