German residence titles such as residence permits, permanent settlement permits and EU Blue Cards allow foreign nationals to stay, work and rent accommodation in Germany. However, for many foreigners, this is not enough and so a good number decide to become German.
Advantages of naturalisation (acquisition of German citizenship)
Naturalisation means that a foreign citizen relinquishes his or her original citizenship and acquires German citizenship in return. As a result, he or she will have exactly the same rights and obligations as other German citizens, such as the right to vote in elections, free choice of profession, and membership in the European Union, which allows you to enjoy freedom of movement in Europe and even travel outside Europe to many countries without a visa. You gain political participation and equal rights. For Germany, this possibility of naturalising foreign citizens is an opportunity to bind people to Germany who have been living here for a long period of time and who are successfully contributing to society. There are multiple legal bases for the acquisition of German citizenship by naturalisation, most of which are governed by the German Nationality Act (Staatsangehörigkeitsgesetz – StAG). Several requirements need to be met to this end. They will be listed in more detail below.
Requirements for becoming a German citizen through naturalisation
It is important to note that you are not naturalised automatically. German citizenship can only be obtained by submitting an application. Before deciding to take this step, you should first check whether you meet the statutory requirements.
The German Nationality Act (Staatsangehörigkeitsgesetz – StAG), which governs naturalisation, distinguishes between discretionary naturalisation and entitlement-based naturalisation.
Discretionary naturalisation means that spouses of Germans, top athletes, and famous artists, for example, can be naturalised after a short waiting period, which is usually three years. Unlike for entitlement-based naturalisation.
Entitlement-based naturalisation, which is much more common, requires that you have lived in Germany for at least eight years. Under certain circumstances, however, seven or even six years will be deemed sufficient. This is the case if the applicant has passed an integration test (7 years) or if the applicant has made outstanding integration efforts (6 years). “Outstanding integration efforts” within the meaning of section 10 para. (3) of the German Nationality Act (StAG) is a vague legal term and the said language skills are just an example. Hence, other integration efforts must also be taken into account, such as special achievements in education or professional training, volunteer or community activities, social commitment and/or trade union/association work.
Furthermore, applicants must be able to support themselves. If, for example, somebody is receiving social benefits such as Hartz IV, the application will not be approved. It should be noted that child benefit or education assistance do not count as social benefits. Personal reasons for acquiring German citizenship are not questioned.
Nevertheless, meeting the requirements for naturalisation demanded by the respective authority during an individual interview is no guarantee for a successful outcome. Each application for naturalisation is examined by the competent authorities on a case-by-case basis.
Here are the basic requirements for entitlement-based naturalisation once again:
- Permanent or unlimited right of residence at the time of naturalisation
- Commitment to the free democratic constitutional system enshrined in Germany’s Basic Law (Grundgesetz)
- Willingness to give up or lose your previous citizenship
- Oral as well as written command of German corresponding to level B1 of the Common European Framework of Reference for Languages.
- Proof of knowledge of the legal system, society and living conditions in the Federal Republic of Germany (naturalisation test)
- Ability to support yourself (and possibly your dependants) without recourse to benefits
- No criminal convictions
How does the naturalisation procedure work?
First you need to apply for German citizenship. The immigration and citizenship authority in the city where you reside is responsible for processing the application. In some federal states you must address the citizens‘ registration office (Bürgeramt) or the foreign citizens‘ registration office (Ausländerbehörde). In Cologne, for example, you can only obtain the required application form by booking a consultation. However, in most cases, you can simply download the form from the website of the respective city. Nevertheless, it is advisable to pick up the application form for German citizenship in person. In this case the staff there can offer you individual advice and explain the specifics directly, as well as explicitly tell you which documents will be needed in addition to the application form in your case. Persons who permanently live abroad can only be naturalised in certain exceptional cases. (Naturalisation of applicants living abroad). The Federal Office of Administration (Bundesverwaltungsamt) in Cologne is the competent authority. However, you can also first contact a competent German diplomatic mission (embassy, consulate general or other consular office) in your region.
As a rule, you will need to submit the following documents with your application:
- Completed application form
- Birth certificate
- Copy of your passport
- Copy of your residence permit in Germany
- Language certificates (level B1)
- Employment contract
- Lease contract
The exact documents that are required will vary from person to person and from authority to authority. It is best to ask the relevant authority yourself in advance. Because an incomplete application may lead to delays.
