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OPINION: Why I gave up Indian citizenship for a life in Hamburg

After 10 years in Hamburg, Meenu Gupta traded Indian citizenship for a German passport. She describes her reasons, and why her heart still belongs in India.

OPINION: Why I gave up Indian citizenship for a life in Hamburg
Meenu Gupta. Photo courtesy of the author.

Cancelled. One word between parallel lines shrieking across a page. 

Till last week, I was an Indian citizen and now no more. On my request, which was efficiently  processed in less than five working days by the Indian Consulate in Hamburg, my passport (I am an owner of four passport booklets), which bears testimony to my perambulations across continents, was cancelled, in view of the German government’s decision to accept me as a  citizen. 

I duly received the cancelled document with a certificate confirming my voluntary renouncement of Indian citizenship. 

READ ALSO: The five most common challenges Indians face in Germany

Multiple identities

If a soul could have a nationality, mine would still be very Indian. My soul lurches at the onset of Indian Mantras and goes into oblivion in meditation. The rich colours of India are stamped in my heart and my being carries Indian values like a beacon on a chariot. 

The Indian Consulate in Hamburg. Photo: Wikimedia Commons

Yet I am defined in many ways: My roots are Indian, my branches universal (I married a Dutch man!) and my fruits are German with deference to the fact that my son was born in Germany. 

I have lived in Hamburg for the last ten years. I arrived as a sceptic with an upturned nose of a well-heeled Indian, still trying to adjust to life in a foreign land. 

India, unlike what most Europeans think and know, is home to many cosmopolitan people, who are fairly well travelled with enough lucre, courtesy good careers and a lifestyle which could be the envy of many Europeans if they were aware of it. 

I know true life accounts of some Italian and German friends who were posted in India by their companies, and they grew to love their life in India so much that they wept when time came to return to their home countries. A life peppered with personal chauffeured cars, regular house-help, ambient  restaurants, club memberships, service-oriented home delivery shops, dinners at five-star hotels, etc. 

What is normal to the well-heeled in India is luxury for most in Europe. Definitions of normal and luxury have very different connotations in the two continents. 

I am not pining or whining…though sometimes travelling down memory lane is itself a sheer luxury. I crossed the ocean for love and stayed. 

What kept me abroad

So what didn’t I get in India? I realized that over the last ten years that it’s what people consider basic in Germany: fresh air and low pollution in the cities, drinking water from a tap and safety of  walking on roads and in parks without the fear of being assaulted. The last point hits a nerve because I lived in Delhi, which some years back was called the rape capital of India. 

Security and safety are major concerns in most metro cities in India, in view of the ever-increasing divide between the rich and the poor, even though the size of the middle class has swelled exponentially over the years.

For many memorable years, I lived in a part of Delhi which is home to both local as well as  international elites and therefore relatively more secure. It sits in the proximity of the famed heritage Lodi Garden which is considered as an echelon of power where common people rub shoulders with politicians and the like. 

On more than one occasion, I was assaulted during my regular evening walks in Lodi. I cannot think of a more secure Delhi public park which is frequented  also by the police commissioners as well as senior officers of Indian intelligence agencies. Yet, more than once, the security did not hold up. After an initial traumatizing assault in 1995, I walked with a body guard tailing me for a short while. Then I resorted to carrying pepper spay and stun guns.

Ten years ago, when I first started walking around the Alster in Hamburg late evenings, I had a well-entrenched habit of looking over my shoulders when I heard running footsteps behind me. It took me several years to shed this habit and enjoy walks without constantly jumping around. 

People walking along the Alster in Hamburg in October 2020. Photo: DPA

Applying for German citizenship

This and the fact that in India, I would never have the courage in present day times, to have a  babysitter pick up my son from school for fear of the child being kidnapped, spurred me to apply for German citizenship, when a dear friend broached the subject. 

It is a big step, unthinkable for many — a step which I took after a great deal of deliberation till one day I realized that a passport is actually rightly called “Reisepass” or travel document. Papers which help you cross borders do not define your soul’s lineage or allegiance or the borders of your heart.  

READ ALSO: Number of ‘Blue Card’ holders on the rise in Germany

In the span of a decade, my mind has crossed its borders – if India is my motherland, Germany, with its rich diversity in cities such as Hamburg where the old and new are juxtaposed while keeping a generous expanse of green cover, has become my fatherland. 

