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Postcode lottery: Brits in Germany on what it’s like to apply for the post-Brexit residence card

It's been almost six months since the end of the transition period, and many Brits are still waiting for the new residence title that can prove their right to live and work in Germany. Here are some of their experiences.

Postcode lottery: Brits in Germany on what it's like to apply for the post-Brexit residence card
Brits in Germany are being advised to register to get proof of their residence status. Photo: picture alliance/dpa | Daniel Karmann

Following the end of the post-Brexit transition at the start of this year, an estimated 100,000 British citizens will need to register with the authorities to receive proof of their new residence title. 

A few weeks ago, The Local surveyed almost 120 Brits across all corners of Germany, from Schwabing to Schleswig-Holstein, about their experiences of trying to secure these residence titles.  

Most of the respondents agreed that the process itself had been relatively smooth, and surprisingly un-bureaucratic (for German bureaucracy, that is). However, many Brits also complained of a lack of consistent communication from the authorities, the long wait for the residence title card, and of feeling like their life was on hold until they received confirmation of their status. 

‘Really simple’

Unlike other EU countries such as France and Austria, Germany has chosen a “declaratory” system for implementing the rights of British residents set out in the Withdrawal Agreement. This means that, rather than having to go through an application process to secure their right to remain in the country, Brits in Germany simply have to register with authorities to get the rights that they have officially documented. 

To obtain a physical residence title card as proof of their status, British citizens must register with state immigration authorities and attend an appointment where they pay a €37 fee, provide fingerprints and documents, and show evidence that they have been in Germany since before the transition period.

The German government has given Brits a June 30th deadline by which to register, though it is still unclear what will happen to those British citizens who fail to register in time.

READ ALSO: Brits in Germany urged to apply for residency before end of June deadline

“[The process] was actually really simple,” said Mark Cooper, 46, who lives in Munich. “I expected it to be more complicated and involve a lot of forms – in typical German style – but it was actually very quick and straightforward.”

“Compared to any other process in Germany, this was by far the most straightforward,” agreed 41-year-old Berlin resident Jamie Barry. 

Ian Beach, 52, who lives in Gernsbach, Baden-Württemberg, said he “couldn’t believe it was so easy.”

People queue outside the foreigner’s office in Frankfurt Am Main. Photo: picture alliance / Arne Dedert/dpa | Arne Dedert

In most parts of Germany, foreigners’ authorities have been offering appointments to Brits since the start of the year – when the UK’s Brexit transition period ended and the UK left the European Economic Area (EEA). 

In The Local’s survey, about 75 percent of Brits said they had already had their appointment or had been given an appointment with the foreigner’s office ahead of June 30th. Around 22 percent of respondents said they were still waiting for their appointments, while a small number of people had been given appointments that were later cancelled because of Covid-19.

Of the people who had had appointments, around 55 percent had already received their card, while about 45 percent were still waiting. 

Kept in the dark 

Though most people described the process of getting the new residence card as “simple” or “straightforward”, many also commented on the lack of communication they received from the authorities in their state, and the difficulty of obtaining clear information. 

“There has been zero information from the government,” said 60-year-old Vin Bar, who lives in Berlin. “Facebook has been my only source of information, even though I’ve been registered as a British resident [in Germany] for 12 years.”

For those who were asked to send off documentation to the foreigner’s office, the lack of updates or confirmation of receipt also felt disconcerting. 

“It was simple but there wasn’t any sort of update,” said Carl Flynn, a resident of Leipzig. “I sent off my documents in January, did not get anything until March. Then the email invitation was poorly formatted, and only in German. I thought it might be fake.”

The fact that Brits had to wait until after the end of the transition period to obtain their new residence title was also a point of confusion and contention. 

READ ALSO: Britons in Europe face Brexit deadlines with many yet to apply for residency 

“Once I could find the information the process was quite smooth,” said Susanne McKinnley, who lives in Wiesbaden. “But very confusing why it wasn’t possible to get before and why it takes more than three months to receive the card.” 

