Dual citizenship

The discourse on ethnic and political boundary-making in Germany1

Discussions on the permissibility of dual citizenship play a special role in social discourse. In addition to technical and practical considerations, this concerns ideas of citizenship and naturalisation as ethnic and political boundary-making, as well as attitudes within a country towards permanent residents of a different origin their integration in the social system.

Two recent developments have given the impetus to revisit this topic. Firstly, since January 2008 the first consequences of what is known as the option model have become apparent. Although the reformed German nationality law of 2000 refrained from generally acknowledging dual citizenship, it did introduce a limited ius soli regulation (birthright citizenship). According to this, children born in Germany to foreign parents are entitled by their birth to a German passport, even if they possess another citizenship.2 Only when they obtain the age of majority, but at the latest upon reaching 23 years of age, must they decide on one of the two citizenships (Optionspflicht3 Since January 2008, however, the first of these young adults have been able to choose between their two citizenships, and from January 2013 they must do so.

Secondly, in 2007 it was recognized that EU citizens could have multiple nationality and thus from 2007 any EU citizen naturalised in Germany may retain his or her former nationality.4

Moreover, cases of multiple citizenship are not limited to individual instances in Germany. Apart from the circumstances listed above and cases where children of binational parents are granted citizenship of both countries on the basis of descent5

These developments, and the reservations against accepting dual citizenship which exist as a matter of principle in any case, give rise to the discussion in this policy brief of the pros and cons of this concept and its effects. The first part of this policy brief introduces and comments on classic objections to dual citizenship before changing focus in the second and third parts to concentrate on the actual foundations of the frequent criticism associated with key aspects of naturalisation and the definition of society.

Classic objections and possible counter-arguments

Classic arguments against recognising dual citizenship may be divided into three groups. The first group is directed at the question of whether dual citizenship is permissible under (international) law. Another group of arguments relates to technical difficulties and the third group includes socio-political objections to the concept of dual citizenship per se. Some of the objections deriving from the above groups are explained in more detail below.

International law and dual citizenship67 Another indication of this is the fact that states increasingly opt to accept it (state practice).8

Technical objections to dual citizenship

The technical concerns expressed against multiple citizenship are based first and foremost on possible conflicts that may arise from military and tax obligations, choice of law, and confusion with regard to rights to diplomatic protection.

(a) Dual military obligations
A point of criticism previously levelled against dual citizenship, concerning the risk that people might be doubly obliged to complete national service, is nowadays no longer at the centre of debate. This is firstly due to the fact that there is a recognisable trend in most states towards abolishing general conscription.9 Secondly, there are numerous multi- and bilateral treaties in existence that address this matter.10 Germany, among other nations, is a signatory to the above-mentioned European Convention on Nationality, Art. 23 of which provides guidelines for precisely this case. Even the German Government declares that choosing between German and (for example) Turkish military service does not lead to complications between the two countries.11

(b) Citizenship as the basis to determine applicable law
12 In Germany, Art. 5, para. 1, Sentence 1 EGBGB [Introductory Law of the German Civil Code] governs this case, which is why German courts state that they do not see any particular concern in this regard.13

(c) Possible double taxation of dual nationals
A state can tax its nationals regardless of their place of residence. Further, people must regularly meet their tax obligation in the country where they are economically active. This obviously gives rise to the risk of double taxation. This is, however, to a large extent insignificant,14 since firstly, only very few states tax their nationals on their global income; and secondly, there are numerous bi- and multilateral agreements to exclude this type of double taxation.15

(d) Diplomatic protection for persons with dual nationality
Another technical objection relates to claiming diplomatic protection, whereby a state is entitled to protect its subjects against acts contrary to international law committed by another state. In the case of dual nationals, there could be some dispute as to which state may provide legal protection. On the other hand, conflict may arise if a state intervenes on behalf of a citizen residing in another state of which he or she is also a citizen.

