Germany wants to lower the requirements for acquiring its citizenship following the example of France, the government has announced, continuing its reform agenda to tackle labour shortages.
The German citizenship law was long known for being particularly restrictive, reserving automatic accession to descendants of Germans and banning dual citizenship in many cases until 2014.
“Our economy urgently needs new skilled labour and a modern immigration law, which includes the acquisition of citizenship,” Interior Minister Nancy Faeser told reporters on Wednesday (23 August).
To attract more skilled workers, the government aims to make the acquisition of German citizenship easier and faster and to allow for dual citizenship.
The new provisions will allow foreign nationals to acquire German citizenship after five years of permanent residence, rather than the current eight years. Likewise, German-born children of foreign nationals will automatically receive citizenship if their parents have been living in the country for five years. Dual citizenship will be open to everyone in principle.
Faeser even wants to allow naturalisation after three years in case of “special integration achievements”.
“Think an AI professor who helps move the country forward (…) and a woman who volunteers as a firefighter,” the interior minister said.
The moves tie in with the coalition government’s wider efforts to attract skilled labour, which include a recent revamp of the country’s immigration law. The German Economic Institute (IW), a research institution, estimated that Germany was missing about 600,000 skilled workers last year. The gap is likely to grow as the country’s population is ageing rapidly.
Nevertheless, the conservative opposition complained that the legislation would set false incentives.
“To lower requirements at times of record migration means to provoke a further polarisation of society,” warned Alexander Dobrindt, parliamentary speaker of the centre-right CSU, illustrating the complex situation in Germany between a need for foreign labour and an increase of irregular migration.
However, the legislation will in fact tighten restrictions in several cases: accession will be limited to applicants who can prove that they can support themselves financially, with few exceptions.
People convicted due to antisemitic, racist, xenophobic or inhumane actions will be barred from naturalisation.
“Those who don’t share our values cannot become German,” Faeser insisted.
Regarding the design of the law, the government looked to France in particular, said Faeser, as well as the United States. French law also sets a residence requirement of five years for naturalisation and includes fast-track procedures as well as restrictions based on shared values, income, and criminal records.
Challenges remain for the law to work as a pull factor. Faeser admitted that speedy accession was still ultimately dependent on Germany’s slow-moving administration.
“Authorities already seem to be overwhelmed – so yes, this is a problem,” she acknowledged, pointing to varying waiting times for citizenship applications in different regional states on whose performance the implementation would depend.
The new legislation has yet to pass the German parliament, where the government enjoys a comfortable majority.
(Edited by Oliver Noyan/Benjamin Fox)
Read more with EURACTIV