Get your paperwork in order: the newly confirmed reform of Germany’s citizenship law always going to be one of biggest political changes affecting foreigners in Berlin this year. On January 19th, the Bundestag sat for the second and third readings and the new German citizenship law was finally passed.
The new regulations will make it much easier to become a German citizen, speeding things up for the massive population of people with a migration background living in Germany, turning what used to be an eight-year ordeal for citizenship into just five years of residency needed – three if you meet certain criteria.
It will also relax the rule that demands a person renounce their original nationality in order to claim a German passport, allowing for dual citizenship – something that stops many of the 12 million immigrants who live, work and pay taxes in Germany from applying to be German.
In international Berlin, there’s a massive and ever-growing population of residents who aren’t citizens, despite living here long-term and contributing to all the things that make Berlin so great. A quarter of the city – about 24%, according to Statistik Berlin Brandenburg – can’t vote in most elections, and that number is growing by the tens of thousands every year. As of June 2023, there are around 1.5 million people with a migration background in Berlin, naturalising at a positively glacial rate (under 10,000 a year).
The citizenship reform laws will jump-start the process for thousands of Berliners, and this can only mean good things: more stability for people who have already been committed to Berlin, an economy boosted by a workforce incentivised to stay, and a big spike in the percentage of the city that can fully participate in the political process, offering a more accurate representation of voices in government.
Of course, there’s almost nothing that suggests that Berlin’s Ausländerbehörden are ready to handle the influx of citizenship applications when the law passes – they’re already facing a backlog (27,000 people are currently waiting to hear back) and a spate of lawsuits.
The next Bundesrat sittings are scheduled for February 2nd and 22nd, so it is likely that on one of these dates, President Steinmeier will be invited to officially enshrine the new law. The law is then expected to come into effect from April 2024, following some administrative adjustments.
We’ve never needed citizenship to feel like Berliners – but as anyone who’s lived in Germany knows, it’s nice to have a little insurance.