Czechia: Changes to Czech and German Citizenship Law in 2024

The citizenship laws of both countries are slated to see change in the course of 2024. In the Czech Republic, the changes are supposed to benefit émigrés – sadly, the actual number of beneficiaries will be a small and select crowd – but it really is the excessive bureaucracy in Czechia that remains the biggest hurdle to take for applicants. With that said, drinking beer remains non-mandatory for those who seek to acquire a Czech passport.

“I believe the only way for you to get a Czech passport is if you are a beer drinker.” (Lukas Hradecky, Finnish goal keeper of Slovak origin of Bayer Leverkusen, in an interview with Süddeutsche Zeitung on 10/11 February 2024)

The citizenship laws of both countries are slated to see change in the course of 2024. In the Czech Republic, the changes are supposed to benefit émigrés – sadly, the actual number of beneficiaries will be a small and select crowd – but it really is the excessive bureaucracy in Czechia that remains the biggest hurdle to take for applicants. With that said, drinking beer remains non-mandatory for those who seek to acquire a Czech passport.

In Germany, only foreigners who have been living in Germany for an extended period of time (and there are approx. 12 million of them!) will profit from the changes. The bureaucratic demands have proliferated also in Germany; even now, the public authorities are overwhelmed when it comes to handling naturalization requests, and processing times continue to be on the rise.

Czech Republic

The upcoming changes to Sec. 31 and 33 of the citizenship law (i.e., Act No. 186/2013 Coll.) are being made under the pressure of Czech court rulings (which previously all ended not with a bang but with a whimper, i.e., without effective relief for the complainants) and in the face of protests by Jewish and non-Jewish émigré organizations abroad which have been pointing out for a long time that Czech citizenship law is far too restrictive. Until now, naturalization pursuant to Sec. 31 was restricted to children and grandchildren of émigrés even though there are today many great-grandchildren who are interested in a Czech passport (a restriction which is only absent in the case of Sec. 32; the difference is that in the case of Sec. 31, citizenship was forfeited, whereas in the case of Sec. 32, the ancestor never lost Czech(oslovak) citizenship). The claim in declaratory naturalization procedures pursuant to Sec. 31 is now being expanded to encompass also great-grandchildren, i.e., the fourth generation. Also, there still exist communist-era hurdles for émigrés born between 1949 and 1969 (especially in the case of Sec. 32) which are now to be removed:

In those cases in which first-generation émigrés never lost Czechoslovak citizenship, their children never had the chance to acquire such citizenship themselves, if they were born abroad between 1949 and 1969 and had one parent who was a foreigner, thus running afoul of discriminatory rules concocted by the communists – a chance they are to be given now. Until today, unless both parents were Czechoslovak citizens, if a child was born abroad between 1949 and 1969 and no application for naturalization was filed with the Czechoslovak embassy (or the competent Communist office inside Czechoslovakia) within one year from birth, the child did not automatically become a Czechoslovak citizen. These discriminatory provisions were designed to lock out children of emigrants born after 1949 and prevent them from acquiring Czechoslovak citizenship because their parents, having left the country, were deemed politically unreliable by the Communists. To this day, this rule is being applied without any further reflection.

The illogical state of affairs between Sec. 31, 32, and 33 of Act No. 186/2013 Coll. is now to be remedied, due to which it used to be better for applicants if the émigré at some point lost Czechoslovak citizenship – because this will usually clear the road to declaratory acquisition of citizenship as per Sec. 31. Conversely, this road is often blocked if the émigré never lost Czech(oslovak) citizenship because declaratory acquisition of citizenship as per Sec. 32 usually was not available in such cases, primarily because of failure to observe the one-year period pursuant to Sec. 33 (1) (last sentence) which lapsed already by the end of 2014. This limitation will now be abolished.

Be that as it may, the planned bill, now stuck in Parliament, falls woefully short of resolving all the issues:

