What is birthright citizenship
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Persons who have their habitual residence in Germany should contact the nationality authority responsible for their place of residence with questions about German citizenship.
For people who have their habitual residence abroad, the Federal Office of Administration in Cologne is the competent authority for citizenship. The German diplomatic mission responsible for your place of residence is also available to advise you on matters relating to citizenship law.
Possibility of naturalization for children of German parents who did not acquire German citizenship by birth
The following groups of people have the option of naturalization in accordance with Section 14 of the Nationality Act:
- illegitimate children of German fathers who were born before July 1st, 1993.
- children born in wedlock to German mothers who were born before 01.01.1975.
If you belong to one of these two groups and live abroad, you can apply for naturalization at the diplomatic mission responsible for your place of residence. This then sends the application to the Federal Administration Office in Cologne for further processing. However, strict requirements must be met for naturalization. Before submitting your application, please pay close attention to the information on requirements, required documents and fees in the leaflets from the Federal Office of Administration.
BVA leaflet on the naturalization of legitimate children of German mothers and foreign fathers
BVA information sheet on the naturalization of illegitimate children of German fathers and foreign mothers
Overview of changes in nationality law
With the fundamentally revised Citizenship Act that came into force on January 1, 2000, there have been significant changes to the German Citizenship Act. The Citizenship Act was further revised when the Immigration Act came into force on 01/01/2005 and 08/28/2007. On December 20, 2014, the second law to amend the Nationality Act came into force, which regulates the options for children born in Germany to foreign parents.
Here you will find the most important key points of the current regulations of the nationality law.
Regulations for foreigners living in Germany
Since 2000, children of foreigners who are born in Germany have acquired German citizenship if one of the parents has been living legally in Germany for at least 8 years and has an unlimited right of residence. These children have to decide between the German and foreign citizenship of their parents when they reach the age of 21, the so-called option obligation. However, the second law amending the Nationality Act, which came into force on December 20, 2014, greatly restricts the group of those subject to options.
You can find more information about the new option regulation further down in this text.
According to Section 7 of the Nationality Act (StAG), ethnic repatriates automatically acquire German citizenship as soon as they are issued with a certificate in accordance with Section 15 of the Federal Expellees and Refugees Act after entering Germany.
In general, foreigners have a right to naturalization after 8 years of legal residence in the Federal Republic of Germany under certain additional conditions. The minimum length of stay is usually shorter for German spouses. Proof of sufficient German language skills is required for naturalization. Impunity and loyalty to the constitution are other criteria. The person to be naturalized must also be able to support himself financially.
The principle of avoiding multiple citizenship remains characteristic of citizenship law even today. In principle, those wishing to be naturalized must give up their previous citizenship. However, since 01.01.2000 there have been more generous exemptions through which the retention of the previous nationality is allowed. These apply, for example, to the elderly and the politically persecuted. If release from the previous nationality is legally impossible or unreasonable for the person concerned, e.g. due to excessive release fees or degrading release modalities, they may also retain their previous nationality. This also applies if the release from the previous nationality would be associated with considerable disadvantages, in particular economic or property-related disadvantages.
Since August 28, 2007, citizens from EU countries and Switzerland have been naturalized in Germany with the acceptance of multiple nationalities. Whether multiple nationality is also accepted there according to the legal provisions of the respective countries of origin must be inquired in advance.
The text of the law itself and statistical information on the foreign population in Germany can be found on the website of the Federal Government Commissioner for Migration, Refugees and Integration. The Federal Ministry of the Interior, which is responsible for reforming citizenship law within the federal government, has listed further details on citizenship law on its website.
For foreigners in Germany, the nationality authorities of the independent cities and districts are generally responsible for providing information.
