Germany has a new immigration law. Here is what it means for you.

By Jörg Kleis

Good news first!

On March 1, 2020, the German parliament passed the new Fachkräfteeinwanderungsgesetz (Skilled Immigration Act). And this is not only a pre-taste of how long German words can be, but also what it means for you. Because the law has, among other things, been passed to bring more professionals from outside the European Union (EU) to Germany.

In the past it used to be necessary for employers in Germany to demonstrate that a German or a European citizen was available and fit to do the job. It was also required that the job was explicitly mentioned in an official list of professions published by the government (“Positivliste” -  they used that list to determine whether there existed an acute shortage of skilled workforce in Germany in a certain field).

Both requirements caused a lot of bureaucracy and, needless to say, were a big obstacle for companies to consider hiring non-EU citizens in the first place. Don’t get us wrong - there is still a lot of paperwork involved.

What law applies?

In our online courses we advise you on your legal requirements. And for that we always say that you need to assess your individual case. Many candidates believe that German immigration works in a way that you have a list of countries and whether your country is on that list tells you whether you can come. But it’s not that simple. German immigration law works quite differently. And yet, even though there is no explicit distinction between foreign countries or states, your requirements are nonetheless attached to your citizenship and which passport you have.

The reason is that there are bilateral agreements between the Federal Republic of Germany and states worldwide. If such an agreement exists with your home country or the state you possess a passport from, which is the case for various working areas and geo-economic relationships, this agreement will apply first. The German diplomatic mission nearest to you provides information on that. These agreements have led to a rag rug of regulations. Today, we are looking at privileged groups that enjoy special rules:

Special rules for “special countries”

If you have an EU passport, are from Norway, Iceland, Switzerland, or Liechtenstein you can roam freely and come to Germany at any time. If you are from Australia, Israel, Japan, Canada, New Zealand, South Korea or the USA, presumably also the United Kingdom after Brexit, you will not require a visa, but a residence (including your work) permit. In other words, you can come with your passport and contact the local immigration office upon arrival if you want to work in Germany.

Special rules for students and researchers

If you are already in Germany, but don’t have a work permit yet, there exist special rules for you if you are a student enrolled at a German university, or a researcher working at a university of research institute. Same here: the local immigration authority at your place of residence will deal with your application. Your work permit will then be based on your individual case. Be aware! Because if you recently graduated from a German university or got your doctoral degree, you belong to this privileged group of people.

Most of the students or researchers we coach apply for a job search visa for 18 and 9 months, respectively. Unfortunately, this option does not apply if you are a former student or alumni from a German university and you already left Germany and now and you are thinking about returning to Germany. You, just like anybody else, will have to pick a number and stand in line - unless, of course, special rules No. 1. or 3. apply to you. But, for what it’s worth, you will have less trouble getting your degree recognized because you received it from a German educational institution, and German employers are going to like seeing you studied in Mannheim, Rostock, Munich or wherever.

Special rules for employees at German parent company

And last, there exists a loophole for you if you are already working for a German company from abroad. The reform has introduced a tool that is called ICT card. No worries, you don’t have to be an IT specialist. ICT has nothing to do with internet, tech or telecommunications.

ICT stands for intra-corporate transfer. For example, your employer may express the wish or the offer that you be transferred to Germany within the same organization or holding to put you on a project in Germany. Vice versa, you can also check with them whether they are open to the idea of you coming to Germany so you can work on a project here. The ICT card is usually issued for a specific set of assignments over a certain period, but it may be a stepstone for you into the German job market. (Be aware that they will naturally not like the idea of you solely using your time in Germany to apply for jobs with different companies. Strategizing is key here.)

Everybody else? Here are your options

If you are among the “everybody else” fraction - this is the vast majority - you will technically require two things: One is the actual visa that allows the entrance into and the stay within Germany (processing fee is around 80 EUR, which your employer will cover.) The other relates to your residence and employment. In order to make things simple, we call it “visa” in order not to get too caught up in legal trivia.

Quick overview of working visas for Germany

Visa for in-company / vocational training

This permit will allow you to start a vocational education and/or in-company training with a German employer and it includes a language course when you get here. You will need to prove B1-German skills and sufficient funds to apply for the visa. The latter means showing you can cover your life expenses including healthcare. (Your training contract should cater for both as apprentices and vocational trainees receive healthcare and first year training salaries can start at 700 EUR and can go up to 1,200 EUR per month).

