Citizenship in Germany: The Redefinition of Who Can be German

Still going through a backlog of posts, here’s another guest post from one of the students in the European Politics course, this one on Germany’s (evolving) citizenship law.

Although Germany still has rather strict citizenship laws, this should not discount the fact that Germany has taken large steps to liberalize its policies especially in the last few years. Prior to 2000, Germany still defined citizenship under the principles laid out in the Nationality Law from 1913 that strictly emphasized jus sanguinis (“right of blood”). In 1999, the Nationality Act was approved that significantly reformed the old law and introduced elements of jus soli (“right of soil”).

Why is it that such an old law was kept in force? The 1913 law and the concept of blood-based citizenship remained after World War II to allow ethnic Germans to come to Germany to escape from war recriminations and to allow East Germans to automatically become citizens of the Federal Republic of Germany. As time went on, however, it became increasingly clear that jus sanguinis was not the appropriate model for Germany. Germany’s liberal asylum laws combined with the influx of guest workers invited to the country made politicians realize that restrictive citizenship policies were incompatible with the demographic realities. Furthermore, the international community pressured Germany into reforming 1913 law, as it had been manipulated under Hitler’s regime and used as a tool of discrimination. The Nationality Act that went into place called for some major changes, so let’s take a closer look at what Germany’s citizenship laws look like today.

In terms of automatic citizenship, it is important to note that not every child born in Germany becomes a citizen by default. Children that are born in Germany only have an automatic right to German nationality if one or more of the parents are German. Moreover, if only the father is German and the parents are unmarried, legal documentation must be provided in order to prove paternity for the child to receive citizenship.  Children of foreigners become German nationals if, at the time of birth, one of the parents has lived in Germany for a minimum of eight years.

In terms of naturalization, there are several conditions that have to be fulfilled in order to become a German citizen. To be naturalized one must:

  • Successfully complete the naturalization test (for a catalog of the questions click here)
  • Have resided in Germany for 8 years or 7 years with attendance of a 45-hour integration course (spouses of German citizens may become a citizen after a minimum of three years of residence in Germany and two years of marriage).
  • Not be dependent on welfare payments or unemployment benefits
  • Posses adequate German language skills as proven by level B1 competency
  • Have no convictions on account of criminal offense
  • Be committed to the free democratic constitutional order of the Basic Law of Germany
  • Lose or renounce former nationality
  • Pay a 255 Euro fee

There are several interesting requirements that stand out from the list above, namely that Germany requires a naturalization test and a minimum level of competency in German. The naturalization test consists of 33 questions 17 of which must be answered correctly in order to pass. Here are a couple example questions with their answers:

The other interesting aspect of the citizenship law is the language requirement. Germans believe that knowledge of the German language is very important. For example, while I was in Germany my dorm would have floor meetings conducted in German even though the majority of the residents were foreigners that could not speak the language. The German R.A. explained that they because we were in Germany we needed to speak German. The fact that Germans value integration and knowledge of German is reflected in the citizenship laws that we see today.

Although Germany has taken significant steps toward liberalizing its citizenship laws, there are still some important restrictions in place including limited dual-citizenship. The political climate and opinion towards immigration largely flavors what citizenship reforms are made. Since 2000, only small changes have been made and some argue that liberalization may be stagnating as anti-immigration sentiment increases.


Bundesministerium des Innern. “Important Questions and Answers regarding German Citizenship.” 6 Apr. 2012.

Council of Europe. “Levels.” 6 Apr. 2012.

“Einbürgerungstest: Fragenkatalog zue Testvorbereitung.” Bundesamt für Migration und Flüchtlinge. 6 Apr. 2012.

Federal Office for Migration and Refugees. “Naturalisation in Germany.” 18 Jan. 2011. 7 Apr. 2012.;jsessionid=AE8B4DFF64479F61E7FDA348433BE4DC.1_cid251

Howard, Marc Morjé. “The Causes And Consequences Of Germany’s New Citizenship Law.” German Politics 17.1 (2008): 41-62.Political Science Complete. Web. 9 Apr. 2012.

“Staatsangehörigkeitsgesetz.” Bundesministerium der Justiz. 7 Apr. 2012.

Worbs, Susanne. “Die Einbürgerung von Ausländern in Deutschland.” Bundesamt für Migration und Flüchtlinge.  7 Apr. 2012.


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