Dual citizenship in Germany set to become easier

Woman holding German and Turkish passports into the camera


Dual citizenship in Germany set to become easier

Ben Knight

05/20/2023May 20, 2023

Germany’s government is getting closer to allowing immigrants multiple citizenships after overturning a decadeslong ban. The idea, a long-standing tradition in many countries, is well overdue, say those affected.

The German government has announced that its new citizenship law is in the final drafting stages. Legislation proposed by Interior Minister Nancy Faeser will make dual citizenship easier as well as naturalization for non-EU citizens.

It is a reform that has been in the works since the coalition of Social Democrats, Greens and Free Democrats took office in the fall of 2021. DW has reported on the government’s plans several times, and last December interviewed several people affected by the issue.

For example, Marc Young, for whom Germany’s reform to allow dual citizenship came 10 years too late:  “Back then I would have been the keenest German citizen you could have imagined,” he told DW. “But I refused to give up my US passport. Retaining your old citizenship does not mean you have split loyalties, like so many German conservatives claim. It just reflects who you really are. Changing it is way overdue.”

Young said that he had been living in Germany for 20 years and had long wearied of the political debate.

The reforms the Social-Democrat-led government are part of a wide-ranging overhaul of Germany’s immigration law that is mainly aimed at encouraging more skilled workers to come to Germany and fill the massive shortages in the labor market. 

Chinese nurse tending to old German woman in nursing home
Germany urgently needs to encourage immigration into its labor marketImage: picture-alliance/dpa/J. Wolf

Planned changes to the law

The new citizenship plans boil down to three changes:

  • Immigrants legally living in Germany will be allowed to apply for citizenship after five years, rather than the current eight;
  • Children born in Germany of at least one parent who has been living legally in the country for five or more years will automatically get German citizenship;
  • Multiple citizenships will be allowed.

The opposition center-right Christian Democratic Union (CDU), which has consistently blocked any such reforms in the past, attacked the government’s plans in December. “German citizenship is something very precious, and one should treat it very carefully,” CDU leader Friedrich Merz told public broadcaster ARD.

Immigrants currently include EU and Swiss nationals, those whose country of origin does not allow people to renounce citizenship (e.g. Iran, Afghanistan, Morocco), children of parents with German and other citizenship, refugees who are threatened with persecution in their home country, and Israelis. Syrians who came to Germany as refugees and are considered to have integrated well may also be fast-tracked to German citizenship.

Syrians in Sinzig: From refugees to volunteers

The reforms will bring Germany in line with other European countries. In the EU, Sweden had the highest naturalization rate in 2020, with 8.6% of all foreigners living there naturalized. In Germany, the rate was 1.1%.

“The German citizenship law is based on the principle of avoiding multiple citizenships,” Greta Agustini, a German-based lawyer who specializes in immigration, told DW in December. “Other European countries, such as Italy, Sweden, Ireland, France, etc, allow dual citizenship and they have less bureaucratic laws regarding this issue.”

Many of Agustini’s clients had struggled to find a way to gain German citizenship. “They refuse to give up their home country citizenship, yet they also want to gain the German one,” she said. 

According to Germany’s Federal Statistics Office, there are about 2.9 million people with more than one citizenship living in Germany, about 3.5% of the population. Though the actual number is likely to be higher, as it has recorded an uptick, with 69% of new German nationals holding on to their original passport. People with Polish, Russian, or Turkish passports top the list.

‘We are from here’: Turkish-German life in 1990 in pictures

Istanbul photographer Ergun Cagatay documented in 1990 the life of the Turks who stayed in Germany following the 1961 recruitment agreement. The photos are showcased in an exhibition.

Image: Ergun Çağatay/Fotoarchiv Ruhr Museum/Stadtmuseum Berlin/Stiftung Historische Museen Hamburg

Two miners in a passenger car at Walsum colliery, Duisburg.


In 1990, Istanbul-based photographer Ergun Cagatay took thousands of photos of people of Turkish origin in Hamburg, Cologne, Werl, Berlin and Duisburg. They are on display from July 8, 2022 to February 7 at Berlin’s Museum Europäischer Kulturen, as part of a traveling exhibition, “We are from here: Turkish-German life in 1990.” Here he’s seen in a self-portrait in pit clothes at a Duisburg mine.

Image: Ergun Çağatay/Fotoarchiv Ruhr Museum/Stadtmuseum Berlin/Stiftung Historische Museen Hamburg

Photographer Ergun Çağatay photographs himself in a mirror with a reflex camera. Photos from the exhibition "We are from here: German-Turkish life in 1990."

Seeking their fortune

Two miners shortly before the end of their shift in an old-style passenger car at Walsum Mine, Duisburg. Due to a rapid economic upturn in the ’50s, Germany faced a shortage of trained workers, especially in agriculture and mining. Following the 1961 recruitment agreement between Bonn and Ankara, more than 1 million “guest workers” from Turkey came to Germany until recruitment was stopped in 1973.

Image: Ergun Çağatay/Fotoarchiv Ruhr Museum/Stadtmuseum Berlin/Stiftung Historische Museen Hamburg

Two miners in a passenger car at Walsum colliery, Duisburg.

Germany’s economic miracle

Shown here is the upholstery production at the Ford automobile plant in Cologne-Niehl. “Workers have been called, and people are coming,” commented Swiss writer Max Frisch back then. Today, the Turkish community, with some immigrants’ families now in their fourth generation, forms the largest ethnic minority group in Germany, with 2.5 million people.

Image: Ergun Çağatay/Fotoarchiv Ruhr Museum/Stadtmuseum Berlin/Stiftung Historische Museen Hamburg

Woman upholstering a car seat.

