How to get (and keep) a German visa

In JobTalk this week The Local speaks to an immigration lawyer to find out how to get and keep working and residence permits in Germany.

How to get (and keep) a German visa
Photo: DPA

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For non-EU citizens, staying in Germany for longer than three months requires a residence permit. This can be a tricky process, as visa expert Christoph Von Planta from VPMK attorneys in Berlin explained.

Where do I need to go to get a visa?

If you're from one of the “best friend” countries Australia, Israel, Japan, Canada, Korea, New Zealand or the US you can come into the country without a visa and apply for a work permit or, if you're staying for longer than three months, a residence permit. This means going to the Ausländer-Behörde [foreigners' registration office]. People from other countries need an entry visa as well, which can be acquired from their own country.

Since the summer it has been possible for people from the “best friend” countries to get a working visa from your home country at the German embassy, even if you've never lived in Germany.

This means avoiding the Ausländer-Behörde, but it doesn't always work as staff don't seem to like it and you might be turned away if they're too busy. This does not apply to freelance visas and you have to have proof of employment lined up in Germany.

What kind of visa is the easiest to get?

If you have a university degree, or comparable qualification, and will be earning more than €46,000 then it's relatively easy to get a blue card which allows you to live and work in Germany. If you have a skill they want, mostly technical jobs in IT or engineering, then you can earn €36,000 and get the blue card.

What if I'm not getting that much money?

If you will be earning less than this, you can still apply for a residence permit. These are easier to get from a “best friend” country and you also don't have to have a university degree. This does, however, involve a “working market check” which is when the authorities check that there are not lots of Germans better suited for the job you want.

This is where people can encounter problems. Bar staff, for example, could easily have trouble as there are a lot of German bar staff.

What can I do to up my chances of keeping my residence permit?

If you already have a blue card, this can be made open-ended after some time. It's a much quicker process if you can prove you're level B1 or above in German after 21 months and already have the blue card. Without decent German, you can only ask for an open-ended permit after 33 months. So learn German, or wait longer!

I've asked for my permit to be extended and they've given me a three-month visa. Why?

When asking for your visa to be extended they can give you what's called a Fixionsbescheinigung. This is like a placeholder permit while they check whether or not to extend your proper one.

What if I want to do a low paid or unpaid internship?

Doing a low-wage internship for longer than three months could well be stressful, visa-wise. If you are a student it's different because you can register at a local university, but the German government is trying to avoid employers taking people on for free instead of creating actual jobs. If you are a graduate, be creative and convince your employer to pay you a proper wage.

I have a job lined up, what can I expect from my employer?

Employers can contact an immigration lawyer to make sure a job description is narrow enough so only you meet the pre-requisites. This enables them to pass the “working market check” because we can be sure there's no German more suited for the position.

I'm a freelancer, how do I get a visa?

If you want a freelance visa you have to present a thorough enough argument to the authorities of how you plan on making money. It can be difficult when people don't prepare well enough. As a freelancer you have to go back a year and prove that you have an income, otherwise they will not let you stay. You need a reason to be granted a visa, sometimes you have to create this reason yourself.

READ MORE: 'It's easier to be sacked in Germany than you think'

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What is the EU’s ‘single permit’ for third-country nationals and can I get one?

In 2020, 2.7 million non-EU citizens were issued a so-called "single permit" to both reside and work in the EU. But what is the single permit, how does it work and what could change in the future?

What is the EU's 'single permit' for third-country nationals and can I get one?

Among the recent proposals made by the European Commission to simplify the procedures for the entry and residence of non-EU nationals in the European Union, there is the reform of the ‘single permit’.

In 2020, 2.7 million non-EU citizens were issued a ‘single permit’ to both reside and work in the EU, according to the European statistics agency Eurostat. Five countries together issued 75% of the total, with France topping the list (940,000 permits issued), followed by Italy (345,000), Germany (302,000), Spain (275,000) and Portugal (170,000).

Seven in 10 single permits were granted for family and employment reasons (34 and 36 percent respectively) and just less than 10 percent for education purposes.

But what is this permit and how does it work?

What is the EU single permit?

The EU single permit is an administrative act that grants non-EU citizens both a work and residence permit for an EU member state with a single application.

