Notes about Brits getting German citizenship in light of Brexit

In this blog entry I am breaking about my only rule of blogging – namely that I should only blog about the things I know. Here I am going to try to blog about German law, something I do not understand or know. This prospect scares me, and I am NOT a lawyer, let alone a German lawyer, so take all of this with a very large pinch of salt. But I cannot find any proper investigation of this issue anywhere online, so I am going to have a go. Please comment below, or tweet me, if all of this is rubbish, and I will update the piece accordingly!

So you have been warned.

Anyway, here goes.

Brexit – when it eventually, legally happens – will have an impact on the 105000 Brits who live permanently in Germany. They have been in Germany for varying lengths of time but if they do not have some other passport (or, ideally, a German one) they could potentially be impacted by Brexit. I have been permanently resident in Germany for 3 years, and I have only a British passport. This issue will impact me, and hence this blog entry.

We do not know what rights Brits will have in Germany after Brexit but many Brits have taken matters into their own hands and started to investigate how to get a German passport as an insurance policy. But how does this process work? This is what I am going to endeavour to answer.

The basic rules for becoming German are set out on the BAMF website here. There are two main and important pieces of information on that site – firstly that citizenship can normally be granted after 8 years of permanent residence in Germany, and that this can be shorted to 7 years if you take an integration course, and to 6 years if you show a special effort at integration (besondere Integrationsleistung), and secondly that you have to give up your original nationality (although there are exceptions).

So let’s look first at time limits. The Grüne – and Volker Beck, Katrin Göring-Eckhardt and Özcan Mutlu in particular – have been making quite a stir by suggesting that citizenship for Brits endangered by Brexit should be speeded up. Kate Connolly has a write up of the Bundestag debate about it in The Guardian here.

The Greens have tabled a resolution (PDF here) and a proposal for a law (PDF here) – welcome, but considering they are in opposition I do not see these things as likely to come to pass.

I am instead more interested in the legal situation in this area now, and how it works.

Beck and others posed questions (Kleine Anfrage) to the Federal Government about the issue on 14th July – PDF of the questions here. The Federal Government answered on 1st August – PDF here.

Answers to questions 2 and 3 provide clarification on the time issue, making it clear that the standard time frame is 8 years, and 6 years with a besondere Integrationsleistung, and also mentioning that it is just three years if your partner or husband/wife is German.

But the answer to question 2 is where it gets really interesting, and damned complex.

There are 2 pieces of law that are relevant here – the Staatsangehörigkeitsgesetz (StAG) (consolidated text here) and the Allgemeine Verwaltungsvorschrift zum Staatsangehörigkeitsrecht (StAR-VwV) (consolidated text here). The StAR-VwV sets out how the StAG is to be implemented.

The answer to Question 2 points us towards and of StAR-VwV. explains how the time of your stay in Germany is calculated. Notably it does not have to be in one uninterrupted period – up to half the total can be from previous stays in Germany if these can demonstrably have contributed to integration. sets out a set of exemptions to the 8 years / 6 years limits – that can apply to people working in science, research, business, art, culture, media, sport or public service. It however also states that the reducing the limit to fewer than three years is not foreseen.

Both and and hence potentially significant – for those who have spent multiple periods of time in Germany, or for people whose work is in the categories stipulated. Anything under three years is not possible. After three years – if married or in civil partnership or if working in the right sectors it might work in individual cases. If not then six, seven or eight years is the norm.

Then we come to the issue of dual citizenship.

This is very clearly and categorically allowed as long as the UK remains in the European Union. It is stipulated in § 12, para 2 of the StAG that dual nationality is allowed with the rest of the European Union, and with Switzerland. When the UK leaves the EU British citizens would then, by extension, not be covered by this.

That then leaves UK citizens trying to work out if they comply with one of the general exemptions from the ban on dual citizenship outlined in § 12, para 1. These are:

  1. the state whose citizenship you hold does not allow you to renounce it (not the case for the UK – details of how to renounce UK citizenship here)
  2. the state in question regularly prevents citizenship being renounced (cannot imagine this applies to the UK – it applies to places like Afghanistan and Iran according to this)
  3. if attempts to renounce citizenship fail for some reason in a two year period (also unlikely to apply to the UK)
  4. if it the procedure to renounce is too complex, or the costs to do so are too high (this is the one that applies to the USA, but this costs £272 for the UK currently (prices in PDF here), so this also is not applicable)
  5. if the person is a refugee (Brexit is not that serious, yet!)
  6. if the person is over 60 and for health reasons cannot renounce (will apply to some UK citizens)

So – in short – if I have interpreted this correctly, and in the case that Germany does not change its StAG in light of Brexit, trying to get dual nationality UK-German after Brexit is not going to be a simple task. Note that if you already have dual citizenship (i.e. for those that apply for a German passport before Brexit), that cannot be withdrawn from you. So the conclusion on that point is pretty clear – get on and apply before the legal Brexit happens.

(NOTE: I am a member of the Grüne and opposed to Brexit. Read this in that light! Özcan Mutlu MdB sent me some links for this piece)

2 thoughts on “Notes about Brits getting German citizenship in light of Brexit

  1. I’ve spent a few years paying close attention to the law here, in the UK, Germany and Canada.

    The real rule is that whilst you can, and should, work all this out for yourself, then you must pay for good legal advice in the relevant jurisdiction. (I am not a practicing lawyer anywere – I merely have the academic qualifications to be one in the UK).

    The one lesson to learn from this is that nationality law is complex and has unexpected consequences — ultimately leading to statelessness in some extreme cases.

    Lawyers have specific rules about how to apply the law.

    And those rules are different in German and in the UK. In the UK (and common-law countries like Ireland, the US, Canada) they are applied “literally”, whilst in the civil law countries of Europe they are applied “teleologically”. That is, a statement of grand purpose and the court seeks to apply the purpose of the legal provision.

    Ideally, perhaps the Greens could sponsor a simple amendment to the StAG which includes “former member of the European Union” in the EU clause, both from the point of view of UK citizens in Germany (or married to Germans) seeking German citizenship (as I am, though via a different, discretionary route).

    Otherwise, I fear many Germans in the UK are going to be caught out unexpectedly.

    Where I live in the British Isles, for example, aliens are not allowed to own property except by permission of the Lt. Governor. The relevant law was amended in 1973 to include what was then the EEC In the definition of ‘not alien’ (as a consequence of the non-discrimination provision of the Treaty of Rome).

    We could find this could easily be changed back once Britain is no longer legally a member of the EU

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