German nationality law
German nationality law is the law governing the acquisition, transmission and loss of German citizenship. The law is based on a mixture of the principles of jus sanguinis and jus soli. In other words, one usually acquires German citizenship if a parent is a German citizen, irrespective of place of birth, or by birth in Germany to parents with foreign nationality if certain requirements are fulfilled. Naturalisation is also possible for foreign nationals after eight years of legal residence in Germany.
A significant reform to the nationality law was passed by the Bundestag (the German parliament) in 1999, and came into force on 1 January 2000. The reformed law makes it somewhat easier for foreigners resident in Germany on a long-term basis, and especially their German-born children, to acquire German citizenship.
The previous German nationality law dated from 1913. Nationality law was amended by the Nuremberg Laws of Nazi Germany; these amendments were revoked after the defeat of Nazism by Allied occupational ordinance in 1945. Germany ratified the European Convention on Nationality, which came into force in Germany on 1 September 2005. All German nationals are automatically also citizens of the European Union.
- 1 History
- 2 Birth in Germany
- 3 Descent from a German parent
- 4 Adoption
- 5 Naturalisation as a German citizen
- 6 Naturalization statistics
- 7 Loss of German citizenship
- 8 Dual citizenship
- 9 Citizenship of the European Union
- 10 Germans living abroad
- 11 References
- 12 External links
Before the formation of the German Empire in 1871, the states that became part of the empire were sovereign with their own nationality laws, those of the southern ones (notably Bavaria) being quite liberal. Prussia's nationality law can be traced back to the "Law Respecting the Acquisition and Loss of the Quality as a Prussian subject, and his Admission to Foreign Citizenship" of 31 December 1842, which was based on the principle of jus sanguinis. Prussian law became the basis of the legal system of the German Empire, though the state nationality laws continued to apply, and a German citizen was a person who held citizenship of one of the states of the German Empire.
On 22 July 1913 the Nationality Law of the German Empire and States (Reichs- und Staatsangehörigkeitsgesetz, shorthand: RuStAG) established a German citizenship, either derived from the citizenship of one of the component states or acquired through the central Reich government.
Under the Third Reich, in 1934, the German nationality law was amended to abolish separate state citizenships and creating a uniform Reich citizenship, with the central Reich authorities having power to grant or withdraw German nationality. In 1935 the Reich Citizenship Law (Reichsbürgergesetz), the second of the Nuremberg Laws, created a new category called "state subjects" (Staatsangehörige) to which Jews were assigned, thereby withdrawing citizenship from Jews who had been citizens; only those classed as "Aryans" retained Reich citizenship.
On 13 March 1938 the German nationality law was extended to Austria following the Anschluss which annexed Austria to Germany. On 27 April 1945, after the defeat of Nazism, Austria was re-established and conferred Austrian citizenship on all persons who would have been Austrian on that date had the pre-1938 nationality law of Austria remained in force. Any Austrians who had held German nationality lost it. Also see Austrian nationality law.
The Nazi amendments of 1934 and the Nuremberg Laws of 1935 were revoked by Allied occupational ordinance in 1945, restoring the 1913 nationality law, which remained in force until the 1999 reforms.
Article 116(1) of the German Basic Law (constitution) confers, subject to laws regulating the details, a right to citizenship upon any person admitted to Germany (in its 1937 borders) as "refugee or expellee of German ethnic origin or as the spouse or descendant of such a person." Until 1990 ethnic Germans living abroad in a country in the former Eastern Bloc (Aussiedler) could obtain citizenship through a virtually automatic procedure. From 1990 the law was steadily tightened each year to limit the number of immigrants, requiring immigrants to prove language skills and cultural affiliation.
Article 116(2) entitles persons (and their descendants), who were denaturalised by the Nazi government, to be renaturalised if they wish. Those among them, who after May 8, 1945 take up residence in Germany are automatically considered German citizens. Both regulations, (1) and (2), allowed a considerable numbers of Poles and Israelis, residing in Poland and Israel, to be concurrently German citizens.
