With less than four months to go until the UK leaves the European Union (EU), we still don’t know what deal, if any, the UK will have with the EU.
A big part of that deal relates to securing the rights of the more than 3 million EEA citizens living in the UK. While the Government has confirmed their intention to roll out the proposed Settled Status scheme regardless as to whether the withdrawal agreement is approved, those seeking greater certainty about their status and who are eligible, are looking to naturalise as British citizens. For some Europeans, the decision to naturalise is a simple one. For others, it may mean giving up their existing nationality.
German nationals are in a unique position as they are only permitted to have a second nationality if the country is also in the EU. In view of the exceptional circumstances of Brexit, the German government has agreed that their nationals who become British before the UK leaves the EU can retain both nationalities. In the event of no deal and no transition period, that means that Germans who want the chance of securing a British passport are under a tight timeframe to become British by March 2019!
For me, this is a personal as well as a professional issue. My mother moved to London from a small town in Germany in October 1975. At just 19 years old, she was looking for an adventure. She never planned to stay long-term but she secured a job, met my father and started a family, and 43 years later proudly calls this city her home.
As an EU national exercising her Treaty rights in the UK through employment, she never thought it necessary to take steps to secure her right of residency. This complacency changed when the UK voted to leave the EU in June 2016. As with many German nationals who have settled in the UK, she suddenly became concerned about her status and what this would be post-Brexit. It was for this reason that she has decided to act now and apply for a document which confirms her permanent residence status, and to then apply for British citizenship.
The current position - dual citizenship
Germany only allows dual nationality with other EU states, which means that Germans who want to become British after we leave the EU on 29 March 2019, will have to renounce their German citizenship. This is likewise the case for British citizens who want to become German.
The German cabinet approved a bill in September, however, which would allow German citizens who apply for British citizenship (and vice versa) before the end of the Brexit transition period (30 March 2019 to 31 December 2020), to be able to hold dual nationality. This is the case even if the decision on their citizenship application is made after the transition period. If this law is passed by the German parliament, it will come into force on 30 March 2019.
This is not necessarily the case if we leave the EU without a withdrawal agreement, however, so until things become more certain, our advice to German citizens wanting to apply for British citizenship is that they need to try to become British by 29 March 2019.
How do I obtain British citizenship?
The first step for a German national is to see whether they have acquired permanent residence status in the UK and to obtain confirmation of this. Full details on this can be found in our previous update: “Brexit – what EU citizens living in the UK need to know”.
Although a new Settled Status scheme is being rolled out, which will require you to apply to swap your residence card for pre-settled status, our advice to German nationals who haven’t yet confirmed their residence status would be to apply now, rather than post 29 March 2019, as it provides an extra layer of security once we are no longer part of the EU.
Once you have confirmed your permanent residence status, you can then apply to naturalise as a British citizen. Our previous blog outlines the requirements you need to meet in order to naturalise as a British citizen; you can find this here. The naturalisation process can take up to around six months for a decision to be made, and British citizenship is not actually confirmed until after you attend a Citizenship ceremony. Given the risk of no deal, we are therefore suggesting any German nationals who want to become British apply as a matter of urgency, and that representations are made explaining the importance of the application being considered on an expedited basis. While this can’t be guaranteed, we are hopeful that these applications may be prioritised if the threat of no deal increases.
As we get closer to 29 March 2019, we will all be anxiously waiting to see whether a deal is secured or not. Whatever happens however, my mother will be comforted by the fact that she can safely call herself both German and British.
For further information on the issues raised in this blog post, please contact a member of our immigration team.