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‘Lack of transparency’: What it’s like to apply for permanent residence in Germany

Getting permanent residency can be a great way to secure your rights in Germany - but what's it like going through the application process? The Local spoke to readers about their experiences.

Application form for a residence permit.
Application form for a residence permit. Photo: picture alliance / dpa | Wolfram Kastl

For non-EU citizens living in Germany, permanent residence is often the go-to status when they decide to build a life here. For years, there have been strict rules that make it difficult to obtain dual nationality, so those who aren’t keen on losing their old citizenship can secure their rights by becoming permanent residents instead.

On the Make it in Germany website – set up by the Federal Office for Migration and Refugees (BAMF) – information in English states that most applicants simply need to fulfil a short list of requirements. They need to prove they know German, are well integrated, have a secure livelihood, and have held another residence permit for at least five years.

But how are these rules applied in practice, and how long does it take to switch from a temporary visa to permanent residence?

When The Local spoke to readers about their applications, we found hugely varied experiences for people on different types of visa and in different parts of the country.

“The requirements for permanent residency are clearly defined in the law,” said 27-year-old Manpreet J., who’s originally from India. “What is not defined is how to prove that they are met. This is where the problem begins.”

According to Manpreet, there are even different definitions of a secure livelihood in different regions. In Aachen, for example, a temporary work contract wouldn’t be enough to fulfil this requirement, while just 30km away in Heinsberg, it would.

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

‘Bring everything you can think of’

Jaton’ West, a 77-year-old retiree who lives in Berlin, found the criteria for accepting applications similarly inscrutable.

“We applied twice,” She told The Local. “The first time they only renewed our visa – no explanation as to why. We reapplied when it expired and were granted it. Seems like it’s a crapshoot and just depends on the whim of the person processing your application.”

For Jonathan in Nuremberg, the whole process was marked by a “lack of transparency” – starting with the fact that there was no available information, in English or German, about what documents would be needed during the process.

Forms for visa applications at the Foreigners' Office.

Forms for visa applications at the Foreigners’ Office. Photo: picture alliance/dpa | Jonas Walzberg

Six weeks after sending in his application for permanent residency, his local Foreigner’s Office emailed him to inform him that he would need 10 additional documents – including a German language test and integration test that he didn’t know he’d have to take.

With his residence permit due to expire in a matter of weeks, he was left with no time at all to find hard copies of all the other documents, let alone manage the 14-week turnaround for booking and receiving results for the tests. 

“The frustration is that I could have taken these tests anytime in the past year, if I had known that I needed them,” he said.

Düsseldorf resident Dmitry, 33, also received incomplete information about the documents he needed to provide – both on the website of his local Foreigner’s Office and in an email he was sent.

“As far as I recall, no list mentioned bringing the work contract, and the contract for the flat was also required. Finally, I had to provide them translations of my degrees, despite already having provided them for my Blue Card,” he said. “In the end, it’s worth bringing everything a person can think of.”

READ ALSO: Reader question: Is my British residency title the same as permanent residency in Germany?

‘Smoother than expected’ 

For the vast majority of respondents, the sheer amount of paperwork involved in the application was the hardest thing about securing permanent residency.

Others said they had found it tricky to brush up their German skills to meet the B1 language requirement.

However, a number of people said they been pleasantly surprised by how relaxed their case workers had been and how simple the process was.

This was the case for 32 year-old Angela, who moved to Berlin from Colombia. 

“I prepared a lot of documents, but in the end all they checked was my salary and that I had contributed to the pension fund and Krankenkasse (health insurance),” she told us. “I don’t know why it was so easy for me – my intuition tells me higher income people have it easier.” 

Folders filled with documents sit on a windowsill.

Folders filled with documents sit on a windowsill. Photo: picture alliance / dpa | arifoto UG

For 39 year-old Shila, who lives in Mainz, the experience of applying for permanent residency was similarly hassle-free. After emailing the Landesamt and her local case worker, she was given an appointment and a list of documents to bring with her. 

Despite the fact that she wasn’t able to supply a language certificate, the application was a success – and her case worker even offered to talk to her in English.

“It was in 2021 in the middle of lockdown, but it was a very positive surprise to me after hearing all the bad experiences on Facebook groups,” Shila said.

The huge variation in experiences even extended to the amount of time it took for permanent residence to be granted.

While some lucky applicants managed to complete the whole thing within a month, others have waited as long as a year and a half – and in some cases are still waiting for an outcome. 

Easier with a Blue Card

Among those respondents who had an easier time, many told us they had originally come to Germany on a Blue Card – a special EU visa for skilled workers on high incomes.

Blue Card holders with basic German language skills are able to receive permanent residency after living in the country for just 33 months. Meanwhile, those with slightly more advanced skills (B1) can secure their permanent status after just 21 months.

Berlin resident Steven, 50, told us he was pleasantly surprised to find out that he’d only need an A1 language certificate, thanks to the fact that he’d been living in Germany on a Blue Card.

Others took advantage of the fast-tracked option and secured their B1 certificate in order to get a permanent residence permit after less than two years.