Birth in Germany
Children born on or after 1 January 2000 to non-German parents acquire German citizenship at birth if at least one parent:
- has a permanent residence permit; and
- has been residing in Germany for at least eight years.
Such children will be required to apply to retain German citizenship by the age of 23. Assuming this law is not changed or overturned by a court, these persons will normally be required to prove they do not hold any other foreign citizenship. The only exceptions are EU citizens and citizens of countries where it is impossible to lose your citizenship, like Morocco, Nigeria or Iran, for example.
Parents who are citizens of European Economic Area states or Switzerland are eligible to receive permanent resident permits after five years.
Descent from a German parent
A person born of a parent with German citizenship at the time of the child's birth is a German citizen. Place of birth is not a factor in citizenship determination based on parentage.
- Those born after 1 January 1975 are Germans if the mother or father is a German citizen.
- Those born before 1 January 1975 could normally only claim German citizenship from the father and not the mother. Exceptions included cases where the parents were unmarried (in which case German mothers could pass on citizenship) or where the German mother applied for the child to be registered as German on or before 31 December 1977.
- Special rules exist for those born before 1 July 1993 if only the father is German and is not married to the mother. The father must acknowledge paternity and must have married the mother before 1 July 1998.
- A child born in a foreign country will no longer receive German citizenship automatically by birth, if his/her German parent was born after 31 December 1999 in a foreign country and has his/her primary residence there. Exceptions are:
- The child would be stateless.
- The German parent registers the child's birth within one year of birth to the responsible German agency abroad.
- In case both parents are German citizens, German citizenship will not be passed on automatically, if both parents were born abroad after 31 December 1999 and have their primary residence outside of Germany. Exceptions are same as the above.
- Those born in Germany and adopted to a foreign country would need to contact their local German Consulate for clarification of German citizenship.
Persons who are Germans on the basis of descent from a German parent do not have to apply to retain German citizenship by age 23. If they acquire another citizenship at birth, they can usually continue to hold this.
A child adopted by a German citizen becomes German national automatically if aged less than 18 on the date the application for adoption was made. So dual citizenship is granted.
Naturalisation as a German citizen
Naturalisation by entitlement
An individual who fulfils all of the following criteria has an entitlement to naturalise as a German citizen:
- he/she has been ordinarily resident in Germany for at least 8 years (this period can be reduced - see below)
- he/she has legal capacity or a legal representative
- confirms his/her present and past commitment to the free democratic constitutional system enshrined in the German Basic Law (or that he is presently committed to such principles and has departed from former support of ideas contrary to such principles)
- he/she is a European Union or Swiss citizen in possession of the appropriate residence permit which permits the free movement of persons, or he/she is a non-EU/Swiss citizen who has been granted a permanent right of residence
- he/she is able to support himself/herself without recourse to benefits
- he/she has not been sentenced for an unlawful act and is not subject to any court order imposing a measure of reform and prevention
- he/she possesses an adequate knowledge of German
- possesses knowledge of the legal system, the society and living conditions in the Federal Republic of Germany
An individual who does not have legal capacity is entitled to naturalise as a German citizen merely through ordinary residence in Germany for at least 8 years - he/she does not have to fulfil the other criteria (e.g. adequate command of the German language and ability to be self-supporting without recourse to benefits).
Applicants for naturalisation are normally expected to prove they have renounced their existing nationality, or will lose this automatically upon naturalisation. An exception applies to those unable to give up their nationality easily (such as refugees). A further exception applies to citizens of Switzerland and the European Union member states.
An individual who is entitled to naturalise as a German citizen can also apply for his/her spouse and minor children to be naturalised at the same time (his/her spouse and minor children need not have ordinarily resided in Germany for at least 8 years).
Exceptions to the normal residence requirements include:
- persons who have completed an integration course may have the residence requirement reduced to 7 years
- If a person shows that he/she is especially well integrated and has a higher level of command of the German language than the basic requirement for the German citizenship (i.e., higher than CEFR level B1) may have the residence requirement reduced to 6 years
- The spouse of a German citizen may be naturalised after 3 years of continual residency in Germany. The marriage must have persisted for at least 2 years.
