Do I Have Claim to Dual German and American Citizenship?
January 30, 2008 7:57 AM   Subscribe

My mother was a native-born German citizen. My father was a native-born American citizen. I was born in the United States. Shortly thereafter, my parents divorced and my mom was granted custody of me. I lived in Germany until the age of 5, presumably as a German citizen. Then my father and his family took physical custody of me, and an American court ultimately awarded legal custody to my father. Because I was born in America, I now enjoy US citizenship. Do I still have a claim to dual German and American Citizenship?

I've looked at all the official sites related to US and German citizenship issues and I can't seem to find a clear answer.
posted by saulgoodman to Law & Government (33 answers total) 1 user marked this as a favorite
Yes, at least according to wikipedia. If you were born of a German parent, you have German citizenship, irrespective of place of birth.
posted by Pants! at 8:02 AM on January 30, 2008

Yes. You are a German citizen. Contact the German consulate in your area. They will have the forms you need to get a certificate of citizenship and a passport.
posted by zia at 8:05 AM on January 30, 2008

My wife was born in Germany to a German mother but has lived here (Canada) all her life. As I understand it, citizenship is determined by the father in Germany. She tried years ago to obtain it, but was denied and told that she would have had to apply before she was 16 or something like that.
My details are fuzzy on this, but I know she can't get citizenship anymore and she was born there to a German parent.
posted by chococat at 8:12 AM on January 30, 2008

One thing to note is that the US government does not recognise dual citizenship. That doesn't mean that you can't have a passport and citizenship of another country, but it does mean that if you are also a US citizen, you have to enter and leave the US on your US passport.
posted by Happy Dave at 8:13 AM on January 30, 2008

Note the Wikipedia section Descent from a German Parent. If you were born before 1975, you have no claim to German nationality if only your Mother is German. (I dealt with the same issue a few years ago when querying this - I was born in 1970. I spoke to the German embassy to confirm at the time.)
posted by benzo8 at 8:16 AM on January 30, 2008

Ya (ja?) benzo8, I just read that. So saul, it all comes down to if you were born before 1975. If you were, and your mother applied to make you a citizen before December 31,1977 then you still have it, I would think. If she didn't, you're not. According to Wikipedia.
posted by chococat at 8:22 AM on January 30, 2008

Note the Wikipedia section Descent from a German Parent. If you were born before 1975, you have no claim to German nationality if only your Mother is German. (I dealt with the same issue a few years ago when querying this - I was born in 1970. I spoke to the German embassy to confirm at the time.)

benzo8: I was born before 1975. however, does it change the situation if I was already living in Germany in my mother's custody (presumably as a citizen) for several years after she divorced my father? In my earlier research, I noticed that the pre-1975 exception doesn't apply if your parents are divorced.
posted by saulgoodman at 8:26 AM on January 30, 2008

and i had a german passport, at one point, for what that's worth.
posted by saulgoodman at 8:28 AM on January 30, 2008

Well, at that point you're getting beyond my personal experience. I would recommend contact your local German embassy/consulate to clarify things...

You talk in the past tense about your parents - I'm assuming your mother is no longer around to answer the "presumably as a German citizen" issue, which is really what this all hangs on. My understanding, from researching this myself a few years ago and from rereading some things this afternoon is that, if you lived as a German citizen with your divorcee mother before 1977 (ie: your mother applied to have your citizenship changed) then you're probably OK now. If you lived in Germany as a child of US, or non-specific citizenship (ie: it just never came up) then you're probably out of luck now.
posted by benzo8 at 8:33 AM on January 30, 2008

If you ever had a German passport, you're almost certainly considered a German citizen. Germany, however, has compulsory military service, so be careful before you go off reminding them of that fact.
posted by jacquilynne at 8:37 AM on January 30, 2008

yeah. mom's not around to answer any questions now. i think she once said she didn't apply for citizenship for me, but wouldn't I have had to be a citizen to get a passport?
posted by saulgoodman at 8:37 AM on January 30, 2008

ah--thanks, jacuilynne. you beat me to it.
posted by saulgoodman at 8:38 AM on January 30, 2008

As jacquilynne says, if you had a passport, you were a citizen. Being a German/Canadian double citizen myself, I can tell you that if you qualify as a German citizen because of your parents, you are a German citizen. You can't apply to become a citizen, because you already are one. All you need to do to get your passport is prove that you are German citizen, just like you would to get a US passport.
posted by ssg at 8:50 AM on January 30, 2008

Yup, I agree that the passport probably answers the "presumably" question...
posted by benzo8 at 8:55 AM on January 30, 2008

My parents and I were all born in Germany and held German passports. My father became a naturalized US citizen, so I became one too. My whole family now holds US passports. But while living in Germany for an extanded time in the late 90s, I investigated getting a German passport again, and was told I could not obtain a German passport without giving up my US passport. I was also born before 1975.
posted by cahlers at 8:58 AM on January 30, 2008

So in light of my experience detailed above, I would have to respectfully disagree with ssg.
posted by cahlers at 8:59 AM on January 30, 2008

cahlers: I don't know your personal situation, but it looks like you gave up your German citizenship to become an American citizen. Consequently, you can't get a German passport: if you wanted to, you'd have to give up your American citizenship (or at least renounce it to the Germans) to become a German citizen again.

