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. Naturalization is also possible for foreign nationals after six to eight years of legal residence in Germany.
Although non-EU and non-Swiss citizens normally must renounce their old citizenship before being approved for naturalization (if the laws of their other countries of citizenship do not already automatically act to denaturalise them upon award of German nationality), there is a broad exception for when it would be "very difficult" to do so, and as of 2017, a majority of newly naturalized German citizens have been allowed to retain their previous citizenship. Under German law, citizens of other EU countries and of Switzerland may keep their old citizenship by right; however, some EU countries (such as the Netherlands) do not allow dual citizenship even with other EU countries. German citizens wanting to acquire a non-EU or non-Swiss citizenship and to maintain their German citizenship must apply for permission (Beibehaltungsgenehmigung) before acquiring the other citizenship, or they automatically lose German citizenship when they acquire the foreign citizenship. For details, see Dual citizenship section below.
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 residing in Germany on a long-term basis, and especially their children born in Germany, 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 an Allied occupational ordinance during WWII 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.
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 Nazi 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 being of "German or related blood" retained Reich citizenship.
On 13 March 1938, Germany extended the nationality law to Austria following the Anschluss that 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 Eleventh Decree to the Law on the Citizenship of the Reich of 25 November 1941 stripped Jews of their remaining rights, and also ruled that Jews living in other countries were no longer German citizens, and their passports were no longer valid.
The Nazi amendments of 1934, the Nuremberg Laws of 1935, the Eleventh Decree, and other Nazi laws were revoked by Allied occupational ordinance in 1945, restoring the 1913 nationality law, which remained in force until the 1999 reforms.
During the Cold War, East German authorities established a new citizenship law in February 1967 which superseded the Nationality Law of 1913. However, the West German government continued to recognize that citizens of East Germany were automatically citizens of the Federal Republic of Germany, although this conflicted with the laws of East Germany. Citizens of East Germany were entitled to West Germany passports even without permanent relocation.:84
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 a "refugee or expelled 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 them to prove language skills and cultural affiliation.
Article 116(2) entitles persons (and their descendants) who were denaturalised by the Nazi government to have German citizenship restored if they wish. Those among them who take up residence in Germany after 8 May 1945, are automatically considered German citizens. Both regulations, (1) and (2), allowed many Poles and Israelis, still 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.
To retain German citizenship, such children are required to take affirmative measures by the age of 23, after which their German citizenship otherwise expires. These affirmative measures may include proof of the applicant's link to Germany, as evidenced by at least one of the following:
- Resided in Germany for at least eight years during their 21 first years of life
- Has attended a school in Germany for at least six years
- Has graduated from a school in Germany
- Successfully finished vocational/ professional training in Germany
Applicants fulfill these requirements in the vast majority of cases. If not, the applicant can alternatively prove they hold no foreign citizenship other than in a European Union member nation or a nation such as Morocco, Nigeria, or Iran whose domestic law provides that its citizenship cannot be lost.
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, not from 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 to register the child 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 no longer receives German citizenship automatically by birth if their German parent was born after 31 December 1999 in a foreign country and has their 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.
- Even in cases where both parents are German citizens, German citizenship does not pass on automatically if both parents were born abroad after 31 December 1999 and have their primary residence outside 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 the age of 23. If they acquire another citizenship at birth, they can usually continue to hold this.
Surname requirements for German citizens born abroad to a German parent
German law forbids double-barreled surnames; however, an exemption is granted to German citizens by descent who are born abroad, providing that their surname format is permitted under the law of their country of birth and the laws of any other countries of which either parent is a citizen. German citizens in this situation must obtain a name declaration (Namenserklärung) before a German passport or identity card can be issued.
A minor child adopted, in Germany, by a German citizen on or after 1 January 1977, is a German citizen. Minor children adopted by German citizens outside of Germany must meet "certain requirements" to obtain citizenship.
