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Law on Nationality

A man receives his certificate of naturalization during the course of a festive ceremony.

A man receives his certificate of naturalization during the course of a festive ceremony., © dpa/picture alliance

19.10.2022 - Article

Did my child automatically acquire German nationality at birth? What requirements do I need to meet for naturalisation? Is it also possible to lose my German nationality? Is dual nationality possible?

Decision-making authority

Persons who are ordinarily resident in Germany should address any questions about German nationality to the nationality authority that is responsible for their place of residence.

The nationality authority responsible for persons who are ordinarily resident abroad is the Federal Office of Administration. For advice on issues of nationality law, you can also contact the German mission abroad that is responsible for your place of residence.

Within the Federal Government, overall responsibility for nationality law lies with the Federal Ministry of the Interior and Community (BMI).

Reforms of German nationality law

German nationality law consists of provisions in the Basic Law (GG) and the Nationality Act (StAG). Article 16 (1) of the Basic Law provides special protection for German nationality, stipulating that it may not be revoked, and may be lost only pursuant to a law and only if the person affected does not become stateless as a result.

German nationality law was thoroughly revised with the entry into force of the amended Nationality Act (StAG) on 1 January 2000. This supplemented the principle of descent (ius sanguinis), previously the sole possible way to acquire nationality, by introducing the principle of place of birth (ius soli), meaning that children born in Germany to non-German parents are able to acquire German nationality if certain conditions are met. The amended Nationality Act also introduced the “generational cut-off point” (Generationenschnitt). This means that children born abroad to German parents will no longer automatically acquire German nationality if certain conditions are met.

The Act was further revised with the entry into force of the main part of the Immigration Act (Zuwanderungsgesetz) on 1 January 2005 and its further provisions on 28 August 2007. The Second Act Amending the Nationality Act, which entered into force on 20 December 2014, contains new provisions concerning the obligation for children born in Germany to non-German parents to opt for one nationality (Optionsregelung). The Third Act Amending the Nationality Act, effective since 9 August 2019, stipulates that German nationality will be lost by anyone who actively participates in fighting by a terrorist organisation abroad. 

Here you can find information on the key points of the present legislation.

Provisions for non-Germans living in Germany

Since 2000, children born in Germany to non-German parents acquire German nationality at birth if one parent has been legally resident in Germany for at least eight years and has a permanent right of residence. As a rule, upon turning 21, these children have to choose between their German nationality and their parents’ nationality (Optionspflicht). However, the Second Act Amending the Nationality Act, which entered into force on 20 December 2014, significantly reduced the number of persons subject to this obligation.

Read on for further information on the new regulations on opting for one nationality.

Pursuant to section 7 of the Nationality Act, repatriates returning to Germany in or after 1993 automatically acquire German nationality upon receipt of the certificate issued to them under section 15 of the Federal Expellees Act (BVFG) after they arrive in Germany.

As a general rule, non-Germans have the right to become naturalised after eight years of legal residence in the Federal Republic of Germany, provided they meet certain additional conditions. The minimum period of residence for spouses of German nationals is usually shorter. In order to become naturalised, it is necessary to prove an adequate command of the German language and to pass the naturalisation test, which proves that the applicant is familiar with the prevailing legal and social order and way of life in Germany. A clean criminal record and commitment to the tenets of the Basic Law (Constitution) are further criteria. It is not possible to become naturalised following a conviction for antisemitism, racism, xenophobia or any other hate crime, regardless of the specific sentence received. The person to be naturalised must also be able to support themselves financially.

The aim of avoiding multiple nationality remains a key feature of German nationality law today. In general, those applying for naturalisation must give up their foreign nationality. However, since 1 January 2000 the exceptions that allow applicants to retain their former nationality have been considerably broader. These apply for example to elderly persons and victims of political persecution. Applicants may also retain their nationality if it is legally impossible for them to renounce it or if they cannot reasonably be expected to do so, for example because this would entail excessive costs or degrading procedures. The same is true if renouncing the foreign nationality would bring serious disadvantages, especially financial disadvantages such as problems with property or assets. The competent nationality authority will decide whether such an exception applies.

Since 28 August 2007, nationals of EU member states and Switzerland who are naturalised in Germany have been allowed to hold multiple nationality. Whether the laws of the applicant’s country of origin also permit multiple nationality must be clarified in advance.

