What you need to know about the German residence permit

residence permit Germany

Ready to find your fortune in Germany? Whatever reasons you may have – risking it for love, seeking the adventure or pushing your career – you are about to leave your home country behind: Germany, land of poets and thinkers, of BMW and Mercedes, high living standards and safe work environments, of … – enough! Reasons are plenty, hurdles are surmountable – provided that you fullfill certain prerequisites. Find out what steps it takes to get a work and residence permit and become an expat in Germany!

For third-country nationals the following holds true: You need a residence title (work and residence permit) in order to work in Germany. But can everyone apply for it? No.
Principally, only professionals and skilled workers can obtain access to the German labor market. That means you need to have a qualification: either a university degree or a vocational training qualification.
Are there exceptions to the rule? As always! Nationals of certain third countries are entitled to take up every employment – even without any qualification.
Let’s have a look at the German bureaucratic jungle!

1. Blue Card for graduates

Do you hold a university degree?
Then you might be a candidate for the Blue Card (§19a AufenthG), which is a residence title for academics. Applying for the Blue Card requires you prove you have work or potential work in Germany, either by providing an employment contract or, at least, a job offer.

A further condition is earning a minimum gross salary of EUR 52.000 (for 2018) annually in the respective job. There is, however, a lower minimum salary for skill-shortage professions in Germany of EUR 40.560 which applies to you if you are a scientist, mathematician, an engineer, doctor, or an IT professional.

In Summary: 3 prerequisites for obtaining the Blue Card

  • A university degree
  • A job (an employment contract or at least a job offer)
  • Minimum annual salary of EUR 52.000 (for 2018) or in skill-shortage professions of EUR 40.560

2. Residence permit

You don’t qualify for the Blue Card? You are a graduate but do not earn the required minimum salary?
You can still apply for a residence title other than the Blue Card: the residence permit in accordance with Section 18 of the Residence Act (AufenthG). But be prepared for a longer bureaucratic process. In this case, the Federal Employment Agency (Bundesagentur für Arbeit, or BA for short) will undertake a priority check.

3. Priority check:
Are there preferred applicants to do your job?

During the priority check, the BA examines whether preferred applicants (Germans, EU citizens, and eligible foreigners with a German residence permit) are available for the job you want.
If there’s no preferred employee, an employer may hire a third-country national.

In practice, that means an employer who wants to fill a vacancy (with you) first needs to publish a job advertisement in the BA’s job portal for several weeks and invite (the above-mentioned preferred) applicants who have applied for the job for a personal interview. If there’s no appropriate employee among them, the employer has to justify to the Federal Employment Agency why the respective candidates do not match the job and may then hire a third-country national who qualifies for the job.

In Summary: Priority check by the Federal Employment Agency

  • Germans, EU citizens, and eligible foreigners with a residence permit are preferred employees
  • An employer has to publish a job ad at the Federal Employment Agency and give preferred candidates the chance to apply for the job
  • Only if there is no preferred employee available for the job may an employer hire a third-country national who qualifies for the job

4. Check of the working conditions

There’s still more to do after the priority check – the Federal Employment Agency also examines the working conditions, as there is another prerequisite to fulfill:
You must not be employed in less favorable conditions than a German, e.g., when it comes to the salary.
Therefore, the Federal Employment Agency will deny its confirmation for your employment if you would be earning less than the average salary for the same job in the specific city.

To get an idea of the average salary for your occupation in a specific city, you can check online at www.gehalt.de where you can enter your profession and the city in which you plan to work. Note: This just gives you an idea of the average salary for your occupation in a particular city, this number may differ from what the BA considers an average when making its decision.

5. Does your job match your qualifications?

Consider one more thing:
In order to obtain the Blue Card or the residence permit for employment in Germany, your potential job has to align with qualifications. What does that mean exactly?
An occupation is adequate to a qualification if, in general, the occupation requires an academic qualification and the skills acquired through studies are at least partly required to do the job. That means a medical doctor can get the Blue Card for not only working as a medical doctor in Germany but also for the employment as a medical consultant in the pharmaceutical industry, for example. However, a medical doctor cannot get a Blue Card for a position as e.g. a business manager or a graphic designer.

6. Residence permits independent from qualifications

As stated in the beginning: There is an exception to the rule that only qualified workers and professionals can obtain a residence permit. If you’re a national from Andorra, Australia, Israel, Japan, Canada, the Republic of Korea, Monaco, New Zealand, San Marino or the USA, you may be given approval for employment in every kind of occupation, including independently from qualification (§26 BeschV).
That means a few things. First, a US-American (or Canadian, or Australian, etc.) medical doctor who could not get the Blue Card for a job as a business manager (since the job does not relate to the qualification) can still get a residence permit for working as a business manager. Second, a US-American (or Canadian, or Australian, etc.) who has no qualification at all could get a residence permit for every job that does not require qualification. But – and here’s the thing –  as discussed above, you will have to go through the procedure of the priority check and the check of the working conditions.

