Germany drops 'Israel loyalty test' as it fast-tracks citizenship

Syrian and Turkish populations stand to benefit from bill offering five-year route to taking up German citizenship

Many Germans took to the streets this week after reports of far-right discussions on deporting migrants. AFP
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Germany on Friday offered migrants a faster route to citizenship, rejecting fears that anti-Israel agitators will slip through the net.

MPs backed a bill to cut the waiting period for a passport from eight years living in Germany to five.

A three-year fast track route is proposed for those who excel at integration, an option many Syrian refugees have already taken in a previous five-year programme.

Germany's millions of Turks are set to benefit from relaxed rules on dual nationality and lower requirements for the 1960s and 1970s “guest worker” generation.

“Anyone who plays a part in our country will get something back,” said Germany's integration commissioner Reem Alabali-Radovan.

The more than 20 million of us with a migrant background – we are staying here
Reem Alabali-Radovan

In a fiery debate, parliament rejected an amendment that would have tied a German passport to an “explicit affirmation” of Israel’s right to exist.

The opposition had sought to derail the bill in light of ugly scenes at pro-Palestinian demonstrations, which it said showed a lack of integration.

A time of high asylum numbers and the Israel-Gaza conflict is “totally the wrong time to introduce such a law”, said conservative MP Alexander Throm.

“Since October 7 at the latest, we should know that we have integration problems,” he said, referring to the date the Israel-Gaza war erupted.

The bill now passes to the upper house for final approval after a 382-234 vote in favour by MPs.

The migration debate had extra fuel poured on the fire this week when news leaked of a meeting of far-right politicians and activists that heard proposals for mass deportations to North Africa.

Many Germans took to the streets in protest after the alleged meeting in a hotel near Berlin, which sparked comparisons to the 1942 Wannsee Conference where Nazi officials planned the Holocaust.

“The more than 20 million of us with a migrant background – we are staying here,” said Ms Alabali-Radovan, the child of Iraqi parents, in an impassioned speech in support of the bill on Friday.

“This country belongs to all of us and we won’t let it be taken away from us. ‘Never again’ is not lip service, ‘never again’ is now.”

What is in Germany's nationality law?

The reform bill was a key pledge by Chancellor Olaf Scholz’s coalition. It is billed as part of a package to ease legal migration and plug labour shortages while also cracking down on illegal entries with 600 more deportations per year.

“Germany is a country that needs skilled workers, including from abroad,” said liberal MP Stephan Thomae.

The new five-year waiting period can be shortened to three for those who make “special efforts” to integrate, for example by learning advanced German.

More than 48,000 Syrians were naturalised as Germans last year, making up more than a quarter of the total. Rules requiring people to take a citizenship test and stand on their own two feet economically are remaining in place.

The heavily Turkish cohort who arrived in West Germany as “guest workers” in the 1960s and 1970s will be offered a passport with no need for the citizenship test, as long as their spoken German is acceptable.

Germany is dropping its long-standing wariness of dual nationality, meaning for example that people of Turkish heritage would no longer have to choose one passport or the other.

“The fact that dual nationality will now be accepted in principle for naturalised citizens is a paradigm shift that we welcome,” said Hans Vorlaender, the head of an expert council on migration and integration.

However, he warned it “could become problematic” for dual nationality to be passed down to unlimited future generations who might be able to vote in multiple countries.

Mr Throm warned of foreign citizens “bringing conflicts to our country” as he cited Turkish election results showing most of those who voted in Germany supported President Recep Tayyip Erdogan.

A centre-left MP, Dirk Wiese, accused the opposition of “mistrusting our fellow Turkish citizens”, saying they had not voiced any objection to US-German dual citizens who support Donald Trump.

Ministers say the measures are an incentive for people to integrate quickly and take up a German passport, which is regularly ranked among the world's most desirable.

The opposition Christian Democrats (CDU) said the bill “ignores integration problems” and would hand out German nationality at a “bargain price”.

An amendment tabled by the CDU called for an “explicit affirmation of Israel’s right to exist”, and a pledge not to make efforts to the contrary, to be part of the requirements – but was rejected without going to a vote.

A clause was instead inserted that says people must recognise Germany's “special historical responsibility” to protect Jewish life.

The bill also clarifies that anti-Semitic actions would be incompatible with an oath to respect Germany’s constitution, although Prof Vorlaender said it was unclear how authorities would decide whether people have tripped over this clause.

At the same time, Germany is moving to speed up deportations of illegal migrants after more than 300,000 people sought asylum last year, with cities saying they have little to no accommodation left.

People from Syria accounted for more than 95,000 claims in 2023. About 55,000 sought asylum from Turkey, 48,000 from Afghanistan and thousands of others from Iran and Iraq.

Updated: January 19, 2024, 12:46 PM