Only a few days ago, the traffic light government had agreed on a reform of the citizenship law, which is intended to shorten the deadlines for naturalization. This Tuesday, the Federal Statistical Office reported that around 2022,168 foreigners became Germans in 545, a record high in the past twenty years. In the nineties, however, there were already more than 300,000 naturalizations. Such developments are never monocausal. Even the legal framework plays only one role among several.

Helene Bubrowski

Political correspondent in Berlin.

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In the Kohl era, for example, in which the strongest increase has been recorded so far, the naturalization law was restrictive. Guest workers were to remain guests, that was the self-image. Nevertheless, 1995,31 Turks were naturalized in 500 alone. "Officially, Germany was not a country of immigration, but the authorities have found pragmatic solutions in legal backrooms," says Daniel Thym, migration researcher at the University of Konstanz. Legally, this was quite possible, naturalization at discretion already existed anyway, since the asylum compromise in 1993 there was also a claim to naturalization under certain conditions.

Many EU citizens do not exercise their right

For the high numbers in the nineties, law scholar Thym identifies a second reason: The ethnic German repatriates from the former Soviet Union and other Eastern European countries made use of their right to naturalization in Germany. After 1999, naturalization was no longer required for them, German citizenship was automatically granted with recognition as a late repatriate. Since then, they no longer appear in the naturalization statistics.

This led to an immense decline in the numbers, which more than compensated for the increase in naturalizations due to liberalization during the red-green government. In other words, if one were to exclude the ethnic German repatriates, the curve would go up a bit after the year 2000. At that time, the period for naturalizations was reduced from 15 to eight years. Other changes in the law meant that naturalizations were no longer necessary. At that time, for example, the principle of place of birth (ius soli) was introduced: after the amendment, children born in Germany to foreign parents could also acquire German citizenship. Initially, this was associated with the obligation to decide between the German and foreign citizenship of the parents when they reached the age of 18. This option requirement for ius soli children was abolished in 2014.

In the following years, the number of naturalisations levelled off at around 100,000 naturalisations per year, although significantly more people would be entitled. Thym speaks of an "untapped potential". This applies, among other things, to EU citizens who do not exercise their right to become Germans, even though they could retain their previous citizenship. "The main added value is the right to vote, which is not important enough for many," says Thym. The British in Germany are a special case: After Brexit in 2016, many decided to naturalize. There is an increase in Ukrainians after the start of the war, in 2022 the number of naturalizations of Ukrainians tripled to 5600.

However, the recent increase is largely due to the naturalization of refugees. Around 48,300 Syrians were naturalized in 2022, accounting for just under a third of the total. Many refugees who entered the country after 2014 now meet the requirements for naturalization. On average, Syrians stayed in Germany for 6.4 years before they received a German passport. Currently, there is a period of eight years, which can be reduced to six years if integration performance is good. However, spouses and minor children can be naturalized without a minimum length of stay. In 2022, 15,400 Syrians took advantage of this opportunity.