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IMMIGRATION

EXPLAINED: How to secure permanent residency in Germany

Every year, more and more foreigners are moving to Germany. We explain the process of obtaining the right to live here indefinitely through acquiring permanent residency.

EXPLAINED: How to secure permanent residency in Germany
It's possible to live in Germany permanently without acquiring citizenship. Photo: DPA

Germany now has the highest percentage of foreign-born residents of any country in the world. Despite the foreign influx however, the process for acquiring permanent residency can be a tad confusing. 

Navigating the complex requirements can be difficult, so we've put together this helpful guide with tips and tricks to assist you in making the transition from temporary to permanent resident. 

READ: What Germany's controversial new immigration laws mean for foreign workers

Permanent residency allows you live in Germany indefinitely, while the related EU citizenship will allow you to live and work anywhere in the European Union. It will not be linked to your job or university, allowing you to change jobs or studies whenever you want.

Another related permit – the EU residency permit – allows you to live and work anywhere in Europe. 

Citizenship is largely a different question and depending on where you’re from, it can mean giving up your current passport or citizenship.

READ: Overnight queues and complex rules: What Germany's immigration offices are really like

READ: Your complete guide to visiting Germany's immigration offices

Keep in mind that if you’re an EU citizen you will not need to apply for permanent residency, as your European citizenship also entitles you to live in Germany. 

For UK citizenship holders – as you might be aware – things are a little more complicated. Click here for our up-to-date advice as the UK transitions out of the EU through the beginning of 2021.

There are also a range of preliminary things you’ll need to have done before you even get to apply for permanent residency, including registering your address (Anmeldung).

EXPLAINED: Understanding the German Anmeldung

However if you’re thinking of taking the plunge to permanent residency, there’s a good chance that you’ve already got these in the bag. 

Permanent residency (Niederlassungserlaubnis)

The right to live in Germany permanently is conferred by the permanent residency permit or settlement permit (Niederlassungserlaubnis). It is not the same as citizenship or a German passport, but it will allow you to remain in Germany indefinitely. 

You’ll also have rights to work and study which are largely similar to those of someone with citizenship. 

In that sense, it provides you with many of the rights of citizenship, but you won’t need to give up your passport.  

EU permanent residency

The other major category of permanent residency is EU permanent residency, which allows you to live and work anywhere in the EU. 

This permission was created pursuant to a European directive and is a welcome change for anyone who’s got one eye on moving elsewhere in Europe after having lived in Germany. 

The requirements for this are largely the same, although the five-year period cannot be shortened in the same fashion as the German permanent residency laws allow. 

What do I need to apply for permanent residency in Germany? 

The broad criteria for becoming a permanent resident seem simple enough: adequate German (B1), financial support (through work or other means), no criminal record and sufficient health insurance. 

You’ll also need to have lived in Germany for five years or more on a legal residence permit, which will usually be connected to work or study. 

Although the criteria seem relatively easy to establish, in reality – as with many things involving German bureaucracy – is not as simple. 

While these aspects are less frequently enforced, you’ll also need to pass a health check to prove that you’re healthy enough for work or study. 

Then there’s the language requirement. While for anyone who’s been here for five years or more B1 might not seem like such a significant challenge, the test isn’t purely on your language skills. 

In addition to sufficient German, you’ll need to show knowledge of other aspects of German society, such as the political system. 

How extensive is your knowledge of German culture? Photo: DPA

The five-year requirement is also something which commonly trips people up – as the clock doesn’t necessarily start as soon as you enter the country. 

When considering if you’ve satisfied the five-year minimum, the authorities will be looking to see your pension contributions. Generally you’ll be required to have paid into the German pension system for 60 months in order to satisfy the five-year requirement. 

This is something your insurance company will usually do on your behalf each month, although not in every case. 

For those who arrived on a Working Holiday Visa using travel insurance, it’s likely that the five-year time frame won’t start until you acquire sufficient German health insurance which pays regularly into the pension scheme. 

Aside from the general residency permit process, there are a number of other ways through which you may qualify like marriage or specialist qualifications. 

Marriage or civil partnership

The easiest way to secure permanent residency is through marriage or a civil partnership to your significant other. 

Once you’ve been married or in a civil partnership for two years or more – and have lived in Germany legally for three years – you’ll be able to apply. 

While many of the same stipulations apply for marriage or civil partnership visas as they do for the general class of permanent residency visas – no criminal record, sufficient health insurance, etc – the timeline is much shorter. 

B1 level German or better is needed for permanent residency. Photo: DPA

German university graduates and specialist professions

The waiting period is shorter for people in this category. 

If you’ve graduated from a German university, you can apply after two years. You’ll need to be working in a job related to your education and have paid into the pension system for 24 months. 

If you’re highly qualified – which usually means working in an area with specific technical knowledge or the sciences – you may apply as soon as you have your work contract. 

The main thing you’ll need to show is your job offer or work contract. 

Costs

As with any permits, the costs tend to vary – generally anywhere between €135 and €250 – although considering the result will be the permanent right to live in Germany, it’s a steal. 

Other ways to stay: Citizenship and family connections

There are other ways through which you might be eligible for a visa, but many of these come through your family history or lineage. 

Children born in Germany to foreign partners have rights to stay and claim citizenship in some cases, while children born abroad to German parents will in many instances also be eligible for a passport. 

An influx in foreign workers

It's probably no surprise to anyone who has walked the streets of Berlin, Munich, Frankfurt or other major German cities recently, but Germany's foreign-born population has risen dramatically over the past few decades. 

With a thriving economy and an ageing population, Germany has sought to make it easier for foreigners to live and work in Germany. 

According to research completed in 2017, Germany has the highest percentage of foreign-born residents of any country anywhere in the world. In total, 15 percent of German residents were born elsewhere – roughly 12 million people. 

According to the latest Statistical Office figures, Germany grew by 400,000 foreign-born residents in 2018.

On numbers alone, Germany has the second-highest amount of foreign-born residents behind the United States' 46.7 million (14 percent). 

Member comments

  1. Thanks for the summary. I’ve read somewhere on the government website that either you will have lived in Germany for 5+ years, or 20 some months only with the required language skill to be able to apply for the permanent residency. Is this right?

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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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