Apart from the fact that experience has shown that states do not clash on account of overlapping consular rights and obligations, the International Court of Justice decided as early as 1955 that, in order for a State to exercise diplomatic protection, in addition to the formal citizenship status, there must be a genuine link with that State.1617

Just a hundred years ago, the second concern, i.e., state intervention within another state, was a decisive inducement to take action against dual citizenship. According to international treaties concluded since 1930, and according to the rulings of international tribunals, diplomatic protection cannot be exercised by one State against another of which the person concerned is also a national.18 Experience, too, shows that this objection lacks substance, since the millions of dual nationals living around the world have not yet led to any international tension in this regard. This is also confirmed by the German Foreign Office, which reports that there are no difficulties associated with consular support for dual nationals.19

Socio-political objections against dual citizenship

2021 No anti-discrimination norm in national or international law aims at equal treatment before different and independent states. Furthermore, the principle of equality only guarantees that there must be plausible reasons for unequal treatment. Where the double voting rights of dual citizens are concerned, the plausible reason is obvious: unlike non-migrants in both countries, they are influenced by both cultures, are rooted in both spheres and belong to both societies.22

(b) Integration
A significant objection to dual nationality lies in the assumption that it restricts the integration of dual citizens, as they do not fully identify with the country of immigration.23

This objection may be responded to on four points. First, states can bar people who do not wish to accept their values and culture from obtaining citizenship. Thus German naturalisation requirements since 2007 include knowledge of the German social system, culture, history and language.2425 As sociologist Tomas Hammar observes, civil and cultural identity is not a zero-sum game262728 Further, migrants may be induced to identify more readily with a receiving country that recognises mixed-cultural identities.

(c) Loyalty

What characterises the current debate?

A limited field of discourse31 As a result, many of the real arguments against dual citizenship are not brought up, or if so, then only in a veiled form. Arguments relating to matters of loyalty, equality and integration, just like objections emanating from the sphere of international law and double military, tax and legal obligations, are more readily accessible and can be made without the proponent running the risk of appearing undemocratic and xenophobic. It is therefore especially important to scrutinise what lies behind the objections aired against dual citizenship and consider the actual interests and motives.

A prototypical foreigner as the basis for the negative attitude towards dual citizenship3233 This generalised, and inevitably incomplete, image of the prototypical foreigner is often supported by indiscriminate press coverage.

Many objections formulated in a linguistically abstract manner, such as criticism levelled at the incompatibility of differing loyalties and the way this limits integration, are often not meant to be either abstract or general. Rather, they are based on an image of a specifically identifiable person, the supposedly standard type of foreigner. In other words, it is not that critics doubt that people can generally have genuine links to two states. Rather, what they have in mind when they raise this objection is the picture of a group of persons with certain negatively perceived socio-cultural characteristics, who would not be able to do so. Due to limitations in the discourse, as indicated above, this matter is therefore only referred to in vague and general terms.

Exclusion as the main reason for refusing dual citizenship

For practical reasons or reasons of identity, the obligation to renounce their former citizenship may deter immigrants from applying for naturalisation in spite of their already being integrated into Germany.34 In fact, any ban on multiple citizenship leads to the non-naturalisation of a large group of immigrants and thus to their exclusion from participatory rights in their country of permanent residence.

The third hypothesis states that for many critics it is not a matter of preventing dual citizenship as such, but of making naturalisation more difficult.35

Naturalisation, democracy and rule of law: risks and opportunities

Internal security

Concerns for political security raised against naturalisation relate first and foremost to forfeiting the possibility of deportation. It is certainly correct that naturalised persons can no longer be expelled or deported if they commit crimes. This concern can be countered at least in part by the fact that foreigners who are conspicuous for their criminal activities will not as a rule be granted German citizenship anyway.3637

The fear that recognition of dual citizenship would lead to naturalising terrorists38 is unjustified. Those who do not shy away from terror surely have no problem giving up their original citizenship. It rather seems that an exclusionist attitude is buttressed by tying it to the important issue of internal security. In reality this raises the question of whether the risk that a handful of criminals cannot in fact be deported justifies the permanent exclusion of many hundreds of thousands of people from participatory rights.

Changes in society and politics39

These fears of a loss of power give rise to three questions. First, it should be asked just how many more immigrants would be naturalised if dual citizenship were to be recognised and thus, how many new voters would in fact be created. Second, there is a need to evaluate what resonance might be expected in political circles given a change in the electorate and third, whether considerations of the benefits, and the values that underpin society, do not make an eventual loss of power and other possible negative effects appear rational or even right and proper.