Finally, the East is as much home as the West. The constant buzz in my head to rush back to India to the comforts of home there, has mellowed to a murmur…but when the heat hits thirty degrees Celsius in Hamburg in response to global warming, that murmur becomes louder and my body craves the cool air conditioned ambience of my Indian home.

Europeans mistakenly think that all Indians are used to high temperatures and this is so not true! 

Rising incomes in India have resulted in air conditioners becoming ubiquitous in most middle and upper class households. This means that on an average person travels in an air-conditioned car to an air-conditioned office and comes back to an air-conditioned home in summer.

In fact, I got my first heat stroke in Germany some nine years ago…not in India!

A heavy heart

When the coronavirus pandemic hit the world totally unannounced last year, I was planning to visit India, my country, but was forced to cancel all plans, thanks to the flood of infections worldwide.

A woman swings a fire rope at a Diwali celebration in 2016 in Schloss Pillnitz in Dresden. Photo: DPA

In the span of the following nine months (the same time it takes for a human baby to form in the womb), Germany officially became my home country or so says the certificate  which I received with extreme politeness from a German official, who was quite baffled when I tentatively asked him if I could return the citizenship! 

Crazy as it may sound, I walked out of the German office with a heavy heart. Most people tell me that one should celebrate the event with champagne…but I could not get myself to look at or consume the bubbly.

For the first time, I pined for my roots like never before. I celebrated Diwali like never before…and even cooked an Indian dish which I also never did before. 

I am an expat no more but I am waiting to visit my motherland while I wait out the pandemic in my fatherland. If anything, my roots even became stronger!

READ ALSO: How Germany’s international residents are affected by the coronavirus pandemic

Member comments

  1. This article made me cringe. It reeks of privilege. It seems what the writer misses most about India are the domestic help, air conditioned cars and the lifestyle of the “well-heeled”. And her reason for accepting German citizenship seems to be a negative one, since it comes down to what India could not offer – clean air and safety. There was only one passing mention of the “rick diversity” and green expanse of Hamburg.

    I’m sorry thelocal, I hope future pieces meet a higher quality bar than this one.

  2. Yes she is privileged, but she writes about it with honesty. I found it an interesting insight into her motivations.

  3. You might not like the person in the article, but that does not make it a poor article. I found it interesting and honest, but at the same time couldn’t fail to notice the extremely privileged upbringing of the subject.

  4. Rahul, I had that feeling when I read the article, too – something a little off key: as if the writer felt she had to very keenly explain she was from a super privileged background and wasn’t seeking German citizenship out of desperation.

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For members


What Germany’s plans for a points-based system mean for foreigners

To tackle its ever-widening skills gap, Germany wants to encourage talent from aboard to move to the country by introducing a points-based immigration system. Here's what foreigners need to know about the changes.

What Germany's plans for a points-based system mean for foreigners

What’s a points-based system?

A points-based system is an immigration model where foreigners have to score above a certain threshold of points in order to obtain a residence or work permit in a country. The exact scoring system is set by the government, but can include factors like language skills, family connections to the country, specific qualifications or work-related skills, or the amount of money in your bank account. 

Points-based systems can also be known as “merit-based systems”, because there tends to be a pretty big emphasis on what you can offer a country in terms of education or skills. 

The model was first introduced in Canada way back in 1967 as the country tried to move past a system based on race and nationality to one that favoured language fluency, youth and educational or vocational background. A similar step was taken in Australia just a few years later in 1972 and, since Brexit, the UK has also introduced its own points-based model. 

How does this relate to Germany?

When the new ‘traffic-light’ coalition of the Social Democrats (SPD), Greens and Free Democrats (FDP) took office last December, the parties pledged to reform Germany’s immigration system and bring a fresh cohort of workers into the country.

“In addition to the existing immigration law, we will establish a second pillar with the introduction of an opportunity card based on a points system to enable workers to gain controlled access to the German labour market in order to find a job,” the coalition agreement read.

This would apply to third-country nationals who don’t otherwise have the right to live and work in the country. 

READ ALSO: EXPLAINED: What Germany’s new government means for citizenship and naturalisation

German language course poster

A sign advertising German courses. Language skills can count towards points in a points-based system. Photo: picture alliance / dpa | Bernd Wüstneck

FDP migration specialist Dr. Ann-Veruschka Jurisch, who is working on these reforms, says the policy is driven by Germany’s desperate need for workers. 

