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The moment you know you’re in Germany for the long haul

After packing up and moving your life to Germany, amidst the inevitable ups and downs often there’s a eureka moment when you realize you are here for the long haul. People who have experienced this tell us about it.

The moment you know you’re in Germany for the long haul
“Düsseldorf has a nice flair to it that makes me feel at home,” Anand Raj told The Local. Photo: DPA

When you don’t mind German bureaucracy

Needless to say, German bureaucracy is notorious for being complicated. This means though that it's a victory in itself when you not only conquer it, but actually come to enjoy it.

Natalie Gorelova told The Local this moment came when the foreigners’ registration office accepted her work visa documents.

“Bureaucracy is tedious in Germany but if you do everything right, you’ll eventually get there,” the 32-year-old Berlin resident said.

Dealing with the German authorities was a “relief” compared to the nerve-racking experiences she’d had in countries like China and Russia where there was “very little clarity and guidelines” and a lot of money involved regarding visas.

“I liked the structure; it made me comfortable and I knew I’d be in for the long run,” Gorelova added.

When you feel at home in a particular German city

Anand Raj says he hasn't had a eureka moment when he knew he’d settle in Germany per se, but since he moved to Düsseldorf in 2014, he hasn’t felt the need to pack his bags anytime soon.

“The city has a nice flair to it that I love and makes me feel at home,” Raj told The Local, adding that there are a lot of interesting events and tons of authentic restaurants by the river Rhine.

“It’s not humungous or crowded with tourists like how it is in big cities like Berlin,” he added.

Pedestrians and cyclists relaxing by the river Rhine in Düsseldorf. Photo: DPA

SEE ALSO: 10 reasons why you really should visit North Rhine-Westphalia

…or just in Germany in general

When Nitro Biedermann made the move to Germany from the US over five years ago, he immediately sensed he would be staying for good.

“When I first arrived, it was different but in a good way. It just felt like home even though I'd never been to Germany before,” Biedermann said. 

Ramon D'Avila similarly had no idea he would end up staying here for as long as he has. Like many other foreigners, his initial reasons for moving to Germany were practical; he was enticed by the prospect of a higher income compared to elsewhere.

But D'Avila says what's kept him here is likely “familiarity with the language and culture.”

When you start thinking and dreaming in German

As many newcomers who move to Germany can’t yet speak the local language, after investing time and effort into learning it, the feeling of getting closer and closer to being fluent can feel like quite an achievement.

After overcoming this hurdle, thinking or even having dreams in the German language is a clear sign for some that they’re in the Bundesrepublik for the long term.

When you feel ashamed for not adhering to social norms

It often takes a bit of time for foreigners to remember to return empty bottles to the supermarket in order to get money back for it – known as the German “Pfand” system.

Then there are others, like Munich-based Ciaran Fleck, who at one point realize they'll probably be sticking around for a while because they are so used to certain aspects of German society.

For Fleck, the mere act of having to ditch a Pfand bottle in certain circumstances is “shameful.”

“I also get the feeling of shame when I don’t go to the supermarket with my own bags,” he said.  

READ ALSO: Nine really beneficial habits you’ll pick up living in Germany

When you get German citizenship

Another definite indicator that people are here to stay is when they successfully apply for German citizenship.

This is particularly true for those from certain countries, like Greg Larsen, who have to renounce their original citizenship in order to obtain a German passport. Larsen says his eureka moment came precisely when he made the decision to renounce his American citizenship. 

 
People obtaining German citizenship in Brandenburg. Photo: DPA
 
When you fall in love (with a German)
 
In relationships where one person lives an ocean away from their partner, oftentimes it's a milestone when one decides to join the other wherever they are in the world.
 
For Irish national Rachel O'Neill-Friedrich, this decision was in a sense also a eureka moment. After living with her German partner in Indonesia for three years, she says, “I knew the decision to move and stay in Germany was for the long haul.”
 
When you have children in Germany
 
“Once I had children it was pretty clear that I was here for the long term,” mother of three Rose-Anne Clermont told The Local.

“Most people who have kids want stability; once you have school-aged children and settle down, you’re not likely to move again,” Clermont said, adding that expat friends of hers with kids who left Germany ended up coming back. 

When you realize how great the social system is

In terms of its social system, Germany stacks up much better compared to other countries; some readers, including Tracy McGhee Moede, have told us that their eureka moment came when they realized this.

“Due to pre-existing conditions, I would never be able to have health insurance at a price I could afford” back home in the US, Moede said. This was the moment she realized she wasn't leaving Deutschland anytime soon.

For members

IMMIGRATION

What Germany’s plans for a points-based system mean for foreigners

To tackle its ever-widening skills gap, Germany wants to encourage talent from aboard to move to the country by introducing a points-based immigration system. Here's what foreigners need to know about the changes.

What Germany's plans for a points-based system mean for foreigners

What’s a points-based system?

A points-based system is an immigration model where foreigners have to score above a certain threshold of points in order to obtain a residence or work permit in a country. The exact scoring system is set by the government, but can include factors like language skills, family connections to the country, specific qualifications or work-related skills, or the amount of money in your bank account. 

Points-based systems can also be known as “merit-based systems”, because there tends to be a pretty big emphasis on what you can offer a country in terms of education or skills. 

