German nationality law details the conditions by which an individual holds German nationality. The primary law governing these requirements is the Nationality Act, which came into force on 1 January 1914.
Germany is a member state of the European Union
(EU) and all German nationals are EU citizens
. They have automatic and permanent permission to live and work
in any EU or European Free Trade Association
(EFTA) country and may vote in elections to the European Parliament
Any person born to a married German parent is typically a German national at birth, regardless of the place of birth. Children of unmarried couples in which only the father is German must be legitimised
for them to acquire German nationality. Individuals born in Germany to two foreign parents may also receive German nationality at birth if at least one of their parents has lived in the country for eight years and is entitled to live in the country indefinitely (meaning any person with a settlement permit
, or citizenship of another EU country or Switzerland
Foreign nationals may naturalise after residing in Germany for at least eight years and demonstrating knowledge in the
German ( ) is a West Germanic language mainly spoken in Central Europe. It is the most widely spoken and official or co-official language in Germany, Austria, Switzerland, Liechtenstein, and the Italian province of South Tyrol. It is also a ...
. Although non-EU/Swiss naturalisation candidates are expected to renounce their previous nationalities, the majority are granted permission to retain their old statuses.
The distinction between the meaning of the terms citizenship
is not always clear in the English language and differs by country. Generally, nationality refers a person's legal belonging to a country and is the common term used in international treaties when referring to members of a state; citizenship refers to the set of rights and duties a person has in that nation. It can be possible for a non-national to obtain a degree of
civil and political rights
Civil and political rights are a class of rights that protect individuals' freedom from infringement by governments, social organizations, and private individuals. They ensure one's entitlement to participate in the civil and political life o ...
commonly associated with citizenship (e.g. residence or working rights) while it is also possible for a national to be prohibited from exercising certain rights (e.g. children barred from voting). In German, the term "nationality" () refers to state membership while "citizenship" () describes a person's participation in national society.
Until the early 19th century, German lands constituted the core part of the highly decentralised
Holy Roman Empire
The Holy Roman Empire was a political entity in Western, Central, and Southern Europe that developed during the Early Middle Ages and continued until its dissolution in 1806 during the Napoleonic Wars.
From the accession of Otto I in 962 unt ...
. Each of the roughly 1,800 individual political entities within the Empire
had varying (or non-existent) definitions on who they considered to be members of their polity. "Citizenship" in this context was tied to a person's settlement in a particular municipality and individuals found outside of their ordinary places of residence could be deported to other parts of imperial territory.
The modern concept of citizenship
, as a formal and legal relationship between an individual and a
State may refer to:
Arts, entertainment, and media Literature
* ''State Magazine'', a monthly magazine published by the U.S. Department of State
* ''The State'' (newspaper), a daily newspaper in Columbia, South Carolina, United States
* '' Our ...
that confers privileges to holders and a status that persists beyond continued territorial residence, emerged during the
The French Revolution ( ) was a period of radical political and societal change in France that began with the Estates General of 1789 and ended with the formation of the French Consulate in November 1799. Many of its ideas are consid ...
. Following the
dissolution of the Holy Roman Empire
The dissolution of the Holy Roman Empire occurred '' de facto'' on 6 August 1806, when the last Holy Roman Emperor, Francis II of the House of Habsburg-Lorraine, abdicated his title and released all imperial states and officials from their oath ...
in 1806, this model of citizenship was imported into the German territories that became part of the French-led
Confederation of the Rhine
The Confederated States of the Rhine, simply known as the Confederation of the Rhine, also known as Napoleonic Germany, was a confederation of German client states established at the behest of Napoleon some months after he defeated Austria a ...
, though any applicable legislation from this period was repealed in the 1810s shortly after French defeat in the Napoleonic Wars
. Outside of this Confederation,
Austria, , bar, Östareich officially the Republic of Austria, is a country in the southern part of Central Europe, lying in the Eastern Alps. It is a federation of nine states, one of which is the capital, Vienna, the most populous ci ...
enacted its first codified regulations based on the modern citizenship concept in 1811.
As a result of the
Congress of Vienna
The Congress of Vienna (, ) of 1814–1815 was a series of international diplomatic meetings to discuss and agree upon a possible new layout of the European political and constitutional order after the downfall of the French Emperor Napoleon ...
