BERLIN (Reuters) - The German government on Tuesday signed off on a draft law that will allow young Germans of foreign origin to have dual citizenship, a move that relaxes some of Europe's strictest nationality laws and will benefit the large Turkish community.
Current rules oblige children of immigrants from most non-EU countries to choose at the age of 23 between German citizenship or that of their parents' country of origin.
The dual passport issue has long rankled among the roughly three million people of Turkish origin living in Germany, just under half of whom have taken German citizenship.
The draft law approved by the government allows young people to opt for two passports if, at the age of 21, they can prove they have lived in Germany for at least eight years, gone to school in the country for six years, gained school-leaving qualifications here or completed vocational training in Germany.
"That's a great signal for many young people in our country. Hundreds of thousands of them can breathe a sigh of relief," said Aydan Oezoguz, Germany's federal commissioner for migration, refugees and integration.
"I'm pleased that in future many young people will no longer have to decide against their parents' nationality or even become foreigners in their own country," she added.
However, Turkish community leaders have criticised the new law because it applies only to youngsters and does not cover older people who have often spent decades in Germany.
The government's approval of dual citizenship gives the green light to a pet project of the centre-left Social Democrats (SPD) who share power with Angela Merkel's conservatives.
Merkel's conservatives had long opposed dual citizenship, arguing it is impossible to be loyal to two countries at the same time. The SPD had been in favour of completely abolishing the obligation to choose between passports.
The law still needs to be approved by parliament. Conservatives and members of the SPD have both said they will push for changes when it goes through the lower house Bundestag.
(Reporting by Michelle Martin; Editing by Gareth Jones)