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IMMIGRATION

How one German immigration office plans to tackle long waiting times

For years, the Darmstadt Immigration Office or Ausländerbehörde has been criticised for poor accessibility and chaotic conditions. Last week, the city’s mayor presented a new plan that could finally solve the problem. What could other cities learn?

A staff member at a Hamburg immigration office helps a member of the public.
A staff member at a Hamburg immigration office helps a member of the public. Photo: picture alliance/dpa | Jonas Walzberg

The city of Darmstadt near Frankfurt in southwest Germany is home to three universities and around 35,000 international residents. In fact, national statistics from 2020 show that internationals make up 20,5 percent of the population in the city.

It’s little wonder then, that problems with the Ausländerbehörder (the international immigration offices) have been widely reported as negatively impacting lots of foreign residents in the city. 

Determined to combat the issues once and for all, last week the city’s Mayor, Jochen Partsch (Greens) presented a new concept for restructuring the service.

What are the problems?

Darmstadt’s immigration office has had a bad reputation for years, due to long waiting times, and problems getting hold of staff or arranging appointments. According to local immigration lawyers, the processing of applications for naturalization currently takes around two years.

READ ALSO: ‘Nothing is easy’: How foreigners struggle to get settled in Germany

There have been numerous reports of foreign residents being unable to renew expired residence permits due to the impossibility of getting hold of the authorities. A report by the German regional news site Hessenschau.de from February included an account of a student calling over 80 times, even during office hours, and never getting a response.

Immigration and asylum lawyer, Sonja Plückebaum, who is based in Darmstadt, said: “We have clients who have lost their apprenticeship or job because they did not get their residence permit extended in time.” Major problems also often arise when people are looking for an apartment or signing a mobile phone contract.

What’s causing the problems?

City officials have claimed that the problems with the immigration office ultimately come down to staffing and workload.

For some time now, there has been a high level of staff turnover and an above-average level of sick leave among employees at the immigration office.

The city’s former Mayor, Rafael Reißer, said earlier in the year that the loss of experienced workers had led to a “continuous reduction” in expertise, while, at the same time, work had piled up. New employees in particular were plagued by “self-doubt and insecurity” due to the “daily pressure to perform,” which in most cases led to them resigning.

READ ALSO: Germany ranked as ‘worst country in the world’ for expat needs

These issues have been exacerbated by the pandemic and the war in Ukraine. 

An application for a residence permit lies on a desk at the Foreigners' Registration Office in Baden-Württemberg.

An application for a residence permit lies on a desk at the Foreigners’ Registration Office in Baden-Württemberg. Photo: picture alliance / dpa | Wolfram Kastl

What are the new plans?

The first step will be to set up a service team to coordinate the allocation of appointments and be the first point of contact for all issues, to help tackle the problems with reaching staff at the immigration office.

New specialised teams will be put together, which will deal with specific areas affecting foreign residents, such as education, employment and resident rights. 

The electronic filing system in the immigration office is also being fast-tracked and should be operational by the autumn, which will help speed up workflows.

The city also announced 12 new full-time positions to be filled as soon as possible.

The new organisation will also help reduce the workload for individual employees, he said: “All the measures taken now will add up to ensure that people will once again receive the comprehensive service they deserve.”

READ ALSO: Berlin to revolutionise immigration office ‘experience’

Useful vocabulary:

immigration office – (die) Ausländerbehörde

residence permit – (die) Aufenthaltserlaubnis

waiting time – (die) Wartezeit

to reach someone by phone – jemanden telefonisch erreichen

We’re aiming to help our readers improve their German by translating vocabulary from some of our news stories. Did you find this article useful? Let us know.

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BREXIT

EXPLAINED: How can Brits visit or move to Germany post-Brexit?

Many Brits may be considering spending time in Germany or even moving for work or to study. Here's a look at the rules.

EXPLAINED: How can Brits visit or move to Germany post-Brexit?

The Brexit transition period ended on January 1st 2021, but it’s been a turbulent few years with Covid-related restrictions, which mean many people may not have travelled abroad since then. Here’s what you should know about the rules for travelling and moving to Germany post-Brexit. 

Can I visit Germany from the UK on holiday?

Absolutely. But you do have to stick to certain rules on how long you can stay in Germany (and other EU countries) without a visa.

“British citizens do not require a visa for the Schengen Member States, if the duration of their stay does not exceed 90 days within any 180-day period,” says the German Missions consular service in the UK. 

You can find a full explanation of the 90-day rule from our sister site, The Local France, HERE, along with the Schengen calculator that allows you to work out your allowance.

READ ALSO: Passport scans and €7 fees: What will change for EU travel in 2022 and 2023

Note that if you were living in Germany before January 1st 2021, different rules apply. People in this scenario should have received a residence permit – known as the Aufenthaltstitel-GB – from the German authorities, which proves their right to remain in Germany with the same rights as they had before Brexit. 

READ ALSO: Reader question: How can I re-enter Germany without my post-Brexit residence card?

Can I move to Germany from the UK after the Brexit transition period?

Yes. But if you are coming to Germany to live and work, you will need to apply for the right documents, like other so-called ‘third country nationals’. All foreigners from outside the EU who want to to stay in Germany for more than three months have to get a residence permit (Aufenthaltstitel). 

As we touched on above, citizens from some countries (including the UK, USA, Canada, Australia, Japan, Israel, New Zealand and Switzerland) are allowed entry into Germany without a visa and can apply for a residence permit while in the country. You can contact the Foreigners Office (Ausländerbehörde) in your area to find out how to get a residence permit.

You’ll need various official documents, such as a valid passport, proof of health insurance and proof that you can support yourself. You usually receive your residence permit as a sticker in your passport.

Passengers wait at Hamburg airport.

Passengers at Hamburg airport. Brits coming to Germany have more things to consider after Brexit. Photo: picture alliance/dpa | Markus Scholz

Germany has a well-documented skilled worker shortage at the moment so there are work permit options to consider that may suit your circumstances. 

For the work visa for qualified professionals, for instance, your qualifications have to be either recognised in Germany or comparable to those from a German higher education facility. 

You may also be able to get an EU Blue Card. This residence permit is aimed at attracting and enabling highly qualified third-country nationals to live in the EU. 

It comes with benefits, including the right to to request and bring family members to the country, and shortcuts for applying for permanent residency. 

READ ALSO: EXPLAINED: How German citizenship differs from permanent residency

When applying for a Blue Card in Germany this year, you have to earn a minimum gross salary (before tax) of €56,400 – down from €56,800 in 2021. 

In so-called shortage occupations (Mangelberufe), where there is a high number of unfilled positions, the minimum gross salary is €43,992 – down from €44,304 in 2021.

Shortage occupations include employees in the sectors of mathematics, IT, natural sciences, engineering and medicine.

If you want to come to Germany from the UK to study then you also need to apply for a visa. For this you may need proof of acceptance to the university or higher education institution of your choice and possibly proof of your German language skills.

Check out the useful government website Make it in Germany for more detailed information, as well as the German Missions in the UK site, which has lots of info on travel after Brexit, and on visas.  

What else should I know?

The German government plans to reform the immigration system, although it’s not clear at this stage when this will happen. 

It will move to a points-based system, inspired by countries like Canada, where foreigners will have to score above a certain threshold of points to get a residence or work permit.

This scoring system will be set by the government, but it will 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.

Keep an eye on The Local’s home page for updates on the changes to immigration laws. 

Have you moved to Germany – or are thinking about moving – after the Brexit transition period and want to share your experiences? Please get in touch by emailing [email protected] 

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