Information about the naturalisation procedure in Germany is available from the local town and district nationality authorities.

Provisions for Germans abroad

The nationality law reform affects not only non-Germans living in Germany, but also Germans living abroad. The most important provisions for Germans living abroad are as follows.

The generational cut-off point

Children born abroad to a German parent or German parents who was/were born after 31 December 1999, also abroad, no longer acquire German nationality – this is known as the generational cut-off point (Generationenschnitt) (section 4 (4) of the Nationality Act). The only exceptions are if the child would otherwise be stateless or if an application for the birth to be recorded in the German births register is made within a year of the child’s birth (section 36 of the Civil Status Act). This deadline will also be deemed to have been met if the notification of birth is received by the competent German mission abroad within one year. The German mission responsible for your location will be happy to provide you with more detailed information.

All Germans (expats and emigrants) who were themselves born abroad and who have a child abroad, regardless of the reason for or duration of their residence abroad and of whether they have spent periods of time living in Germany, may be affected by this rule.

The generational cut-off point does not apply to descendants of a German national who acquired German nationality on the basis of Article 116 (2) sentence 1 of the Basic Law or section 15 of the Nationality Act as part of reparations for Nazi persecution.

Loss of German nationality

As a rule, German nationals will still lose their German nationality if they acquire another nationality (except that of another EU member state or Switzerland) of their own volition (section 25 (1) of the Nationality Act) without having applied for and received prior permission to retain their German nationality.

However, since 1 January 2000 it has been easier for Germans who acquire a foreign nationality to retain their German nationality. Pursuant to section 25 (2) of the Nationality Act, both public and private interests must be weighed up when deciding whether to allow someone to keep their German nationality. For Germans abroad, particularly important considerations are whether they retain ties with Germany and have an adequate command of the German language. They must also credibly explain why acquiring the foreign nationality is advantageous for them, or removes current disadvantages, in their specific situation.

Please note that you must have been granted permission to retain German nationality before acquiring the new nationality.

Since 28 August 2007, Germans acquiring the nationality of another EU member state or Switzerland no longer automatically lose their German nationality (section 25 (1) sentence 2 of the Nationality Act), nor are they required to obtain permission to retain their nationality.

German nationals who voluntarily enter the armed forces or comparable armed groups of a state of which they are also a national, without the consent of the competent German authorities, automatically lose their German nationality (section 28 (1) number 1 of the Nationality Act). However, as of 6 July 2011, this rule no longer applies to persons who voluntarily serve in the armed forces of an EU member state, a NATO member state, an EFTA country or Australia, New Zealand, Israel or the Republic of Korea. As of 9 August 2019, any Germans who actively participate in fighting by a terrorist organisation abroad will lose their nationality, unless they would otherwise become stateless (section 29 (1) number 2 of the Nationality Act).

Former Germans who lost their German nationality after applying for and acquiring a foreign nationality (section 25 (1) of the Nationality Act) because they failed to apply for prior permission to retain German nationality may regain German nationality if certain conditions are met and they retain close ties with Germany (section 13 of the Nationality Act). More detailed information is available on the website of the Federal Office of Administration.

Persons living abroad can contact their local German mission for advice on issues of nationality law. The competent nationality authority for persons who are resident abroad is the Federal Office of Administration.

Obligation to opt for one nationality (Optionsregelung) under section 29 of the Nationality Act

The Second Act Amending the Nationality Act, which entered into force on 20 December 2014, contains new provisions concerning the obligation for children born in Germany to non-German parents to opt for one nationality (Optionsregelung).

Since 2000, children born in Germany to non-German parents acquire German nationality at birth if one parent has been legally resident in Germany for at least eight years and has a permanent right of residence. As a rule, upon turning 21, these children have to choose between their German nationality and their parents’ nationality (Optionspflicht).

This obligation applies only to persons who acquired German nationality under section 4 (3) of the Nationality Act as a child born in Germany to non-German parents or through naturalisation under section 40 b of the Nationality Act.

Reducing the number of persons obliged to opt for one nationality

The Second Act Amending the Nationality Act significantly reduced the number of persons obliged to opt for one nationality. Under section 29 of the Nationality Act, anyone who possesses only the nationality of another EU state or Switzerland in addition to German nationality is now exempt from this obligation.

