The 42-year-old driver named as Boujemaa Lamrabat, a Moroccan who lives in Spain, has been found guilty of killing Sophia Lösche to cover up the fact that he had severely injured her in a previous beating.
The court in Bayreuth, Bavaria, sided with the prosecution's call for a life sentence for murder rather than the defence's request for a lighter punishment for manslaughter.
Lösche had been hitching from her university in Leipzig, Saxony, towards her family home in Amberg, Bavaria, in June 2018 when she went missing.
After her disappearance, her family searched for her using social media and came into contact with Lamrabat before the police caught him.
Lösche's body was later found in a ditch by the side of a road in Spain.
Prosecutors said Lamrabat first beat her with a wheel wrench before finally killing her 10 minutes later.
The high-profile case was seized upon in Chemnitz, a city in far-right stronghold Saxony.
Lösche's image was one of a number of large-format photos demonstrators carried through the town as part of a “silent march”, supposed to highlight violence committed by refugees.
The Lösche family has repeatedly said they see the case as one of violence against women, with no link to violence perpetrated by migrants.