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Germany’s eagerly-awaited dual citizenship reform hits delays

German government ministers are reportedly close to a final deal on reforming Germany’s citizenship laws – but anxiously waiting citizenship applicants will probably have to wait until autumn to see the new rules hit the Bundestag.

The Reichstag building, where the Bundestag is located.
The Reichstag building, where the Bundestag is located. The German government has been working on reforming citizenship laws. Photo: picture alliance/dpa | Fabian Sommer

Originally expected to be debated in German parliament in April, the traffic light government’s plans to liberalise German citizenship laws have been bogged down in Cabinet discussions since January, when Social Democrat Interior Minister Nancy Faeser presented the law to the rest of her ministerial colleagues.

“The relevant departmental consultations on the draft citizenship law are now in their final stages,” Stephan Thomae, the parliamentary rapporteur on the draft citizenship law for the liberal Free Democrats, told The Local, adding: “It’s not yet clear when Cabinet will vote on the draft.”

One particular sticking point involved the insistence of the FDP, who are a part of the government and hold the Justice Ministry, on barring naturalisation for certain specific crimes.

According to German media reports, Justice Minister Marco Buschmann has managed to secure changes to the original draft that would prevent anyone convicted of hate crimes – for example with anti-Semitic, racist, xenophobic, or other “inhuman motives” – from naturalising as a German citizen.

FDP citizenship law parliamentary rapporteur Stephan Thomae tells The Local the government parties are close to a deal on the law, but it’s still not clear exactly when the Bundestag will see it. Photo: German Bundestag

Public prosecutors would be able to report such convictions to immigration authorities, in order to prevent naturalisations for those convicted of such hate crimes.

The FDP has also secured stipulations that require citizenship applicants to be able to support themselves and their families without resorting to social benefits. This would likely require someone applying to become German to declare and prove that they haven’t had to take out certain social benefits for two years prior to applying.

It would also, as it currently stands, require people receiving certain benefits, like Bürgergeld, to have been in full-time employment for 20 months out of the last two years at the time of application, something some Social Democrats in parliament, including SPD citizenship law rapporteur Hakan Demir, say should be amended in the Bundestag, as it would exclude many women.

READ ALSO: 8 reasons why German citizenship trumps permanent residency

There are planned exceptions to this rule though. These include the so-called guest worker generation, mostly from Turkey, or contract workers who entered the former East Germany before reunification in 1990. 

Exceptions have also been agreed for full-time working couples with children who are either married or in a registered partnership. This would allow them to draw on Kindergeld, or “child’s allowance.”

Cabinet is also in agreement on the major parts of the bill. These include allowing dual citizenship and shortening the time someone has to be resident in Germany before applying from eight years to five years. Those who can prove special integration and C1 German would also be able to potentially naturalise after three years.

READ ALSO: What’s the difference between B2 and C1 German for new fast-track citizenship?

What happens next?

Once Cabinet agrees on a draft, it will go to the Bundestag for debate, where parliamentarians may suggest some changes of their own before passing it. Parliament was originally supposed to hear it in April and pass it before the end of the Spring session in late June.

Cabinet is now working to agree a draft by summer, a deadline Demir says he expects to be met – meaning the draft law would not hit the Bundestag before autumn.

After the Bundestag passes the new law, Germany’s upper chamber, the Bundesrat would also have to pass it and civil servants at immigration offices would probably have an implementation period, meaning it’s not precisely clear exactly when the new rules would come into effect.

However, many citizenship applications are facing backlogs – particularly in Berlin – with some applicants waiting for over two years to receive their first German passport. This means many people applying now may well fall under the new rules by the time their application makes significant headway.

READ ALSO: About 27,000 people in Berlin waiting on citizenship applications

With additional reporting by Imogen Goodman

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Former barracks running out of space as more migrants reach Germany

A short distance from the border with Poland, Olaf Jansen, the director of a migrant processing centre in eastern Germany, is looking anxiously at the numbers of latest arrivals.