No obligation to opt for one nationality for persons who have grown up in Germany

Furthermore, persons who have grown up in Germany are not obliged to opt for one nationality. Under section 29 (1) a of the Nationality Act, somebody is considered to have grown up in Germany if they

  •  were habitually resident in Germany for at least eight years
  • attended school in Germany for at least six years or
  • completed their schooling or obtained a vocational qualification in Germany.

Notification of the obligation to opt for one nationality

The obligation to opt for one nationality only takes effect if and when the person concerned receives a notification (Optionshinweis) of their obligation to submit a declaration and of the potential legal consequences from the competent nationality authority within one year of turning 21. It should be noted that in cases where the person concerned has moved to an unknown address abroad, the notification will be publicly served (via public notice) by the Federal Office of Administration.

To avoid missing deadlines, anyone affected who, upon turning 21, is habitually resident abroad and has not received binding confirmation of an exemption from the obligation to opt for one nationality should contact the Federal Office of Administration in Cologne.

Naturalisation

German nationality law assumes that naturalisation will generally take place within Germany. However, in exceptional cases non-Germans can also be naturalised while living abroad, provided they have particular ties with Germany to justify this (sections 13 and 14 of the Nationality Act).

Former Germans who lost their German nationality on the basis of the law applicable to date after applying for and acquiring a foreign nationality (section 25 (1) of the Nationality Act) because they failed to apply for permission to retain German nationality (section 25 (2) of the Nationality Act) can regain German nationality under less strict conditions if they retain close ties with Germany (section 13 of the Nationality Act). More detailed information is available on the website of the Federal Office of Administration.

Options for acquiring German nationality for children who were born to German parents but did not acquire German nationality by birth

Acquisition by declaration pursuant to section 5 of the Nationality Act

The Fourth Act Amending the Nationality Act, which entered into force on 20 August 2021, has created a ten-year right of declaration (section 5 of the Nationality Act) applicable to persons who were born to a German parent after 23 May 1949 (entry into force of the Basic Law) and who, under the version of the Reich and Nationality Act (RuStAG) in force at the time of their birth, were excluded in a gender-discriminating manner from acquiring German nationality by birth; they now have the option of obtaining German nationality by making a simple declaration to the competent nationality authority. Their descendants also have this option.

The right of declaration applies to:

  1. children who were born after 23 May 1949 to a German parent and who did not acquire German nationality by birth (children born in wedlock prior to 1 January 1975 to a German mother and a foreign father or children born out of wedlock prior to 1 July 1993 to a German father and a foreign mother),
  2. children born after 23 May 1949 to a mother who lost her German nationality before their birth through marriage to a foreigner prior to 1 April 1953, pursuant to section 17 (6) of the Reich and Nationality Act (old version),
  3. children born after 23 May 1949 who acquired German nationality by birth but subsequently lost it prior to 1 April 1953 through legitimisation effected by a foreigner and valid under German law, pursuant to section 17 (5) of the Reich and Nationality Act (old version), and
  4. descendants of the children listed in paragraphs 1 to 3.

Persons who are habitually resident abroad can submit the declaration directly to the Federal Office of Administration or to their local German mission. It will take effect upon receipt by the competent nationality authority (i.e. the Federal Office of Administration in the case of persons resident abroad) if all other conditions are fulfilled.

Detailed information on acquisition by declaration can be found on the website of the Federal Office of Administration.

Information sheet on acquisition of German nationality by declaration (in German)

Declaration for the acquisition of German nationality (in German)

Annex to the declaration of German nationality (in German)


Persons born before 24 May 1949 who did not acquire German nationality by birth due to the gender-discriminating nature of the nationality law in force at the time, and their descendants, still have the option of naturalisation pursuant to section 14 of the Nationality Act.

If this applies to you and you live abroad, you can submit an application for naturalisation to the mission abroad that is responsible for your place of residence. The mission can provide you with advice and will then forward your application to the Federal Office of Administration for further processing. However, strict conditions must be met for naturalisation. Before applying, you should therefore carefully read the information on conditions, required documents and fees that is contained in the information sheets provided by the Federal Office of Administration.

Information, application forms from the Federal Office of Administration

 

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