German nationality law

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German Citizenship Act
Parliament of Germany
An Act relating to German citizenship
Enacted by Government of Germany
Status: Current legislation

German nationality law is the law governing the acquisition, transmission and loss of German citizenship. The law is based on a mixture of the principles of jus sanguinis and jus soli . In other words, one usually acquires German citizenship if a parent is a German citizen, irrespective of place of birth, or by birth in Germany to parents with foreign nationality if certain requirements are fulfilled. Naturalisation is also possible for foreign nationals after six to eight years of legal residence in Germany. [1] However, non-EU and non-Swiss citizens must usually renounce their old citizenship before being naturalised in Germany. Citizens of other EU countries and of Switzerland usually can keep their old citizenship. Some EU countries[ which? ] do not allow dual citizenship even with other EU countries. German citizens wanting to acquire a non-EU or non-Swiss citizenship and to maintain their German citizenship must apply for a permission (Beibehaltungsgenehmigung) before acquiring the other citizenship, or they automatically lose German citizenship when they acquire the foreign citizenship. For details, see Dual citizenship section below.


A significant reform to the nationality law was passed by the Bundestag (the German parliament) in 1999, and came into force on 1 January 2000. The reformed law makes it somewhat easier for foreigners resident in Germany on a long-term basis, and especially their children born in Germany, to acquire German citizenship. [2]

The previous German nationality law dated from 1913. Nationality law was amended by the Nuremberg Laws of Nazi Germany; these amendments were revoked after the defeat of Nazism by an Allied occupational ordinance during WWII in 1945. Germany ratified the European Convention on Nationality, which came into force in Germany on 1 September 2005. [3] All German nationals are automatically also citizens of the European Union.


Before the formation of the German Empire in 1871, the states that became part of the empire were sovereign with their own nationality laws, those of the southern ones (notably Bavaria) being quite liberal. Prussia's nationality law can be traced back to the "Law Respecting the Acquisition and Loss of the Quality as a Prussian subject, and his Admission to Foreign Citizenship" of 31 December 1842, which was based on the principle of jus sanguinis . Prussian law became the basis of the legal system of the German Empire, though the state nationality laws continued to apply, and a German citizen was a person who held citizenship of one of the states of the German Empire.

On 22 July 1913 the Nationality Law of the German Empire and States (Reichs- und Staatsangehörigkeitsgesetz, shorthand: RuStAG) established a German citizenship, either derived from the citizenship of one of the component states or acquired through the central Reich government.

Under the Third Reich, in 1934, the German nationality law was amended to abolish separate state citizenships and creating a uniform Reich citizenship, with the central Reich authorities having power to grant or withdraw German nationality. In 1935 the Reich Citizenship Law (Reichsbürgergesetz), the second of the Nuremberg Laws, created a new category called "state subjects" (Staatsangehörige) to which Jews were assigned, thereby withdrawing citizenship from Jews who had been citizens; only those classed as being of "German or related blood" retained Reich citizenship.

On 13 March 1938, Germany extended the nationality law to Austria following the Anschluss that annexed Austria to Germany. On 27 April 1945, after the defeat of Nazism, Austria was re-established and conferred Austrian citizenship on all persons who would have been Austrian on that date had the pre-1938 nationality law of Austria remained in force. Any Austrians who had held German nationality lost it. [4] Also see Austrian nationality law.

The Nazi amendments of 1934 and the Nuremberg Laws of 1935 were revoked by Allied occupational ordinance in 1945, restoring the 1913 nationality law, which remained in force until the 1999 reforms. [5]

Article 116(1) of the German Basic Law (constitution) confers, subject to laws regulating the details, a right to citizenship upon any person admitted to Germany (in its 1937 borders) as "refugee or expellee of German ethnic origin or as the spouse or descendant of such a person." Until 1990 ethnic Germans living abroad in a country in the former Eastern Bloc (Aussiedler) could obtain citizenship through a virtually automatic procedure. From 1990 the law was steadily tightened each year to limit the number of immigrants, requiring immigrants to prove language skills and cultural affiliation.