a) Numerous emigrants of Jewish descent who were German (or Hungarian) native speakers and who forfeited Czechoslovak citizenship already in 1945, due to Beneš Decree 33/1945 Coll. of 2 August 1945, remain excluded. Contrary to claims that it is an “extinguished” piece of legislation, the Decree is still being applied and e.g. prevents most of the descendants of “Winton’s children”, saved 1938/39 by Sir Nicholas Winton from being murdered – he spirited them away from Prague to Britain via the Netherlands on so-called Kindertransporte – from applying for Czech citizenship. The proposed amendment does nothing to fix this. No fewer than two memorial sculptures have been erected at Prague Main Station for these children, but Czech law, even after the planned amendment, leaves them (and their descendants) high and dry. And yet, the Beneš Decree would not even have to be abolished (which, according to nationalist mythology, would deprive the Czech state of a foundational document) for the Winton children’s descendants to get the Czech passport. It would be perfectly sufficient to reinstate the time period pursuant to Sec. 2 of the Beneš Decree that lapsed on 10 February 1946. If that were done, victims of the Nazi regime and their descendants who missed the deadline in 1946 could then apply for an exemption from the application of Beneš Decree 33/1945 Coll. They would have to prove that they or their ancestors were victims of national socialism (which is the case for the Winton children, as they were Jewish – most of them in fact lost their parents during the Holocaust). The mechanism embodied by Sec. 2 never worked in the first place, seeing as most applications pursuant to Sec. 2 were dismissed or never ruled upon because Czechoslovakia was not a country that upheld the rule of law between 1946 and 1948. For Czech or Slovak émigrés of non-Jewish extraction and/or non-German or Hungarian native speakers, Decree No. 33/1945 poses no problem; even coming from families which collaborated with Nazism up until 1945 does not harm them;

b) According to the amendment bill as it now stands, one must show that the Czechoslovak emigrant did not become, and is not, a Slovak citizen; this may have a semblance of logic due to the legal framework after 1969, when Czechoslovak citizens had to declare as Czechs or Slovaks. Even so, the requirement is highly debatable: many emigrants were gone already in 1938, and those who later became Slovak citizens will only in the rarest of cases want an additional Czech passport. What is more, dual Czech-Slovak citizenship is permitted since 2014 pursuant to Czech law and since 2022 pursuant to Slovak law (by contrast to the period 1969–2014).
Apparently, this pointless provision will be upheld even after the 2024 amendment, which leads to the following: someone who emigrated from Prague in 1938 to, say, London or Palestine now must undergo a procedure in Bratislava to obtain a declaratory ruling that he is not a Slovak citizen. Do not underestimate the hassle: it is not enough to wave an affidavit in the face of public servants at the registry office in Prague 1, but you must produce an official Slovak deed issued by the competent Slovak Municipal Office (“Obecní urad”) in Bratislava. Given that the Slovak embassies in London and Prague are dysfunctional, to put it mildly, and given that they do not cooperate with the registry office in Prague 1, a full-fledged declaratory procedure directly before Bratislava Municipal Office is indispensable. And in Bratislava, too, the entire documentation – birth, marriage, and naturalization certificates, local registry records, etc. – must be submitted in the original, apostilled, along with a certified translation. The only alleviating factor is that certified Czech translations are being accepted in Bratislava and certified Slovak translations are being accepted in Prague. Even so, the administrative burden associated with this additional procedure is horrendous – and makes zero sense, considering that Slovak citizenship will never be confirmed.

c) This “Slovak escapade” already means a doubling of procedures. But a third leg is added by the following fact. The Czech procedure (which is always conducted before the registry office, or matrika, for the Municipal District of Prague 1 (Měststký úřad – Matrika Praha 1), even if the applicant lives abroad – and this absence of a special office for such procedures is in itself yet another problem, considering how the matrika in Prague 1 is hopelessly overwhelmed) presupposes that the applicant produces a certificate to the effect that the émigré in question (e.g. their father or grandfather) was a Czechoslovak citizen at the time at which the applicant (or their parent) was born. The procedure which yields this certificate shall be conducted where the émigré had their Heimatrecht, or right of domicile, e.g. in 1938 or 1949 (an old Austrian-law concept known in Czech as domovské právo which was abolished in 1949). Finding the answer to this question is an exercise for the applicant, not for Czech officialdom, and the procedure is not integrated (i.e., it does not take place before the registry office in Prague 1, but precedes the procedure there). In other words: if the last place of residence was in Ostrava, then the relevant application must be filed in Ostrava; only after Ostrava has issued a certificate to the effect that the émigré was a Czechoslovak citizen may one file the application before the matrika – an application that must again be furnished with full documentation, i.e., including the Slovak confirmation. In cases where it is not entirely clear where the émigré had their last place of residence or right of domicile (i.e., whether in Prague 10 or in Prague 12, in Karlovy Vary or in Liberec), or whether they indeed had their right of domicile e.g. in Carpatho-Ukraine (for instance, Mukachevo), the applicant will have to do their own research and engage in investigations – the Prague 1 registry office won’t lift a finger to help. The records of the population registry (evidence obyvatelů) are complete only after ca. 1970; in any case, the registry office will not respond to private individuals but only provide information to the courts or to the competent local registration office – which is unknown and needs to be determined in the first place. Archives generally have stellar records and are superbly organized (an enquiry costs approx. EUR 20-30 and will be answered in as little as two to three months), but even they do not always have all the data needed.

