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How to do a voluntary social year in Germany

One way to spend time in Germany and get to know the local culture and language is to embark on what's known as a voluntary social year. Here's how to get started.

Voluntary Social Year participant
A young undertaking a voluntary social year with the German Red Cross. Photo: picture alliance/dpa/Deutsches Rotes Kreuz in Hessen Volunta gGmbH | Dennis Moebus

Every year around 53,000 young people complete what’s known as a Voluntary Social Year (FJS) in Germany. It can be a great opportunity to learn new skills, improve your German and get a sense of direction in your career. Here’s what you need to know.

What is a Voluntary Social Year?

A Freiwilliges Soziales Jahr (FSJ), or voluntary social year, is a way for young people to find direction and contribute to society after leaving secondary school. It has its roots in Philadelphischer Dienst, a program set up in 1962 to provide young women with an alternative to the military service undertaken by the men. 

Generally, people doing an FSJ will choose a voluntary placement lasting anywhere between six and eighteen months. These placements can be immensely varied, but generally fall under the umbrella of the social sector, such as working in a care home, with refugees, in a hospital or with children from difficult family backgrounds.

READ ALSO: Germany struggling to fill tens of thousands of trainee jobs

Over the course of their placement, volunteers get a small allowance for food and transport known as “pocket money”, and sometimes also have access to accommodation or receive a bit of money towards their accommodation. They generally receive hands-on training from the institution they choose to do their FSJ with as well as being integrated into the culture and work life that exists there.

The hours you volunteer, as well as other aspects of the placement like the hours and remuneration, will generally be determined by the institution offering the placement. 

Who’s eligible to apply for one?

Generally, anyone under the age of 27 who has completed their final year of secondary school is eligible to apply for an FSJ – though different institutions may have different requirements. 

Both EU and non-EU citizens are permitted to apply, but it’s trickier for non-EU citizens as they will need to secure a visa that allows them to both live and work in Germany.

Meals on wheels in Germany

A volunteers brings food to the elderly. Photo: picture alliance/dpa | Felix Kästle

Usually, the institution offering the placement will assist third-country nationals with their visa application. 

However, while EU students have an automatic right to live and work in Germany, they will have to prove they can support themselves for the duration of the placement – so it’s a good idea to build up some savings.

READ ALSO: The most expensive (and cheapest) cities in Germany to rent a room

How do I find a placement? 

Numerous online search portals are around to help connect potential volunteers with placement listings, while you can usually narrow sound by the sector you want to work in and the location.

A couple of examples of these are the website Ich will FSJ and Ein Jahr Freiwillig, where you can find numerous positions to apply for. It can help narrow it down if you know what kind of place you want to volunteer for and where in Germany you’d most like to live.

Once you’ve found your placement, you’ll need to send an application, which normally includes details or your school grades, a letter of motivation, and any relevant experience. Be sure to discuss the specific requirements for applications with the institution you want to apply to, as these can often vary from place to place. 


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German business leaders back proposed citizenship reforms

The latest proposals for reforming German citizenship law have triggered a controversial debate in Germany. But business experts are in support of the changes.

German business leaders back proposed citizenship reforms

Last Friday, new details emerged of the German coalition government’s plans to make German citizenship easier to come by.

Amongst other reforms, the proposed changes will make it possible to become a German citizen after five instead of eight years and, in the case of “special integration achievements”, this should even be possible after just three years.

The proposals have already triggered a backlash from the main opposition party in the German parliament – the Christian Democrats (CDU/CSU) – and from the Free Democrats (FDP), which are a member of the coalition government. Criticisms range from the measures representing a “devaluation” of the German passport to being ill-timed. 

FDP Secretary General Bijan Djir-Sarai said Monday that, as there had been “no progress” on combating illegal immigration to Germany, now is not the right time to relax citizenship rules.

READ ALSO: EXPLAINED: Could Germany’s conservatives block dual citizenship?

However, in view of the current worker shortage in Germany, employment experts and business leaders have come out in support of the proposals. Germany is in the midst of a huge worker shortage and currently needs 400,000 additional workers a year to plug the gap in the labour market and, in their view, simplifying naturalisation laws could help ease this looming crisis. 

The head of the Federal Employment Agency, Andrea Nahles, stressed the importance of immigration for the labour market as a whole and told the Süddeutsche Zeitung on Tuesday: “Because of demographic change, there is no scenario where we can get by without major immigration.” 

What are people saying?

The deputy head of the SPD parliamentary group, Dirk Wiese, told the Berliner Morgenpost that, by making naturalisation easier, the coalition government will “make Germany more attractive as a location for skilled workers”.

Similarly, the head of the German Federation of Trade Unions (DGB), Yasmin Fahimi, told Redaktionsnetzwerk Deutschland that easier naturalisation would be a positive signal to millions of people with a migration background in Germany and, at the same time, to all interested skilled workers abroad.

READ ALSO: EXPLAINED: How Germany plans to make immigration easier for skilled workers

According to the chairwoman of the Council of Economic Experts, making naturalisation easier would also strengthen the integration of foreigners living and working in Germany. 

“In view of demographic change and the growing shortage of skilled workers and labour, this is absolutely to be welcomed,” she said.

Federal managing director of the German Association of Small and Medium-Sized Businesses (BVMW), Markus Jerger, also told the Redaktionsnetzwerk Deutschland that the reduction of bureaucratic hurdles in the naturalisation of software engineers and nursing staff could give Germany a longtime leg up in these fields, which are consistently in need of employees.

Coming to stay

Wido Geis-Thöne from the employer-affiliated Institute of German Economy (IW) pointed out that expeditated naturalisation would also help more immigrants stay in the country and continue working. Until now, many such workers leave Germany again after a certain time, he said. 

READ ALSO: Germany to ease citizenship rules for children of foreign parents

Andreas Jahn, Head of Policy and Foreign Trade at the German Association of Small and Medium-Sized Businesses (BVMW), said that having the German passport should encourage people to stay in agriculture in particular – as well as to integrate better – especially in rural areas.