- refugees and stateless persons may be able to apply after 6 years of continual residency
- former German citizens
There are special provisions for victims of Nazi persecution and their descendants.
Naturalisation by discretion
An individual who is ordinarily resident outside may be naturalised as a German citizen if he/she can demonstrate sufficient ties with Germany which justify his/her naturalisation.
Victims of Nazi persecution
Under Article 116 of Germany's constitution, known as the Basic Law, anyone who had their German citizenship revoked during the Nazi regime for "political, racist, or religious reasons" may reobtain citizenship. The Article also includes the descendants of Nazi victims, and does not require them to give up the citizenship of their new home countries.
Under transitional arrangements in the 1999 reforms (effective 1 January 2000), children who were born in Germany in 1990 or later, and would have been German had the law change been in force at the time, were entitled to be naturalised as German citizens.
- An application for naturalisation was required by 31 December 2000.
- The child was required to apply for retention of German citizenship by age 23 and normally show that no other foreign citizenship was held at that time.
Between 1995 and 2004, 1,278,424 people obtained German citizenship by naturalization. This means that about 1.5% of the total German population was naturalized during that period.
|Serbia and Montenegro||3,623||2,967||2,244||2,721||3,444||9,776||12,000||8,375||5,504||3,539||6,309||6,085|
|Total (including countries not mentioned)||71,981||86,356||82,913||106,790||143,267||186,688||178,098||154,547||140,731||127,153||106,897||112,348|
Loss of German citizenship
German citizenship is automatically lost when a German citizen voluntarily acquires the citizenship of another country, except:
- When the German citizen acquires a nationality from within the European Union, Switzerland, or another country with which Germany has a corresponding treaty.
- When permission to obtain a foreign citizenship has been applied for and granted in advance of foreign naturalization. Failure to obtain so-called permit to retain German citizenship prior to naturalization results in the individual automatically losing German citizenship upon becoming a naturalized citizen of another country.
Other cases where German citizenship can be lost include:
- Persons acquiring German citizenship on the basis of birth in Germany (without a German parent) lose German citizenship automatically at age 23 if they have not successfully applied to retain German citizenship. If it is desired to maintain a foreign citizenship, application must be made by age 21.
- A German citizen who voluntarily serves in a foreign army (over and above compulsory military service) from 1 January 2000 may lose German citizenship unless permission is obtained from the German government. From 6 July 2011, the permission to serve above compulsory military service is automatically given for the armies of EU, EFTA, and NATO countries and the armies of Australia, Israel, Japan, New Zealand, and the Republic of Korea.
- A German child adopted by foreign parents, where the child automatically acquires the nationality of the adoptive parents under the law of the adoptive parents' country. (For example, a German child adopted by Americans prior to 27 February 2001—the effective date of the U.S. Child Citizenship Act of 2000—would not have automatically lost his/her German citizenship, because the child did not automatically acquire United States citizenship by virtue of having been adopted by U.S. citizens.) An exception applies where legal ties to the German parent are maintained.
Allowed under following circumstances:
- If the other citizenship is the one of another EU country or of Switzerland. Non-EU- and non-Swiss citizens must usually renounce their old citizenship if they want to become German citizens. There are exceptions made for citizens of countries that do not allow their citizens to renounce their citizenship (e.g. Argentina, Bolivia, Brazil, Costa Rica; the following jus-soli countries allow renunciation only if the citizenship was acquired involuntarily by birth there to non-citizen parents: Dominican Republic, Ecuador, Guatemala, Honduras, Mexico, Nicaragua, Uruguay), or if the renunciation process is too difficult/humiliating and/or too expensive (e.g. Afghanistan, Algeria, Angola, Cuba, Eritrea, Iran, Iraq, Lebanon, Morocco, Nigeria, Syria, Thailand, Tunisia), or, rarely, in individual cases if the renunciation of the old citizenship means enormous disadvantages for the concerned person.
