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.
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 (Aufenthaltserlaubnis) 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.
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. The government has also funded an excellent website (www.make-it-in-germany.com) with detailed information for foreigners about working in 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 academic and school 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.
At the local level, the Rhine-Neckar Metropolitan Region has taken a series of steps to create a "Welcome Culture" among municipal governments when it comes to highly-skilled international employees. A working group of 22 Foreigner Affairs Offices (Ausländerbehörde) was recently created to encourage improved information exchange of best practices, as well as to ensure that regulations are being uniformly applied across all municipalities. Other goals of the working group include shorter waiting times, use of multi-lingual forms, intercultural training for municipal employees, and hiring more foreign employees. For more information about this, consult the websites www.m-r-n.com or www.verwaltungsdurchklick.de
In addition, Dual Career Services are offered at numerous companies, academic institutions, government organizations and public institutions throughout the region. Over the long term, these services will be expanded to offer even more support for Dual Career families.