The German Confederation (german: Deutscher Bund, ) was an association of 39 predominantly German-speaking sovereign states in Central Europe. It was created by the Congress of Vienna in 1815 as a replacement of the former Holy Roman Empire, ...
was created in 1815 as a permanent replacement for the Holy Roman Empire and included virtually all of the former Empire's territory. This political structure was not a
A federation (also known as a federal state) is a political entity characterized by a union of partially self-governing provinces, states, or other regions under a central federal government (federalism). In a federation, the self-governin ...
and sovereign power remained with the 38 individual member states
. Each state continued to hold jurisdiction over citizenship, but the vast majority of them passed no specific codified laws on the subject until the mid-19th century.
Prussia, , Old Prussian: ''Prūsa'' or ''Prūsija'' was a German state on the southeast coast of the Baltic Sea. It formed the German Empire under Prussian rule when it united the German states in 1871. It was ''de facto'' dissolved by an ...
enacted its first citizenship law in 1842. Other than through naturalisation, Prussian citizenship was only passed by descent from a Prussian father (or mother, if the parents were unmarried).
Confederal policy alignment
Any applicable contemporary legislation in the Confederation was inconsistent among the states and generally ineffectual at determining the citizenship of a particular person. State regulations often assumed the existence of some type of citizenship that a child would inherit from their father at the time of their birth. However, any person born in the 18th century who would have been a citizen of an area of the Holy Roman Empire that no longer existed as a political entity would have had an undefined status in state law.
Conversely, every state had concluded by the 1820s at least one treaty with some or all other members of the Confederation that detailed the deportation of undesirable persons without state citizenship and process of "implicit
Naturalization (or naturalisation) is the legal act or process by which a non-citizen of a country may acquire citizenship or nationality of that country. It may be done automatically by a statute, i.e., without any effort on the part of the ...
". A German who resided in another state for at least 10 years was considered to have been naturalised implicitly in their new place of domicile. An implicitly naturalised father would have automatically passed his changed citizenship status to his entire family. In seven states, this process was extended to any alien who fulfilled the minimum residence requirement. These interstate treaties additionally clarified the position of persons with unclear status, who were granted the contemporary existing citizenship of their birthplace (if that was uncertain, then the place where they were found). Germans lost their state citizenship if they left state territory with the intent to reside elsewhere permanently, had obtained formal permission to emigrate, or otherwise continuously lived outside of their home state for at least 10 years.
Theoretically, the Constitution of the German Confederation
created a common German nationality. Article 18 of the document detailed a set of basic rights for every German; any subject of a German state was entitled to freely purchase property in any part of the Confederation, emigrate to other states willing to admit them, enlist in another state's armed forces or civil service, and were exempt from a tax on emigration. In practice, the member states did not permit Germans from other states to freely immigrate into their territories, rendering these constitutional rights generally moot. The
The Frankfurt Parliament (german: Frankfurter Nationalversammlung, literally ''Frankfurt National Assembly'') was the first freely elected parliament for all German states, including the German-populated areas of Austria-Hungary, elected on 1 Ma ...
expanded on this idea of a unified German nationality; any state citizen of the short-lived 1848-1849 German Empire
was also a German national, and all German nationals held the same rights as citizens of any German state.
Multilateral negotiations among the states resumed after the German Confederation was reconstituted in 1849. Prussia and 20 other states agreed on the Gotha Treaty in 1851, which lowered the residence requirement for implicit naturalisation to five years and introduced a formal distinction between emigration to other German states and emigration to jurisdictions outside of the Confederation. All German states had acceded to this treaty by 1861.
Unification and imperial law
The Confederation was dissolved in 1866 as a consequence of the
The Austro-Prussian War, also by many variant names such as Seven Weeks' War, German Civil War, Brothers War or Fraternal War, known in Germany as ("German War"), (; "German war of brothers") and by a variety of other names, was fought in 186 ...
. Prussia formed a new union, the
North German Confederation
The North German Confederation (german: Norddeutscher Bund) was initially a German military alliance established in August 1866 under the leadership of the Kingdom of Prussia, which was transformed in the subsequent year into a confederated s ...