SUFFICIENT COMMAND OF GERMAN
Sufficient command of German is a crucial requirement. As a rule, your language skills must be equivalent at least to level B1 (sufficient command). If you want to be naturalised after only 6 years of residence, they must even meet level B2. If you cannot provide relevant proof of sufficient command of German, you will need to pass a language test. In this test you must be able to show that you can communicate adequately in German. Applicants who can present a German school-leaving certificate, may not need to provide evidence of their command of German. And in cases where the foreign national obviously speaks perfect German, it may be unlawful for the naturalisation authority to insist on a certificate purely for formal reasons.
Update: In August 2021, the German Nationality Act was amended and the words “in oral and written form” were deleted. Section 10 paragraph (4) of the German Nationality Act now reads as follows: “The requirements specified in subsection (1) sentence 1 no. 6 are met if the foreigner passes a language examination for level B 1 in the Common European Framework of Reference for Languages.”
You will also have to pass a naturalisation test. This test will examine your knowledge of the legal, social and democratic system of the Federal Republic of Germany. It consists of 33 questions, three of which are specific to the federal state where you are registered. To pass the test you need to answer 17 questions correctly. This is to show whether you have made first efforts at integration. Applicants who can present a German school-leaving certificate may not need to take the naturalisation test. You will find all questions of the naturalisation test on the website of the Federal Office for Migration and Refugees (Bundesamt für Migration und Flüchtlinge – BAMF) and can even try a sample test.
ASSURANCE OF NATURALISATION AND RENUNCIATION OF FOREIGN CITIZENSHIP
If you have met all the requirements, your application will be approved and you will receive an assurance of naturalisation. This will enable you to take the next step and is by no means the naturalisation certificate itself. This assurance can also be revoked if the applicant’s situation changes. Now you will need to give up your current citizenship, for which different conditions apply depending on your country of origin. Once you can provide evidence that you have renounced your original citizenship, the naturalisation process will be completed. For example, if your country of origin does not permit a release from citizenship, does not respond to your application for two years, or does not provide for a renunciation of citizenship, you may retain your old citizenship by way of exception. In these cases a naturalisation with dual citizenship is possible.
Once all of the steps have been taken, you will be sent a certificate of naturalisation by post. This document completes your naturalisation and you have become a German citizen. You can take this certificate to the citizens’ registration office to apply for an ID card and a passport.
The costs are currently €255 per applicant and €51 for each child who is to be naturalised together with his or her parents. The authorities are usually flexible when it comes to payment of this amount. The fee can be reduced, paid in instalments, or even waived completely in some cases if the person can prove a low income or if multiple parties are being naturalised. Additional expenses include €25 for the naturalisation test and fees for the issuance or certification of various documents. The time required for the procedure can vary greatly. Once you have submitted your application with all of the required documents and have successfully renounced your original citizenship, you can expect to be naturalised within six weeks. In the case of communication problems with the country of origin and if missing documents have to be submitted belatedly, the process can even take more than two years.
FACILITATED PROCEDURE FOR REFUGEES
Refugees who have been granted asylum in this country can also apply for naturalisation after spending a certain time in Germany, although they must also meet the above-mentioned requirements. However, in certain respects Germany will facilitate the procedure. The reason for this being that refugees cannot plan their stay in Germany in advance during their flight and a residence permit in the asylum procedure is initially only issued on a temporary basis.
The process is facilitated for the following requirements, while all other conditions must be fully met:
- Command of the German language does not need to be equivalent to level B1. Nevertheless, the applicants must be able to communicate adequately in German.
- Easier criteria apply to the naturalisation test.
- The regular minimum period of residence is six years, not the usual eight years.
- Dual citizenship is possible if the applicant is still being persecuted.
NATURALISATION OF CHILDREN
Special provisions apply to the naturalisation of children of foreign citizens between the ages of eight and sixteen. A child cannot be required to take a naturalisation test, but he or she must still demonstrate a basic knowledge of German. A period of residence of at least eight years is mandatory, and this applies to both the child and its parents. The question of no criminal convictions must also be addressed, as 14 is the age of criminal responsibility in Germany. It is important to note that if one parent already has German citizenship when the child is born, the child can be naturalised according to ius sanguinis (right of descent).
If you have any questions about naturalisation, simply contact lawyer Helmer Tieben. Lawyer Tieben was admitted to the bar in 2005 and specialises in immigration and asylum law. You can reach Mr Tieben on 0221 – 80187670.