Article 116(2) entitles persons (and their descendants), who were denaturalised by the Nazi government, to be renaturalised if they wish. Those among them, who after May 8, 1945 take up residence in Germany are automatically considered German citizens. Both regulations, (1) and (2), allowed a considerable numbers of Poles and Israelis, residing in Poland and Israel, to be concurrently German citizens.

Birth in Germany

Children born on or after 1 January 2000 to non-German parents acquire German citizenship at birth if at least one parent:

To retain German citizenship, such children are required to take affirmative measures by age 23, after which their German citizenship otherwise expires. These affirmative measures may include proof of the applicant's link to Germany, as evidenced by at least one of the following:

Applicant fulfill these requirements in the vast majority of cases. If not, the applicant can alternatively prove they hold no foreign citizenship other than in a European Union member nation or a nation such as Morocco, Nigeria, or Iran whose domestic law provides that its citizenship cannot be lost.

Parents who are citizens of European Economic Area states or Switzerland are eligible to receive permanent resident permits after five years.

Descent from a German parent

A person born of a parent with German citizenship at the time of the child's birth is a German citizen. Place of birth is not a factor in citizenship determination based on parentage.

  1. The child would be stateless.
  2. The German parent registers the child's birth within one year of birth to the responsible German agency abroad.

Persons who are Germans on the basis of descent from a German parent do not have to apply to retain German citizenship by age 23. If they acquire another citizenship at birth, they can usually continue to hold this.


A child adopted by a German citizen becomes German national automatically if aged less than 18 on the date the application for adoption was made. So dual citizenship is granted.

Naturalisation as a German citizen

Naturalisation by entitlement

Individuals are entitled to naturalise as a German citizen if they fulfill all the following criteria : [6]

The examination tests a person's knowledge of the German Constitution, the Rule of Law and the basic democratic concepts behind modern German society. It also includes a section on the Constitution of the Federal State in which the applicant resides. The citizenship test is obligatory unless the applicant can claim an exemption such as illness, a disability, or old age.

An individual who does not have legal capacity is entitled to naturalise as a German citizen merely through ordinary residence in Germany for at least 8 years—and does not have to fulfil the other criteria (e.g., adequate command of the German language and ability to support themselves without recourse to benefits).

Applicants for naturalisation are normally expected to prove they have renounced their existing nationality, or lose it automatically on naturalisation. An exception applies to those unable to give up their nationality easily (such as refugees). A further exception applies to citizens of Switzerland and the European Union member states.

An individual who is entitled to naturalise as a German citizen can also apply for a spouse and minor children to be naturalised at the same time (the spouse and minor children need not have ordinarily resided in Germany for at least 8 years).

Exceptions to the normal residence requirements include:

There are special provisions for victims of Nazi persecution and their descendants.

Naturalisation by discretion

An individual who is ordinarily resident outside may be naturalised as a German citizen if they can demonstrate sufficient ties with Germany to justify naturalisation. [7]

Victims of Nazi persecution

Under Article 116 of Germany's constitution, known as the Basic Law, [8] anyone who had their German citizenship revoked during the Nazi regime for "political, racist, or religious reasons" may reobtain citizenship. The Article also includes the descendants of Nazi victims, and does not require them to give up the citizenship of their new home countries. [9]

This does not apply to those born before 1953 to a German Jewish mother: Although the law that German citizenship passed only through fathers was changed in 1953, this was not made retroactive.

Regulations stipulate that a descendant of those who had their citizenship revoked is entitled to re-naturalization only if "the following hypothetical question can be answered with a 'yes': Had the primary claimant of the naturalization claim not been deprived of German citizenship, would their descendants have acquired citizenship by birth according to the applicable German law of citizenship? [10] Note that children adopted by German Jews before 1945 are not elligible for German citizenship, even if they were born in Germany.

The "applicable German law of citizenship" referred to states that "Children born in wedlock between Jan. 1, 1914 and Dec. 31, 1974, acquired German citizenship only if the father was a German citizen at the time of their birth." Some waivers were granted for "Children born in wedlock between April 1, 1953 and Dec. 31, 1974 to a German mother and a non-German father" -- but not for those born earlier. [11]

See also the German Citizenship Project.

