German nationality law

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German citizenship is based primarily on the principle of jus sanguinis. In other words one usually acquires German citizenship if a parent is a German citizen, irrespective of place of birth.[1]

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 new law makes it somewhat easier for foreigners resident in Germany on a long-term basis, and especially their German-born children, to acquire German citizenship.[2]

The previous German nationality law dated from 1913. The amendments to the law under the Nazi regime were repealed by the Federal Republic of Germany (see the article on the Reich Citizenship Law).


Prussian law was the basis of the legal system of the German Empire. 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 introduced Jus sanguinis to the country. Until 1913, however, each German state had its own nationality laws, those of the southern ones (notably Bavaria) being quite liberal. In 1913, the Nationality Law of the German Empire and States (Reichs- und Staatsangehörigkeitsgesetz, shorthand: RuStAG) of 22 July 1913 established a German citizenship, either derived from the citizenship of one of the component states of the German Empire or acquired through the Reich's government. It had been operational until the 1999 reforms.[3]

Under the Third Reich, the German nationality law was amended in 1934, doing away with the separate states' citizenships in favour of a uniform Reich citizenship, leaving it to the central Reich authorities to naturalise or denaturalise persons. In 1935 the Reich Citizenship Law (Reichsbürgergesetz), the second of the Nuremberg Laws, split the uniform citizenship again, relegating Germans categorised as Jews to second-class citizen status as Staatsangehörige (state subjects); only "Aryans" counted as Reich citizens.

In 1938, the German nationality law was extended to Austria under the Anschluss which annexed Austria to Germany. On 27 April 1945 the Republic of Austria was re-established and conferred Austrian citizenship on all persons who would have been Austrian on that date had the former (pre-1938) nationality law of Austria remained in force. Such persons lost their German nationality automatically.[4] Also see Austrian nationality law.

The Nazi amendments and the Nuremberg Laws were revoked by Allied occupational ordinance in 1945.

Birth in Germany[edit]

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

Such children will be required to apply to retain German citizenship by the age of 23. Assuming this law is not changed or overturned by a court, these persons will normally be required to prove they do not hold any other foreign citizenship. The only exceptions are EU citizens and citizens of countries where it is impossible to lose your citizenship, like Morocco or Iran, for example.

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[edit]

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[edit]

Naturalisation by entitlement[edit]

An individual who fulfils all of the following criteria has an entitlement to naturalise as a German citizen:[5]

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 - he/she does not have to fulfil the other criteria (e.g. adequate command of the German language and ability to be self-supporting without recourse to benefits).

Applicants for naturalisation are normally expected to prove they have renounced their existing nationality, or will lose this automatically upon 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 his/her spouse and minor children to be naturalised at the same time (his/her spouse and minor children need not have ordinarily resided in Germany for at least 8 years).

Exceptions to the normal residence requirements include:

Naturalisation by discretion[edit]

An individual who is ordinarily resident outside may be naturalised as a German citizen if he/she can demonstrate sufficient ties with Germany which justify his/her naturalisation.[6]

Victims of Nazi persecution[edit]

Under Article 116 (2) Basic Law,[7] Some people who lost German citizenship under the Nazi regime may be eligible for naturalisation without requiring residence in Germany or renunciation of their existing citizenship. Children and grandchildren of such persons may also be eligible for German citizenship.[8]

German-born children[edit]

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[edit]

From 1995 to 2004, 1,278,424 foreigners have obtained German citizenship by naturalization. This means, that about 1.5% of the total German population had been naturalized during that period.

Naturalization of foreigners in Germany per (selected) country and year.
Source: Official 2011 Migration Report, p. 177
 Serbia and Montenegro3,6232,9672,2442,7213,4449,77612,0008,3755,5043,5396,309
 Russian Federation4,5834,9723,7342,7644,3812,965
Total (including countries not mentioned)71,98186,35682,913106,790143,267186,688178,098154,547140,731127,153106,897

Loss of German citizenship[edit]

German citizenship is automatically lost when a German citizen voluntarily acquires the citizenship of another country. To this there are two exceptions:

  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 naturalisation. A so-called permit to retain German citizenship must be obtained prior to naturalization. Failure to obtain a permit to retain German citizenship prior to naturalization results in the individual automatically losing German citizenship upon becoming a naturalized citizen of another country.[8]

Other cases where German citizenship can be lost include:

Dual citizenship[edit]

Allowed under following circumstances:

Changes of the law (e.g. the abolition of the "Optionspflicht") are being discussed.

Citizenship of the European Union[edit]

German citizens are also citizens of the European Union and thus enjoy rights of free movement and have the right to vote in elections for the European Parliament.


External links[edit]