Bundestag passes monumental new German citizenship law
Members of the German Bundestag have voted through historic changes to Germany’s citizenship legislation. Here’s how it happened and what we expect the next steps to be.
Dual citizenship law finally passed in Germany
After a 45-minute debate over the 80-page law, members of the German Bundestag have voted through a historic new citizenship law. 382 members of Bundestag members voted in favour of passing the law, 234 voted against and 23 abstained.
The new law will mean that people who have been resident in Germany for just five years will be eligible for a German passport. They will also be able to keep their original nationality and have dual citizenship. In cases where prospective citizens show impressive achievements in their work and speak German at C1 level, they will be eligible to apply for citizenship after just three years.
Older people and children will also benefit from the new law. Once it is introduced, residents who are over the age of 67 will no longer have to prove their B1-level language skills and will not have to pass a naturalisation test to obtain citizenship. The rules will be relaxed for children born to non-German parents in the federal republic, who should soon be eligible for a passport if just one of their parents has been legally resident in Germany for at least five years when the child is born.
What stances did parties take in the Bundestag readings?
Before the vote was held, the law faced its second and third of three debates, also known as readings, which are part of the legislative process.
First to take the floor was CDU / CSU representative Alexander Throm, who accused the coalition government of “adding fuel to the fire” with the new law. “The migration crisis and war in Israel mean it is completely the wrong time to bring in a new law like this,” said Throm. In his speech, the representative for Heilbronn implied that granting citizenship to people in Germany with Turkish heritage risks importing the politics of Turkey’s right-wing, ruling AKP party to the federal republic.
“This is exactly the moment to pass this law,” said Canan Bayram (Greens) in retort, adding that modernising the citizenship law would send a strong signal at a time when the AfD is shooting up the polls. Bayram also accused the CDU / CSU of hypocrisy for fostering relationships with President Erdoğan while using the AKP’s popularity in Turkey as a reason to withhold citizenship from the Turkish-German population.
Addressing Throm’s claim that the migrant crisis was a justification to reject the new law, SPD representative Dirk Wiese said, “To clarify, the citizenship law is about people who already live in this country”, while the FDP’s Stephan Thomae accused Throm and CDU / CSU members of “mistrusting Turkish people living in Germany [...] the Gastarbeiter generation that built this land”.
Speaking of her own journey to obtaining citizenship at 18 years old after having lived in Germany for 15 years, Schahina Gambir (Greens) argued that the new law would “strengthen our social cohesion, integration and [make] our country more democratic”.
From when will the new citizenship law apply?
Now that Bundestag members have voted to pass the law, it will go to the floor of the Bundesrat, which represents the interests of the 16 German federal states.
As such, the coalition government believes that this legislative stage should be little more than a formality. This is because the planned changes to the citizenship law will be adopted at the federal level and do not concern the budget or amendments to the German constitution (Grundgesetz). Even if Bundesrat members wanted to, the house cannot stop the new legislation from being passed into law.
The next Bundesrat sittings are scheduled to take place on February 2 and 22. Now that the new citizenship law has passed through the Bundestag, either of these dates could be when President Steinmeier is invited to enshrine the law. Once administrative adjustments have been made, the law is expected to come into effect from April 2024.
Worker shortages in Germany's public sector mean that processing times for citizenship applications can take years in some cities, but just a few months in less densely populated areas. This is something that eager applicants should consider.
If you are eligible under the new rules and would like to apply for citizenship sooner rather than later, you could explore the waiting times in the area where you live, and whether your application is likely to make it to the top of the pile before or after the new rules apply in April 2024.
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