Children born in Germany

Under transitional arrangements in the 1999 reforms (effective 1 January 2000), children who were born in Germany in 1990 or later, and would have been German had the law change been in force at the time, were entitled to be naturalised as German citizens.

Naturalization statistics

Between 1995 and 2004, 1,278,424 people obtained German citizenship by naturalization. This means that about 1.5% of the total German population was naturalized during that period.

Naturalization of foreigners in Germany per (selected) country and year.
Source (2015): Official 2015 Migration Report, p. 235
 Serbia and Montenegro3,6232,9672,2442,7213,4449,77612,0008,3755,5043,5396,3096,085-
 Russian Federation4,5834,9723,7342,7644,3812,9653,1672,329
Total (including countries not mentioned)71,98186,35682,913106,790143,267186,688178,098154,547140,731127,153106,897112,348107,317

Loss of German citizenship

German citizenship is automatically lost when a German citizen voluntarily acquires the citizenship of another country, except:

  1. When the German citizen acquires a nationality from within the European Union, Switzerland, or another country with which Germany has a corresponding treaty.
  2. When permission to obtain a foreign citizenship has been applied for and granted in advance of foreign naturalization. Failure to obtain so-called permit to retain German citizenship prior to naturalization results in the individual automatically losing German citizenship upon becoming a naturalized citizen of another country. [9] A proposed law called Brexit-Übergangsgesetz [12] is intended to allow UK nationals who apply for German citizenship before the UK leaves the EU to retain dual nationality. [13] Many UK and German nationals in each country are supporting the Permanent European Union Citizenship Initiative [14] with the objective of ensuring that Germans taking UK citizenship retain their EU citizenship.

Other cases where German citizenship can be lost include:

Dual citizenship

Allowed under following circumstances:

  1. If the other citizenship is that of another EU country or of Switzerland. Non-EU and non-Swiss citizens must usually renounce their old citizenship if they want to become German citizens. There are exceptions made for citizens of countries that do not allow their citizens to renounce their citizenship (e.g., Argentina, Bolivia, Brazil, Costa Rica; the following jus-soli countries allow renunciation only if the citizenship was acquired involuntarily by birth there to non-citizen parents: Dominican Republic, Ecuador, Guatemala, Honduras, Mexico, Nicaragua, Uruguay), or if the renunciation process is too difficult, humiliating or expensive (e.g., Afghanistan, Algeria, Angola, Cuba, Eritrea, Iran, Iraq, Lebanon, Morocco, Nigeria, Syria, Thailand, Tunisia, USA), or, rarely, in individual cases if the renunciation of the old citizenship means enormous disadvantages for the concerned person.[ citation needed ]
  2. If a German citizen acquires a non-EU or non-Swiss citizenship with the permission (" Beibehaltungsgenehmigung  [ de ]") of the German Government (e.g., existing relative ties or property in Germany or in the other country or if the occupation abroad requires domestic citizenship for execution). The voluntary acquisition of a non-EU or non-Swiss citizenship without permission usually means the automatic loss of the German citizenship (but see Point 4). The permission is not necessary if the other citizenship is of another EU country or of Switzerland or if dual citizenship was obtained at birth.
  3. If the person is a refugee and holds a refugee travel document during naturalization.
  4. If a person, or their qualified descendants, receives restored citizenship under Article 116 par. 2 of the Basic Law (Grundgesetz) that states former German citizens who between January 30, 1933, and May 8, 1945, were deprived of their German citizenship on political, racial, or religious grounds may re-invoke their citizenship (as if it had never been lost), and may hold dual (or multiple) citizenship. [16] . Such restored citizens need not have ever lived in Germany.
  5. If a child born to German parents acquires another citizenship at birth (e.g., based on place of birth [birth in jus-soli countries mostly of the Americas], or descent from one parent [one German parent and one foreign parent]).
  6. Children born on or after 1 January 2000 to non-German parents acquire German citizenship at birth if at least one parent has a permanent residence permit (and had this status for at least three years) and the parent was residing in Germany for at least eight years. The children must have lived in Germany for at least eight years or attended school for six years until their 21st birthday. Non-EU- and non-Swiss-citizen parents born and grown up abroad usually cannot have dual citizenship themselves (but see Point 1).