John Maidment, who lives in Berlin, was granted a permanent residence permit in 2019 after filling in a form on Berlin’s registration portal for Brits. Now, with the switch to a new system of affirming the rights of UK citizens post-Brexit, he has had to swap this for a different document – the new residence title.

There was a “lack of consistent communication”, he said, adding that the whole process had been “too long and drawn out”.

“I feel like we have to stay put” 

For some of the Brits who still haven’t had their appointment, or who are waiting for their residence title to arrive by post, the delay has caused significant anxiety and a reluctance to travel abroad. 

Nadine Stares, 40, who lives in Munich, said she and her family didn’t want to risk visiting relatives abroad until she got her new residence title.

“I feel like we simply have to stay put until we hear,” she said. “Frustrating as one set of our parents are in Switzerland – only five hours away, but over a border – and the others are in the UK. My partner’s mother has received an alarming health diagnosis, so we would like to be closer.” 

Many Brits are afraid to travel until they can prove their rights. Photo: picture alliance / dpa | Salvatore Di Nolfi

Richard Matthews, 58, who lives in Würzburg, had similar worries before getting his residence title. 

“I had been afraid to leave Germany for fear of not being allowed back in,” he said, though he admits that the Covid-19 restrictions have made the lack of travel a “bit of a moot point”. 

“It’s rather stressful that I still haven’t got an appointment and most of my friends have,” said 31-year-old Sarah Jin. “It’s not clear what I should do if I still don’t receive an appointment by June 30th. If I don’t receive an appointment by June 30th, can I travel? What is my residency status in that case? This is a bit disconcerting.”

Though Brits in Germany have been reassured that the Withdrawal Agreement protects their rights, not having proof of these rights has made the last six months a nail-biting affair, with the lag impacting job applications, travel plans and even benefits claims. 

“While I feel confident in the knowledge I am officially entitled to stay here as per the withdrawal agreement, it would be better if I could prove it,” explained Chris Siedeberg, 41, who lives in Cologne.

“It is disconcerting to be living in a country for which I have no document that allows me to be here. The foreigner’s office had an email address for Brexit queries which no longer works. The radio silence from the city is disconcerting, however I am not far enough through the process to claim to have any experience of it.”

READ ALSO: ‘A big worry’: Why Britons living in Germany still face bureaucratic headaches over Brexit

For 54-year-old Bochum-resident Timothy Davies, the lack of a post-Brexit residence title almost led the job centre to cut off financial support.

“I needed the process to be speedy as I am currently unemployed due to Covid and the job centre were threatening to stop my money without official confirmation of my status,” he said. “There was no information about the process available at the time so I sent all my paperwork to the foreigner’s office that I thought they would need. They were good and sent a letter confirming my status until the formal appointment.”

As with many aspects of German life, getting the new residence title quickly and efficiently can be something of a postcode lottery. While for Adam Park in Konstanz, the process was “a breeze”, Colin in North Rhine-Westphalia revealed that his district had yet to give out a single appointment.

“Absolute shambles,” he said. 

*****

Thanks to everyone who shared their experience with us. Although we weren’t able to include all the submissions, we read each of them and are sincerely grateful to everybody who took the time to fill in the survey.

If there’s anything you’d like to ask or tell us about our coverage, please feel free to get in touch.

Member comments

  1. Having had my 2 appointments with the Hamburger Ausslanderbehorde, I can honestly say I have seldom had so helpful, friendly and efficient service from a bureaucracy or public authority. My last appointment was for 10.30, and I arrived at 10.28. I was immediately directed to the relevant counter where the Beamtin ALREADY had my papers on the desk waiting for me. She answered a couple of queries I had about the digital Karte and I was out of the building by 10.35 with my new Aufenthaltskarte. All whilst maintaining social distancing and avoiding the need for queuing.

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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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