Brexit made Britons more likely than Syrians to seek German citizenship

Nearly a quarter of eligible Britons took up German nationality as Brexit approached

Anti-Brexit demonstrators march in London on October 19, 2019, to call for a second referendum on leaving the EU. AFP
Anti-Brexit demonstrators march in London on October 19, 2019, to call for a second referendum on leaving the EU. AFP

Nearly a quarter of eligible Britons living in Germany took up German citizenship as Brexit loomed, according to a report.

It made Britons more likely than any other nationality, including Syrians, Libyans and Iraqis, to seize the chance of German citizenship.

More than 14,000 UK citizens living in Germany took up citizenship in 2019, accounting for 23 per cent of those eligible.

By comparison, 20 per cent of Syrians who lived in Germany for the required period chose to take up German citizenship.

The figures were published in a report by The German Council of Economic Experts on integration and migration, which said citizens from other EU countries rarely sought German nationality because they shared many rights.

Only 1 per cent of French people and 0.5 per cent of Dutch people with citizenship rights in Germany chose to take them up during the same period.

“EU citizens are largely on equal terms with German nationals,” the report said. “Apart from voting rights, taking up German citizenship does not bring any additional benefits.

“However, Brexit meant British people living in Germany lost their rights as EU citizens.

“That meant that taking up German citizenship became attractive for them, which is clearly shown in the figures.”

As a result, 31,600 British people took up German citizenship between 2016 and 2019, the latter being the year the UK was originally scheduled to exit the EU.

That was more than six times as many as the 4,800 Britons who acquired German nationality in the 15 years before the UK's Brexit referendum.

Under the UK-EU withdrawal agreement, anyone entitled to live or work in Germany before the end of the Brexit transition period in January was able to continue doing so, even if they did not take up citizenship.

However, they were required to register with authorities by June 30 and obtain a new post-Brexit residency document.

UK Prime Minister Boris Johnson and EU Commission President Ursula von der Leyen during Brexit talks. AP 
UK Prime Minister Boris Johnson and EU Commission President Ursula von der Leyen during Brexit talks. AP 

Parties urged to appeal to migrants as German election nears

Foreigners seeking German citizenship must normally have lived in the country for at least seven years.

That means most of the refugees who arrived in Germany from Syria at the height of the migrant crisis in 2015 would not yet be eligible for citizenship.

Of the approximately 20,000 Syrians who were eligible, about 3,900 took up German nationality in 2019.

Germany also granted citizenship to about 16,200 Turks, 4,600 Iraqis, 3,800 Iranians and 2,700 people from Afghanistan.

A separate report last week showed how migration was changing the face of Islam in Germany, with people of Turkish descent no longer making up a majority of Muslims in the country.

The expert council’s report called for efforts to encourage more people with a migrant background to take up citizenship and allow them to take part in German elections.

Germany goes to the polls in September with its refugee policy up in the air as Angela Merkel steps aside after 16 years in power.

Ms Merkel’s decision to open Germany’s doors in 2015 was a major flashpoint during her term in power, but some of her potential successors are largely unknown quantities in foreign policy.

Meanwhile, the far-right Alternative for Germany party is leading calls to send Syrian refugees back to their home country, claiming it is safe for them to return.

“The electorate includes a growing number of Germans with a migrant background,” the report said.

“However, they have so far been less likely to take up their voting rights. And they are not represented in proportion to their population in state parliaments.

“The political parties are therefore called upon to address the migrant population more strongly as voters, party members and potential office-holders.”

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