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German Citizenship by Descent

German Citizenship by descent allows those with German ancestry to claim citizenship. The benefits of holding German citizenship are enormous as the German passport also grants you European Union citizenship. It is highly valued, not least in terms of the resulting freedom of movement and access to the European Union’s labour market. Worldwide, the German passport is considered one of the most powerful travel documents. As we will outline, this provides you and your family with huge opportunities.

However, German law on the issue of citizenship by descent is complex. It is a legal area defined by the turmoil of Germany’s history in the 20th century, and there are numerous aspects that concern former Germans having lost their citizenship and issues relating to certain dates and time periods. Navigating German law in the area of citizenship by ancestry requires expert assistance from German citizenship lawyers.

At Schlun & Elseven Rechtsanwälte we have an entire team of immigration law specialists. Feel free to use our online eligibility check for German Citizenship by Descent. Allow our experts to examine your case afterwards and determine whether you should continue with your application. Should a basis for citizenship by descent be found, our team will oversee all of the arrangements.

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German Citizenshipy by Descent Eligibility Check

The Principle of Descent in Germany

According to the principle of descent in Germany, a child basically acquires German citizenship by birth if at least one parent is a German citizen (§ 4 I StAG).

However, this principle of descent is characterized by an exception. Exceptions are those born abroad and whose German parent was himself born abroad after 31.12.1999 and has his regular residence there (§ 4 IV StAG) unless the child would otherwise be born stateless.

If a German changes their regular place of residence abroad and has a child after 01.01.2000, this child acquires German citizenship. However, if they have descendants, this rule only applies to their children within a one-year period.


Which Ancestors allow me to Apply for German Citizenship by Descent?

It is through the direct family line that allows a person to claim German citizenship by descent. This means that if your parents, grandparents or great-grandparents were born in Germany, you might be able to qualify for German citizenship. However, it is complex to determine whether your ancestors’ histories and their situation allow you to claim citizenship. Here are some situations we can offer where German citizenship does apply.

  • Your ancestors had their citizenship taken away under Nazi rule on political, racial or religious grounds between 1933 and 1945,
  • Your birth was before 1975 to a foreign father and a German citizen mother, born in wedlock.
  • Your birth was before 1975 in wedlock, to a German father and a foreign mother
  • Your birth was before June 01.07.1993, to a foreign mother, and your father was a German citizen at the day of your birth, born outside of wedlock, and paternity is proven before you turn 23.
  • None of your parents ever claimed German citizenship, but you had a German grandparent or great-grandparent
  • Your birth was after 1975 in wedlock to a German parent

As can be seen, this process is quite limited and rigid to certain situations. However, your situation may match one of the above categories. If so, it is advisable to contact our immigration experts.

For those looking for German citizenship based on their ancestors having their German citizenship removed, more information can be found in our article “German Citizenship for Ancestors of Nazi Victims“.


Applying for German Citizenship by Descent

Whether the application has to be filed at the German embassy in your home country or can be sent directly to the responsible German authority depends on the grounds for which you seek citizenship. In your home country, the application can be made at a German consulate or embassy. Here are some of the documents we will collect with you to ensure that your application will be successful:

  • A birth certificate,
  • The birth certificate of the relevant ancestor,
  • Recorded ancestry of your family,
  • In cases in which it applies, the marriage certificate of the relevant ancestor,
  • Your passport,
  • Proof of the possession of other citizenship.

It should be noted, that authorities within embassies and other offices are not always forthcoming with advice. They will expect you to have all of your paperwork and other requirements organised in advance. This can be a daunting prospect for those not used to making such applications. Our Lawyers support you and your family with a full-service package.


Acquisition of Citizenship based on Place of Birth and Parents’ Marital Status

For children born in Germany whose parents are foreign citizens, the birthplace principle has applied since 2000. Under this principle, the child is granted German citizenship if, at the time of birth, at least one parent has been legally residing in Germany for at least eight years and also has an unlimited right of residence (§ 4 III StAG).

This regulation’s basic idea is to enable children born in Germany to obtain the country’s citizenship. At least one parent has his or her centre of life and in which they themselves grew up to improve their integration into German living conditions.

Acquisition as a Child born “in Wedlock.”

For children born before 1975, automatic German citizenship acquisition through birth was only possible if they had a German father. There were some exceptional cases where the acquisition of citizenship by birth through the German mother was also possible, but this was only the case when the child would otherwise have been stateless.

However, children born before 1975 to a German mother and a foreign father are now granted the opportunity to apply for German citizenship by descent. That opportunity is based on a decree of the Federal Ministry of the Interior (released in 2019), the so-called “Mothers´Decree” (German: “Müttererlass”). Therefore, here are the main requirements which have to be met:

  • The mother was a German citizen on the day the child was born,
  • The parents were married on the day of birth,
  • Knowledge of the German language,
  • Ties to Germany.