Advertisement

Immigration For Members

'Traumatising': Foreign residents share stories from German immigration offices 

Sarah Magill
Sarah Magill - [email protected]
'Traumatising': Foreign residents share stories from German immigration offices 
A sign points to the Foreigners Authority and the Public Order Office of Frankfurt am Main. Photo: picture alliance/dpa | Sebastian Gollnow

The Local spoke to foreign nationals and a representative of international students living in Germany about their experiences with Germany’s immigration offices. Many of them reported negative experiences, some of which impacted their mental health.

Advertisement

Non-EU nationals living in Germany will, at some point, have to deal with their local immigration office – or Ausländerbehörde – in order to get their visas extended, converted or to apply for residency status.

Advertisement

Each German state is individually responsible for the workings of its immigration offices, which means that different rules regarding visa extensions apply and people can have widely varying experiences depending on which part of the country they are in.

Following up on recent media reports about complaints and protests against immigration offices such as those in Erfurt, Halle and, Cologne - to name just a few - The Local reached out to people who have had difficulties with the immigration offices. These are some of their stories.

'Traumatising'  

Kathryn Werntz, a quality manager from the US, has been living in Germany for 13 years. She has been to the immigration office in Berlin more than 20 times and has consistently had her visa extension applications rejected.

READ ALSO: How to apply for or renew your US passport from Germany

Having had an unfriendly welcome in her initial dealings with the immigration office in Berlin when she first applied for a visa, she was surprised at how easy things were in Bonn when she moved there for work.

“In under five minutes they were like ‘stamp, stamp, stamp - here's your visa’. Welcome officially to Germany. I couldn’t believe it”, she said. 

But, when she moved back to Berlin, the attitude she was greeted with when she went to renew her visa was wildly different; she was accused by her caseworker of falsifying her bank statements, so she took a professional immigration advisor with her to her next meeting.

A sign on the State Office for Immigration (LEA) on Friedrich-Krause-Ufer in Berlin. Photo: picture alliance/dpa | Jörg Carstensen

“It turned out that the caseworker didn’t think that being a trainer wasn’t a real job. But eventually, my advisor managed to convince her to give me the visa.”

But when her advisor reprimanded the caseworker for the way she had treated Werntz, the response from the immigration office employee was shocking.  

“She said: ‘We hate Americans. We do everything we can to keep them out of here’. It was at that moment that I realised this place is really messed up.”

But the problems didn’t stop there. After marrying her husband in 2021, she went back with him to the immigration office to renew her visa.

READ ALSO: IN DEPTH: Are Germany’s immigration offices making international residents feel unwelcome?

“The caseworker accused us of having a fake marriage for me to stay in the country. Keep in mind I work full-time for a German NGO, I'd been here for twelve years, and we showed him our joint bank account and our rental contract. But he wasn’t having any of it. He told me to come back when I had my official registration for the flat which - because of Covid - I hadn’t been able to get an appointment for.” 

“We went back just a few weeks ago and I finally got my visa, but it wasn’t straightforward. Even though I’d done everything asked of me, the caseworker started flicking through my passport and asking why I travel a lot.  He told my husband: ‘You know, it's not one hundred percent certain that your wife gets to stay here’.”

Kathryn told us that her experiences with the immigration offices have had a huge impact on her life and have been a constant stress. 

“I’d say it’s been traumatising. The more you build your life here, the more you feel the fear of being kicked out. It’s completely messed up our family life in the last few years and I have this constant uncertainty of whether I am going or staying." 

Advertisement

In a response to previous allegations of unlawful decision-making put forward by The Local, a spokesman for the Berlin State Office for Immigration strenuously denied that their employees make decisions arbitrarily or subjectively and stressed that, in fact, employees are required to interpret their discretionary powers in favour of applicants. 

He also pointed out that, in 2021, only one percent of residence titles applied for were rejected and that “an increasingly complex legal situation” and challenges such as Brexit, the pandemic and the war in Ukraine, have led to a continuous increase in the workload of the immigration office employees. 

He said the Berlin immigration office had established a counselling service in June 2020 that offers personal counselling on-site, as well as by e-mail or telephone, and in September they appointed an ombudsman as an advisor and contact person for those experiencing problems with the immigration office. 

LISTEN:

'Burning stress' 

Thirty-year-old Mohammed has been living in Germany for 10 years and is currently working as an IT consultant in Essen. He finished his studies in September and is still in the process of changing his student visa to a working visa. He has until January 9th of next year to do so – but getting an appointment with the Ausländerbehörde has been a nightmare, he told The Local.

“I sent my documents on time, I tried everything to get in touch with them, did everything required on the website, my current company’s HR tried to send them everything and I still don’t have an appointment. It’s a constant, burning stress for me.” 

Despite the current uncertainty, Mohammed still sees his recent dealings with the foreigner’s office more positively than those he had as a student.

Advertisement

“Nobody in Essen is satisfied with the Ausländerbehörde. But at least the new, younger generation of workers I’ve been in contact with recently are nice. But the woman who was dealing with my visa when I was studying was absolutely rude”.