“The Liberal Party (FDP) is convinced that we need more labour migration,” she told The Local. “We do have a lot of options for coming into Germany as a labour migrant – but it’s a bit complicated – and if you want to come to Germany to search for a job and you don’t come from an EU country, it’s much more difficult.”

That’s why the coalition is aiming to offer a second route for people who don’t have job lined up in Germany, but who otherwise have the skills or talent to find one. 

What will this look like?

The plans for the points-based system are still at an early stage, so the exact criteria haven’t been worked out yet.

What’s clear at this stage, however, is that the points-based option would run parallel to the current model, which generally permits people with a concrete job offer in a skilled profession to come and work in the country. 

“It’s about (people having) a good opportunity to come to Germany when they have either a job offer in sight or a direct job offer,” Chancellor Olaf Scholz (SPD) said in response to parliamentary question in January. 

“Next to that, we want to achieve a further possibility for talent – for qualified men and women whose skills we need in Germany, who still don’t have a work contract but, if given access, could use that opportunity. That’s what we’re talking about with this Canadian points-based system. It shouldn’t replace our current system, but rather improve it.”

In short, that means that people with a job lined up won’t be disadvantaged – but there will be alternative routes for those without them. It also won’t affect the EU blue card scheme

READ ALSO: ‘I finally feel at home’: How Germany’s planned changes to citizenship laws affect foreigners

Will people need formal qualifications? 

Probably not – though it will obviously depend on the sector someone works in and their level of experience in their chosen field.

“I personally am convinced that you shouldn’t place too much emphasis on formal qualifications, because it’s very complicated getting your formal qualifications recognised in Germany,” said Jurisch.

“A medical doctor, for example, is one where you can’t say, ‘Okay, you’ve got some experience so we don’t need to see your papers.’ But there are a lot of other jobs which do not have this restriction and they are not formalised but rather based on practical experience.”

Carpenter wood

A carpenter sands down a block of wood in Cologne. Photo: picture alliance/dpa | Federico Gambarini

The issue of recognising qualifications is also a problem that the traffic-light coalition has set their sights on solving during their time in office.

At the moment, the process of getting qualifications officially recognised in Germany is done on a state-by-state basis, so somebody who gets their degree recognised in Brandenburg may have to redo the entire process again in Bavaria, for instance.

According to Jurisch, there have already been conversations between the Ministry for Labour and Social Affairs and the Ministry of Education on the issue, and Labour Minister Hubertus Heil (SPD) has also promised to take steps to solve it.

But, she said, it’s complicated: “I’ve started to dive into this issue, and the more I dive into it, the more complicated it becomes – so there are no silver bullets.” 

How many workers are needed – and where? 

In order to plug its labour shortages, Germany needs around 400,000 new workers every year, according to the Federal Employment Agency. In 2020, Germany’s net migration was just 200,000 and 150,000 people of working age entered retirement – which means the country is currently falling well short of its targets. 

“We have shortages everywhere,” Jurisch said. “We need 400,000 new workers every year, and these people won’t be born in Germany – or if they are, they won’t grow up for another 20 years.

“We haven’t managed to get more women into the labour market, or they work part time, so I don’t think this will make a big difference, and I don’t think we will close the gap by training people.”

In this sense, it seems that immigration is the only option for filling major staff shortages in almost every profession. 

“Whoever I talk to, be it nurses, nannies, IT workers, industrial workers, teachers, lawyers – everywhere we have a shortage,” Jurisch said.

staff shortages Germany

A sign outside a restaurant informs customers of a closure due to staff shortages. Photo: picture alliance/dpa | Stefan Sauer

When will the points-based system be introduced?

Unlike with the plans to reform citizenship, which the SDP-led Interior Ministry wants to achieve by the end of the year, there’s no firm timeline in place for the points-based system.

However, the FDP is fighting for the policy to be given higher priority and would like to introduce the new visa system before the next federal election in 2025. 

“I hope it will be done in this legislative period,” said Jurisch. “I’m pushing to get it a little bit higher up on the agenda.” 

READ ALSO: INTERVIEW: ‘Changing German citizenship laws is a priority’