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The Turkish diaspora in Germany

As a follow up to our posts on Turkish investor citizenship and the recent elections in Turkey, we discuss recent scholarship by Susan Willis McFadden dealing with German citizenship law and the Turkish diaspora. The three million Turks currently living in Germany constitute the largest Turkish diaspora in Europe. The process of migration to Germany started in 1961, when the two countries signed an agreement that allowed the migration to Germany of what were called “guest workers” – Turks who would provide cheap and relatively unskilled labour with the idea that that they would return to Turkey after a few years with savings and new skills.

Different factors made that what was meant as temporary migration not only became permanent, but grow exponentially as a result of family reunification. According to McFadden, “by 2002, only one-third of the Turks in Germany had arrived as guest workers, approximately fifty-three percent of Turkish residents had immigrated to Germany under family reunification visas, and seventeen percent were their descendants born in Germany”.

While the current naturalisation rates of Turks are still low, the number of Turks holding German nationality was even lower in the past. There were essentially two barriers to acquiring German citizenship: the German prohibition of dual citizenship, and the absence of ius soli provisions that would over time integrate children born on German territory to foreign parents. German is currently still opposed to dual citizenship and only allows dual citizenship if the prior citizenship is from another EU country or Switzerland, or if the prior citizenship cannot be renounced without “undue difficulty or expense”. Turkey, on the other hand, has tolerated dual citizenship since 1981 and the law allows for the easy reacquisition of citizenship by Turks who renounce their citizenship in order to naturalize in a foreign country by offering the possibility to reacquire Turkish citizenship without any period of residence in Turkey.

This was in fact the first of two options under Turkish law. The other option was a form of “almost citizenship”, somewhat along the lines of the concept of quasi-citizenship we discussed earlier, which entailed that former Turkish citizens who had naturalized in another country obtain a card (first of a pink colour, later blue) that granted privileges not offered to other foreigners, including the right to reside in Turkey, inherit, and buy and sell property. Bureaucratic barriers, however, made that German Turks preferred the first option, according to McFadden:

“Renunciation of Turkish citizenship, then naturalization in Germany, followed by reacquisition of Turkish citizenship and preservation of German citizenship due to the domestic exemption [entailing that German citizens living in Germany were exempt from the prohibition of dual citizenship]”.

This domestic exemption was abolished with a 2000 reform of the German Citizenship Act, but former Turkish citizens still managed to reacquire their Turkish citizenship for a while because, as McFadden explains, the Turkish authorities “had not reported [the reacquisition] to German authorities so that the loss of German citizenship could be recorded”. This is one more illustration that national interests often trump international collaboration to prevent or regulate dual citizenship.

Eventually the practice or renaturalisation in Turkey was stopped, leading to a sharp drop of Turkish naturalisations in Germany (from more than a 100,000 in 1999 to just over 16,000 in 2016) because Turks did not want to lose their original nationality. Although Turkey did take a number of measures to tap into the lobbying potential of their diaspora and to involve them in Turkish politics by allowing external voting, McFadden is rightly surprised that Turkey did not opt for any of the steps that could logically have been taken to challenge the German removal of the domestic exemption: “It could have better promoted the pink/blue card. It could have eliminated all remaining restrictions on inheritance, social security, and property ownership for former Turkish citizens. Or it could have simply prohibited the renunciation of Turkish citizenship, thereby bringing Turks within the exception to the German renunciation requirement”.

With the introduction of ius soli in 2000, it was decided that children born to foreign parents could acquire German citizenship but that they had to opt for one of their citizenships upon reaching the age of majority, similar to what we have seen in Japan. However, with almost half a million German-born children of foreign parents having acquired citizenship between 2000 and 2014, it became increasingly difficult to force them to make a decision for either citizenship in 2018 – the year the first generation of these children would become adults and would be forced to make this choice. The law was thus again amended, as McFadden points out, to allow permanent dual citizenship “if by their twenty-first birthday they have either lived eight years in Germany, attended school there for six years, or graduated from a German school or training program”.

McFadden is clear about her personal view: “German law must face up to German reality and allow multiple citizenship” because, despite an increasingly authoritarian regime in Turkey, “the countries will continue to be inextricably entwined”. As true as this may be, this also overlooks the law-evading problems that may be caused by dual citizenship in the absence of proper collaboration between the countries involved to remedy any arising difficulties. McFadden herself already refers to the detention of German journalists in Turkey, not only of those who hold dual German-Turkish citizenship but also uniquely German citizens, as a retaliation or bargaining measure by the Turkish authorities. Another example is lack of exchange between Turkey and the countries where large groups of Turks live in matters of property ownership, leading to a situation where Turks in the diaspora who may live on welfare benefits can own property in Turkish which, if duly reported, would have excluded them from the social welfare scheme in their country of residence.

Author: Dr. Olivier Vonk

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