EThe red-green-red government in Berlin wants to create a “capital of immigration and refuge with a heart”. That is why the Governing Mayor Franziska Giffey (SPD) is now proposing to simplify naturalization in the capital. The procedures are to be processed in a bundled manner via a new naturalization center. According to Giffey, around 800,000 people in Berlin are affected, so far only around 6,000 are naturalized each year.
“I’m sure: 20,000 naturalizations a year are possible,” says SPD parliamentary group leader Raed Saleh WELT. Saleh wants to quickly process certain so-called old cases, including those of Berliners without a German passport who have lived in the city for a long time or even for generations. “You have to break the chain of tolerance and frustration and create perspective,” says Saleh. “The people are there, they stay here, they are at home here.”
Models for the project are Hamburg and Munich, where the naturalization procedures are already being processed in a central office. “We want to think big about naturalization in Berlin.” “Simplified, professionalized and digitized processes are needed,” says Saleh. “The fact is: people wait too long until they have an appointment, until they can introduce themselves, until they have their passport .”
The Berlin Greens are calling for further hurdles to be removed: faster recognition of qualifications obtained abroad is necessary for the recruitment of skilled workers – “Berlin has to get faster here,” says Silke Gebel, Green Party leader in the House of Representatives.
“We should promote the German passport, but under certain conditions”
“Increasing the naturalization rate” is also important to the left in the House of Representatives, “because it is the key to more participation, including political participation,” says Elif Eralp from the left-wing faction. Eralp also criticizes the “excessively high requirements for language acquisition” in naturalizations. Here, “the scope under state law” can be “exploited to a large extent” when considering the living conditions individually.
Naturalization is regulated by federal law. Berlin cannot make any changes on its own here either, but can only adapt and accelerate processes and procedures. Adequate knowledge of German, a permanent residence permit, no previous conviction for a criminal offense and, as a rule, a stay in Germany of at least eight years are necessary for obtaining German citizenship.
The latter can be shortened by one or two years by completing an integration course or special integration services. In addition, a commitment to the free-democratic basic order and to the Basic Law of the Federal Republic is necessary.
The Federal Government has announced that naturalization will be made easier for the current legislature. Although the requirements will not change for the time being, naturalization will be possible after five years, or even after three years in the case of special integration achievements. Dual citizenship should also be generally permitted.
“We should promote the German passport, but clearly under the following conditions: language, work, liberal values, acceptance of our way of life,” says Björn Wohlert from the CDU parliamentary group in the Berlin House of Representatives WELT. Wohlert understands the frustration of Berliners who want to naturalize because of the long waiting times. In the state center announced by Red-Green-Red, on the other hand, it looks like “new cost-intensive administrative structures”. Instead, it needs “more staff in the offices, faster digitized procedures and more consultation hours at work-friendly times,” says Wohlert.
English? Hardly possible in Berlin offices
The FDP also welcomes simplified naturalization procedures, but sees problems with the Berlin administration. “Sometimes it’s surprising how far apart urban society on the one hand and the bureaucratic state apparatus on the other are in Berlin,” says Sebastian Czaja, FDP parliamentary group leader. It is “hardly possible” to speak English in Berlin offices. A naturalization center can help, but the first thing to do is to remove hurdles with “modern, lean and digital administration”.
The AfD, on the other hand, is completely opposed to Giffey’s initiative. “Giffey’s naturalization center is a clumsy advertising campaign for migrant voters” with which the mayor wants to “retrospectively legalize the illegal migration of recent years,” according to Kristin Brinker, AfD state chairwoman and member of the House of Representatives.
Efforts to obtain naturalization have increased nationwide in recent years. Celebrations and receptions are intended to mark the achievement of the German passport as a “sign of appreciation and recognition for the decision,” according to the Ministry of the Interior in Baden-Württemberg, for example.
In many places there has been an increase in naturalisations. “It is important to us to continue to achieve the same high number of naturalizations as in recent years,” said a spokeswoman for the Ministry of Integration in Rhineland-Palatinate. This increase can be explained, among other things, by the high number of refugees in 2015, who are now increasingly entitled to naturalization, according to the Ministry of the Interior in Mecklenburg-Western Pomerania. Since 2010, the number of annual naturalizations in Bavaria and Thuringia, for example, has almost increased.
“Many satisfied with status as foreigners”
Outside of the city-states, however, the idea of centralization is viewed with skepticism. “People interested in naturalization should be offered personal advice and processing of their naturalization application close to where they live,” a spokesman for the Schleswig-Holstein Ministry of the Interior told WELT.
According to a spokeswoman for the Bavarian State Ministry of the Interior, Bavaria relies on “high-profile naturalization events and receptions for new citizens”. A central body for naturalization is also viewed with skepticism here, since this would have no influence on the willingness to naturalize those who consciously decide against German citizenship. “The reason for this is often not that the hurdles are too high, but that very many people – often for decades – are satisfied with their residence status as foreigners in Germany.”
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