Demanding more rights

During his three-month photo expedition through Germany, Cagatay experienced a country in transition. Between the fall of the Berlin Wall and reunification, Germany was in the process of becoming a multicultural society. Here, demonstrators march at a rally against the draft of the new Aliens Act, in Hamburg on March 31, 1990.

Image: Ergun Çağatay/Fotoarchiv Ruhr Museum/Stadtmuseum Berlin/Stiftung Historische Museen Hamburg

Demonstrators with banners.

At home

The photos provide an insight into the diversity of Turkish-German life. Seen here is the eight-member family of Hasan Hüseyin Gül in Hamburg. The exhibition is the most comprehensive coverage on Turkish immigration of the first and second generation of “guest workers.”

Image: Ergun Çağatay/Fotoarchiv Ruhr Museum/Stadtmuseum Berlin/Stiftung Historische Museen Hamburg

A family of eight sitting on a sofa.

Taste of home

Today, foodstuff like olives and sheep’s cheese can be easily found in Germany. Previously, the guest workers loaded their cars with food from home during their trips back. Slowly, they set up their culinary infrastructure here in Germany, to the delight of all gourmets. Here we see the owners of the Mevsim fruit and vegetable store in Weidengasse, Cologne-Eigelstein.

Image: Ergun Çağatay/Fotoarchiv Ruhr Museum/Stadtmuseum Berlin/Stiftung Historische Museen Hamburg

Three people standing in a grocery store and smiling into the camera.

‘Like a forest in brotherhood’

Children with balloons at the Sudermanplatz in Cologne’s Agnes neighborhood. On the wall in the background is a mural of a tree with an excerpt of a poem by Turkish poet Nazim Hikmet: “To live! Like a tree alone and free. Like a forest in brotherhood. This yearning is ours.” Hikmet himself lived in exile in Russia, where he died in 1963.

Image: Ergun Çağatay/Fotoarchiv Ruhr Museum/Stadtmuseum Berlin/Stiftung Historische Museen Hamburg

Two children with balloons in front of a parking lot.

Quran lessons

At the Quran school of the Fatih mosque in Werl, children learn Arabic characters to be able to read the Quran. It was the first newly built mosque with a minaret in Germany that was opened at that time. People no longer had to go to the backyard to pray.

Image: Ergun Çağatay/Fotoarchiv Ruhr Museum/Stadtmuseum Berlin/Stiftung Historische Museen Hamburg

Pupils in an Arabic reading class.

‘May you grow old with one pillow’

Photographer Cagatay mingles with guests at a wedding at Oranienplatz in Berlin-Kreuzberg. In the Burcu event hall, guests pin money on the newlyweds, often with the wish “may you grow old with one pillow”; newlyweds traditionally share a single long pillow on the marital bed.

Image: Ergun Çağatay/Fotoarchiv Ruhr Museum/Stadtmuseum Berlin/Stiftung Historische Museen Hamburg

Bridal couple getting banknotes pinned on them.


Traditions are maintained in the new homeland too. Here at a circumcision party in Berlin, “Mashallah” in written on the boy’s sash. It means “praise be” or “what God has willed.” The traveling exhibition is sponsored by the German Foreign Office, among others. In addition to Essen, Hamburg and Berlin, it is also being held in cooperation with the Goethe Institute in Izmir, Istanbul and Ankara.

Image: Ergun Çağatay/Fotoarchiv Ruhr Museum/Stadtmuseum Berlin/Stiftung Historische Museen Hamburg

A boy in festive clothes at his circumcision party, with another boy and a woman next to him.

10 images

10 images

‘Too late for the guestworker generation’

The group that has felt the effect of Germany’s citizenship laws more keenly than any other is the Turkish community, many of whom came to Germany the last time the country needed workers: In the 1960s.

At this time, a rapidly growing West Germany signed deals with several states to recruit “guest workers,” mainly for menial industry-based jobs.

By far the most came from Turkey, and there are now an estimated 3 million people of Turkish heritage living in Germany — 1.45 million of whom still have Turkish citizenship. Aslihan Yeşilkaya-Yurtbay, co-leader of the Turkish Community in Germany organization (TGD), said the reforms came “too late” for many of that original generation — “but [it’s] better late than never.”

“For the guestworker generation, this reform means recognition and respect for their lives and their work in and for this country,” Yeşilkaya-Yurtbay told DW. “A lot of Turkish people of the second and third generation will, I think, feel empowered by it because they always had an identity dilemma.”

“Many people have waited for this, and have maybe given up hope,” she said. “And if it really happens, then I think many will become German.”

Yeşilkaya-Yurtbay said that Germany would have been a different country if the reform had been brought in earlier. “People would have identified more with Germany if that possibility had been in place,” she explained. “I’m sure people would have been more politically interested and more active in society if this opportunity had been there 20 or 30 years ago.”

infographik showing the rising number of foreign nationals in Germany from 1970 to 2019
The number of foreign nationals in Germany has been rising

Marc Young also said that his own experience had given him a “small inkling” of what people with Turkish roots had had to put up with for decades. He added that he had raised German children and had no intention of leaving, and would probably apply for German citizenship when the reforms are passed.

“I would still apply if Germany allowed dual citizenship but I would see it now far more transactional in nature,” he said. “I’ve paid my taxes and one day will be a German pensioner whether CDU leader Friedrich Merz likes it or not. Maybe that would change once I became German, but right now the bloom is off the Teutonic rose for me.”

Edited by: Rina Goldenberg

source https://www.dw.com/en/dual-citizenship-in-germany-set-to-become-easier/a-63987066#:~:text=Children%20born%20in%20Germany%20of,Multiple%20citizenships%20will%20be%20allowed.

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