Former barracks running out of space as more migrants reach Germany

The former barracks turned 1,500-bed facility in Eisenhüttenstadt risks running out of space soon as migrants are turning up in Germany in numbers not seen since 2015, when then chancellor Angela Merkel opened the doors to hundreds of thousands of refugees from Syria and beyond.

The new influx has pushed Olaf Scholz’s government to take steps to limit entries into Germany, reignited a bitter debate over immigration and given a push to the far right in the polls.

READ ALSO: Why are some Germans turning towards the far right?

The Eisenhüttenstadt facility was already hosting 1,400 this week, and while every day, migrants who have received offers of more permanent housing move on, fewer are leaving now as cities and towns report shrinking capacity to take them in.

“Every day around 100 people arrive here. And that could go up to 120,” Jansen, 63, told AFP.

“If you add together the asylum seekers and those coming from Ukraine – who do not have to file (an asylum) application in Germany – it is like 2015,” he said.

Two routes

There had been an “explosion” in the “number of illegal crossings on the German-Polish border”, regional interior minister Michael Stuebgen said earlier this week.

“It has never been this high,” Stuebgen said of the number of arrivals in his region, Brandenburg.

Residents sit in the courtyard between housing blocks at Brandenburg's Central Immigration Authority (ZABH) center, housing some 1400 asylum seekers in eastern Germany, on September 28, 2023.

Residents sit in the courtyard between housing blocks at Brandenburg’s Central Immigration Authority (ZABH) center, housing some 1400 asylum seekers in eastern Germany, on September 28, 2023. Photo by Odd ANDERSEN / AFP

On Friday, Interior Minister Nancy Faeser said Germany, Poland and the Czech Republic will join hands to boost border controls to crack down on people smugglers.

To arrive at the Polish border and cross in to Germany, there are two main routes for migrants.

“Half of the migrants in Eisenhüttenstadt have come via Moscow and Belarus, and the other half took the route through the Balkans, which also goes through Hungary and Slovakia,” said Jansen.

Abdel Hamid Azraq, 34, from Aleppo in Syria is one of the recent arrivals.

“From Turkey to Greece it was $500 (471 euros). From Greece to Serbia, $1,000 and the same again to get to Germany,” he told AFP.

Azraq’s journey came relatively cheap, according to Jansen. “The sums asked for by smugglers are between $3,000 and $15,000, depending on the degree of comfort,” he estimated.

Syrians like Azraq make up the largest group at the Eisenhuettenstadt centre – between 15 and 20 percent. Other new arrivals include Afghans, Kurds from Turkey, Georgians, Russians, Pakistanis, Cameroonians and Kenyans.

In Jansen’s opinion, the move to beef up police checks at the borders is a positive step.

Staying put

“With every new control, more smugglers are stopped. One smuggler fewer means dozens of people who they cannot smuggle over,” Jansen said.

According to Jansen, Belarus has continued to send migrants from the Middle East into Poland, from where they travel on to Germany, a strategy already put into use by Minsk in 2021.

“It is 12 months now that we have a lot of arrivals coming from that country,” Jansen said of Belarus, recounting that migrants report being given “ladders and big scissors to make holes in the fences” put up by Poland to keep them out.

Around 80 percent of the migrants who arrive in Eisenhüttenstadt are escorted by police who stopped them close to the border. The other 20 percent make their own way there.

At the centre, where migrants normally stay three or four months before being sent on, new arrivals are able to make their first asylum request.

Around half of the migrants in Eisenhüttenstadt have a chance of having their requests granted, Jansen said.

The chances of staying look good for 24-year-old Iraqi Ali Ogaili, who told AFP he was a homosexual. In Eisenhüttenstadt , women and LGBT people have their own building to keep them safe.

Staying in Germany is the hope of many at the camp. Azraq told AFP he wants to “work, bring my family here, settle down and serve this country and German society”.