Who is we?

Whether the situation is voluntary or forced, legal or illegal, temporary or permanent: More and more people live outside their country of birth.

Migration has always changed the world we live in. Nation-states, however, see themselves therefore faced with new challenges: In many places, currently valid laws and conventional instruments to shape policies and society no longer correspond to the necessities and needs of a mobile and diverse population.

An important subject is the meaning of citizenship. Does this concept of national affiliation still fit in a time in which many people feel connected to more than one place or country in the world? What about people who live in Germany but do not have a German passport?

A passport, in Germany sometimes called a “national passport,” serves as verification of a person’s identity and citizenship. Everyone who holds a German passport enjoys full civil rights within Germany.

All Germans have a right …

A German passport guarantees political participation and security. Anyone who is not German by birth, as the child of German parents or parents living permanently in Germany, can gain German citizenship through naturalization. But the obstacles are great.

Everyone who receives a German passport through naturalization must …

Passport stories

Citizenship regulates who “belongs” legally and politically, and who does not. But a passport in and of itself does not create a feeling of belonging. Personal experiences play a crucial role. Here, ten people tell us what their passport means to them.

Who can participate in politically shaping Germany?

Who is formally recognized as a member of a society is part of a constant process of negotiation. In Germany as elsewhere, there is controversial discourse about who belongs here and who does not. Those who regard the German community as being determined only by German ancestry, language, and culture view migration first and foremost as a problem and threat. For those who are open to diversity and change, migration is a normal part of society, which must be shaped jointly by everyone.

Voting rights without citizenship

It is not citizenship but one’s main place of residence that determines the entitlement to voting rights.

As stakeholders, all people who are subjected to the laws of a country must be permitted to have a say in determining them.

Some countries grant voting rights even to people without the respective citizenship. In New Zealand, for instance, people who have lived there legally for at least one year can participate in national elections. In Chile, five years of legal residence is required, in Malawi seven, and in Uruguay fifteen. In half of all the member states of the European Union, some people can vote at local or regional levels in their country of residence even if they are not EU citizens. In Germany, however, only EU citizens can vote in local elections where they live in Germany.

Urban citizenship instead of national citizenship

The idea: Everyone who lives in a city has the same rights, regardless of origin, nationality, or residence status.

With urban citizenship, undocumented people (sans papiers) are better protected against deportation, exploitation, and discrimination.

A model for urban citizenship is New York City, where the IDNYC was introduced in 2015. In Europe as well, there are a number of initiatives and cities that are working on an urban citizenship. In Switzerland, the city of Bern started testing such a City Card valid within the city limits in 2021. It makes it easier, for example, for people without an official residence permit to sign contracts such as rental agreements or mobile phone contracts, to take care of banking transactions or doctor’s appointments, or to register their children for daycare. They do not need to fear getting deported when visiting government offices, coming into a police checkpoint, or if they want to report a crime.

Who can help shape Germany politically?

Can a passport be the only condition for political participation in a democracy, or do all people who live here need to be entitled to this right?

People should be able to have a say in political decisions wherever they live.