The Local also reached out to the immigration authorities in Essen, but has not yet received a response.

It’s not just workers in Germany who seem to have a problem with the immigration offices.

Chairman of the Federal Association of Foreign Students (BAS), Kumar Ashish also told The Local that, in his experience, Germany’s immigration offices are “damaging the mental health” of many foreign students.

"Applications for issuance and extension" is written on a display stand with applications for residence permits. Photo: picture alliance/dpa | Jonas Walzberg

“The Ausländerbehörde are absolutely responsible for mental health damage for countless foreign students who need to extend visas. Students write to me personally because of the stress they are put under by the immigration authorities. The pressure of university exams is not as big as the pressure from the Ausländerbehörde,” he said.

Advertisement

He explained that one of the main issues is that different states have different visa rules, which are often not transparent. In certain states, students must renew their visas every six months and the immigration office puts pressure on them to obtain certain results for their visas to be extended.

READ ALSO: Will immigration reform be enough to combat Germany’s worker shortage?

“It’s particularly tough for the students who come from underdeveloped countries, who have to finance themselves and support parents back home. They have to work more and can’t always attend all lectures. Then they have the foreigners’ office on their backs with the indirect threat of not extending their visas if they don’t get certain grades within a particular time”. 

'I cannot concentrate on my work'

Tony, 31, a mechanical engineer from India was recently doing an internship in a different state from where his university is, in Bavaria.

While the visa extension process in his university city went relatively smoothly, since he has been in Saarland he has had nothing but difficulties with the Ausländerbehörde. 

He has until the end of January to get his visa renewed, but delayed responses and repeated requests for the same documents – as well as the hostile attitude of his case worker - mean he is still not sure he will get the extension he needs.

“I’ve been here doing an internship as part of my master studies, and the case worker at the Ausländerbehörde suspects me of working illegally. I am due to start my thesis next February or March, but my case worker is now insisting that I present her with my Master Thesis contract to get my visa extension. So now I am running behind my professor to try to get this [sorted out]”.

Tony told The Local that not knowing whether he will get his visa extended has made him unable to focus on work. 

Advertisement

“I cannot concentrate on my work with the stress of not knowing what will happen with my visa. I am planning to go home for Christmas, but I’m not sure if I should, because I don’t know if I’ll be let back in the country. It’s really a lot of stress for me” 

“I want to follow the rules and do everything required of me. But I can’t when I have to wait four months to get a response, or when they ask multiple times for the same documents.” 

Ann-Kristin Schlösser, head of the foreigners authority in Bietigheim-Bissingen (Baden-Württemberg), holds a consultation in her office in 2015. Photo: picture alliance / dpa | Wolfram Kastl

The Local contacted the Saarland immigration office for comment and a spokesperson told us that, despite “massive restrictions” since the beginning of the pandemic and “major and unexpected challenges” with the outbreak of the war in Ukraine, the Central Immigration Office is working with “full commitment in all its organisational units”.

The challenges, he said, have had “a significant impact on the daily work” which has resulted in backlogs of appointments, which lead to an increase in telephone and email inquiries.

Advertisement

“The Central Foreigners Authority is working to the limits of its capacity and beyond, also with a view to avoiding excessively long waiting times for those affected. Moreover, comprehensive organisational and personnel measures have already been taken with the support of the Ministry of the Interior to cope with this backlog,” he said.

So what needs to be done?

While the responses from the immigration offices in Berlin and Saarland indicate that steps are being taken to address some of the problems, these issues need to be addressed on a nationwide scale as part of the coalition government’s proposed reforms to immigration. 

The government is planning to bring in a raft of measures next year to make immigration easier and more attractive - including bringing in a points-based system that waters down some of the stricter entry requirements - but as yet, addressing the problems with the country’s immigration offices do not feature prominently on the agenda.

READ ALSO: Explained: How to apply for Germany's new 'opportunity card' and other visas for job seekers

Many of the difficulties faced by the people that spoke to us centre around the discretionary power held by individual caseworkers. One of the ways to improve this particular problem, according to Paulo Dias, a specialist immigration lawyer based in Hannover, would be to have “some kind of independent complaints office that has the authority to go to the immigration office, for example, in cases of discrimination, to be able to review complaints”.

This would help to encourage more consistent treatment of foreigners across the country and give people a place to turn to if they feel they've been treated unfairly. 

More

Comments (2)

Join the conversation in our comments section below. Share your own views and experience and if you have a question or suggestion for our journalists then email us at [email protected].
Please keep comments civil, constructive and on topic – and make sure to read our terms of use before getting involved.

Please log in to leave a comment.

Juan 2023/01/06 14:59
I've had the same experience as all of these people. I've called the Ausländerbehörde numerous times and they either, don't pick up or say that they will call you back, which they never do by the way. Forget about emailing them, they will never reply back. Thanks Kirchheimbolanden Ausländerbehörde!
Renan 2022/12/23 13:12
Nothing would help more with integration into the German culture than opening a complaints office for immigrants.

See Also