Regulations for Germans abroad
The reform of citizenship law not only affects foreigners in Germany, but equally affects Germans abroad. The provisions that are most important for Germans abroad are outlined below:
Children born abroad, whose German parents or German mother or German father were born abroad on or after January 1, 2000 (the reform of the nationality law came into force), generally no longer acquire German citizenship. Something else only applies if they would become stateless as a result, or if the German parents or the German parent notify the responsible diplomatic mission abroad of their birth within one year (Section 4, Paragraph 4 of the Nationality Act - StAG).
Former Germans who, according to the previous law, had lost their German citizenship by acquiring a foreign citizenship upon application (Section 25 StAG), can now, under certain conditions, acquire German citizenship again under simplified conditions, whereby the opinion of the competent diplomatic mission is of major importance ( § 13 StAG).
Foreigners can also be naturalized abroad, provided that special ties to Germany justify this (Section 14 of the StAG).
It also applies that German citizens generally lose their German citizenship if they acquire a foreign citizenship (except for EU countries and Switzerland) on their own application without prior approval.
However, since 01.01.2000, Germans who acquire foreign citizenship can retain their German citizenship under simplified conditions. According to Section 25 (2) StAG, public and private interests must be weighed up when deciding on a retention permit. In the case of Germans abroad, it is particularly important to consider whether they have continued ties to Germany. These ties can be close relatives in Germany or the ownership of real estate, for example. Please note that the approval to retain German citizenship must have been obtained before acquiring foreign citizenship.
Since August 28, 2007, Germans who acquire citizenship of a member state of the EU or Switzerland no longer automatically lose their German citizenship. No retention permit is required for this.
Germans who voluntarily enter the service of the armed forces or comparable armed associations of a state of which they are also citizens without the consent of the competent German authority automatically lose their German citizenship by virtue of the law. This regulation does not apply since July 6, 2011 if voluntary service is performed in the armed forces of an EU member state, a NATO member state, an EFTA country or in Australia, New Zealand, Israel or the Republic of Korea.
People abroad can inquire about regulations at the German diplomatic mission responsible for their place of residence. The competent nationality authority for German citizens residing abroad is the Federal Administration Office in Cologne.
Option regulation according to § 29 StAG
On December 20, 2014, the second law to amend the Nationality Act came into force, which regulates the options for children born in Germany to foreign parents.
Since 2000, children of foreigners who are born in Germany have acquired German citizenship if one of their parents has been living legally in Germany for at least 8 years and has an unlimited right of residence. These children have to decide between the German and foreign citizenship of their parents when they reach the age of 21, the so-called option obligation.
In principle, only those who have acquired German citizenship as a child of foreign parents born in Germany or through naturalization according to Section 40b StAG are required to have an option, i.e. they have to decide after the age of 21 whether they want to be German or wants to keep the foreign citizenship of the parents.
Restriction of the group of those subject to options
The second law amending the Citizenship Act, which came into force on December 20, 2014, greatly restricts the group of those subject to options. According to the new version of Section 29 of the StAG, anyone who, besides German, only has the nationality of another EU state or Switzerland, is exempt from the option obligation.
No option obligation for people who grew up in Germany
Furthermore, there is no obligation to opt for those affected who grew up in Germany. According to Section 29 Paragraph 1a StAG, anyone who grew up in Germany is considered to have grown up
- has usually resided in Germany for eight years,
- has attended school in Germany for six years
- has a national school leaving certificate or vocational training completed in Germany.
The option notice
The option obligation is only triggered if the person concerned receives a so-called option notice about the declaration obligation and the possible legal consequences from the competent nationality authority within one year of reaching the age of 21. It should be noted that in cases in which the person concerned has moved abroad unknown, a public service (public announcement) is carried out by the Federal Office of Administration.
In order not to miss any deadlines, those affected who have their habitual residence abroad at the age of 21 and for whom the non-existence of the option obligation has not yet been determined should contact the Federal Administration Office in Cologne.
In addition to this information, you can find information on these questions on the websites of the Ministry of the Interior and the Federal Office of Administration:
Frequently Asked Questions: Citizenship
Information from the Federal Ministry of the Interior on citizenship law
Federal Office of Administration - Citizenship Matters
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