Citizenship of the European Union

Because Germany forms part of the European Union, German citizens are also citizens of the European Union under European Union law and thus enjoy rights of free movement and have the right to vote in elections for the European Parliament. [17] When in a non-EU country where there is no German embassy, German citizens have the right to get consular protection from the embassy of any other EU country present in that country. [18] [19] German citizens can live and work in any country within the EU as a result of the right of free movement and residence granted in Article 21 of the EU Treaty. [20]

Germans living abroad

Germans living abroad (Auslandsdeutsche) are German emigrants, namely, German citizens residing outside Germany. German emigrants usually do not pay taxes to Germany. Germans abroad are allowed to vote in the Republic's federal elections (general elections). According to the German Foreign Office, "German citizens with permanent residence abroad can participate in federal elections in Germany and European elections. As a rule, German voters who reside permanently in non-EU countries abroad and are not resident in Germany any more, cannot participate in German state and local elections. However, German citizens who are living permanently in other EU countries can vote in municipal elections of their country of residence." [21]

In addition to the above sense, Auslandsdeutsche also refers to ethnic Germans in German-speaking communities abroad who descend from settlers in those countries generations or centuries ago (and therefore are mostly not citizens of Germany). To be unambiguous, modern-day German emigrants may be specified as "German citizens with permanent residence abroad" (Deutsche Staatsbürger mit ständigem Wohnsitz im Ausland).

The case is complicated by the German right of return law concerning Spätaussiedler , people who do not have German citizenship but who are in theory entitled to it because the German state considers them German nationals, like Volga Germans in Kazakhstan.

Significant communities of German citizens abroad are found in the following countries:

German citizens living abroad

People of German ethnicity living abroad

More statistics at German diaspora#Distribution.
There were 786,000 Germans in interwar Romania in 1939. [32] USA: Large numbers of German citizens live permanently in the U.S., especially academics, artists, computer experts, engineers, and businesspeople. According to the German Missions in the US, “German citizens living abroad are not required to register with the German Embassy, so we are unable to say how many German citizens live in America.” [33] Some of those Germans abroad hold passports from both Germany and the United States.

Travel freedom of German citizens

Visa requirements for German citizens

Visa requirements for German citizens are administrative entry restrictions by the authorities of other states placed on citizens of Germany. In October 2018, German citizens had visa-free or visa-on-arrival access to 188 countries and territories, ranking the German passport 3rd in the world according to the Henley & Partners Passport Index. [34]

The German nationality is ranked number two as of 2018 in The Quality of Nationality Index (QNI). The ranking is considering internal factors such as peace & stability, economic strength, human development and external factors including travel freedom. France has taken number one after seven years, attributable mainly to the country’s former colonial empire. [35] )


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  19. Rights abroad: Right to consular protection: a right to protection by the diplomatic or consular authorities of other Member States when in a non-EU Member State, if there are no diplomatic or consular authorities from the citizen's own state (Article 23): this is due to the fact that not all member states maintain embassies in every country in the world (14 countries have only one embassy from an EU state). Antigua and Barbuda (UK), Barbados (UK), Belize (UK), Central African Republic (France), Comoros (France), Gambia (UK), Guyana (UK), Liberia (Germany), Saint Vincent and the Grenadines (UK), San Marino (Italy), São Tomé and Príncipe (Portugal), Solomon Islands (UK), Timor-Leste (Portugal), Vanuatu (France)
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  27. [ permanent dead link ]
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  34. "The Henley Passport Index" (PDF). Henley & Partners. 8 October 2018. Retrieved 15 October 2018. This graph shows the full Global Ranking of the 2018 Henley Passport Index. In certain cases, a rank is shared by multiple countries because these countries all have the same level of visa-free or visa-on-arrival access.
  35. "World's Top Nationalities Revealed: France Is No. 1, U.S. Ranks 27". 2018-04-26. Retrieved 2018-07-30.