It was designed to simplify access for people moving to the EU for work. It also aims to ensure that permit holders are treated equally to the citizens of the country where they live when it comes to working conditions, education and training, recognition of qualifications, freedom of association, tax benefits, access to goods and services, including housing and advice services.

Equal conditions also concern social security, including the portability of pension benefits. This means that non-EU citizens or their survivors who reside in a non-EU country and derive rights from single permit holders are entitled to receive pensions for old age, invalidity and death in the same way as EU citizens.

The single permit directive applies in 25 of the 27 EU countries, as Ireland and Denmark have opted out of all EU laws affecting ‘third country nationals’.

Who can apply for a single permit?

The directive covers non-EU nationals who apply to reside in an EU country for work or who are already resident in the EU for other purposes but have the right to access the labour market (for instance, students or family members of a citizen of the country of application).

As a general rule, these rules do not apply to long-term residents or non-EU family members of EU citizens who exercise the free movement rights or have free movement rights in the EU under separate laws, as their rights are already covered by separate laws.

It also does not apply to posted workers, seasonal workers, intra-corporate transferees, beneficiaries of temporary protection, refugees, self-employed workers and seafarers or people working on board of EU ships, as they are not considered part of the labour market of the EU country where they are based.

Each country can determine whether the application should be made by the non-EU national or the employer or either of them.

Applications from the individual are required for the Czech Republic, Estonia, Finland, Germany, Hungary, Luxembourg, Malta, Poland, Romania, Slovakia, Sweden. For Bulgaria and Italy it is the employer who has to apply, while applications are accepted from either the recipient or the employer for Austria, Croatia, Cyprus, France, Lithuania, the Netherlands, Portugal, Slovenia and Spain.

How long does it take to process the application?

The EU directive says the competent authority must decide on the application within 4 months from the date it was lodged. Only in exceptional circumstances the deadline can be longer.

Where no decision is taken within the time limit, national law determines the outcome. In some EU countries (including France, Italy and Spain) this is a tacit rejection while in others it is a tacit approval.

If the application is incomplete, the authority should notify the applicant in writing specifying which additional information is needed, and the time count should be suspended until these are received.

In case of rejection, the authority must provide the reasons and there is a possibility to appeal.

How does it work in practice?

Although the intention of the directive was to simplify the procedure and guarantee more rights, things always get complicated when it’s 25 countries turning rules into reality.

A 2019 report of the European Commission on how this law was working in practice showed that the directive “failed to address some of the issues it proposed to solve”.

The Commission had received several complaints and launched legal action against some member states.

Complaints concerned in particular excessive processing times by the relevant authorities, too high fees, problems with the recognition of qualifications and the lack of equal treatment in several areas, especially social security.

Only 13 countries allowed the transfer of pensions to non-EU countries. In France, invalidity and death pensions are not exportable to non-EU states. Problems were identified also in Bulgaria, the Netherlands and Slovenia.

In Italy single permit holders were excluded from certain types of family benefits and it was the EU Court of Justice that ruled, in September 2021, that single permit holders are entitled to a childbirth and maternity allowances as provided by Italian laws. The EU Court also rules that Italy and the Netherlands were charging too high fees.

Sweden restricts social security benefits for people living in the country for less than one year and takes too long to process single permit applications, according to the report.

Generally the report found that authorities were not providing sufficient information to the pubic about the permit and associated rights.

What will change?

As part of a package of measures to make working and moving in the EU country easier for non-EU nationals announced at the end of April, the European Commission has proposed some changes to improve the situation.

The Commission has suggested shortening the deadline for member states to issue a decision ensuring that the 4 month limit covers the issuing of visas and the labour market test (to prove there are no suitable candidates in the local market).

Under the proposal, fees should be proportionate and candidates should be able to submit the application both in the member state of destination and from a third country.

In addition, permit holders should be able to change employer during the permit’s validity, and the permit should not be withdrawn in case of unemployment for at least 3 months. These measures should reduce vulnerability to labour exploitation, the Commission says.

The Commission also suggests member states should introduce penalties against employers who do no respect equality principles especially with regard to working conditions, freedom of association and affiliation and access to social security benefits.

These proposals have to be approved by the European Parliament and Council and can be modified before becoming law.