Thousands more Turks in Germany can now become German citizens after law change

For years, many Turkish origin residents in Germany had complained about being unable to enjoy the full benefits of their adopted country, despite working and paying their taxes there, because German laws restricted who could hold dual nationality.

At the end of 2022, the centre-left Social Democrat-led coalition government had announced plans to overhaul Germany’s immigration system to bring the country in line with European norms for naturalisation, whilst also allowing more skilled workers to fill major shortages in Germany’s labour market.

Just over a year later, those reforms have been made, with Germany’s Bundestag (federal parliament) passing the new legislation on 19 January 2024.

As a result, immigrants legally living in Germany can now apply for citizenship after five years, rather than the current eight. However, for those immigrants who have achieved something more significant in Germany, this timetable can be reduced to just three years.

Another beneficiary will be children born in Germany where at least one parent has been living legally in the country for five or more years can now automatically receive German citizenship.

And the language test for immigrants over the age of 67 has been relaxed, allowing them to sit an oral examination to check their proficiency in German instead of undertaking a written German language exam.

Crucially, for thousands of Germany’s estimated 4 million strong Turkish community the reforms mean they can now hold multiple citizenships.

German Turkish community leader Gökay Sofuoğlu, June 2022. Photo via X

It’s believed that a little over half of all Turks living and working in Germany currently have German citizenship. One of the major stumbling blocks had been the need for Turks to give up their Turkish citizenship in order to become a German citizen, which many refused to do. This new law means they no longer have to.

One German Turkish community leader, Gökay Sofuoğlu, told local press that be believed, “in the long term, all 1.5 million citizens of Turkish origin in Germany who do not yet have German citizenship will acquire dual citizenship.”

Sofuoğlu also feared German authorities could be “overwhelmed” by the sheer number of applicants from German Turks, as word about the new law gets around.

There are some restrictions on German citizenship. The new law states people living entirely on state support will not be eligible for citizenship, nor will those who have committed any form of hate crime, including antisemitism and other forms of racism. German citizenship will also be denied to people who carry out offenses that are “irreconcilable with commitment to the free democratic basic order” of Germany.

Opposition to citizenship laws

Yet these provisions did not satisfy opposition parties such as the Christian Democratic Union (CDU), which stands against the new law and had refused to implement similar reforms when it was in government.

When the new bill was first touted in December 2022, CDU leader Friedrich Merz told public broadcaster ARD that “German citizenship is something very precious, and one should treat it very carefully.”

The CDU remain opposed to the new citizenship law, instead pushing for a tougher line on immigration, reflecting the mood of the country, which seems to have fallen in line with the xenophobic views of the anti-immigration Alternative for Germany party (AfD).

The AfD, which has seen its support base soar and is currently polling second nationally, claim most Germans “do not want naturalisation to be simplified and speak of a ‘sell-out’ of their citizenship.”

German far-right plans to ‘deport foreigners’

Senior members of the far-right party, including Roland Hartwig, personal aide to party leader Alice Weidel, MP Gerrit Huy, and Ulrich Siegmund, parliamentary group leader for Saxony-Anhalt, were recently exposed by Correctiv for holding a meeting in Potsdam in November with neo-Nazis, where they discussed, amongst other things, a ‘masterplan’ to deport the country’s immigrants.

Correctiv states the plan is the brainchild of Martin Sellner, an Austrian far-right activist, who was also present at the meeting. Sellner’s vision is for “foreigners” in Germany to undergo  “reversed settlement”, essentially deporting the country’s asylum seekers, non-Germans with residency rights, and “non-assimilated” German citizens.

The revelations have rocked Germany and prompted large demonstrations against the AfD across the country. The test for whether AfD has been harmed or helped by these revelations will be seen in the upcoming elections.

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Germany, like the rest of the EU, will hold European Parliament elections in June of this year. The country will also hold partial Bundestag elections in September, where seats in regions such as Brandenburg, Saxony and Thuringian will be up for grab in these regional state elections.