Naturalization as a German citizen
Naturalization by entitlement
Individuals are entitled to naturalise as a German citizen if they fulfill all the following criteria:
- Have been ordinarily resident in Germany for at least the last 8 years (this period can be reduced – see below)
- Have legal capacity or a legal representative
- Confirms a present and past commitment to the free democratic constitutional system enshrined in the German Basic Law (or is presently committed to such principles and has departed from former support of ideas contrary to such principles)
- Are a European Union or Swiss citizen in possession of the appropriate residence permit that permits the free movement of persons, or is a non-EU/Swiss citizen who has been granted a permanent right of residence, or holds an EU Blue Card.
- Can support themselves without requiring benefits
- Have not been sentenced for an unlawful act and are not subject to any court order imposing a measure of reform and prevention
- Possesses an adequate knowledge of the German language
- Possesses knowledge of the legal system, the society, and living conditions in the Federal Republic of Germany
- Have passed a Citizenship Examination.
The examination tests a person's knowledge of the German Constitution, the Rule of Law and the basic democratic concepts behind modern German society. It also includes a section on the Constitution of the Federal State in which the applicant resides. The citizenship test is obligatory unless the applicant can claim an exemption such as illness, a disability, or old age.
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—and does not have to fulfil the other criteria (e.g., adequate command of the German language and ability to support themselves without recourse to benefits).
Applicants for naturalisation are normally expected to prove they have renounced their existing nationality or that they lose it automatically on naturalisation, before receiving German citizenship. However, they are not required to do so if the previous citizenship is from another European Union member state or Switzerland, or if the other citizenship(s) may be renounced "only under very difficult conditions." Such difficulty is to be assumed if any of six conditions apply, including unreasonable difficulties in renouncing, holding a refugee travel document, and the potential economic hardship of renunciation (must be greater than the average gross monthly income of the applicant and at least 1278.23 Euros [originally defined as 2500 Deutsche Marks]). Most persons naturalised as German citizens in 2017, 61%, fell within these exceptions and were successful in obtaining approval to retain their other citizenships, with more than 81% of new German citizens from the Americas doing so. That global proportion is up from 45% in 2000.
An individual who is entitled to naturalise as a German citizen can also apply for a spouse and minor children to be naturalised at the same time (the 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
- Persons who show they are especially well integrated and have 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 entitling victims of Nazi persecution and their descendants to German citizenship. There are also special provisions for children of a German parent who could not acquire German citizenship automatically by descent, applicable to those born to a German mother and married parents before 1975, and born to a German father and unmarried parents before 1 July 1993.
Naturalization by discretion
An individual who is legally ordinarily resident may be naturalized as a German citizen if they can demonstrate sufficient ties with Germany to justify naturalization.
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 re-obtain 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.
Regulations stipulate that a descendant of those who had their citizenship revoked is entitled to re-naturalization only if "the following hypothetical question can be answered with a 'yes': Had the primary claimant of the naturalization claim not been deprived of German citizenship, would their descendants have acquired citizenship by birth according to the applicable German law of citizenship? Note that children adopted by German Jews before 1945 are not eligible for German citizenship, even if they were born in Germany.
The "applicable German law of citizenship" referred to states that "Children born in wedlock between 1 Jan. 1914 and 31 Dec. 1974, acquired German citizenship only if the father was a German citizen at the time of their birth." Some waivers were granted for "Children born in wedlock between 1 April 1953 and 31 Dec. 1974 to a German mother and a non-German father"—but not for those born earlier.
In August 2019, the German Government announced new measures to cover the restoration of citizenship to victims of Nazi persecution (between 1933 and 1945); this included new discretionary provisions for the descendants of German Jewish mothers who lost their citizenship by marrying non-German men whilst overseas.
In May 2020, a Federal Constitutional Court decision made it possible for more people to claim citizenship under Article 116 (2) sentence 1 of the Basic Law. This applies to descendants of "children born in wedlock prior to 1 April 1953 to mothers who were forcibly deprived of their German nationality and foreign fathers" and "children born out of wedlock prior to 1 July 1993 to fathers who were forcibly deprived of their German nationality and foreign mothers."
