Germany’s Dual Citizenship Revolution: A Guide for German Immigrants in the US

Many green card holders may hesitate to become US citizens because of rules about having citizenship in two countries. Even if you’ve lived in the US for a long time, you might still feel strongly connected to your home country, regardless of where you’re from. Letting go of that connection isn’t easy. While the US doesn’t mind if you have citizenship in another country, some countries make you give up your citizenship before becoming a US citizen. One of the countries where this has been the case for quite a long time is Germany.

In this blog post, we discuss recent changes in German Citizenship Law about dual citizenship and its implications for Germans residing in the US  and considering naturalization. We explore the brief evolution of how citizenship in Germany works compared to the US, how it has changed with this new law, and how it can impact our German clients.

How Does German Citizenship Work?

German citizenship and the right to dual citizenship have evolved over the past few decades. Before 2000, German citizenship was mainly determined by jus sanguinis (citizenship by descent), unlike the US, which follows jus solis (citizenship by place of birth). In Germany, citizenship was based on the nationality of one’s parents, rather than where they were born. However, in 2000, Germany adopted its version of jus soli, allowing children born in Germany to residents of at least 8 years to become German citizens. If their parents’ home country also allowed dual citizenship, they could hold both.

Dual Citizenship in Germany — Before

There are various scenarios where one could hold German dual citizenship. However, retaining dual citizenship forever hasn’t always been guaranteed. Before 2014, Germany had an “Obligation to Choose” (Optionspflicht), meaning that dual-citizenship children had to pick one citizenship and renounce the other upon turning 21. 

However, in 2014, this rule changed for children born to German parents (jus sanguinis Germans). They no longer had to choose one citizenship. This change also allowed children born in Germany to foreign parents (jus solis Germans) to keep both citizenships if certain conditions were met, like if the other citizenship was from an EU member state or Switzerland, or if they grew up in Germany for a certain amount of time and achieved a certain level of education.

Dual Citizenship and Naturalization

However, these rules only apply to those born with dual citizenship. What about those seeking naturalization? Whether an immigrant aspiring to become a German citizen or a German citizen seeking citizenship elsewhere. German law has historically been stringent on this matter: dual citizenship is not permitted through naturalization. As a result, Germans wanting to naturalize in another country, such as the US, would need to renounce their German citizenship. Similarly, immigrants seeking German citizenship through naturalization would have to give up their original citizenship.

There are certain exceptions, however, specifically for German citizens living abroad. If one wanted to become a citizen in the US, but also keep German citizenship, they would need to apply for a Retention Permit (Beibehaltungsgenehmigung). This means that the German government looks at each applicant on a case-by-case basis to determine eligibility to keep German citizenship. This mainly looks for factors like economic or career justifications, and showing strong ongoing ties to Germany through family and social relationships. 

However, although this application exists, it has become increasingly strict over the years and has a long processing time before a decision is issued (often 12+ months). As a result, Germans wanting to naturalize elsewhere have to wait longer to apply for citizenship than other immigrants in their host country.

Dual Citizenship in Germany — Now

This is why we were thrilled to hear about Germany’s new citizenship policy! 

Starting June 26, 2024, Germany will allow dual citizenship without any restrictions. In our experience, many German immigrants in the US previously hesitated to become US citizens due to the inability to have dual citizenship, particularly for those who weren’t eligible for the Retention Permit. With this new law, Germans in the US can now apply for naturalization without having to justify keeping their German citizenship. This means that Germans can naturalize the same as everyone else and keep their German citizenship in the process.

Naturalizing to Become a US Citizen

So, what’s the naturalization process like now? Germans in the US just need to fill out the N-400 form and submit it with the necessary documents to USCIS! To keep their German citizenship, they only need to have their oath ceremony after June 26th, 2024, when the new law takes effect.

With 2024 being an election year, this German policy couldn’t have come at a better time. USCIS is prioritizing naturalization cases, so we’re seeing clients becoming citizens just months after filing. If you act fast, you could be sworn in as a citizen in time to register to vote and participate in the November Presidential Election.

Of course, you still need to meet the eligibility requirements to become a US citizen, even if you’re now eligible to keep your German citizenship. Below are some basic things to consider.

US Naturalization Eligibility

To be eligible for naturalization, you must:

  • Pass the English and Civics exams
  • Not have taken any trips outside of the United States that lasted more than one year. For trips between six months and one year, a residency maintenance evaluation is required.
  • Not have any serious criminal convictions or be on probation
  • Not owe child support or back taxes. If you owe back taxes, you must be on a payment plan with the IRS.
  • Have filed taxes for the last three years
  • Have been a lawful permanent resident for 4 years and 9 months OR 2 years and 9 months if you adjusted as the spouse of a US Citizen and are still married to the petitioner. Conditional residency time counts.
  • Have been in the United States for a cumulative total of 2.5 years in the last 5 years or 1.5 years in the last 3 years if you adjusted as the spouse of a US Citizen and are still married to the petitioner.

If you’re a German citizen who’s been holding off on applying for naturalization due to Germany’s dual citizenship restrictions, now is your chance! If you’re ready to take this last step in your immigration journey, we’re here to help. Contact us today to assess your eligibility and begin the process!


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