BERLIN, Germany: In an effort criticized by the conservative opposition, Germany's socially liberal government is moving ahead with plans to ease the rules for obtaining citizenship.
Germany is the most populous country in the European Union, with some 84 million people.
In a video message released last week, Chancellor OIaf Scholz said that Germany has long since become "the country of hope" for many, and it is a good thing when people, who have established roots in the country, decide to apply for citizenship.
"Germany needs better rules for the naturalization of all these great women and men," Scholz said.
The overhaul of citizenship rules is one of a series of reforms proposed by the three-party coalition of Scholz's center-left Social Democrats, the environmentalist Greens and the pro-business Free Democrats, when it took office last December.
The Interior Ministry has said that draft legislation is "as good as ready."
Last year's coalition agreement calls for people to be eligible for German citizenship after five years, or three years in case of "special integration accomplishments," rather than the current six to eight years.
The government also wants to drop restrictions on holding dual citizenship, and German-born children would automatically become citizens if one parent has been a legal resident for five years.
According to official statistics, some 131,600 people became German citizens last year, with one-quarter being citizens of other EU countries.
This was 20 percent higher than the previous year, partly due to more Syrians being naturalized.
However, the plan was rejected by the main center-right opposition Union bloc.
Meanwhile, senior conservative lawmaker Alexander Dobrindt told the Bild daily, "Selling off German citizenship cheap does not encourage integration, it aims for exactly the opposite and will trigger additional 'pull effects' for illegal migration."
"Five years is a very, very short time for people to be eligible for citizenship," Union chief whip Thorsten Frei told ZDF television.