(a) Naturalisation rate and dual citizenship
40 This applies especially in a country such as Germany where there is no particular tradition of naturalisation and where citizenship is not the basis for the granting of social rights.

The question as to how the political organisation of new citizens and the changes in the political picture would turn out cannot be answered with certainty. It is not unrealistic to expect to find that increased naturalisation will result in new citizens having a greater presence in German politics.

Nonetheless, it appears misleading to perceive the potential new citizens as a uniform, homogeneous mass joining together as one to represent its own interests. Although people possessing Turkish citizenship represent the largest single group of immigrants, they comprise only one quarter of the foreigners living in Germany.4142 and 34% of Germans with a migration background are the children of foreign-born parents These people too have, to date, caused no serious power struggles or redistribution of power. The behaviour of this diverse group of people as voters has also been very inadequately researched as yet, for which reason it appears premature to draw any definite conclusions with regard to changes in the political structure.43 Conservative centre-right politicians sometimes fear that the political integration of migrants would necessarily lead to a power shift towards the political left. This is not, however, by any means certain. People usually overlook the fact that migrants are often inclined towards conservatism and thus most definitely represent potential voters for conservative parties.44

The democratic benefits of naturalisation45Schicksalsgemeinschaft), some people will continue to believe that return migration will one day put an end to the co-habitation of disparate cultures on German soil. This exclusionary tendency is a problem because it excludes the process of rethinking and defining the relationship with people of foreign origin living in Germany.

The naturalisation of long-term immigrants is a democratic necessity, for only then does the electorate reflect the actual population. Otherwise democracy is deficient.46 In this regard, the key issue is not optimising future immigration;47



On the other hand, bills recognising dual citizenship to a greater extent introduced by the party The Left (Die Linke) and the Green party have recently been rejected49


  1. For non-EU citizens, however, this only applies if at least one parent has already had his or her domicile in Germany for at least 8 years (Section 4, para. 3 German Citizenship Act).
  2. In 93% of cases the previous nationality was kept upon acquiring German citizenship (naturalisation statistics, naturalisations in accordance with Section 40, lit. b) German Citizenship Act).
  3. The law of the country of origin may well still oppose dual citizenship, as is the case in Austria and Belgium.
  4. According to the 2005 microcensus, in Germany there are 1.3 million marriages where only one spouse possesses German nationality.
  5. Text and ratification status of both conventions may be viewed at http://conventions.coe.int
  6. Hailbronner (1992:16).
  7. In recent years the following states have fully or partly recognised dual citizenship: Columbia (1991), Italy (1992), Hungary (1993), the Dominican Republic (1994), Costa Rica (1995), Ecuador (1995), Brazil (1996), Mexico (1998), Australia (2002), Pakistan (2002), Finland (2003), Philippines (2003).
  8. Legomsky (2003:90).
  9. Legomsky (2003:125 ff.) lists international agreements on this subject according to which dual citizens either have a free choice, where they are to fulfil their military obligations, or have to perform military service in the country of their usual domicile.
  10. Cf. Proceedings of the German Parliament, document number: BT-Ds.14/9828.
  11. Hailbronner and Renner (2005:RN 76).
  12. Aleinikoff and Klusmeyer (2002:35); Hailbronner (2003:26).
  13. International Court of Justice, Nottebohm Decision (Liechtenstein v. Guatemala) in: ICJ Report 23 (1955), p. 20 ff.
  14. Aleinikoff and Klusmeyer (2002:34); Hailbronner (2003:21 f.); Martin (2003:15).
  15. Martin (2003:15). On the other hand, there is also a view that the country of effective citizenship should be entitled to exercise diplomatic protection against all other states, cf. Hailbronner (2003:22) for further references.
  16. German Parliament Plenary Protocol 14/24 dated 3 March 1999, p. 1894.
  17. Likewise Aleinikoff and Klusmeyer (2002:31).
  18. Cf. Section 10, para. 1 nos. 5 and 6 German Citizenship Act.
  19. Bloemraad (2004:395).
  20. Hammar (1985:449).
  21. Likewise: Hammar (1985:449); Aleinikoff and Klusmeyer (2002:36, 39).
  22. This is also shown by Freeman (1995:884) and Brubaker (1992:906 ff.).
  23. In the Pisa studies, school children of foreign origin were on an average far behind German school children, who were themselves not exceptional. Moreover, according to official statistics, foreigners are twice as severely affected by unemployment (23.6 %) as the overall average of the working population (12.0 %), German Federal Employment Agency (2007:75). In particular, the high proportion of Muslim migrants is regarded as a threat by parts of the population, cf. Casanova (2006) and Green (2005:933, 942 f.).
  24. Cf. Section 8, para. 1 Item 2 and section 10, para. 1 Item 5 German Citizenship Act.
  25. Decision of the German Constitutional Court, 10 August 2007, Ref. 2 BvR 535/06.
  26. Thus, inter alia, an anonymous comment on www.welt.de
  27. According to the Central Register of Foreigners (AZR), of 6.7 million foreigners registered on the 31.12.2007, 1.7 million were Turkish nationals (25.4 %).
  28. Since the reform of the German Citizenship Act, with effect from 1 August 1999 ethnic German repatriates (mostly from Eastern Europe) are granted German citizenship through a separate certificate. Previously, they were formally naturalised.
  29. In an interview with Die Welt on 8 November 2003, Faruk Sen, director of the Essen Centre for Studies on Turkey, points out that the CDU has disproportionately high number of supporters among Muslim migrants.
  30. Casanova (2006:183).
  31. For information on the subjects of immigration, citizenship and states as strategic clubs see Straubhaar (2003) and Kolb (2007).
  32. The German minister of justice is quoted in Berliner Zeitung of 13 August 2009. The call of the alliance for action can be found under http://www.wider-den-optionszwang.de.
  33. The bill introduced by the Green party (Bundestagsdrucksache BT-Ds. 16/2650 2008) did not aim at accepting dual citizenship generally. However, it proposed to eliminate the obligation to opt, to accept dual citizenship for persons born in Germany and defined further exceptions from the principle of avoiding dual citizenship. The party The Left (BT-Ds. 16/1770 2006 and 16/9165 2008) proposes a general recognition of dual citizenship. The plenary protocol of the parliamentary session of 2 July 2009 documenting the rejection by the Grand Coalition of Social and Christian democrats can be accessed at http://www.wider-den-optionszwang.de/dl/Plenarprotokoll_020709.pdf.

