Germany, you'll soon discover, is a very well-run country. But bureaucracy is a price for keeping a well-run operation. Your very first duty is to let the local authorities know where you are - not at every minute, but the location of your official residence. This registration involves going to your local registry office (Meldestelle, Bürgerbüro or Einwohnermelderamt) or the local town hall (Rathaus) and filling out a form in which you provide your new address. It is a painless process that usually goes very quickly. Registration is required of all residents in a community, whether German or foreign. Failure to register within three months of moving will earn you a fine, the amount depending on how long you've been residing at the unregistered address. Moreover, everyone is required to register anew and whenever they change their residence, unless that change only entails moving from one flat in a property to another.
Residency and Work Permits
Citizens of the EU, as well as Iceland, Liechtenstein, Norway and Switzerland, are permitted to work and live in Germany without a work or residency permit. Non-EU citizens normally need to first get a visa before travelling to Germany, and then must apply for a residency permit at their local foreigners office (Ausländerbehörde) in order to stay and work. As of 2011, the residency permit is a wallet-sized plastic card with a biometric photo. There are different types of residency permits: limited (Aufenthaltserlaubnis) or unlimited (Niederlassungserlaubnis). The local foreigners office is the point of contact for matters related to residency permits.
In recent years, Germany has increased efforts to attract more international workers. The country's decreasing birth rate and the graying of the population means that there are simply not enough young Germans entering the workforce to fill all of the open positions. In some sectors, such as health care or engineering, there is an acute shortage of qualified workers.
Recently, the German federal government has enacted a series of immigration laws designed to make it easier for highly-skilled workers to come to Germany. Thanks in part to these changes, the OECD recently praised Germany for having one of the lowest barriers to immigration for highly-skilled workers. Here is an overview of the major changes:
Recognition of qualifications
Certain professions in Germany are regulated, meaning that only those who hold a certain qualification are entitled to work in that occupation. This includes doctors and attorneys, as well as manual trades and over 350 vocational occupations. The federal government has now funded several programs to make it easier for foreigners to have their qualifications recognized, allowing them to work in these regulated professions. Consult the website www.recognition-in-germany.de for more details. Another resource is the IHK Foreign Skills Approval (www.ihk-fosa.de) which is administered by the local chambers of commerce.
As part of an EU directive, Germany has enacted the Blue Card as a one-track procedure for highly-skilled non-EU citizens to apply for work permits. For more information, consult the official EU website under www.apply.eu. The Blue Card has considerable advantages over the standard residency/work permit, including:
- Family members can accompany the Blue Card holder and receive residence and/or work permits.
- Blue Card holders can receive permanent residency after 33 months provided they have achieved level A1 German language proficiency and paid into into the social security system for 33 months, or after 21 months if German language skills (level B1) have been acquired and 21 months of payment into the social security system can be proven.
- Blue Card holders may reside outside the EU for up to 12 months without forfeiting their residence permit.
- Blue Card holders may move within the EU after 18 months. Residing in different EU member states may be counted toward obtaining permanent residency.
German language skills are not required for the Blue Card. However, in order to qualify for a Blue Card, the following conditions must be met:
- Recognized university degree or a foreign degree comparable to a German degree.
- Concrete job offer from a company based in Germany.
- Minimum annual salary (2013) of 46,400 euro (or 36,192 euro in so-called shortage occupations, such as scientists, mathematicians, engineers, doctors, and IT specialists).
Other small but significant changes include:
- Foreigners who earned a university degree in Germany are permitted to stay here for an additional 18 months while job hunting.
- Non-EU university graduates who are potential candidates for a Blue Card are permitted to apply for a 6-month visa in order to search for a job.
- Non-EU nationals are entitled to a residency permit if they are enrolled in a vocational training program.
All non-EU residents in Germany (including children and infants) must now appear in person at the local Foreigners Office to be issued their own Residency Permits, and this has dramatically increased waiting times. When you file your application, make sure you bring all the correct documents:
- Employment contract, as well as a letter from your prospective employer stating that you are uniquely qualified for this job and the position could not be filled with a German or EU national.
- Photocopies of your academic records, diplomas and other qualifications.
- Color portrait photo that meets biometric identification standards.
- Proof of health insurance.
- Proof that you have adequate means to support yourself (usually your employment contract).
- Proof of housing (usually an apartment rental contract).
And don't forget to bring extra cash: fees for registration range from 60 to 250 euros. Credit cards are not typically accepted. Be forewarned: the entire process will likely take three to four months, and there will be long gaps during which you will hear absolutely nothing from your case worker. Your chances of obtaining work and residency permits are good if you are from Andorra, Australia, New Zealand, Israel, Japan, Canada, Monaco, San Marino or the USA, because Germany has special bilateral agreements with these countries. If you live in Frankfurt, you will need to report to the Frankfurt Foreigners Office at Kleyerstr. 86. This office has had a reputation for harried civil servants, and since the implementation of the new eAT requirements waiting times have unfortunately become even longer. If you live outside Frankfurt consider yourself lucky: officials are usually pleasant and you can even make an appointment.