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.
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.
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 The amendments to the law under the Nazi regime were repealed by the Federal Republic of Germany (see the article on the Reich Citizenship Law).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.
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. Also see Austrian nationality law.
The Nazi amendments and the Nuremberg Laws were revoked by Allied occupational ordinance in 1945.
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:
has a permanent residence permit; and
has been residing in Germany for at least eight years.
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
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.
Those born after 1 January 1975 are Germans if the mother or father is a German citizen.
Those born before 1 January 1975 could normally only claim German citizenship from the father and not the mother. Exceptions included cases where the parents were unmarried (in which case German mothers could pass on citizenship) or where the German mother applied for the child to be registered as German on or before 31 December 1977.
Special rules exist for those born before 1 July 1993 if only the father is German and is not married to the mother. The father must acknowledge paternity and must have married the mother before 1 July 1998.
A child born in a foreign country will no longer receive German citizenship automatically by birth, if his/her German parent was born after 31 December 1999 in a foreign country and has his/her primary residence there. Exceptions are:
The child would be stateless.
The German parent registers the child's birth within one year of birth to the responsible German agency abroad.
In case both parents are German citizens, German citizenship will not be passed on automatically, if both parents were born abroad after 31 December 1999 and have their primary residence outside of Germany. Exceptions are same as the above.
Those born in Germany and adopted to a foreign country would need to contact their local German Consulate for clarification of German citizenship.
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
An individual who fulfils all of the following criteria has an entitlement to naturalise as a German citizen:
he/she has been ordinarily resident in Germany for at least 8 years (this period can be reduced - see below)
he/she has legal capacity or a legal representative
confirms his/her present and past commitment to the free democratic constitutional system enshrined in the German Basic Law (or that he is presently committed to such principles and has departed from former support of ideas contrary to such principles)
he/she is a European Union or Swiss citizen in possession of the appropriate residence permit which permits the free movement of persons, or he/she is a non-EU/Swiss citizen who has been granted a permanent right of residence
he/she is able to support himself/herself without recourse to benefits
he/she has not been sentenced for an unlawful act and is not subject to any court order imposing a measure of reform and prevention
he/she possesses an adequate knowledge of German
possesses knowledge of the legal system, the society and living conditions in the Federal Republic of Germany
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:
persons who have completed an integration course may have the residence requirement reduced to 7 years
If a person shows that he/she is especially well integrated and has a higher level of command of the German language than the basic requirement for the German citizenship (i.e., higher than B1) may have the residence requirement reduced to 6 years
The spouse of a German citizen may be naturalised after 3 years of continual residency in Germany. The marriage must have persisted for at least 2 years.
refugees and stateless persons may be able to apply after 6 years of continual residency
former German citizens
Naturalisation by discretion
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.
Victims of Nazi persecution
Under Article 116 (2) Basic Law, 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.
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.
An application for naturalisation was required by 31 December 2000.
The child was required to apply for retention of German citizenship by age 23 and normally show that no other foreign citizenship was held at that time.
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.
German citizenship is automatically lost when a German citizen voluntarily acquires the citizenship of another country. To this there are two exceptions:
When the German citizen acquires a nationality from within the European Union, Switzerland, or another country with which Germany has a corresponding treaty.
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.
Other cases where German citizenship can be lost include:
Persons acquiring German citizenship on the basis of birth in Germany (without a German parent) lose German citizenship automatically at age 23 if they have not successfully applied to retain German citizenship. If it is desired to maintain a foreign citizenship, application must be made by age 21.
A German citizen who voluntarily serves in a foreign army (over and above compulsory military service) from 1 January 2000 may lose German citizenship unless permission is obtained from the German government. From 6 July 2011, the permission to serve above compulsory military service is automatically given for the armies of EU, EFTA, NATO countries and the armies of Australia, Canada, Israel, Japan, New Zealand, the Republic of Korea and the United States.
A German child adopted by foreign parents, where the child automatically acquires the nationality of the adoptive parents under the law of the adoptive parents' country. (For example, a German child adopted by Americans prior to 27 February 2001—the effective date of the U.S. Child Citizenship Act of 2000—would not have automatically lost his/her German citizenship, because the child did not automatically acquire United States citizenship by virtue of having been adopted by U.S. citizens.) An exception applies where legal ties to the German parent are maintained.
Allowed under following circumstances:
1. If the other citizenship is the one 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 and/or too expensive (e.g. Afghanistan, Algeria, Angola, Cuba, Eritrea, Iran, Iraq, Lebanon, Morocco, Nigeria, Syria, Thailand, Tunisia), or, rarely, in individual cases if the renunciation of the old citizenship means enormous disadvantages for the concerned person.
2. If a German citizen acquires a non-EU/non-Swiss citizenship with the permission ("Beibehaltungsgenehmigung") 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/non-Swiss citizenship without permission usually means the automatic loss of the German citizenship. The permission is not necessary if the other citizenship is the one of another EU country or of Switzerland.
3. If he/she is a refugee and holds a 1951 travel document during naturalization.
4. If a child born to German parents acquires another citizenship at birth (e.g. based on place of birth, or descent from one parent). 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. Under the current law, which restricts dual citizenship, children of non-EU and non-Swiss citizens must usually choose between German and foreign citizenship when they are 23 years old ("Optionspflicht" = the duty to choose one citizenship). Failing to make a choice can result in the loss of the German citizenship. For exceptions, see Point 1.
Changes of the law (e.g. the abolition of the "Optionspflicht") are being discussed.