The difference for me (and presumably for saulgoodman) is that we were born in the US/Canada to a mother with German citizenship. Since Canada and the US grant citizenship to those born within their borders (not in all cases, obviously, but in general), we have US/Canadian citizenship and because we were born to a German parent we have German citizenship. I was born post-1975, so that makes the situation a little different, but it looks like we end up in the same place.

So, in this case, one can be born a double citizen, but one can't become a double citizen after birth.
posted by ssg at 10:45 AM on January 30, 2008

Tangent: It is interesting to think of German citizenship like a dominant allele. If at least one of your parents is a German citizen when you are born, you'll become a German citizen. With sufficient interbreeding between the German and non-German populations, German citizenship is going to rise over time, at least in other countries that let their citizens have double citizenship.
posted by ssg at 10:58 AM on January 30, 2008

[IANALY, so this isn't legal advice; get thee to a real lawyer]
cahlers, the reason you couldn't get your German passport back was because you didn't file a Beibehaltungsantrag (retention petition, which might not have existed yet) (and therefore didn't get the Beibehaltungsgenehmigung) when you were naturalized as a US citizen so, as ssg says, you lost the German citizenship.

oh, and regarding the compulsory military service - you can only get drafted until age... um... 25? as long as there's no evidence that you actively tried to avoid service, it won't matter (at least that's how they explained it to me once upon a time... I wasn't actively avoiding, I just didn't have a German residence the draft letter could be sent to - plus I would lose my US citizenship, which might be considered a hardship)

below is a brief outline of the relevant sections of the StAG (the immigration law) (German text)

depending on the exact details of your situation, according to Section 3.2 of the StAG, you might be considered a German citizen anyway (if you were treated as one for 12 years - basically, it would qualify if you had a passport for that long).

4.1 says that a German parent means a German child - the rest of 4 doesn't apply. the application requirement only says the app has to be filed by age 23 if the father is source of Germanhood (yes, that's my extra special word for it).

5 NA (German father, foreign mother)

8 NA (naturalization)

10 NA (naturalization)

13 - former German can regain citizenship if they fullfil 8.1 and 8.2 (not a criminal, residency, visible means of support, hardship-exceptions, etc)

14 - foreigners living abroad can be naturalized if they have German ties and fulfill 8 & 9

17 - ways you can lose citizenship (this is the interest bit in this case):
1. renunciation of citizenship in favor of another
2. naturalization in another country (doesn't apply to you because you had dual through your dad)
3. renunciation of German among several citizenships
4. foreign adoption
5. foreign military service
6. declaration of other citizenship (applies when you got German citizenship as a minor - you have to declare which citizenship you intend to keep) - this is probably the one that applies to you (29.3)

(18-29) defines the above

30 - you get declaration of German citizenship on application to a German citizenship agency... basically, talk to the German consul in your area

the rest is admin regs

so to recap (and to the best of my cursory understanding): according to current German law, you were born a German citizen (through your mom) but you lost it because of your dual citizenship when you didn't declare before your 23rd birthday that you wanted to keep the German citizenship. If you can't get around that limitation, you might be able to claim "connection to Germany" through your mom - any living relatives on that side? grandparents, aunts, uncles, cousins?

if you're serious about getting German citizenship back, go talk to the German consul in your area and/or a good international immigration lawyer (or a German immigration lawyer with good English skills).
posted by yggdrasil at 1:59 PM on January 30, 2008

If you can't get around that limitation, you might be able to claim "connection to Germany" through your mom - any living relatives on that side? grandparents, aunts, uncles, cousins?

no grandparents, but plenty of aunts, uncles, and cousins--and three half-sisters. i actually did contact the german consulate in miami. will update when i learn more.
posted by saulgoodman at 2:27 PM on January 30, 2008

yggdrasil: That's interesting. I'd never heard of the requirement to declare which citizenship you keep. Here is an explanation of that point in English. I'm going to have to look into this further.

I'm pretty sure this rule hasn't always been in effect, because I have many older relatives who retained their dual citizenship.
posted by ssg at 2:42 PM on January 30, 2008

Yes. Any German citizen who applies for and acquires foreign citizenship, whether in Germany or abroad, automatically loses his or her German citizenship.

I think the bolded text may be the critical point, in my case. I never applied for American citizenship--I always had it by virtue of having been born in the US. Does something similar possibly hold for your relatives, ssg?
posted by saulgoodman at 3:05 PM on January 30, 2008

You'll find some good information on the German Consulates of the United States website. There is more information on the German Embassy in Canada site, which only indicates the requirement to declare citizenship in the Provisions for foreigners living in Germany section. That page also indicates that they've changed the law so that children born outside of Germany to German citizens who were themselves born outside of Germany are no longer granted German citizenship as of 2000. So I guess my thoughts on the spread of German citizenship are no longer valid.