, consisting of all the German states north of the
Main may refer to:
* Main River (disambiguation)
**Most commonly the Main (river) in Germany
*Main, Iran, a village in Fars Province
*" Spanish Main", the Caribbean coasts of mainland Spanish territories in the 16th and 17th centuries
. The remaining southern states (excluding Austria-Hungary
) were independent until their accession to the union during the 1870 Franco-Prussian War
. Prussia's 1842 citizenship law served as the basis for federal nationality regulations, which were adopted that same year. The United States
negotiated during this time a set of individual Bancroft Treaties
with the North German Confederation,
Baden (; ) is a historical territory in South Germany, in earlier times on both sides of the Upper Rhine but since the Napoleonic Wars only East of the Rhine.
The margraves of Baden originated from the House of Zähringen. Baden i ...
Bavaria ( ; ), officially the Free State of Bavaria (german: Freistaat Bayern, link=no ), is a state in the south-east of Germany. With an area of , Bavaria is the largest German state by land area, comprising roughly a fifth of the total lan ...
Hesse (, , ) or Hessia (, ; german: Hessen ), officially the State of Hessen (german: links=no, Land Hessen), is a state in Germany. Its capital city is Wiesbaden, and the largest urban area is Frankfurt. Two other major historic cities are D ...
Württemberg ( ; ) is a historical German territory roughly corresponding to the cultural and linguistic region of Swabia. The main town of the region is Stuttgart.
Together with Baden and Hohenzollern, two other historical territories, Württ ...
for mutual recognition of each other's naturalised citizens.
Following North German victory against France, the Confederation was reformed into the German Empire
in 1871. International bilateral agreements with the southern German states became superseded by imperial law. In the annexed region of
Alsace–Lorraine, now called Alsace–Moselle, is a historical region located in France. It was created in 1871 by the German Empire after it had seized the region from the Second French Empire in the Franco-Prussian War with the Treaty of F ...
, residents were allowed a choice between German and French nationalities. Individuals electing to remain French were required to permanently depart for France by 1 October 1872.
State citizenship remained principally important in almost all of Germany; imperial citizenship was held by virtue of holding state citizenship, which continued to be acquired in separate processes per state, and German passports listed a holder's nationality as Prussian, Bavarian, Saxon, or whichever label was applicable. However, because Alsatian-Lorrainers and white residents of German colonies
were not domiciled in a federal state, they were simply "German".
The concept of a German nationality based on ethnicity and descent became a core principle in the 1913 Imperial and State Citizenship Act (). While prior regulations had maintained preexisting models of state membership through residency, this law made descent from German heritage the primary qualification for nationality. Before 1913, Germans who lived abroad for more than 10 years were automatically deprived of their nationality but after this reform, any former national who remained living overseas (as well as any of their descendants) were able to apply for German nationality with no requirement to reestablish residence in Germany. Individuals who became nationals in this way were granted "direct imperial citizenship" rather than citizenship of any particular state. Germans could still be automatically denaturalised after extended residence overseas or obtaining another nationality, but this could be avoided by registering their intent to continue holding German citizenship at a German consulate.
Foreigners resident in Germany who held no criminal record, maintained their own housing, and provided for themselves and their families could apply for naturalisation. However, fulfilling the technical requirements did not give applicants the right to become German nationals. Final approval for a grant of nationality was given at the sole discretion of the imperial government, which was extremely restrictive in practice. Only applicants who had served for at least one year in the German military or those who were employed by the German government and had met the other naturalisation requirements were entitled to become German nationals by right.
Colonial subjects (who held an unclearly defined legal status as ) were never granted German nationality at large and any children of mixed-race heritage had to be officially approved for "European" status, subject to detailed examination of an applicant's heritage, education, professional background, and social standing. Any other native resident of a German colony, or foreigners domiciled there, would have been required to naturalise to acquire German nationality.
