Hamburg, Germany

Hamburg. My Port. Germany. My Home.

Freie und Hansestadt Hamburg

January 2, 2013

A naturalization campaign makes citizenship the key to inclusion for long-time city residents

The champion boxer. The celebrity chef. The star soccer player. Standing side-by-side with their “naturalization pilots.” These are the faces of a public relations campaign led by the City of Hamburg to promote German citizenship to long-time and well-integrated residents with a migration background.

In a city of 1.8 million, about 400,000 – more than 20% – have a migration background. Of these, 236 000 do not have German citizenship although more than half meet the requirements for naturalization based on the length of their residence in Germany.  Why? Many are hesitant or may need guidance to enter the process because of linguistic barriers, fear of the bureaucratic process or lack of understanding about the benefits of naturalization. Yet, there are many good reasons to naturalize. Freedom to choose where to reside in the EU, for example, to travel freely in almost every country in the world or the full right to vote, to name but a few. But naturalization means more: it is a commitment to Germany as a new home and its values.

The motto of the “Ich bin Hamburger” campaign (started in November 2010) makes its message clear, namely that naturalization is a critical step towards inclusion and belonging: “Hamburg. My Port. Germany. My Home.” (Hamburg. Mein Hafen. Deutschland. Mein Zuhause.).

“Naturalization is much more than an administrative act. It is the declared belief in our state and our society,” said Hamburg Mayor Olaf Scholz. “Those who have lived here for a while and have met the requirement should also become German citizens because only then do all the possibilities of participation exist.”

Naturalization Pilots

A unique feature of the Ich bin Hamburger project are the volunteer facilitators who work as naturalization “pilots”  to guide qualified city residents though the naturalization process. Anyone between the ages 17 and 73 can volunteer, from high school graduates to professionals, job seekers and pensioners. In short, anyone with or without migration background who has an interest in providing information and advice about attaining citizenship to interested parties. The city is assisted by a Turkish community organization, Turkische Gemeinde Hamburg und Umgebung e.V., which works to confirm the legal status of applicants for naturalization as well as managing volunteers.  The program tries to match applicants with volunteers who share a language, and/or similar community or professional networks. Additionally, all volunteer pilots receive training on the rules governing naturalization and residency rights from local officials, representatives of the Interior Ministry as well as from experts on immigration, residence and nationality law.

Most naturalization pilots have experienced the process themselves, and offer sympathetic support to applicants who may feel overwhelmed as they maneuver between various agencies, consulates and embassies.  These trusted community ambassadors help those who are hesitant because of lack of information or who may have become “stuck” in a poorly understood bureaucratic process.   The best pilots are generally well-connected to their communities and able to promote the project at work, in their neighbourhoods and within their social networks. The program has attracted volunteers from a vast array of backgrounds with countries of origin that include Armenia, Iraq, Croatia, Bulgaria, Ukraine, Bolivia, Eritrea, Russia, Togo, and of course, Germany.


The Ich bin Hamburger campaign has appeared on billboards across the city, is publicly endorsed by the city’s Mayor, and includes an official naturalization (Einbürgerung) website with information and downloadable official documents. Testimonials and success stories round out a highly successful communications strategy.

Speed is another principle that guides Hamburg’s naturalization campaign.  Assisted by a growing network of expert naturalization “pilots,”  a well informed and interested applicant can now qualify quickly and take the next steps towards citizenship with ease. As a result, 85 volunteer pilots have advised about 600 people interested in attaining citizenship since the project started in 2010 while more than 2,000 people have been informed about the campaign and the naturalization project.  Led by the Department of Labour, Social Affairs, Family and Integration, the Ich bin Hamburger project has been extended with renewed funding until 2014.

Making it Work for You:

  • Work with well-established community partners who have the authority and network to attract and manage volunteers effectively.
  • Invest in a communications strategy that will ensure you reach your target audience and have the impact you want.
  • Provide information and all necessary documents on a user-friendly website where you can also share your success stories.
  • Information alone will not reduce barriers to participation. To make your campaign more effective, try individualizing advice, coaching and face-to-face sessions for questions and guidance.

For this Good Idea contact:

Doris Kersten Freie und Hansestadt Hamburg, Behörde für Arbeit, Soziales, Familie und Integration
Adolph-Schönfelder-Str. 5
Hamburg, Germany,