Your future employer will most likely require the Federal employment agency’s consent prior to your engagement. We are mentioning this option (and recommend it for younger professionals) because such a training and education will provide you with a German vocational diploma that can open doors for you.

The permit covers the entire training that will take approximately 3 years after which you will have a good chance of being hired permanently. You can look for companies in your area of expertise or where you already have a degree or diploma. You can work an extra 10 hours per week at a different employer to earn extra money on the side.

Visa for recognition of foreign vocational qualification

This permit covers qualification or training measures including an examination to get your diploma and skills recognized as equal to German standards. This may sound like a weird case, but it has a special purpose. This permit will be issued for at least 18 months (without a job offer) or 2 years (if you have a job offer). This option becomes necessary in a regulated profession or if they require more information on your skills set. You will be enrolled in the respective courses to get your recognition. You will need to prove sufficient German language skills (B1) and the measure must be adequate to get your professional or vocational qualification recognized or allow you access to a job in Germany (if you do not yet have a job).

This permit is your option if, for example, you already have a job offer, but German authorities have not yet found your degree or diploma to be sufficient proof. This permit allows you to come to Germany first and to upgrade to a German standard here through further training and qualification measures. If you have a job offer, you are allowed to work in a job that covers your area of expertise while you are doing the qualification.

Job-search visa

This permit allows you to come to Germany for 6 months and look for a job. It is issued for skilled professionals who either have a vocational or an academic background. You cannot make extra money on the side but do internships with potential employers. You need to dispose of German language skills that are required by the jobs you are most likely going to apply for (B1-C2). The jobs must be in direct connection with your skills and academic background. You will need to prove sufficient funds to cover your life expenses including healthcare. This permit is your option if you, depending on your strategy, wish to look for a job on the ground (while in Germany).

The search visa also applies to applicants looking for a vocational or in-company training program. You need to be under 25 years, have a secondary school diploma that allows you to study at a German university or university in your home country. Moreover, you need to dispose of good German language skills (at least B2) and need to prove that you have sufficient funds. This permit is issued for 6 months.

Visa for skilled professionals

This is the (regular) German residence and work permit that most professionals receive. It is issued for up to 4 years after which you can apply for permanent settlement. You need a degree from a foreign educational institution (TVET/Vocational or academic/university). You can only work in a job that is directly connected with your education and/or training. In other words, you cannot come work as an engineer if you have a degree in tourism. You will require the approval of ZAV unless specific rules apply and will most likely have to get your degree/diploma recognized as equal to German standards.

If you are older than 45 years, then in principle, you need to make more than 2578 EUR per month (gross salary). In some cases they waive that requirement. If you are working in a regulated field such as law, medicine or teaching, you will require an explicit approval as well. German language skills as such are not required by law to apply for the visa, but maybe by your employer to give you a job.

EU Blue Card

The EU Blue Card was introduced on an EU-wide level in 2012 (except for Ireland and Denmark) for highly qualified foreign skilled workers and also entitles foreign nationals to stay and work in Germany and the EU in jobs revolving around your field of profession and expertise. It is initially issued for 4 years after which you can apply for permanent settlement. In comparison to the regular permit for skilled professionals, the EU Blue Card is issued only to skilled professionals who have an academic degree in a certain field (Tech & IT, engineering, natural sciences) and who earn more than 3.588 EUR per month (gross salary) and 3.795 EUR per month respectively if you are 45 years or older. (The numbers change slightly every year.)

The Blue Card promises faster access due to less recognition requirements. This is your option, especially if your professional background and expertise is in one of the defined areas that allow access to the card.

Is there a freelance visa?

There is no freelancer visa as such. If you want to come to Germany to do your own thing, this is in principle only possible by coming here and registering a business. The visas mentioned cover training and employment.

Can my family also come to Germany?

One question we frequently receive is whether you can bring your family to Germany. The answer is that. Yes, once issued, at least for the professional workers visa (No. 4) and the EZ Blue Card (No. 5) your residence permit associated with the work permit also includes family reunification. That means your spouse and your children within Germany. This does not cover your extended family. The residence permit will usually be issued for the same period that your employee’s residence permit is valid.

And, finally a general remark to wrap this up. Be aware that each “visa” covers different kinds of rights to live and work or look for work or be trained in Germany. This means each of them contains a permit that only allows you activities that are covered by the specific purpose for which the issued visa has been designed.

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