E.g., 04/17/2014
E.g., 04/17/2014

Changes to German Law Help Boost Naturalization Numbers

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Changes to German Law Help Boost Naturalization Numbers

Changes to Germany's citizenship law in 2000 appear to be having their intended effect of facilitating the naturalization of foreign residents, as shown by new figures released by the Ministry of the Interior.

The average annual number of naturalizations for the years 2000 to 2003 was 173,100, far outstripping the average of 110,990 for the period 1997-1999, according to Interior Minister Otto Schily. The minister, a Social Democrat, was instrumental in changing the law in response to the demands of his party's junior coalition partner, the Green Party, and other organizations including trade unions and the Roman Catholic Church.

The amended law altered the prerequisites for naturalization in two ways. First, it lowered the required period of continuous residence in Germany prior to application from 15 years to eight. In addition, minor children and spouses of foreign residents applying for citizenship can be naturalized with fewer years of continuous residence. Second, applicants must now demonstrate a sufficient knowledge of German, a requirement that did not previously exist. Third, foreigners who wish to naturalize must not have a criminal record and must pledge their commitment to the tenets of the German Constitution.

A large part of the overall increase in naturalizations following the 2000 changes is likely due to immigrants rushing to take advantage of the newly loosened provisions, particularly the shortened residency requirements. With such opportunities opened, the number of naturalizations shot up from a pre-legislative changes peak of 143,270 in 1999, reaching 187,000 just one year later in 2000.

Naturalizations began to taper off following 2000, however, perhaps due to the expiration of a temporary clause that gave children of foreign parents born in Germany the right to naturalize. Applications under this one-time clause were filed for nearly 28,000 children, boosting the upward spike already under way thanks to the newly amended law.

Further padding the overall number of naturalizations in the post-2000 period were tens of thousands of people whose applications fell under the provisions of the law as it stood before the new amendments. These naturalizations, while making up a large proportion of the overall numbers post-2000, have been steadily declining in number even as naturalizations under the new law's provisions have been increasing.

Figure 1

Source: Statistisches Bundesamt (Federal Statistical Office of Germany)

By 2002, naturalization applications under the pre-2000 law's paragraph requiring 15 years of continuous habitual residence represented less than nine percent of all applications. By comparison, the number of naturalizations taking place under the post-2000 law's paragraph regarding eight years of continuous habitual residence and the requirement of sufficient knowledge of German has continued to increase, growing from 73,200 in 2000 to 112,600 in 2002, representing a 54 percent increase. By 2002, naturalization applications under the post-2000 law accounted for about 73 percent of all applications. As shown below, the number of applications for naturalization under other regulations, for example, the naturalizations of foreign spouses of Germans, has remained relatively small and constant.

Figure 1

Source: Statistisches Bundesamt (Federal Statistical Office of Germany)

Populations in Focus

As in the previous years, former Turkish citizens made up the largest group with 64,631 naturalizing in 2002, accounting for 42 percent of the total. Other significant groups included Iranians (13,026, or 8.4 percent), former Yugoslavs (8,375, or 5.4 percent) and Afghans (4,750, or 3.1 percent).

The latest naturalization numbers also show differences among the sixteen federal states that are responsible for implementing the new law. While in Berlin (6.9 percent) and Saxony-Anhalt (7.8 percent) there was an increase in the number of naturalizations, they declined in North-Rhine Westphalia (17.7 percent), Bavaria (14.2 percent) and most of the other states. The reasons for the differences among the states are unclear. However, one factor could be the composition of their foreign population according to country of origin. Citizens of the European Union, for example, are generally less likely to naturalize. Variations in administrative practices among the states could also influence naturalization rates.

The Ministry of Interior also announced that 41.5 percent of all persons naturalized in 2002 were allowed to retain their former citizenship, compared with 48.3 percent in 2001. The large share of dual citizens is surprising because it is an official policy to avoid approving multiple nationalities. Dual citizenship is allowed only as an exception—for example, if the country of origin does not release nationals from citizenship, if losing former citizenship would cause economic hardships such as the loss of rights to inheritance or land ownership, or if the applicant is an approved asylum seeker.

Originally, the government wanted to allow dual citizenship, but this plan failed because of strong opposition from the conservative Christian Democrats. Furthermore, under the new law, Germans as a rule lose their German citizenship when they acquire another nationality. This measure was introduced in 2000 to discourage foreigners from applying for their former citizenship after they had been naturalized in Germany.