The opposition Greens have written to the government requesting a reduction in the recommended length of time a candidate should have lived in Germany before being eligible to apply for citizenship.
The current recommended time is eight years, or six for someone has made a special contribution to German life and three for those married to Germans.
Katrin Göring-Eckardt, the leader of the Green parliamentary group, made the request in acknowledgement of the estimated 1.2 million Britons living and working across the EU – more than 100,000 of them in Germany – who are facing considerable uncertainty.
“In the light of Brexit they need a clear perspective that they can stay in Germany,” Göring-Eckardt said.
Her call reflects a growing awareness among politicians across the EU of the need to harness the enthusiasm of young Britons who are in favour of Britain staying in the union.
European leaders are in turn seeking clarity from Britain’s prime minister, Theresa May, over the status of EU citizens in the UK – not least the more than 130,000 working in the NHS – which she has stressed will be a key factor in negotiations.
The German government said in its response to the letter that it would not be drawn on whether it was prepared to take a more generous approach to British citizens seeking German citizenship once Brexit is imminent and would only talk about Britain in terms of it being an EU member.
It said there was no legal minimum time that someone had to live in Germany before they were eligible for citizenship and, showing there was room for manoeuvre, that decisions could be made on a case-by-case basis and were up to the discretion of Germany’s 16 states.
With uncertainty over when article 50, the formal mechanism for leaving the EU, will be triggered – but with a general expectation that when it is, withdrawal negotiations between Britain and the European council could be completed within two years – thousands of Britons are using the narrow window of opportunity to apply to become German while retaining their British citizenship.
Dual citizenship will remain an option as long as Britain is still a member of the EU. Thereafter, those with dual citizenship will not lose either, but a Briton would not be able to apply for German citizenship without renouncing his or her British citizenship.
As of 31 May, there were 107,074 Britons living in Germany, and authorities around the country have reported a marked increase in the number of Britons applying for citizenship.
“We are noticing a lot of people keen to take this opportunity,” a civil servant in Potsdam’s citizenship department said last week on condition of anonymity.
Along with a raft of paperwork, including proof of tax returns, a clear criminal record and proof that someone is not a burden on the state, would-be German citizens have to prove knowledge of German up to an intermediate level and undergo a 33-question multiple choice test. The entire process costs around €250 (£211).
Politicians in Germany have been quick to acknowledge that the majority of Britons in Germany contribute to the economy and are not a burden on the state. There are far fewer pensioners than people integrated in the workplace.
Göring-Eckhardt said: “In Germany there are more than 107,000 well-integrated Britons with their families, in roles ranging from researchers to students, entrepreneurs and key workers in a range of businesses. In the light of Brexit they need a clear perspective for being able to stay in Germany. I call on the federal government to simplify the immigration procedure for Britons ahead of Brexit.”
Sophie, a British teacher of English literature at a Berlin state school who is in the process of applying for German citizenship, said: “It’s quite a bit of work organising yourself for this, but the authorities are very forthcoming and friendly, and it’s worth it when you think at the end of it you’ve got a passport to the EU.
“First and foremost that means I will not have to apply for a residency permit as a non-EU citizen once we leave the EU. It also means I can vote in German elections, a right I’ve lost in the UK because I’ve lived abroad for more than 15 years which obviously left me smarting after the Brexit vote.”
The issue is likely to play into Germany’s national elections next autumn.
Shortly after the Brexit referendum, Sigmar Gabriel, the German vice-chancellor and head of Merkel’s joint coalition partners the Social Democrats, called on other EU countries to reach out to young Britons living across the union and offer them dual citizenship, in recognition “that the youth of Great Britain are more clever than their bizarre political elite”.
“For that reason we can’t raise our drawbridge on them,” he said. “We have to think now about what we can offer Great Britain’s younger generation.”
Government figures show that since 2000, 5,071 Britons have become German citizens, a figure that has grown year on year since 2010, rising significantly from 2012 onwards with 620 having their applications accepted last year alone.
Source: The Guardian