- If a German citizen acquires a non-EU/non-Swiss citizenship with the permission ("Beibehaltungsgenehmigung") of the German Government (e.g. existing relative ties or property in Germany or in the other country or if the occupation abroad requires domestic citizenship for execution.). The voluntary acquisition of a non-EU/non-Swiss citizenship without permission usually means the automatic loss of the German citizenship (but see Point 4). The permission is not necessary if the other citizenship is of another EU country or of Switzerland or if dual citizenship was obtained at birth.
- If he/she is a refugee and holds a 1951 travel document during naturalization.
- If a child born to German parents acquires another citizenship at birth (e.g. based on place of birth [birth in a jus-soli country such as Canada or the United States of America], or descent from one parent [one German parent and one foreign parent]).
- Children born on or after 1 January 2000 to non-German parents acquire German citizenship at birth if at least one parent has a permanent residence permit (and had this status for at least three years) and the parent was residing in Germany for at least eight years. The children must have lived in Germany for at least eight years or attended school for six years until their 21st birthday. Non-EU/non-Swiss-citizen parents born and grown up abroad usually cannot have dual citizenship themselves (but see Point 1).
Citizenship of the European Union
German citizens are also citizens of the European Union and thus enjoy rights of free movement and have the right to vote in elections for the European Parliament. When in a non-EU country where there is no German embassy, German citizens have the right to get consular protection from the embassy of any other EU country present in that country.
Germans living abroad
Germans living abroad, (aka German emigrants or Auslandsdeutsche), are German citizens residing outside of Germany. German emigrants usually do not pay taxes to Germany. Germans abroad are allowed to vote in the Republic's federal elections (general elections). According to the German Foreign Office in Berlin (Auswärtiges Amt), "German citizens with permanent residence abroad can participate in federal elections in Germany and European elections. As a rule, German voters who reside permanently in non-EU countries abroad and are not resident in Germany any more, cannot participate in German state and local elections. However, German citizens who are living permanently in other EU countries can vote in municipal elections of their country of residence." http://www.konsularinfo.diplo.de/Vertretung/konsularinfo/de/06/Wahl/Wahlneu.html
The German term Auslandsdeutsche is sometimes used in this sense, but it is also used subjectively to refer to ethnic Germans and German-speaking communities abroad. In order to be unambiguous when speaking German and talking about German emigrants, it is necessary to specify "German citizens with permanent residence abroad" (Deutsche Staatsbürger mit ständigem Wohnsitz im Ausland).
The case is complicated by the German right of return law concerning Spätaussiedler, people who do not have German citizenship but who are in theory entitled to it because the German state considers them German nationals.
Significant communities of German citizens abroad are found in the following countries:
- Netherlands: 368,512 (2008, 2.19% of Dutch population)
- Switzerland: 265,944 (2009, 3.3% of Swiss population)
- Austria: 124,710 (2008, 1.5% of Austrian population)
- Australia: 106,524 (2006, 0.53% of Australian population)
- Russia: 597,212 (2002, 0.4% of Russian population). 
- United Kingdom: 92,000 (2008, 0.15% of UK population)
- France: 75,057 (1999, 0.12% of French population).
USA: Large numbers of German citizens live permanently in the U.S., especially academics, artists, computer experts, engineers, and business people. According to the German Missions in the US, “German citizens living abroad are not required to register with the German Embassy, so we are unable to say how many German citizens live in America.” http://www.germany.info/Vertretung/usa/en/02__GIC/GIC/02/f__a__q__seite.html Some of those Germans abroad hold passports from both Germany and the United States.
- "Obtaining Citizenship". German Missions in the United States. Retrieved 20 August 2013.
- Reform of Germany's citizenship and nationality law
- "European Convention on Nationality: Status". Council of Europe.
- BVerfGE 4, 322 1 BvR 284/54Austrian Nationality, copy hosted at utexas.edu
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- Wer sind die Deutschen in Österreich?
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- Federal Agency for Immigration and Naturalisation (German language)
- Background Paper, German Citizenship
- Nationality Law, Federal Ministry of Justice