Adi Singh, 33, said getting a hold of permanent residence in Munich had been an incredibly smooth process – largely because he’d applied through his employer.

READ ALSO: TEST: Is your German good enough for citizenship or permanent residency?

With his B1 language skills, Adi was able to apply after just 21 months, and he received his card within just six months.

“I had one in-person appointment at the KVR close to the approval stage, but that was quick and short,” he said. “But they make it a point to speak to you in German, likely to establish that B1 level.”

Compared to the experience of applying for his Blue Card himself, Adi said applying via his employer had helped him avoid bureaucratic issues.

“I was fortunate to do it through my firm, and I would recommend that if your company does not apply for it for you, it is a good idea to hire an immigration firm that will do the process,” he advised. “It’s worth the time and energy saved.”

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CITIZENSHIP

‘Dangerous and wrong’: German MPs clash over citizenship plans

In a heated debate in the Bundestag on Thursday, MPs traded blows over plans to liberalise Germany's tough citizenship laws, with both sides accusing each other of "dangerous" behaviour.

'Dangerous and wrong': German MPs clash over citizenship plans

The debate saw emotions running high across the political spectrum as parties fought over what they saw as the future of the German economy and its identity. 

As MPs from the traffic-light parties – the SPD, Greens and FDP – heckled from the sidelines, CSU politician Andrea Lindholz delivered a scathing attack on what she described as the “irresponsible” and “unprofessional” behaviour of the Social Democrats (SPD).

Instead of pushing through far-reaching reforms, the Interior Ministry should have dealt with the “sensitive” topic of migration and citizenship in a more careful way, she argued. 

“I’m convinced that everyone that wants to become German should give up their previous citizenship,” Lindholz said. “Do you think it’s a good thing when German dual nationals take up military service for another country?

“Do you not think people from authoritarian countries should give up their old citizenship?”

READ ALSO: HISTORY: What’s behind the push to reform dual citizenship laws in Germany?

Taking the floor later in the debate, CDU MP Ariturel Hack took an even stronger line against the government’s plans to allow non-EU citizens to obtain dual nationality in Germany.

“You cannot share national loyalty between two countries,” he said, referencing demonstrations in favour of Recep Erdoğan, the president of Turkey, which he claimed numerous Turkish-Germans had participated in.

“The coalition’s plans for dual nationality are false, dangerous and they have to be stopped.” 

‘Shameful’

Tensions had been building throughout the week after CDU parliamentary leader Thorsten Frei accused the government of wanting to “flog off” German nationality.

“The German passport must not become a junk commodity,” he told right-wing tabloid Bild on Friday. 

His comments – which were echoed in Bild’s headline – were a response to the Interior Ministry’s planned citizenship reforms, which include cutting down the years of residence required for German citizenship, allowing non-EU citizens to hold multiple nationalities and lowering language and integration requirements for people from the guest worker generation. 

Referring to the lower requirements for gaining citizenship, Frei accused the centre-left Social Democrats (SPD) of turning German nationality into a “Black Friday deal” and lessening its value.

But his words drew fierce opposition during the emergency debate on Thursday, with SPD politician Mahmut Özdemir describing the comments as “shameful”. 

“They come out of the same drawer as ‘benefits tourism’,” he said, referring to the language CDU leader Friedrich Merz had used in recent weeks when describing Ukrainian refugees in Germany. “That drawer should stay closed.”

The conservatives’ rhetoric was also criticised by Reem Alabali-Radovan (SPD), who accused the CDU and CSU of peddling myths about migration that were “dangerous to society”.

“Chancellor Olaf Scholz and I recently met a few people who this relates to: women and men who bring our country further, whose parents and grandparents did the same,” she said. 

“Think about these people when you’re throwing around these words: it’s a slap in the face to all those people with a migrant background.”

READ ALSO: TEST: Is your German good enough for citizenship or permanent residency?

Citizenship reform plans

The urgent debate had been requested by members of the CDU and CSU parties in order to address the government’s proposals for removing barriers to naturalisation.

The conservatives have said they are vehemently opposed to the plans, arguing that the changes remove the incentive to integrate into German society and encourage people to move into the benefits system rather than working.

However, the proposals have drawn support from the left-wing Linke, who argue that denying long-term residents of Germany the right to vote is damaging to democracy.

In a combative speech in the Bundestag on Thursday afternoon, Linke leader Janine Wissler described the idea that the German passport would be devalued by higher levels of naturalisation as “insane”.

“What did you do for your German passport, Herr Merz?,” she shot at the CDU leader. “Exactly the same as me: nothing. It’s a pure accident, it’s a lottery.”

The passport isn’t devalued by more people becoming German, Wissler said. “You devalue people with this kind of language.”

Currently around 10.7 million people live in Germany without a German passport, meaning they are unable to participate in state and federal elections.

According to Özdemir, around half of this group has lived in the country for seven years or more.

If the government’s plans go through, however, non-EU migrants could be able to gain dual nationality as early as next summer. 

READ ALSO: EXCLUSIVE: German Bundestag to debate law allowing dual citizenship in December

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