About the author:
Daniel Naujoks,
attorney at law and economist, is
doctoral research fellow at the Hamburg Institute of International
Economics (HWWI). Currently, he works for the
Organisation for Diaspora Initiatives, New Delhi.
E-Mail: daniel.naujoks@gmail.com


References and Further Reading

    • Aleinikoff, Alexander T.; Douglas Klusmeyer, 2002, Citizenship Policies for an Age of Migration, Carnegie Endowment for International Peace, Washington, DC.
    • Bloemraad, Irene, 2004, Who Claims Dual Citizenship? The Limits of Postnationalism, the Possibilities of Transnationalism, and the Persistence of Traditional Citizenship, in: International Migration Review 38 (2), pp. 389-426.
    • Brubaker, Rogers, 1992, Citizenship and Nationhood in France and Germany, Cambridge, MA.
    • Freeman, Gary P., 1995, Modes of Immigration Politics in Liberal Democratic States, in: International Migration Review 29 (4) pp. 881-902.
    • Green, Simon, 2005, Between Ideology and Pragmatism: The Politics of Dual Nationality in Germany, in: International Migration Review 39 (4), 2005, pp. 921-952.
    • Hammar, Tomas, 1985, Dual Citizenship and Political Integration, in: International Migration Review, XIX (3), pp. 438-450.
    • Spiro, Peter J. 2002, Embracing Dual Nationality, in: Randall Hansen and Patrick Weil (eds.), 2002, Dual Nationality, Social Rights and Federal Citizenship in the U.S. and Europe: The Reinvention of Citizenship, New York, pp. 19-33.
    • Steinhardt, Max, 2008, Does citizenship matter? The economic impact of naturalizations in Germany, HWWI Research Paper 3-13, Hamburgisches WeltWirtschaftsInstitut.
Migration Research Group
Netzwerk Migration in Europa e.V.