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Studying in Germany For Members

Working hours to visas: The new rules for international students in Germany

Imogen Goodman
Imogen Goodman - [email protected]
Working hours to visas: The new rules for international students in Germany
Students at Heidelberg University sit in a lecture hall. Photo: picture alliance / Uwe Anspach/dpa | Uwe Anspach

Starting this March, Germany has made it easier for international students to earn money alongside their studies. Here's what students and apprentices need to know about the changes.

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Thanks to a new law that aims to address the labour shortages in key sectors like IT, education and medicine, some 450,000 international students in Germany now have access to a simpler employment process in the country and more opportunities to work. 

The second stage of the skilled worker immigration law, which came into force on March 1st, sets out a range of measures designed to encourage more qualified workers to move to Germany.

Among them are some key changes aimed at international students in Germany.

Here are the most important changes set out in the new law:

International students can work more hours

According to a statement issued by the Federal Office for Migration and Refugees (BAMF), international students are now allowed to work more days in a year to top up their income.

Under the previous rules, students at German universities were only able to work up to 120 full days or 240 half days in any calendar year. 

Since March, this has increased to 140 full days or 280 half days per year. 

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If it's easier than counting the days, a simpler rule of thumb to remember is that students from non-EU countries are allowed to work up to 20 hours per week. At the current minimum wage, that gives you the potential to earn around €250 per week for your living expenses. 

However, there are no restrictions on the type of job students are allowed to take up or the salaries they are allowed to earn, so potentially you could earn much more if you're able to find a decent job. 

READ ALSO: 8 things to know about Germany's new skilled worker immigration law

Prospective students can work before they study

With the 'application to study' visa (Visum zur Studienbewerbung), third-country nationals with adequate German or English skills can come to Germany for up to nine months for the purpose of applying for university and making preparations to study, i.e. by taking a German language course. 

Previously, students needed to have enough money to finance themselves for this entire time, but under the new rules, working for up to 20 hours a week while applying to universities is permitted.

Course participants receive their German test certificates for successful participation in an integration course for immigrants run by the Federal Office for Migration (BAMF).

Course participants receive their German test certificates for successful participation in an integration course for immigrants run by the Federal Office for Migration (BAMF). Photo: picture alliance/dpa | Sven Hoppe

This will likely make it much more feasible for students to apply to German universities while living here, and also offers a significant advantage over 90-day visa waiver schemes that allow people to enter the country, but not to work.

READ ALSO: How do I get a student visa for Germany and what does it let me do?

Lower hurdles for apprentices 

Alongside changes for university students, the government has also introduced a range of changes for people who want to do an apprenticeship in Germany.

Previously, applicants from third-countries were able to enter the country for up to six months to look for vocational training, provided they were aged 25 or under and had at least B2 German.

This has been loosened up significant so that would-be apprentices can enter Germany with B1 German and stay for up to nine months. The upper age limit has also been increased to 35.

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"This will open up residence for the purpose of seeking vocational training to a larger group of third-country nationals," according to the government's Make it in Germany website. 

Like would-be students, people on an apprenticeship applicant visa are now able to work part-time while seeking out a training spot. 

While undertaking their training, apprentices will also be allowed to take up secondary employment for up to 20 hours a week.

Graduates have more flexibility 

A further major change for students are the opportunities they are able to take up after graduation.

Currently, people who graduate from a German university are able to stay in the country for up to 18 months for the purpose of looking for work. After at least two years of employment, graduates are eligible to apply for permanent residency. 

These rules will remain the same under the new law but it will become easier for graduates to switch to an EU Blue Card or Skilled Worker Visa.

Two Blue Cards for foreign skilled workers are on a table at the Federal Office for Migration and Refugees in Bavaria.

Two Blue Cards for foreign skilled workers are on a table at the Federal Office for Migration and Refugees in Bavaria. Photo: picture alliance/dpa | Daniel Karmann

That's because skilled workers no longer need to specifically work in the field they studied in after graduation, but can enter into any profession that requires a formal qualification.

The salary threshold for obtaining an EU Blue Card has also been lowered under the new law, meaning third-country nationals can obtain one if they earn at least half of the maximum salary for paying pension contributions (in 2024t hat's €45,300) or 45.3 percent if they work in a bottleneck profession like healthcare or engineering (in 2024: €41,041.80).

What kind of people study in Germany?

Germany is the third most popular country for international students in the world, after the US and the UK. Over the past decade, international student enrollment in Germany grew by nearly 28 percent, cementing Germany's status as a sought-after study destination.

At present, higher education institutions in Germany are home to at least 458,210 international students.

Most of these students are Indians (42,578), Chinese (39,137), and Syrians (15,563). Turkey is another important source of international students in Germany, sending a total of 14,732 in the 2022/23 academic year.

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A survey conducted by Expatrio and the Deutsche Gesellschaft Internationaler Studierender (DEGIS) at the end of 2021 found that 45 percent of participating students only considered studying in Germany. 

According to higher education expert Alma Mlftari at Studying in Germany, the latest visa changes are likely to cement Germany's status as a popular destination for international students. 

“These recent changes are a good step towards better opportunities for international students in Germany," Mlftari said.

"By increasing the number of days these students are permitted to work in a week, Germany is likely to strengthen its position as a global center for higher education and talent attraction."

The third and final stage of the Skilled Worker Immigration Law is expected to come into effect on June 1st, 2024. The final reforms include the introduction of the points-based opportunity card, which allows skilled workers to come to Germany to look for employment. 

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

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