The word “Welcome” is written in six different languages ​​on the wall behind Berlin’s Interior Senator Iris Spranger (SPD) and SPD parliamentary group leader Raed Saleh. On Monday, the two politicians presented their plans for a new “Central Naturalization Center” for Berlin in front of the huge graffiti at the State Office for Immigration (LEA) in Moabit.

Spranger promised at the appointment that it should go into service as early as 2023. 200 new employees are to be hired for this and a location is also needed for the new office. Only then can Berlin reach the number of 20,000 naturalizations per year that the politicians have set themselves, explains Interior Senator Spranger, explaining the necessity of her action.

The new center is to be organized and managed by Engelbert Mazanke, the head of the LEA. The experienced administrative officer should ensure that the immigration process is significantly accelerated and digitized. In particular, the waiting times for future German nationals are to be significantly reduced.

So far, the twelve Berlin districts are responsible. Four to five people work on immigration applications in each district. The district offices are chronically overburdened, and some people who want to naturalize have to wait more than two years. In the district of Pankow, the confirmation of receipt of naturalization applications alone takes up to six months. Even in the fastest district, Treptow-Köpenick, the process has so far taken around six months.

So far, 6,000 to 7,000 foreigners are naturalized in Berlin every year. The Senate wants to triple that number. According to the Office for Statistics, around 800,000 of the 3.7 million inhabitants of Berlin are foreigners without a German passport. It is estimated that up to 450,000 people in the city could basically meet the criteria to apply for a German passport. This was confirmed by Mazanke and Spranger on Monday.

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Mazanke also outlined on Monday how the enormous increase in the number of naturalizations is to be achieved. Half is to be intercepted by more personnel. Spranger and Co. are hoping that the previous immigration experts from the districts will apply to the new state office.

However, Spranger emphasized: “We want the expertise of the employees, but the positions will remain with the districts.” This means that the districts can then dispose of the positions that have become vacant, according to Spranger’s will. There may be a conflict here with Finance Senator Daniel Wesener (Greens), who is said to favor a personnel pool solution. In fact, the districts would then lose staff to the immigration office – Spranger wants to avoid this conflict.

According to Mazanke’s ideas, the second half of the increase in naturalizations should be achieved through increased efficiency at work. To this end, processes are to be digitized and standardized using a standard process. As an example, Mazanke cited the obligatory consultation before the application is submitted: In the future, this could be replaced by a digital query of the most important data, based on the Munich model.

The system would then automatically answer whether an application for naturalization makes any sense at all. “You enter the facts and get immediate feedback – that saves us a lot of time and resources,” said Mazanke. However, the LEA boss also warned against exaggerated expectations of the new office: “We will not suddenly have 20,000 naturalizations on January 1, 2023, but will slowly increase capacity.” In addition to new rooms, extensive employee training is also needed. The target number could then possibly be reached by the end of 2024.

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The location for the new immigration center is still open. The premises of the LEA in Moabit are not sufficient. SPD parliamentary group leader Raed Saleh wanted a location on the Siemens campus in his home district of Spandau on Monday, because the location reflects “modern Berlin”. However, a suitable building would have to be found – and it would also have to be affordable, said Saleh. He emphasized: “Naturalization is not a burden for us in Berlin, but very welcome.”

Born in the West Bank, Saleh was naturalized himself in 2004. He promised again that he would also break through the system of chain toleration and give more people the prospect of a passport.

On Tuesday, the Senate wants to deal with the immigration office. Then, under the direction of Spranger’s interior administration, a group of experts will be set up to put the plans for the office into concrete terms. Associations and migrant organizations should also be involved.