The model was first introduced in Canada way back in 1967 as the country tried to move past a system based on race and nationality to one that favoured language fluency, youth and educational or vocational background. A similar step was taken in Australia just a few years later in 1972 and, since Brexit, the UK has also introduced its own points-based model. 

How does this relate to Germany?

When the new ‘traffic-light’ coalition of the Social Democrats (SPD), Greens and Free Democrats (FDP) took office last December, the parties pledged to reform Germany’s immigration system and bring a fresh cohort of workers into the country.

“In addition to the existing immigration law, we will establish a second pillar with the introduction of an opportunity card based on a points system to enable workers to gain controlled access to the German labour market in order to find a job,” the coalition agreement read.

This would apply to third-country nationals who don’t otherwise have the right to live and work in the country. 

READ ALSO: EXPLAINED: What Germany’s new government means for citizenship and naturalisation

German language course poster

A sign advertising German courses. Language skills can count towards points in a points-based system. Photo: picture alliance / dpa | Bernd Wüstneck

FDP migration specialist Dr. Ann-Veruschka Jurisch, who is working on these reforms, says the policy is driven by Germany’s desperate need for workers. 

“The Liberal Party (FDP) is convinced that we need more labour migration,” she told The Local. “We do have a lot of options for coming into Germany as a labour migrant – but it’s a bit complicated – and if you want to come to Germany to search for a job and you don’t come from an EU country, it’s much more difficult.”

That’s why the coalition is aiming to offer a second route for people who don’t have job lined up in Germany, but who otherwise have the skills or talent to find one. 

What will this look like?

The plans for the points-based system are still at an early stage, so the exact criteria haven’t been worked out yet.

What’s clear at this stage, however, is that the points-based option would run parallel to the current model, which generally permits people with a concrete job offer in a skilled profession to come and work in the country. 

“It’s about (people having) a good opportunity to come to Germany when they have either a job offer in sight or a direct job offer,” Chancellor Olaf Scholz (SPD) said in response to parliamentary question in January. 

“Next to that, we want to achieve a further possibility for talent – for qualified men and women whose skills we need in Germany, who still don’t have a work contract but, if given access, could use that opportunity. That’s what we’re talking about with this Canadian points-based system. It shouldn’t replace our current system, but rather improve it.”

In short, that means that people with a job lined up won’t be disadvantaged – but there will be alternative routes for those without them. It also won’t affect the EU blue card scheme

READ ALSO: ‘I finally feel at home’: How Germany’s planned changes to citizenship laws affect foreigners

Will people need formal qualifications? 

Probably not – though it will obviously depend on the sector someone works in and their level of experience in their chosen field.

“I personally am convinced that you shouldn’t place too much emphasis on formal qualifications, because it’s very complicated getting your formal qualifications recognised in Germany,” said Jurisch.

“A medical doctor, for example, is one where you can’t say, ‘Okay, you’ve got some experience so we don’t need to see your papers.’ But there are a lot of other jobs which do not have this restriction and they are not formalised but rather based on practical experience.”

Carpenter wood

A carpenter sands down a block of wood in Cologne. Photo: picture alliance/dpa | Federico Gambarini

The issue of recognising qualifications is also a problem that the traffic-light coalition has set their sights on solving during their time in office.

At the moment, the process of getting qualifications officially recognised in Germany is done on a state-by-state basis, so somebody who gets their degree recognised in Brandenburg may have to redo the entire process again in Bavaria, for instance.

According to Jurisch, there have already been conversations between the Ministry for Labour and Social Affairs and the Ministry of Education on the issue, and Labour Minister Hubertus Heil (SPD) has also promised to take steps to solve it.

But, she said, it’s complicated: “I’ve started to dive into this issue, and the more I dive into it, the more complicated it becomes – so there are no silver bullets.” 

How many workers are needed – and where? 

In order to plug its labour shortages, Germany needs around 400,000 new workers every year, according to the Federal Employment Agency. In 2020, Germany’s net migration was just 200,000 and 150,000 people of working age entered retirement – which means the country is currently falling well short of its targets. 

“We have shortages everywhere,” Jurisch said. “We need 400,000 new workers every year, and these people won’t be born in Germany – or if they are, they won’t grow up for another 20 years.

“We haven’t managed to get more women into the labour market, or they work part time, so I don’t think this will make a big difference, and I don’t think we will close the gap by training people.”

In this sense, it seems that immigration is the only option for filling major staff shortages in almost every profession. 

“Whoever I talk to, be it nurses, nannies, IT workers, industrial workers, teachers, lawyers – everywhere we have a shortage,” Jurisch said.

staff shortages Germany

A sign outside a restaurant informs customers of a closure due to staff shortages. Photo: picture alliance/dpa | Stefan Sauer

When will the points-based system be introduced?

Unlike with the plans to reform citizenship, which the SDP-led Interior Ministry wants to achieve by the end of the year, there’s no firm timeline in place for the points-based system.

However, the FDP is fighting for the policy to be given higher priority and would like to introduce the new visa system before the next federal election in 2025. 

“I hope it will be done in this legislative period,” said Jurisch. “I’m pushing to get it a little bit higher up on the agenda.” 

READ ALSO: INTERVIEW: ‘Changing German citizenship laws is a priority’

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