The same applies to nationals from Albania, Bosnia and Herzegovina, Kosovo, Macedonia, Montenegro and Serbia, but there is one difference: The regulation is limited in time and is only valid through 2020.

In Summary: Employment adequate to the qualification

  • The job you want to be employed for needs to be adequate to your qualification
  • Exception: Nationals from Andorra, Australia, Israel, Japan, Canada, the Republic of Korea, Monaco, New Zealand, San Marino and the USA as well as from Albania, Bosnia and Herzegovina, Kosovo, Macedonia, Montenegro and Serbia (for the latter, the regulation is valid only through the year 2020) may receive approval for any kind of employment

7. German residence permit for non-academic skilled workers

You do not hold a university degree?
What’s relatively new (since 2013) is that non-academic skilled workers who have recognised vocational training now have access to the German labor market.
Prerequisites are that the profession is one of the skill-shortage occupations published as a shortlist on the basis of a bi-annual skills shortage analysis by the Federal Employment Agency as well as a proof of employment or a binding job offer in Germany. Furthermore, the worker’s training qualifications must be recognised as equivalent to German vocational training qualifications.

For the professions on the shortlist, the Federal Employment Agency generally gives the necessary consent for a residence permit to be granted to third-country nationals.
There’s no priority check concerning preferred applicants. An examination of the working conditions nevertheless takes place.
For more information read our Fact Sheet: Immigration from third countries into non-academic shortage occupations

In Summary: Residence permit for non-academic professions

  • The profession must be one of the skill-shortage occupations
  • Your qualification must be recognised as equivalent to the German qualification
  • You need to have a job (an employment contract or at least a job offer)

8. Recognition of foreign qualifications

Having your qualifications recognized is not necessary when it comes to non-regulated professions in Germany. It is, however, a must-have if the profession you want to work in is a regulated profession in Germany, e.g., teacher, nurse, medical doctor or psychotherapist.

Be aware of this exception: Recognition of your qualifications is also necessary to receive a residence permit which entitles you to exercise a non-regulated profession if you (as a third-country national) want to work in a non-academic shortage profession in Germany. So, in these cases recognition law interlocks with immigration law: In order to obtain a residence permit and to work in a regulated profession as well as in any non-academic profession you need to have the full recognition of your qualification.

Here is essentially what happens during the recognition procedure: First, your educational qualifications’s duration and content is compared with the German reference qualification. Then, if there are relevant differences, second, the authority (Anerkennungsstelle) also takes into consideration your professional experience which may compensate for the deficits.

Of course, the best result of a recognition process is full equivalence with the corresponding German qualification. But if not? The result might be no recognition at all.
But there’s another possible result as well. You might have “partial recognition”. Generally, in a case of partial recognition, the authority will outline individual qualifications, describe the particular deficits you have, and specify what adjustment qualification measurements are necessary for you to obtain full recognition. For instance, the authority might claim you have a lack of theoretical knowledge, of practical skills, a language deficit, or a lack of experience in professional practice.

You may then complete a qualification adjustment measurement, e.g., an internship in order to attain full recognition. In order to complete adjustment qualifications, you may enter Germany for up to 18 months based on Section 17a of the Residence Act (AufenthG), which was introduced in 2015. Upon receipt of full recognition, the stay can be extended by one year in order to find a job (which must correspond to your qualification).

What you should know:
You need to prove German proficiency for exercising certain professions in Germany, for example healthcare professions. You won’t get qualification recognition or a residence permit for working as a medical doctor or a nurse if you have no German proficiency. So, whatever profession it is you want to work in, you better do some research if German language skills are a must-have.

In Summary: Recognition of qualifications 

  • In regulated professions, recognition is a precondition for exercising the profession and thus, a precondition for attaining a residence title
  • In non-regulated, non-academic skill-shortage professions, recognition is a precondition (for third-country nationals) for exercising the profession and thus, a precondition for attaining a residence title
  • In the recognition  procedure the responsible authority evaluates whether your training was equivalent to comparable training in Germany and whether the qualifications can be recognised
  • In case of a partial recognition because of deficits, you may complete a qualification adjustment measurement in order to attain full recognition

Find additional information on the websites Make it in Germany and Recognition in Germany.

Also in our blog: If you are interested in working in Germany you might like to learn what German work culture looks like: Read a Brazilian’s Guest Commentary about cultural differences between Brazilian and German work places. Also interesting: Darlan left Brazil to pursue a career in Germany.  In this Guest Commentary you will learn what steps Darlan had to take to obtain a work permit, how long the process took, and how the uncertainty felt.

If you want to learn more about the qualification recognition procedure, read our Post which we wrote on LiveWorkGermany.com: A Guide To Foreign Qualification Recognition In Germany


Main Picture: Abscent84 / Istockphoto.com


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