Interwar and Nazi regulations
After its defeat in the First World War
, Germany lost control of several territories. France regained Alsace–Lorraine and all residents who had been French before 1870, as well as their descendants, automatically reacquired French nationality. However, any person descended from a German father or grandfather who was not previously French did not qualify for automatic reacquisition and were required to naturalise. Any person domiciled in Northern Schleswig
on 15 June 1920 obtained Danish nationality, but could opt for reversion to German nationality provided that they elected to do so before 1923 and resettled in Germany within 12 months of their decision. Similarly, Germans who remained living in newly independent Poland
Free City of Danzig
The Free City of Danzig (german: Freie Stadt Danzig; pl, Wolne Miasto Gdańsk; csb, Wòlny Gard Gduńsk) was a city-state under the protection of the League of Nations between 1920 and 1939, consisting of the Baltic Sea port of Danzig (now Gda ...
became Polish and Danziger nationals.
Systemic exclusion of Jews and undesirables
The Constitution of the German Reich (german: Die Verfassung des Deutschen Reichs), usually known as the Weimar Constitution (''Weimarer Verfassung''), was the constitution that governed Germany during the Weimar Republic era (1919–1933). The c ...
reiterated the same basic principles for nationality as in the 1913 law while additionally providing citizens with basic entitlements for protection by the government within and without Germany, and shielding them from extradition to foreign countries. As the country transitioned into a
A unitary state is a sovereign state governed as a single entity in which the central government is the supreme authority. The central government may create (or abolish) administrative divisions (sub-national units). Such units exercise only ...
under Nazi rule
in 1933, state citizenship was abolished as a separate concept and became subsumed into German citizenship as a whole. The new regime enacted the 1933 Denaturalisation Act which enabled the selective revocation of nationality from any person considered "undesirable" who had naturalised between 1918 and 1933. Although the Interior Ministry announced that this measure would first be implemented with the approximately 150,000 Jews from eastern Europe
who were living in Germany at that time, the vast majority of these Jews had encountered great difficulty in naturalising under the Weimar government, meaning that they were not actually affected by this change because they remained foreign citizens. This change instead affected political dissidents who fled Germany after Hitler's rise to power, who subsequently had their nationality revoked.
In the subsequent years, Jews were progressively excluded from participation in German society with ever more restrictive regulations prohibiting their activity in core sectors of the economy. This culminated with the enactment of the 1935 Reich Citizenship Act, which created a tiered citizenship hierarchy; members of the
The Aryan race is an obsolete historical race concept that emerged in the late-19th century to describe people of Proto-Indo-European heritage as a racial grouping. The terminology derives from the historical usage of Aryan, used by modern I ...
became Reich citizens (), who held an elevated status over existing state subjects (). Reich citizenship could be acquired by obtaining a certificate of citizenship. Although Reich citizenship technically held no special privileges and non-Aryans remained state citizens who were entitled to state protection in theory, this law provided the legal basis for further depriving civil and political rights from people who were deemed undesirable. Jews were specifically barred from holding Reich citizenship, and they (along with
Romani may refer to:
* Romani people, an ethnic group of Northern Indian origin, living dispersed in Europe, the Americas and Asia
** Romani genocide, under Nazi rule
* Romani language
Romani (; also Romany, Romanes , Roma; r ...
s) formally lost their right to vote in German elections on 7 March 1936. Further regulations in 1940 automatically removed state citizenship from individuals who became domiciled abroad;
Nazi concentration camps
From 1933 to 1945, Nazi Germany operated more than a thousand concentration camps, (officially) or (more commonly). The Nazi concentration camps are distinguished from other types of Nazi camps such as forced-labor camps, as well as con ...
were included in the definition of "abroad". All remaining German Jews who were permanently domiciled overseas were denaturalised under the Eleventh Decree to the Reich Citizenship Act on 27 November 1941 and lost their status as state subjects. Between 150,000 to 180,000 people lost their German nationality through this decree.
Territories incorporated into the Reich
Austria, , bar, Östareich officially the Republic of Austria, is a country in the southern part of Central Europe, lying in the Eastern Alps. It is a federation of nine states, one of which is the capital, Vienna, the most populous ci ...
was integrated into the German state following ''
The (, or , ), also known as the (, en, Annexation of Austria), was the annexation of the Federal State of Austria into the German Reich on 13 March 1938.
The idea of an (a united Austria and Germany that would form a "Greater Germany ...
