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February 1999, Volume 6, Number 2

Germany: Dual Nationality

The SPD-Green government on January 13, 1999 introduced its proposed law to ease naturalization requirements and to permit dual nationality. The government wants the bill to become law by summer. The measure needs only a simple majority to pass, but protests from opposition parties could persuade the government to modify the proposal to win passage.

In 1997, 90,000 foreigners became German citizens, including 35,000 Turks and 30,000 foreigners who were allowed to become dual nationals because, for example, Iran would not release them from citizenship. An estimated 220,000 of Germany's 2.2 million Turks have become naturalized German citizens. If the SPD-Green proposal is approved, it is estimated that four million foreigners in Germany would be eligible to naturalize.

Under the SPD-Green proposal, children born in Germany would be entitled to German citizenship, if one of the foreign parents was born in Germany or arrived legally by age 14. Other major provisions of the proposed law include a reduction in the minimum residence required before naturalization from 15 to eight years (three years of residence and two years of marriage for foreign spouses of German citizens), and the right of newly naturalized Germans to keep their foreign passports. Under current law, foreigners must renounce their original citizenship to become German citizens.

The proposal also requires that foreigners applying for German citizenship to pass a German test, show they are not on welfare, and pledge to support the German constitution. Those who have been sentenced to more than nine months in prison will generally be denied the right to naturalize.

Advocates of dual nationality stressed that it was Germany's obligation to take this step to expedite the integration of foreigners. Chancellor Gerhard Schroeder said that: "A citizenship law based only on bloodlines is not sufficient for the European dimension and for a globalized world.... Children of (foreigners), if they are born here, should be Germans." Schroeder added: "I stress: I do not want dual citizenship, but I will accept it in order to serve the goal of integration."

Interior Minister Otto Schily said that "The new citizenship law is a contribution to inner peace in our land... Foreigners who have lived here a long time work hard. They pay taxes. They create jobs.... We would really be very badly advised if we left these people as so-called second class citizens... The vast majority of these people are going to stay here permanently. We can no longer afford to treat them as foreigners outside state society...Of the 7.3 million foreigners living in Germany, 50 percent have been here for at least 10 years and 20 percent for 30 years."

When in power, the CDU-CSU parties blocked naturalization reforms and in January 1999, the parties launched a petition drive against dual nationality, arguing that it would lead to divided loyalties, slow integration, violence and terrorism and more immigration. There is currently speculation over how many signatures they must achieve to slow or block dual nationality: is 800,000 enough (CDU membership) or are two million needed (the number achieved by the Greens several years ago in support of dual nationality).

In Berlin and Frankfurt, there were scuffles between advocates for and against the CDU-CSU petition. Wolfgang Schaeuble, chairman of the Christian Democratic Union, said: "The regular acceptance of double citizenship is poison for integration as well as for inner peace." Peter Ramsauer, Chief Whip of the CSU, said "By providing those people [foreigners] with a dual citizenship, we ... import minority problems." However, there was considerable support for dual nationality within the CDU, with younger members criticizing the CDU for calling for integration while advocating anti-immigration positions. At a party conference, about 20 percent of the CDU representatives in the Bundestag supported a dual nationality concept similar to that of the FDP, which provides for dual nationality for foreigners born in Germany, and selection of one nationality at age 18.

The FDP re-introduced its dual nationality proposal as a compromise. It would permit children born in Germany, with one parent who was legally in Germany for at least ten years, to be dual nationals until age 18. If the 18-year old wanted to be German, he/she would have to prove that his/her previous citizenship had been renounced. Dual national youth who could not prove that they had given up their other nationality would automatically lose German nationality at 18, under the FDP proposal, unless the youth could prove that her country of origin did not permit loss of nationality, as with Afghanistan.

Polls suggest that the percentage of Germans opposed to dual nationality is rising: 57 percent of those surveyed opposed the concept in December 1998, and 63 percent in January 1999. However, 69 percent approved of introducing jus soli, or giving citizenship to those born in Germany of legal foreign parents. Many observers believe that elections in Hesse on February 7 will provide an indication of German opinion on dual nationality: if the CDU does better than previously, it may be that one factor would have been its opposition to dual nationality.

The SPD-Green government took out $380,000 in ads featuring Boris Becker in five newspapers to promote dual nationality, which brought charges from the CDU-CSU of mis-use of government funds.

Other Policies. A major difference between current German naturalization policy and the naturalization policies of other EU countries is that Germany requires applicants for naturalization to prove that they have given up their old citizenship, that is, they have been "released" from--most commonly--Turkish citizenship. Since 1963 most European countries have implicitly recognized "passive" and "active" citizens and Turkey now excuses from military service dual nationals living in Germany who have done military service in Germany.

Belgium in June 1991 changed its nationality law to permit children born of a foreign parent also born in Belgium to become Belgian if they can pass language tests, etc.; those becoming Belgian do not have to prove that they have given up, for example, Turkish citizenship. France permits children born in the country to become French citizens by age 18 at the latest, and does not require those naturalizing to prove they have given up their old citizenship.

