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INTERVIEW: What is the biggest problem foreigners face when applying for German citizenship?

Many foreign nationals are considering applying for German citizenship, especially as the law is set to change in future. The Local's Germany in Focus podcast asked an expert for advice on the process.

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

For lots of people building a life abroad, applying for citizenship of their country of residence is a major step that cements integration. 

But the German rule that means non-EU nationals can’t hold more than one citizenship if they become German – unless they can argue an exception – means lots of people hold off from naturalising. 

That is all set to change under new plans from the German government which will allow people to hold more than one nationality when they become German. 

The plans would also see the number of residency years needed slashed from eight to five – and even to three in some cases. 

Although the government’s plans are still in the works, Berlin-based immigration lawyer Sven Hasse told the Germany in Focus podcast that he expected the reform, which is likely to come into force next year, to prompt a wave of new applicants. 

“The timeline for naturalisation is shortened from eight years to five years (in the draft law) – that of course brings a lot more applications at the moment the law is enforced because you have three years more on the application process,” he said. 

“It’s possible to shorten it to three years if you have C1 language skills and other special achievements like a good job, a good education or you work in an NGO or even in a football club. So that brings a lot more applicants to the process and the right to apply.”


Hasse added that because Germany will in future allow people to hold multi-nationalities, it would encourage those living in Germany who are originally from countries like the US, Australia and Canada to get a German passport.

“My clients from these countries do not apply for citizenship (currently) for this reason,” he said. “So they of course would love to do so after the law has changed.”

But what are some of the hiccups people face when applying for citizenship in Germany?

“The main problem people run into at the moment is the appointment situation,” said Hasse.

He said part of the issue is that in most cities, there are scores of people looking to get naturalised, particularly those who came to Germany as refugees in 2014 and 2015 and now qualify for citizenship. 

“They (authorities) are not capable to offer the amount of appointments required for the number of applicants who want to apply for citizenship so that is the main and the biggest problem.”

From 2024, the capital Berlin plans to run a centralised office for dealing with German citizenship in the hope that it will transform the process. 

Currently, citizenship applications are being processed by the administrative offices (Bürgeramter) in each of Berlin’s districts. Through the new office, set to belong to the foreigners’ authority (Landesamt für Einwanderung), the capital’s senate aims to increase the number of residents who receive citizenship each year from 8,000 to 20,000.

“They (district offices) are letting the applicants know that they will contact them again in 2024 knowing that another authority will contact them,” said Hasse, regarding the situation in Berlin.

“Some district offices frankly say – ‘please apply in 2024 once the new authority is in force’. That (waiting times) is the biggest problem. But the same situation you’re going to see in Frankfurt, Potsdam, in other cities.”

A sign on the State Office for Immigration (LEA) on Friedrich-Krause-Ufer in Berlin.

A sign on the State Office for Immigration (LEA) on Friedrich-Krause-Ufer in Berlin. Photo: picture alliance/dpa | Jörg Carstensen

Berlin is planning to increase the number of caseworkers from 70 to 200 under the centralisation plans. 

But Hasse said he’s “not optimistic that the appointments situation is going to change after the new law has been implemented”.

“I expect a high number of new applicants,” he added. 

Should people who still want to keep their current citizenship apply now or wait until the new law is in force?

Hasse pointed out that the application form currently asks people if they are willing to give up their citizenship. 

“If you are not willing to give it up, the authorities can ask for reasons or exceptions or they can reject their application,” he said.

“Once the law has changed no one is going to ask you to give it up. But of course, it is still in the process and there is no guarantee that it is implemented in January next year, although it is highly probable.

“So the answer is: if you want to be sure that you become a German citizen (and hold onto your citizenship) then you should wait until the law is in force or at least signed by the president. And if you consider giving up your citizenship, or if you are willing to gamble a little bit, then, of course, you should apply.”

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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”.