'' on 13 March 1938. Austrians retained their existing citizenship until 3 July 1938, when all Austrians were granted Reich citizenship, regardless if they were resident in the country or not.
Austrian nationality law
Austrian nationality law details the conditions by which an individual is national of Austria. The primary law governing these requirements is the Nationality Law, which came into force on 31 July 1985.
Austria is a member state of the Europ ...
was fully abrogated and replaced by German nationality law on 30 July 1939.
German Bohemians (german: Deutschböhmen und Deutschmährer, i.e. German Bohemians and German Moravians), later known as Sudeten Germans, were ethnic Germans living in the Czech lands of the Bohemian Crown, which later became an integral part o ...
living in the
The Sudetenland ( , ; Czech and sk, Sudety) is the historical German name for the northern, southern, and western areas of former Czechoslovakia which were inhabited primarily by Sudeten Germans. These German speakers had predominated in the ...
also automatically became Reich citizens when Germany annexed that territory following the
The Munich Agreement ( cs, Mnichovská dohoda; sk, Mníchovská dohoda; german: Münchner Abkommen) was an agreement concluded at Munich on 30 September 1938, by Germany, the United Kingdom, France, and Italy. It provided "cession to Germany ...
on 29 September 1938. Czech citizens in the Sudetenland were allowed to apply for Reich citizenship provided that they or their parents had resided in that area on or before 1 October 1910. However, this was subject to discretionary approval by German authorities and rejected applicants were required to depart permanently.
In the remaining Czech territory that was incorporated into Germany as the
Protectorate of Bohemia and Moravia
The Protectorate of Bohemia and Moravia; cs, Protektorát Čechy a Morava; its territory was called by the Nazis ("the rest of Czechia"). was a partially annexed territory of Nazi Germany established on 16 March 1939 following the German oc ...
in 1939, Reich citizenship was only granted automatically to members of the Sudeten German Party
. All other Czechoslovak citizens became Protectorate subjects, but ethnic Germans resident in the Protectorate could subsequently apply to become Reich citizens. Although Protectorate subjects did not hold citizenship and were excluded from employment in the government and armed forces, discriminatory policies based on Czech ancestry were never adopted to the same degree as they were for Jews. In fact, any Protectorate subject who had even distant German ancestry could apply for Reich citizenship, provided that they were willing to undergo a process of
Germanisation, or Germanization, is the spread of the German language, people and culture. It was a central idea of German conservative thought in the 19th and the 20th centuries, when conservatism and ethnic nationalism went hand in hand. In lin ...
and were not of Jewish descent.
Ethnic Germans in eastern areas directly annexed by Germany
were granted Reich citizenship on 1 September 1939 if they were Danzig citizens or on 26 October 1939 if they were Polish citizens. Polish citizenship was completely abolished, and any person who did not otherwise become a Reich citizen was stateless. Poles who were selected to be forcibly Germanised were given Reich citizenship.
Following its defeat in the Second World War
, Germany was occupied by Allied forces
. Austria was reestablished as a separate sovereign state on 27 April 1945 and any person of Austrian origin would have ceased to hold German citizenship from that date. Ethnic Germans in post-war Czechoslovakia were deprived of their Czechoslovak citizenship under the Beneš decrees
, and more than 2.8 million affected people were deported to Germany. Similarly, 3.6 million Germans were expelled from Poland, including from former German territories
east of the
The Oder–Neisse line (german: Oder-Neiße-Grenze, pl, granica na Odrze i Nysie Łużyckiej) is the basis of most of the international border between Germany and Poland from 1990. It runs mainly along the Oder and Lusatian Neisse rivers a ...
. Germany itself was divided into two states in 1949, the
Federal Republic of Germany
Germany,, officially the Federal Republic of Germany, is a country in Central Europe. It is the second most populous country in Europe after Russia, and the most populous member state of the European Union. Germany is situated betwee ...
(West Germany, FRG) and the
German Democratic Republic
German(s) may refer to:
* Germany (of or related to)
** Germania (historical use)
* Germans, citizens of Germany, people of German ancestry, or native speakers of the German language
** For citizens of Germany, see also German nationality law
(East Germany, GDR).
