German Lawmakers Agree to Ease Path to Citizenship


Lawmakers in Berlin approved legislation allowing shorter waiting periods before naturalization and the possibility of dual citizenship, ushering in changes that proponents say will draw more skilled workers to the country and that opponents warn will lessen the value of German citizenship.

“Our reform is a commitment to a modern Germany,” Nancy Faeser, the country’s interior minister, said in a statement. “We are creating a modern immigration law that does justice to our diverse society,” she added, noting that it was high time for such a change.

The changes, which were passed by the Bundestag, Germany’s Parliament, on Friday with a solid majority, will reduce to five years from eight the number of years that a resident has to wait before applying for citizenship. That waiting period can be reduced to three years for exemplary cases of integration or service to the German state.

They will also allow dual citizenship, which currently is not widely allowed.

Roughly 14 percent of the people living in Germany are not citizens. Acknowledging their work in helping to build the German economy in the 1960s and ’70s, the changes include a stipulation that allows older applicants who came to Germany on guest worker programs to obtain citizenship without having to take a written exam.

Until a previous change that became law in 2000, German citizenship had only been bestowed on those who could prove their German lineage or who had been born to German parents. But since then, the country has become more welcoming to immigrants, with one in four Germans having at least one grandparent who was born outside of Germany.

Businesses have long complained of a dearth of skilled workers. The German Economic Institute calculated that roughly 630,000 jobs went unfilled in 2022 because not enough qualified people applied.

The government hopes that the new legislation, which is scheduled to go into effect in April, will help attract more qualified workers to Germany. The legislation must still be approved by the Council of States and be signed by the president.

But not everyone agrees that lowering the threshold for citizenship is good for German society.

“Express naturalization with low requirements does not promote integration, but makes it more difficult,” warned Alexander Dobrindt, a politician with the conservative C.S.U. party. Members of the conservative opposition and the far-right Alternative for Germany party, or AfD, voted against the changes, arguing that making citizenship easier to obtain would lessen incentives for foreigners to integrate into German society.

The legislation comes as Germany’s government grapples with multiple crises, internal bickering and record-low approval ratings. Passage of the law represents a rare success for Chancellor Olaf Scholz’s three-party coalition.

The citizenship change passed on Friday is one of the few high-profile proposals announced by the government in 2021, when it formed, to make it into law. The changes were passed during a week when many Germans were taking to the streets to protest the AfD after it was revealed that party insiders had secretly met to discuss mass deportations.

“Germany is dependent on immigration of people who want to work here,” Stephan Thomae, a parliamentary leader of the liberal Free Democrats, said after the vote on Friday. “That is why we are enabling faster naturalization for those who make an effort, are well integrated and can stand on their own two feet economically.”.

Mr. Thomae’s party had insisted that those who are granted citizenship under the new law not be dependent on social services, which has been a concern of many who see immigrants as a drain on Germany’s social welfare system.

Another stipulation is that applicants for citizenship must undergo a criminal record check that assures that they have not been accused of antisemitism, a point with particular resonance after the Oct. 7 attacks on Israel by Hamas. Antisemitic incidents rose in Germany after the attacks, and Muslim immigrants have been blamed for some of them.

Lawmakers considered adding a stipulation that would have required new citizens to sign a statement confirming Germany’s special relationship with Israel and Israel’s right to exist, but they ultimately left it out.

“We are finally recognizing the reality of the lives of millions of people with a history of immigration,” said Reem Alabali-Radovan, the German commissioner for charge of migration, refugees, integration and antiracism. Ms. Alabali-Radovan, who was born in Moscow, added that having two passports was “the most normal thing in the world.”

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