See also the German Citizenship Project.
Children born in Germany
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 naturalized as German citizens.
- An application for naturalization was required by 31 December 2000.
- The child was required to apply for retention of German citizenship by the age of 23 and normally show that no other foreign citizenship was held at that time.
In addition to the principle of descent, since 1 January 2000 German nationality law also recognizes the principle of birthplace (in Latin: jus soli) for the acquisition of citizenship. According to this principle, children born in Germany to non-German parents may, under certain conditions, acquire German citizenship. At least one of their parents must have been a legal resident of Germany for at least eight years and must have a permanent right of residence at the time of the child's birth.
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.
Naturalization of foreigners in Germany per (selected) country and year.
Source (2015): Official 2015 Migration Report, p. 235
| Serbia and Montenegro
| Russian Federation
|Total (including countries not mentioned)
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. A proposed law called Brexit-Übergangsgesetz is intended to allow UK nationals who apply for German citizenship before the UK leaves the EU to retain dual nationality. Many UK and German nationals in each country are supporting the Permanent European Union Citizenship Initiative with the objective of ensuring that Germans taking UK citizenship retain their EU citizenship.
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 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.
Naturalized Germans can lose their German citizenship if it is found out that they got it by willful deceit / bribery / menacing / giving intentionally false or incomplete information that had been important for the naturalization process. In June 2019, it was decided to prolong the deadline from 5 to 10 years after naturalization.
Attila Selek, one of the plotters in the 2007 bomb plot in Germany had hidden criminal proceedings against him for breaches against gun regulation from the passport authorities during his citizenship application. Those authorities removed his citizenship in 2011 on the grounds that it had been fraudulently obtained. This rendered him stateless.
See also the section "Revocation of German citizenship for adult terrorists with second citizenship."
Dual (or other multiple) citizenship
Allowed under following circumstances:
- If the other citizenship is that 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. (§ 12 Abs. 2 StAG) There are exceptions made for citizens of countries that do not allow their citizens to renounce their citizenship (§ 12 Abs. 1 StAG) (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 or expensive (e.g., Afghanistan, Algeria, Angola, Cuba, Eritrea, Iran, Iraq, Lebanon, Morocco, Nigeria, Syria, Thailand, Tunisia, USA), 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 or non-Swiss citizenship with the permission (Beibehaltungsgenehmigung or BBG) 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 or 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 a non-German citizen acquires German citizenship by naturalization, and renunciation of the other citizenship(s) would be "very difficult." Such difficulty is to be assumed if any of six conditions apply, including unreasonable difficulties in renouncing, holding a refugee travel document, and the potential economic hardship of renunciation. Most people naturalised as German citizens in 2017, 61%, fell within these exceptions and were successful in obtaining approval to retain their other citizenships, with more than 81% of new German citizens from the Americas doing so. Following are three cases of accepted financial hardship:
- In the case of excessive fees for renouncing citizenship, these must be greater than the average gross monthly income of the applicant and at least 1278.23 Euros. (Section 18.104.22.168.2.1)
- In the case where unreasonable military service is a requirement for renouncing citizenship and this requirement can be waived by a "free purchase" those fees are considered excessive if greater than three times the average gross monthly income of the applicant and at least 5112.92 Euros. (Section 22.214.171.124.2.2)
- In the case of significant financial damages (loss of assets or business opportunity) where the losses are greater than the average gross annual income of the applicant and at least 10225.84 Euros. (Section 126.96.36.199.2)
- If a person, or their qualified descendants, receives restored citizenship under Article 116 par. 2 of the Basic Law (Grundgesetz) that states former German citizens who between 30 January 1933, and 8 May 1945, were deprived of their German citizenship on political, racial, or religious grounds may re-invoke their citizenship (as if it had never been lost), and may hold dual (or multiple) citizenship. Such restored citizens need not have ever lived in Germany.