In the initial period following the division of Germany, both German governments maintained the idea of a common German nationality. East Germany gradually asserted a separate legal tradition and nationality over the following two decades that culminated with the adoption of its own nationality law in 1967 divergent from pre-war regulations. By contrast, the West German government regarded itself as the sole continuation of the
German ''Reich'' (lit. German Realm, German Empire, from german: Deutsches Reich, ) was the constitutional name for the German nation state that existed from 1871 to 1945. The ''Reich'' became understood as deriving its authority and sovereignty ...
and continued to regulate nationality under the 1913 Imperial and State Citizenship Act, assuming responsibility for all former citizens of the Reich according to its 1937 borders. In line with West German non-recognition of a separate East German status, all NATO
member states treated East German passport
holders as stateless
persons until the 1960s.
The continued application of the 1913 law allowed the West German government to claim East Germans as its own nationals and to issue passports to any who managed to flee East Germany. Former East Germans who left the GDR without obtaining permission from the authorities were liable to imprisonment on their return to East Germany until the two governments normalised relations with the 1972 Basic Treaty
. The GDR subsequently acknowledged any East German who had left the country between 7 October 1949 and 31 December 1971 as having lost East German nationality. Following a general trend of anti-communist movements in Eastern Europe
beginning in 1989, the
The Peaceful Revolution (german: Friedliche Revolution), as a part of the Revolutions of 1989, was the process of sociopolitical change that led to the opening of East Germany's borders with the West, the end of the ruling of the Socialist Unity ...
began the process of
German reunification (german: link=no, Deutsche Wiedervereinigung) was the process of re-establishing Germany as a united and fully sovereign state, which took place between 2 May 1989 and 15 March 1991. The day of 3 October 1990 when the Ge ...
. East Germany ceased to exist on 3 October 1990 and its constituent states became a part of the Federal Republic.
Ethnic Germans who were displaced as a result of the Second World War were eligible for special resettlement and nationality acquisition. The Federal Expellee Law
defines a qualifying person as any ethnic German who was domiciled in the former eastern territories of Germany, or in any area outside of pre-1938 German borders and were deported or forced to flee. This right to citizenship extended to any descendants of an ethnic German, as well as their spouses. Over 1.4 million people from
The Eastern Bloc, also known as the Communist Bloc and the Soviet Bloc, was the group of socialist states of Central and Eastern Europe, East Asia, Southeast Asia, Africa, and Latin America under the influence of the Soviet Union that existed du ...
countries resettled in West Germany under these provisions between 1950 and 1987. Special admission for ethnic Germans was restricted in 1993 following democratisation of Eastern Europe; applicants became subject to a German language requirement and an entry quota of 225,000 people, which was later reduced to 100,000 in 2000. Eligibility for citizenship through ethnic German background has since been limited to individuals born before 1993, effectively ending future resettlement.
West German involvement in
European integration is the process of industrial, economic, political, legal, social, and cultural integration of states wholly or partially in Europe or nearby. European integration has primarily come about through the European Union and its ...
began in the immediate post-war period of the late 1940s. Initial cooperation was focused on the economy through the
Organisation for European Economic Co-operation
The Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD; french: Organisation de coopération et de développement économiques, ''OCDE'') is an intergovernmental organisation with 38 member countries, founded in 1961 to stimulate ...
as a condition for receiving aid from the United States provided by the
The Marshall Plan (officially the European Recovery Program, ERP) was an American initiative enacted in 1948 to provide foreign aid to Western Europe. The United States transferred over $13 billion (equivalent of about $ in ) in economic re ...
. The post-war political situation created the circumstances that facilitated the establishment of further organisations to integrate Western Europe
along common social and security policies. West Germany became a founding member of the
The European Communities (EC) were three international organizations that were governed by the same set of institutions. These were the European Coal and Steel Community (ECSC), the European Atomic Energy Community (EAEC or Euratom), and th ...