More importantly for your case (and mine as well), saulgoodman, here is a copy of the German Nationality Act in English. IANAL either, but it seems clear to me that yggdarsil is mistaken. Section 29 applies only to those who have acquired German citizenship by being born in Germany to non-German parents since 2000. It has nothing at all to do with those born to German parents. In retrospect, that was clear from the page I linked in my last comment as well, but I didn't read it properly.

The only issue is that normally your father would have to be a German citizen if you were born before 1975 to married parents, but since you already have had a passport, you were presumably a German citizen.
posted by ssg at 3:32 PM on January 30, 2008

In an easier to understand chunk of text from the German Ministry of Interior (as linked above):

Section 29 of the Nationality Act
Anyone with multiple nationality who has acquired German citizenship according to the principle of birthplace (Section 4 para. 3 of the Nationality Act) or by naturalization in accordance with Section 40 b of the Nationality Act* must choose between his/her German and foreign citizenship upon reaching the age of majority and before his/her 23rd birthday.

This is the section yggdrasil is referring to and it only applies to those who are citizens because they were born in Germany ("the principle of birthplace") and those who get to be citizens by a special exemption for those born in Germany (Section 40 b).

Also, Section 3.2 that yggdrasil refers to above applies only if you had a German father and a non-German mother.
posted by ssg at 3:40 PM on January 30, 2008

Don't be bothered by anyone who tells you the U.S. doesn't recognize dual citizenship—the only problem you could have if you are a dual citizen of the U.S. and of another country is getting a high-level security clearance.
posted by oaf at 8:25 PM on January 30, 2008

ssg, actually, section 3 doesn't say anything about nationality of the parents. It's one of the overview sections that refers you onward to other sections.
3.2 says that you have to base your citizenship claim on someone that satisfies Section 1. Section 1 is just a definition. "A German is someone with German citizenship" (I think Staatsangehoerigkeit translates to citizenship).
the section that refers to german father and foreign mothers is 5. There's a part of Section 4.1 (citizenship through German parent) that requires an attestation of paternity if the only German parent is the father - but here the mother is the German parent, so the rest of the clause doesn't apply.

I didn't think that 3.2 would really apply, but it depends on the details so it was worth a shot - requires recognition as a German by relevant authorities for 12 years...

Looking at it further, ssg's right about Section 29 not applying here.

so saul - go talk to the consul, but you might still have German citizenship - and even if you don't, you've got a good case for reinstatement

and oaf - you're right that it's not a big deal to have dual citizenship - as I understand it, just don't try to enter or leave the US on your non-US passport, that's a good way to loose your US citizenship. Traveling on a non-US passport is assumed to be evidence of intent to abandon citizenship.

btw - looks like that - from a legal standpoint - having a German passport is not proof of German citizenship. That's determined through a legal test (off the top of my head, I think that's Section 30)

as always, IANYL and this isn't legal advice
posted by yggdrasil at 12:30 PM on January 31, 2008

man, didn't check the English version of the act linked above until just now... that would have made my life a wee bit easier....
posted by yggdrasil at 12:33 PM on January 31, 2008

yggdrasil: You are right about 3.2. I read 3.1.2 by mistake (which refers to section 5).

I agree that we've gone as far as we can here though.
posted by ssg at 1:19 PM on January 31, 2008

As I mentioned, I contacted the German consulate in Miami. Apparently, since I did have a German passport as a child, I had citizenship--I don't have full confirmation yet, but one message I got from the consulate indicated that if I still had my passport from childhood, I could obtain a new one whenever I wanted (which seems to suggest I'd still be considered a citizen). I'm hoping to speak with someone from the consulate in person tomorrow, and will provide an update when I do.
posted by saulgoodman at 7:12 PM on January 31, 2008

One more interesting bit I just found from the site:
Wer kann einen Kinderpass beantragen?

Die zuständige deutsche Auslandsvertretung stellt Reisepässe an deutsche Staatsangehörige auf Antrag aus. Für Kinder mit deutscher Staatsangehörigkeit unter 16 Jahren kann an Stelle eines Reisepasses auch ein Kinderpass ausgestellt werden.
I remember my passport being dark-red and the term "kinder-pass" rings a lot of bells for me. And if I'm interpreting the bold-faced portion of the text above correctly, kinder-passes are only issued to children with German citizenship. Which means I might actually already have dual citizenship. More as I learn it...
posted by saulgoodman at 7:37 PM on January 31, 2008

[tangent alert]
sgg: Since Canada and the US grant citizenship to those born within their borders (not in all cases, obviously, but in general)

I can't speak to Canada, but All persons born or naturalized in the United States, and subject to the jurisdiction thereof, are citizens of the United States... (Constitution, 14th amendment, section 1). No exceptions.

posted by FlyingMonkey at 5:58 PM on February 2, 2008

FlyingMonkey: Oops, that reads badly; I should have just stated the exception (and I don't know why I said obviously). The only exception in Canada (and the US as well, in fact) is for children born to diplomats.
posted by ssg at 7:01 PM on February 2, 2008

Spoke to my uncle in Germany over the weekend. He confirmed that in his recollection I traveled under a kinderpass as a kid, and he plans to travel to Frankfurt later this week to find out if officials there have any records to corroborate this. More soon.
posted by saulgoodman at 9:12 AM on March 6, 2008

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