- If a child born to a German parent acquires German citizenship and one or more other citizenships at birth, e.g., based on place of birth (birth in jus-soli countries, mostly of the Americas) or descent from one parent (one German parent and one foreign parent). (Of course, the nationality and citizenship laws of the other countries of the child's citizenships may or may not allow for multiple citizenships, and have their own declaration, selection, or retention requirements.)
- 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- and non-Swiss-citizen parents born and grown up abroad usually cannot have dual citizenship themselves (but see Point 1).
Revocation of German citizenship for adult terrorists with second citizenship
In June 2019, Germany adopted a law that allows to revoke the German citizenship of dual citizens who have joined or supported a terror militia such as the Islamic State and are at least 18 years old.
See also the section "Fraudulent application."
Citizenship of the European Union
Because Germany forms part of the European Union, German citizens are also citizens of the European Union under European Union law 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. German citizens can live and work in any country within the EU and EFTA as a result of the right of free movement and residence granted in Article 21 of the EU Treaty.
German citizens can be extradited only to other EU countries or to international courts of justice, and only if a law allows this (German Basic Law, Art. 16). Before the introduction of the European Arrest Warrant, the extradition of German citizens was generally prohibited by the German Basic Law.
Germans living abroad
Germans living abroad (Auslandsdeutsche) are German emigrants, namely, German citizens residing outside 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, "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."
In addition to the above sense, Auslandsdeutsche also refers to ethnic Germans in German-speaking communities abroad who descend from settlers in those countries generations or centuries ago (and therefore are mostly not citizens of Germany). To be unambiguous, modern-day German emigrants may be specified as "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, like Volga Germans in Kazakhstan.
Significant communities of German citizens abroad are found in the following countries:
German citizens living abroad
- Netherlands: 368,512 (2008, 2.19% of Dutch population, includes second-generation immigrants)
- 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)
- United Kingdom: 92,000 (2008, 0.15% of UK population)
- France: 75,057 (1999, 0.12% of French population).
- Poland: 64,000 both German and Polish citizenship (0.17% of Polish population, 2011), 45,000 exclusively German citizenship (0.12%, 2011)
People of German ethnicity living abroad
More statistics at German diaspora#Distribution.
There were 786,000 Germans in interwar Romania in 1939.
USA: Large numbers of German citizens live permanently in the U.S., especially academics, artists, computer experts, engineers, and businesspeople. 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".
Some of those Germans abroad hold passports from both Germany and the United States.
Travel freedom of German citizens
Visa requirements for German citizens are administrative entry restrictions by the authorities of other states placed on citizens of Germany. In January 2020, German citizens had visa-free or visa-on-arrival access to 189 countries and territories, ranking the German passport 3rd in the world according to the Henley & Partners Passport Index.
The German nationality is ranked number two as of 2018 in The Quality of Nationality Index (QNI). The ranking is considering internal factors such as peace & stability, economic strength, human development and external factors including travel freedom. France has taken number one after seven years, attributable mainly to the country's former colonial empire.)
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- ^ Dr. Gerhard Reichning, Die deutschen Vertriebenen in Zahlen, Teil 1, Bonn 1995, Page 17
- ^ "Archived copy". Archived from the original on 29 August 2014. Retrieved 17 March 2014.CS1 maint: archived copy as title (link)
- ^ "The Henley Passport Index" (PDF). Henley & Partners. 8 October 2018. Retrieved 15 October 2018.
This graph shows the full Global Ranking of the 2018 Henley Passport Index. In certain cases, a rank is shared by multiple countries because these countries all have the same level of visa-free or visa-on-arrival access.
- ^ "World's Top Nationalities Revealed: France Is No. 1, U.S. Ranks 27". www.forbes.com. 26 April 2018. Retrieved 30 July 2018.