Gain and loss of German citizenship

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You may ask yourself, if you can get the German citizenship from abroad or maybe you already have it and are interested now in getting a German passport.

One of you ancestors came from Germany or became a German citizen through naturalization? So you may also have the German citizenship? This looks like an easy question to answer, but the situation is often quite complicated.

Let us look at some typical cases, which may be of relevance to you:

Case I

Your great grandfather emigrated in 1870 from Germany to Brazil. He registered with a German embassy or consulate in Brazil in 1872. Later he gained the Brazilian citizenship. He had a son born in 1880. His son had a daughter in 1920, who married a Brazilian in 1950 and you were born to this daughter in 1955. Are you (and your children) entitled to a German passport?

Let us first look at the situation of your great grandfather. Did he keep his German citizenship?

He registered himself with a German embassy. That was a clever thing to do, as otherwise he would have lost the German citizenship after 10 years since leaving Germany (this law existed until mid of 1913 and was then abolished).

He then gained the Brazilian citizenship, but not because he had applied for it. In 1908,  Brazil gave its citizenship to all immigrants who were not yet Brazilian citizens (Sammeleinbürgerung; mass naturalization).  An "automatic" gain of a foreign citizenship does not affect a German citizenship, so your great grandfather stayed a German citizen.

But does that mean, that you now also are a German citizen? Well, not directly. Until 1974, the German citizenship was conveyed only by the father, if a child was born into an existing marriage. But you were born to a German mother.

Since this former law was an evident discrimination of the sexes, the law was changed, taking effect on January 1, 1975. Children of German women born before 1975 were given the possibility to gain the German citizenship through an according declaration, with a deadline until the end of 1977 (1991 for people in former Communist countries). This was not widely publicized, and most people have missed that deadline.

But: The German citizenship law has been changed recently, on August 20, 2021. Now the affected people can once again acquire the German citizenship by declaration and there is now a long 10-year deadline to do that. 

So you need to do that declaration. You don´t have to give up your current citizenship, but be wary of the laws in your home country. Some countries - like Kazakhstan - are very strict about the gain of a second citizenship.  

Case II

Your parents emigrated with you from Germany to the US in 1960. You were 5 years old at that time. In 1970 your parents applied for the US citizenship and  were granted the US citizenship. Your parents and you were issued papers which stated, that you were US citizens now.

So what happened to the German citizenship in this case?

Well, your parents have lost it. But this was not necessarily the case with you. The naturalization laws of the US states mostly automatically granted the US citizenship to minors living with their parents, so the parents did not actually have to apply for it. But this procedure did not lead to the loss of German citizenship, which yielded the quite absurd result, that the children stayed German citizens, while their parents did not. So you may be entitled to a German passport.

Case III. 

Your grandmother was an ethnic German and lived in the USSR in the 1940s, in Ukraine. She was brought to Germany in 1943 by German authorities and was granted the German citizenship, as was usually the case with ethnic Germans, who were brought from the USSR to Germany during the war. In 1945 she was brought back to the USSR by the Soviet authorities. She then married in the USSR, had a son in 1960 and you were born to him in 1985.

Are you a German citizen?

Again, not directly, since your father was born to a German mother before 1975 and did not get the German citizenship automatically. But you may very well be entitled to German citizenship by declaration according to the new law of August 20, 2021.

Interestingly, if your mother was a Russian and she married an ethnic German (who was naturalized by Germany in, say, 1943) before April 1953, your mother got the German citizenship by marriage.

Case IV. 

Your grandfather was of Jewish origin and fled Germany in 1933, to Canada. In 1937 he applied for and was granted the Canadian citizenship.

Again, you may be entitled to German citizenship by declaration, according to the new law of August 20, 2021.

So, what are the proceedings to get a German passport? 

If you already are a German citizen and your case is very clear, you can directly apply for a German passport, contacting your local German embassy or consulate. In more complicated cases you first need to have the German citizenship officially stated by a "Staatsangehörigkeitsausweis" (a paper that states, that you are indeed a German citizen). If you are not yet a German citizen, but are entitled to German citizenship by declaration, you need to do this declaration first, also at a German embassy or consulate in your home country. In both cases it is not actually the embassy that decides your case, but the Federal Administration Agency (Bundesverwaltungsamt) in Cologne, Germany. These proceedings can be quite complicated and take a long time, as you have to present convincing papers on your ancestry. Also, the Federal Administration Agency, while being very thorough, is also quite slow.


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