German ‘Migration Package’ poses increased risk of detention for stateless people

In June 2019, the German Parliament approved the so called ‘migration package’ that introduced new and modified legal and policy measures on immigration and asylum under the Residence Act, the Asylum Seekers Benefits Act and the newly approved Orderly Return Act (Geordnete-Rückkehr-Gesetz).
1 Nov 2019 / Detention / Germany

Germany delivers some positive practices on statelessness but areas for reform still remain

The Statelessness Index assesses and compares how countries in Europe protect stateless people and what they are doing to prevent and reduce statelessness. The European Network on Statelessness has worked with its members to research and compile comparative information in the Index on statelessness in Germany.

30 Jan 2019 / Detention / Germany / International and Regional Instruments / Prevention and reduction / Statelessness determination and status / Statelessness population data


The legal and policy framework on statelessness in Germany has both positive and negative aspects. It is state party to relevant human rights instruments but retains two key reservations to the 1954 Convention concerning travel documents and social security entitlements. Comprehensive population data is published online, including on statelessness, but without a dedicated procedure to identify and determine statelessness, estimates for the stateless population remain inaccurate.

  • There are safeguards in German nationality law to prevent statelessness for some children born in Germany, but there are gaps that allow for children to be born stateless in the country. The provisions are either automatic or non-automatic depending on which applies. 
  • Under the Nationality Act, all children born in Germany after 1 January 2000 automatically acquire German nationality if at least one parent has been legally and habitually resident for eight years and has been granted permanent residence (or residence under EU law).
  • Where the Nationality Act does not apply, there is a safeguard in the 1961 Convention implementing law, which is not conditional on the parents' legal status but is non-automatic and requires an application for naturalisation before the age of 21, based on five years of continuous, legal residence. Additionally, the child or young person must not have any juvenile conviction of more than five years.
  • In practice, evidence of the child's non-recognition as a citizen by another State must be provided, and the authorities must check whether the parents are able to transmit their nationality or if another state may recognise the child as a national in the future.
  • There is a provision in German law to grant foundlings citizenship by birth.
  • For the foundling provision to apply, the child should be ‘helpless’, which is interpreted to mean that the child should not be able to provide any information about their origin. This can apply to older, minor children as well, who may not be able to express themselves or understand complex procedures.
  • The German legal provision on foundlings considers only the father’s identification to be relevant to the child’s nationality status. German citizenship can only be withdrawn from the child if the father can pass on his nationality and this does not result in statelessness.
  • German nationality is lost by a German child adopted by foreign parents only if they acquire another nationality.
  • A child adopted by a German national acquires German citizenship if adopted as a minor (under 18yrs) and this extends to their descendants.
  • A child born abroad to a German national also born abroad before December 1999 and resident abroad does not automatically acquire German nationality unless they would otherwise be stateless. Registration of the birth with the German authorities is required.
  • In practice, an unregistered child of German nationals born abroad would still have a right to enter and reside in Germany with their German parents, and would be able to access facilitated naturalisation procedures.
  • The law stipulates that children must be registered immediately. In the case of births in hospitals or other institutions (including detention centres) the institution is obliged to notify of the birth. The birth must be communicated to the local registry office (Standesamt) where the child was born, either by the parent, any person who was present at or informed about the birth, and the relevant institutions.
  • To register a birth, married parents must submit birth certificates and a marriage certificate or certified copy of their marriage register. Unmarried parents must submit the birth certificate of the mother and declaration of paternity, birth certificate of the father, and custody declarations (if available). A recognised passport or other documents can replace the parents' birth certificates, but the registry office in charge decides on a case-by-case basis which documents may be accepted.
  • By law, a child can be registered if parents' stay in the country is irregular, but registry officials have a duty to report their presence to the authorities, which constitutes a barrier to registration.
  • If parents cannot present all the required documentation, the civil registrar can take an oath, but in practice, this option is little-used and may vary on a case-by-case basis depending on the local registrar.
  • In cases where at least one parent cannot present the required documentation, practice varies as to whether only the mother or both parents are registered, and parents receive an extract from the birth register rather than a birth certificate, which states that the child’s identity cannot be established. Although the extract is an official document, its value as a form of legal identification is disputed in practice, which may pose barriers to accessing certain rights later in life, or to acquiring nationality (especially if the identity of the parents is unclear).
  • There are credible reports to parliament, by civil society, and the Committee on the Rights of the Child of refugees and undocumented migrants facing barriers to birth registration due to missing documents or fear of being deported. If undocumented migrants do not give birth in hospital due to a fear of the authorities, the birth would not be automatically registered.
  • Late birth registration is possible in law but requires habitual residence and a travel document, which presents barriers in practice.
  • There is a fee for late registration of a birth abroad, which varies between federal states (e.g. 40 Euros in Greifswald and 60 Euros in Berlin); and other related fees may apply.
  • There is no information available about any campaigns to promote civil registration or any other measures by the Government to reduce the risk of statelessness.
  • The German Institute for Human Rights and other NGOs initiated a campaign in June 2016 to promote birth registration among refugees with information available in different languages.
  • There are reports of risks that children of undocumented migrants, refugees, and people with unclear nationality remain unregistered.
  • Withdrawal of nationality is permitted even when it results in statelessness where naturalisation or permission to retain German nationality has been acquired by deception.
  • Nationality can be lost in other cases including where someone applies for another nationality, enlists in the armed forces of another country without permission, and adoption, but not where it would result in statelessness.
  • There have been cases of withdrawal of nationality on the grounds of intentional deception.
  • The competent authority for withdrawal of German nationality is the nationality authority in each federal state or the Federal Office of Administration abroad. There is a time limit on withdrawal procedures and the burden of proof lies with the authority.

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