(EC) in 1951, a set of organisations that eventually developed into the European Union
(EU). West German citizens participated in their first European Parliament elections in 1979
and have been able to work in other EC/EU countries under the
freedom of movement for workers
The freedom of movement for workers is a policy chapter of the acquis communautaire of the European Union. The free movement of workers means that nationals of any member state of the European Union can take up an employment in another member sta ...
established by the 1957
Treaty of Rome
The Treaty of Rome, or EEC Treaty (officially the Treaty establishing the European Economic Community), brought about the creation of the European Economic Community (EEC), the best known of the European Communities (EC). The treaty was sig ...
. GDR accession to the Federal Republic in 1990 did not affect German membership in the EC. With the creation of European Union citizenship
by the 1992 Maastrict Treaty
, free movement rights were expanded to all nationals of
EU member states
The European Union (EU) is a supranational political and economic union of member states that are located primarily in Europe. The union has a total area of and an estimated total population of about 447million. The EU has often been de ...
regardless of their employment status.
Expansion of access to citizenship
Debate over nationality law following German reunification focused on the integration of immigrants into the national community. Although the West German government had actively recruited foreign labour since 1955, immigrants were not considered part of German society and an official integration policy did not become a government priority until the 1990s. A growing number of migrant workers had children who were born in Germany, educated domestically, and later employed in the country but still held foreign nationality despite their long periods of residence and assimilation.
Naturalisation regulations were relaxed in 1991 to allow noncitizens between the ages of 16 and 23 to acquire citizenship if they had been legally domiciled in Germany for eight years, attended a school in the country for at least six years, had no criminal convictions, and renounced their previous nationalities. All other immigrants became eligible for naturalisation if they had lived in the country for 15 years, were self-subsistent, held no criminal record, and forfeit any other nationalities. These changes were implemented at the discretion of the government until they were codified in legislation in 1993.
More substantial changes were adopted in 1999, when birthright citizenship
was introduced for children born since 1 January 2000 to noncitizen immigrants who had resided in Germany for at least eight years. Any such children who held another nationality at birth were required to choose between their German and foreign nationalities on reaching the age of 18. As a transitional arrangement, children born between 1990 and 1999 to applicable parents could also acquire citizenship by special registration, provided that their parents had registered them by the end of 2000. Until this change, German nationality had been transmitted to subsequent generations only by descent rather than by birth within Germany.
Requirements for naturalisation candidates were further relaxed in the 1999 reform as well; the residence requirement was reduced from 15 to eight years and immigrants from other EU countries or Switzerland no longer needed to renounce their previous citizenship before acquiring German nationality, provided that the relevant country reciprocated this treatment in its respective nationality law. This condition of reciprocity was removed in a subsequent 2007 amendment.
Conversely, denaturalisation rules applying to Germans who acquired another nationality were tightened. Although Germans who became citizens of another country also typically lost German nationality before 2000, those who had remained domiciled within Germany were exempted from this. Immigrants who renounced their previous nationality to become German nationals were able to subsequently reacquire that foreign nationality at a later date; this was particularly prevalent among the naturalised Turkish population, encouraged by the Turkish government. The denaturalisation exception was removed as part of the 1999 reform.
Acquisition and loss of nationality
Entitlement by birth or descent
Children born within Germany automatically receive German nationality at birth if at least one married parent is a German national. Individuals born overseas to at least one married German parent are also German nationals, unless that parent was born after 31 December 1999 and is ordinarily resident in a foreign country; they may alternatively acquire German nationality if they would otherwise be stateless
or their births are registered at a German diplomatic mission
before their first birthday.
Children born in the country to two foreign parents since 1 January 2000 automatically receive citizenship at birth if at least one parent has habitually resided in Germany for at least eight years and possesses indefinite permission to remain. This usually means holding a settlement permit. EU citizens are automatically granted right of permanent residence after living in the country for at least five years. Children born in Germany to such parents between 1990 and 1999 also qualified for citizenship, provided that their parents had registered them for that status by the end of 2000. Minor children who are adopted by German citizens within the country receive citizenship at the time of adoption, while those who are adopted outside of Germany (regardless of age) may acquire citizenship at governmental discretion.
