Prior to 2000, local governments, civil-society organisations, and employers were largely responsible for the implementation of integration measures for migrants in Germany.
Since 2000, the German government has taken several steps to improve the German migration situation and integration processes by introducing a legal framework at the national level. There have been several reforms of Germany’s national migration policy. New paradigms were mainly characterised by the attempt to integrate non-nationals, to provide coherence, and to address the social challenges caused by the immigration of guest workers in particular. Thus, immigration became a major subject of national and public debate in Germany at the beginning of the new millennium, and attempts to improve the immigration and visa system resulted in the Immigration Law of January 2005, which signalled a breakthrough in German migration and integration policy.
A package of reforms was adopted which impacted the Residence Law, the Right of Asylum, Employment Ordinance, and the Integration Course Ordinance (Süssmuth 2009). According to the reform, integration and language courses for adult immigrants were federally regulated and funded, for example, and visa regulations for immigrants and foreign students as well as the visa system in government offices were simplified. Süssmuth (2009) concludes that over the last decade, with a series of small steps, reforms have advanced the integration of newcomers and long-term resident immigrants, modernised naturalisation regulations, encouraged public debate on Germany as a country of continuing immigration, and changed the climate of discussions on integration by focusing on the benefits that migrants can offer society.
However, policymakers in Germany still continue efforts to address policy gaps in the migration and integration system and to create a more comprehensive and long-term policy framework that addresses social cohesion and the need for skilled foreign labour recruitment (ibid.).
Dating back to the Prussian period in 1842, Germany applies the principle of jus sanguinis as a naturalisation policy (Weil 2001). Jus sanguinis (lat. right of blood) determines citizenship by the parents’ nationality. Thus, children born to a German parent inherit German citizenship at birth. This principle stands for a more restrictive type of naturalisation law and discourages the nationalisation of foreigners. Along with reforms in migration policies, regulations and conditions for naturalisation in Germany changed with the turn of the millennium and became more flexible. The Citizenship Law of January 2000 introduced the jus soli principle, granting birthright citizenship. Jus soli (lat. right of soil) determines citizenship by the place of birth. Thus, children born in Germany to foreign parents acquire the right of citizenship, as they were born in the territory of the German state. They are entitled to dual citizenship until the age of 23, when they have to decide which nationality they wish to retain. Exempted from this regulation are citizens of other EU-countries and Switzerland, who are entitled to maintain dual citizenship even after the age of 23.
Hence, since 2000, Germany has a mixture of both the jus sanguinis and the jus soli principles.
In addition to these two principles, the Citizenship Law of January 2000 also redefined naturalisation by application and approval by the authorities. The regulation entitles foreigners to be naturalised after eight years of lawful residence, instead of 15 years before the reform, and introduced language requirements for naturalisation. Thus naturalisation by request is conditioned by language ability, lawful residency, a reasonable income, knowledge of the legal and social systems in Germany, having a record of no serious criminal convictions, and in some cases the renunciation of former nationality (BMI 2015).
Along with the national frameworks of naturalisation, the German Basic Law also defines certain rights to citizenship. According to Article 116 of the German Basic Law, any person who can be considered ethnically German has a privileged right to German citizenship. Thus, German nationality is given to persons who were admitted to Germany as a "refugee or expellee of German ethnic origin or as the spouse or descendant of such a person". This law mainly referred to ethnic Germans who were denaturalised by the Nazi government between 1933 and 1945 and their descendants, in order to provide them with the chance of re-naturalisation upon their return to Germany.
- BMI (2015). Die deutsche Staatsbürgerschaft. Available at:
https://www.bundesregierung.de/Content/Infomaterial/BPA/IB/Die%20deutsche%20Staatsb%C3%BCrgerschaft.pdf [last accessed on 05.05.2016].
- Süssmuth, R. (2009). The Future of Migration Policy in Germany. Washington, D.C.: Migration Policy Institute.
- Weil, P. (2001). Zugang zur Staatsbürgerschaft. Ein Vergleich von 25 Staatsangehörigkeitsgesetzen. In: Ch. Conrad & J. Kocka (Hrsg.). Staatsbürgerschaft in Europa. Historische Erfahrungen und aktuelle Debatten. Hamburg: Edition Körber-Stiftung.