New Berlin citizenship centre could further delay applications
The grand plan of Berlin’s new citizenship office, which will open in 2024 and triple the number of Berliners granted a German passport each year, seemed like a pipedream turned soon-to-be-reality for many of the city’s migrants. Now, it turns out that the dedicated office could lead to further application delays in a city where some have already been waiting years to complete the naturalisation process.
Berlin Naturalisation Centre opening blocks application processes
Germany's administrative infrastructure is currently buckling under the weight of citizenship applications. In the capital alone, 21.725 applications sit on the back burner, while only 5.000 are expected to be processed this year.
Currently, these applications are processed by individual borough offices (Bezirksämter) in Berlin. But from January 1, 2024, the burden of backlogged applications, some of which were now submitted years ago, will be handed over to Berlin’s new citizenship office. The Central Naturalisation Centre at the State Office for Immigration (LEA) plans to up the number of people granted citizenship in the German city each year, from 8.000 to 20.000.
Now, a proverbial spanner has been thrown in the works for those Berliners still waiting for their new passport or hoping to begin the application process soon. According to The Local, a Berlin Senate draft paper on “Centralisation of Citizenship Matters” has revealed that citizenship applications received after January 1, 2023 will not be processed until the new centre opens in 2024.
Berlin Senate spokesperson Sabine Beikler told The Local that applications which “do not justify an accelerated processing requirement” will be processed “downstream” - meaning they will likely gather dust until the new office opens in 2024.
Berlin politicians condemn passport processing delays
Though Beikler emphasised that the new policy will not pause all new applications but rather that “new applications [will] generally be given lower priority than older procedures,” the plan has already received a chorus of criticism from local politicians.
Speaking to Tagesspiegel, several Berlin borough heads have condemned what they see as a processing block. “It is hardly likely to be justifiable to wantonly leave an administrative procedure unprocessed for such a long period of time,” CDU social affairs councillor Matthias Steuckardt told the newspaper.
According to Tim Richter, a city councillor in the Steglitz-Zehlendorf district, insufficient communication about plans for the new central office has also led to a “lack of understanding on the part of those seeking naturalisation”.
Steuckardt calls for more staff in Berlin Bezirksämter
Currently, each Bezirksamt has around 80 employees, who have long been making it clear that they are overwhelmed and understaffed. For the upcoming centre around 200 new employees will be hired, and the application process will be semi-digitised.
But for Steuckardt, opening a whole new centre is unnecessary. “In recent years, cries for help from Bezirksämter staff have gone unheard,” Steuckardt told Tagesspiegel. “Why is it not possible to strengthen the districts accordingly in terms of personnel and equip them with modern technology?"
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