Likewise, children born in Italy, and living there legally, can become Italian citizens at age 18-19 without proving that they gave up their old citizenship. Italy permits other foreigners to apply for naturalization after 10 years of residence (four years for EU nationals). The Netherlands similarly permits persons born in the country to become Dutch citizens at 18 without proving that they have given up their old citizenship; other foreigners can apply to naturalize after five years residence. In the UK, children born of legally resident foreign parents can automatically become UK citizens without proving they gave up their old citizenship.

Dual nationality is not now a political issue in the US, even though it is estimated that perhaps 500,000 of the four million children born in the US each year are or could be dual nationals--those born in the US do not have to choose a nationality, since they are automatically US citizens, and the country of one parent may also consider them citizens. One difference between the US and Germany is that the US requires foreigners who become naturalized US citizens to renounce their former citizenship, but demands no proof that e.g. they have had their passport canceled.

In Germany, by contrast, current procedures require those becoming naturalized Germans to at least attempt to have their current passports canceled. Many countries charge significant fees to renounce citizenship, up to $1,000 in the ex-USSR countries from which many ethnic Germans come, which is one reason why many ethnic Germans are dual nationals in Germany.

Family Unification. The debate about dual nationality has unleashed many other immigration-related debates, including how many more foreigners might move to Germany via family unification. The answer appears to be: not many. For example, 746,000 Turkish children received children's allowances in 1995, and over 98 percent of them lived in Germany. Since only spouses and children under 16 have the right to immigrate for family reasons, these children's allowance data were used to argue that there would not be a significant chain migration of family members. Naturalization would allow 16 to 18 year olds abroad to enter Germany, but their number is estimated to be at most 4,000.

Turks in Germany who marry in Turkey or elsewhere abroad already have the right to have their spouses join them in Germany unless they are receiving welfare assistance. Naturalization would give Turks in Germany the right to have their families join them regardless of their receipt of welfare.

Turkey has scheduled national elections on April 18, 1999, and many Turks in Germany complain that the lack of absentee voting means that they must travel to Turkey to cast ballots. Some Turks in Germany are calling for the right to vote in Turkish elections in Germany, and to have representatives in the Turkish Parliament representing, for example, Turks in Berlin. Some Turks fear that Turks abroad would strengthen fundamentalist parties in Turkey. Turkey has 63 million residents and five major parties.

Asylum. About 30 Kurdish asylum seekers occupied Green party headquarters in Düsseldorf in January, and went on a hunger strike to demand that about 360 Kurds whose asylum applications have been rejected, and who are being sheltered by churches, be permitted to remain in Germany. The occupation ended with a promise to re-evaluate the asylum applications of all rejected Kurds who are being sheltered in churches.

As a humanitarian gesture, the 34 foreigners who survived a 1996 arson attack on a home for asylum seekers in Lubeck were given permission to remain in Germany in January 1999. The fire, which killed ten foreigners who had applied for asylum, is believed to have been set by one of the foreigners, who is awaiting a new trial because of police mistakes in obtaining evidence for the first trial.

Border. The head of the German border police says that the smuggling of illegal immigrants has shifted from the Polish to the Czech border. In 1998, about 18,000 illegal migrants were arrested on the Czech borer, 13,000 of them near Zittau, in the former east Germany.

Under German law, taxi drivers can be fined and jailed for assisting illegal migrants, for example, by taking them away from the border region. In the Zittau region, 22 of the 73 taxi drivers are being investigated on charges of assisting illegal migrants; six have already been sentenced to jail for up to 26 months. The local Chamber of Commerce has told cab drivers not to picked-up people who look foreign and are wet or carrying luggage. Some cab drivers check the passports of their passengers.

Jewish Immigration. Germany has the fastest-growing Jewish population outside Israel. Since 1990, more than 100,000 Jews from former Soviet Union countries have joined the 30,000 Jews in Germany. The German government reports that with the decline of the Russian economy in recent months, the numbers of refugees is increasing. Germany is more attractive than Israel to former Soviet Jews who are not very religious or for those married to non-Jews, according to the director of the Jewish Cultural Association in Berlin.

Economy. The Germany unemployment rate climbed sharply in December 1998 to 10.9 percent, with 4.2 million unemployed and 34.5 million employed. The German economy expanded 2.8 percent in 1998.


Heribert Prantl, "Wieviel Nachzug?," Süddeutsche Zeitung, January 22, 1999. Carol J. Williams, "Germany Becomes a Haven for Jews Fleeing Ex-Soviet Lands," Los Angeles Times, January 16, 1999. Michael Adler, "German government pushes ahead with nationality bill," Agence France Presse, January 13, 1999. Deidre Berger, "Germany redefining Germans," Christian Science Monitor, January 11, 1999. Robert Mahoney, "German conservatives split on citizenship reforms," Reuters, January 8, 1999. Heribert Prantl, "In den meisten europäischen Ländern ist eine doppelte Staatsbürgerschaft zugelassen," Süddeutsche Zeitung, January 8, 1999. Frederick Studemann, "Citizenship plans split German opposition," Financial Times, January 7, 1999.