The result can be summarized as follows: the bureaucratic relay race through the jungle of Czech and Slovak officialdom is in no way being alleviated by the amendment, nor does it address the elephant in the room: the Beneš Decree. Czech politicians are unwilling to touch the Decree, hiding behind the notion of it having become “extinguished”. However, the Decree is in fact being applied with real-life consequences. At the same time, helping the Winton children would not even have required slaughtering the holy cow of Decree No. 33/1945 Coll. – it could have easily been circumvented, by extending the time period (or voiding the limitation) in Sec. 2 of the Decree. In spite of all this, the amendment as it stands may in fact improve the plight of a few applicants, for instance those who missed the one-year time period of Sec. 33 (1) or who were previously excluded from the circle of possible applicants due to the restriction to children and grand-children in Sec. 31. Sad to see that nothing has changed with respect to the excessive bureaucratic requirements, or the fact that the procedure has tripled, so to speak, because of the need for proof of the émigré’s Czechoslovak citizenship and the need for a negative certificate from Slovakia.

One of 1990s Russian prime minister Viktor Stepanovich Chernomyrdin’s famous malapropisms, the delightful “We tried our best, you know the rest” (Хотели как лучше, а получилось как всегда), appears to suit the amendment to Czech Law on citizenship. In any case, the bill has yet to be written into law.

Federal Republic of Germany

The amendment to the citizenship law, set to come into force on 27 June 2024, brings quite a number of changes. For once, the holding periods which must be observed before applying for naturalization have been more than halved: those who have a residency permit may apply for citizenship after a mere five (instead of eight) years of legal stay in Germany; others who have shown particular efforts of integration, may do so after only three years. The German-language proficiency requirements have been loosened, and multiple citizenship is generally allowed, i.e., one need not renounce another citizenship before acquiring German citizenship (or apply for special permission to retain one’s previous citizenship). Finally, generous facilitations have been made for former Gastarbeiter (migrant workers).

Conversely, the requirements in terms of an applicant’s economic usefulness have been tightened: going forward, applicants will usually have to show that their income does not depend on state subsidies or handouts. Likewise, personal integrity will be subject to a more stringent review: someone’s application may be rejected if they have a criminal record or are being investigated for xenophobic or antisemitic hate crimes (though it is not quite clear how public officials will determine who is subject to ongoing investigation). The relevant “proof of good conduct” must be presented even by those who apply pursuant to Sec. 15 StAG – i.e., applicants for restorative-justice naturalization, most of them descendants of Jewish émigrés who fled Germany between 1933 and 1945 or later (but not by those who apply pursuant to Art. 116 (2) of Germany’s Basic Law): Could a Jew (or their descendant) be an antisemite? Could they really be a member of Hamas, Al-Qaida, or ISIS? And yet, they are being submitted to this kind of questioning. Besides, how could one possibly test anyone’s loyalty in their heart?

Unfortunately, this kind of red tape will only exacerbate the overload of the domestic (foreigners’ and citizenship) offices and (for applicants residing abroad) the Federal Administrative Office (Bundesverwaltungsamt – BVA) in Cologne. Even today, the backlog in large cities such as Hamburg, Munich, or Berlin – where a State Immigration Office (Landesamt für Einwanderung – LEA), in existence since 1 January 2024, inherited over 40,000 shelved applications from the Berlin district offices and promptly became paralyzed – is counted in years. There are reports of waiting periods of up to four years; before the BVA, resubmission periods for Sec. 15 StAG procedures are rumored to be longer than six years.


In both countries, a liberalization of citizenship laws is planned (or, in the case of Germany, has come into force), but the bureaucratic burden remains unfortunately enormous. The amendment in the Czech Republic misses its lofty goal – allowing the children saved by Sir Nicholas Winton, and their descendants, to become citizens – and fails to cut short the bureaucratic relay race, seeing as the whole exercise is composed of three independent administrative procedures, whereas the applicant must themselves obtain the relevant information in archives and from public officials. At least in a handful of individual cases, though, the alleviated rules in Czech citizenship law will hopefully prove helpful. Processing times in both countries are at least one year – and up to six years before the BVA.

Draft law for the change of the law No 186/2013 Sb., on Czech State Citizenship, brought in by the deputies Roman Bělor, Vladimír Balaš, Ondřej Benešík, Eva Decroix, Jakub Michálek, Martina Ochodnická and Hayato Okamura.

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