The FAQ on German Citizenship are the most popular post on my blog. But some aspects are so complicated that they deserve their own list of FAQ, like those on applying for naturalization without living in Germany and the following ones on reclaiming German citizenship that had previously been lost (the citizenship, not the FAQ). Some of these sections also extend to descendants of former Germans.
Before asking a new question, please read through the many comments which may already answer your questions. And if you find these FAQ useful or if you ask a new question, it would be very nice if you make a donation. Thank you!
1. Why would someone lose German citizenship in the first place?
The main ways to lose German citizenship are applying for and receiving citizenship of another country without prior permission from Germany (§ 25 StAG), voluntarily serving in the armed forces of another country (§ 28 StAG) and renunciation (§ 26 StAG).
But it becomes endlessly more complex because different laws were in place at different times. Until 1949 or 1953, depending on the specific circumstances, German women who married a foreign man automatically lost German citizenship. Until 1913, German citizenship could be lost by living abroad for more than 10 years and not registering with a German consulate. And then, between 1933 and 1945, the Nazis stripped many people of German citizenship as an act of punishment or out of anti-Semitic ideology.
2. I am a history buff. Tell me more about that Nazi policy.
Ok. In November 1941, the German Reich passed a law that deprived all Jewish Germans who were living abroad at the time (or moved abroad later) of their German citizenship.
In addition to that, since July 1933 there had been a law that allowed the individual revocation of German citizenship, which was mostly applied to opposition activists and intellectuals. If your ancestors were among the 39,006 victims of that policy, they were in the good company of people like Albert Einstein, Willy Brandt, Hannah Arendt, Thomas and Heinrich Mann, Bertolt Brecht and others.
3. I am a descendant of someone in one of these two groups of people. Does this mean I can now apply for a German passport?
Art. 116 II of the German Constitution states that all people who were deprived of their German citizenship on “political, racial or religious grounds” between 1933 and 1945 can reclaim Germany citizenship. What is of more interest to you is that Art. 116 II GG extends to descendants.
4. Why did you say “generally yes”? That sounds like there are some caveats.
In law, there are always exceptions.
You will be treated as if your parent or grandparent had never been deprived of German citizenship, but that doesn’t guarantee that you will receive German citizenship and a passport. For example, until 1975 and if the parents were married, only fathers could pass on German citizenship. If you were born to a (former) German mother before 1975, the reinstatement according to Art. 116 II GG does not help you because even without the Nazi-era discrimination, you wouldn’t have been born a German. (Although there is another route for these cases, detailed in no. 8 of my FAQ on naturalization from abroad.)
5. But if I qualify, this also extends to my children?
6. What about the non-Nazi related cases, for example when I lost German citizenship because I applied for US/Jamaican/Australian citizenship without prior permission from Germany, but now I want to move back to Germany?
First of all, you don’t need German citizenship in order to move to Germany (§ 38 II AufenthG).
But § 13 StAG allows for the discretionary renaturalization of former German citizens (and their minor children). You are not entitled to it, though, and thus need to present a compelling case.
7. Can you help me with that?
Yes, I can.
The minimum requirements are that you speak German at B1 level, that you can financially support yourself and that you have close ties to Germany (family, professional, business, academic or otherwise). Even then, you’ll need to show that it would be in the national interest of Germany to renaturalize you.
8. Will I have to give up my existing citizenship?
Generally yes, but there are exceptions.
Before you ask: I’ll have to write a separate list of FAQ on dual citizenship in Germany. I am just waiting for a few more donations to my blog before I do that.
9. I lost German citizenship when I was a child because my family moved to another country and my parents filed for British/Brazilian/US citizenship for me. I was never asked. This is unfair!
We cannot undo everything that your parents did on your behalf when you were a child. Or do you want to return all these bicycles and Commodore computers?
But it is worth looking into the exact circumstances. I’ve had cases where only one of the parents signed the petition for a new citizenship although the parents had joint custody. In this case, German law treats you as if you never lost German citizenship in the first place and you can simply apply for a new passport without having to go through renaturalization.
10. I am half-German …
No, you are not!