Until 1953, German women who married foreign men automatically lost their German citizenship. Consequently, children resulting from these marriages would not have been German citizens at birth. Even after 1953, citizenship by descent was as a rule mostly transmitted patrilineally. Only children of married German fathers and unmarried German mothers received citizenship at birth until this was again amended in 1975. Furthermore, children of unmarried German fathers born since 1993 must have their paternity formally established; those born before 1993 were additionally required to have claimed citizenship before age 23 and must have been resident in Germany for three years at the time of application. Individuals who had lost citizenship or were ineligible for it as a direct result of this previous legislative gender imbalance have been able to acquire citizenship by declaration for a ten-year period that began on 20 August 2021. Successful applicants obtaining citizenship through this pathway are not required to renounce any alternative nationalities.
Foreigners may naturalise
as German citizens after residing in the country for at least eight years and possessing the right of permanent settlement. This usually means holding a residence permit or citizenship of an EU/EFTA country. Applicants must demonstrate proficiency in the German language, pass a citizenship test, declare loyalty to a free and democratic system, prove their self-sufficiency without state assistance, hold no criminal record, and renounce any previous nationalities. Persons convicted of racist, antisemitic, or xenophobic acts are permanently barred from naturalisation.
The requisite period of residence may be reduced to seven years for applicants who successfully complete the Integrationskurs
or three years for spouses of German citizens who have been married for at least two years. Citizens of other parts of the EU and Switzerland are exempt from renouncing their previous nationality, and the requirement may be waived for those who cannot renounce their foreign status or would undergo significant hardship in doing so. About 110,000 people naturalised as German citizens in 2020, with over 63 per cent of them retaining their previous nationalities.
Relinquishment and deprivation
German nationality can be relinquished by making a declaration of renunciation, provided that the declarant already possesses or is in the process of obtaining another nationality. German children who are adopted by foreigners and acquire the nationality of their new parents automatically cease to be German at the time of adoption. It is also automatically lost when an individual voluntarily acquires a foreign citizenship even if that person remains domiciled in Germany, unless prior governmental permission is granted to retain German nationality or the new citizenship is that of another EU country or Switzerland.
German children with multiple nationalities who were born to two foreign parents in Germany are required to choose between their German and foreign statuses before the age of 23 unless they have eight years of residence in Germany before age 21, attended a German school for six years, graduated from a German school, or completed vocational education in the country. Dual nationals who fail to make this choice are automatically stripped of their German nationality. If they declare their intention to retain German nationality, they are required to prove the loss of their foreign statuses by the age of 23, or may apply for permission to retain their other nationalities before age 21.
Citizenship may be stripped from a person who fraudulently acquired it within 10 years of that person having become a German citizen, or from dual nationals who engage in terrorist activities at any time or voluntarily serve in foreign armed forces without prior permission from the government. Since 6 July 2011, this permission is automatically granted to dual nationals of Australia
Israel (; he, יִשְׂרָאֵל, ; ar, إِسْرَائِيل, ), officially the State of Israel ( he, מְדִינַת יִשְׂרָאֵל, label=none, translit=Medīnat Yīsrāʾēl; ), is a country in Western Asia. It is situated ...
, New Zealand
, South Korea
, and EU
The European Free Trade Association (EFTA) is a regional trade organization and free trade area consisting of four European states: Iceland, Liechtenstein, Norway and Switzerland. The organization operates in parallel with the European Un ...
or NATO countries who serve in the militaries of their alternate nationalities.
Reclamation of nationality revoked under Nazi rule
Any person who had their citizenship revoked between 30 January 1933 and 8 May 1945 on political, racial, or religious grounds, and their direct descendants, are entitled to reclaim German citizenship. Until 2019, applicants qualified only if the primary claimant to German citizenship had that status rescinded through the Eleventh Decree to the Reich Citizenship Act (which stripped citizenship from all Jews domiciled abroad on 27 November 1941) or individually deprived under the 1933 Denaturalisation Act. These restrictions had prevented nationality restoration to: descendants of formerly German married women or unmarried fathers, children adopted before 1977 by qualified former German citizens, descendants of women who involunarily lost German nationality after fleeing the country and marrying foreign men, and descendants of former Germans who applied for nationality renunciation before being stripped of their status. These limitations were relaxed by ministerial decree by the Federal Ministry of the Interior and Community
, and fully lifted when codified into legislation in 2021.
Federal Office for Migration, Refugees, and Integration
Germany and the European Union