For non-EU citizens, staying in Germany for longer than three months requires a residence permit. This can be a tricky process, as visa expert Christoph Von Planta from VPMK attorneys in Berlin explained.
Where do I need to go to get a visa?
If you're from one of the “best friend” countries Australia, Israel, Japan, Canada, Korea, New Zealand or the US you can come into the country without a visa and apply for a work permit or, if you're staying for longer than three months, a residence permit. This means going to the Ausländer-Behörde [foreigners' registration office]. People from other countries need an entry visa as well, which can be acquired from their own country.
Since the summer it has been possible for people from the “best friend” countries to get a working visa from your home country at the German embassy, even if you've never lived in Germany.
This means avoiding the Ausländer-Behörde, but it doesn't always work as staff don't seem to like it and you might be turned away if they're too busy. This does not apply to freelance visas and you have to have proof of employment lined up in Germany.
What kind of visa is the easiest to get?
If you have a university degree, or comparable qualification, and will be earning more than €46,000 then it's relatively easy to get a blue card which allows you to live and work in Germany. If you have a skill they want, mostly technical jobs in IT or engineering, then you can earn €36,000 and get the blue card.
What if I'm not getting that much money?
If you will be earning less than this, you can still apply for a residence permit. These are easier to get from a “best friend” country and you also don't have to have a university degree. This does, however, involve a “working market check” which is when the authorities check that there are not lots of Germans better suited for the job you want.
This is where people can encounter problems. Bar staff, for example, could easily have trouble as there are a lot of German bar staff.
What can I do to up my chances of keeping my residence permit?
If you already have a blue card, this can be made open-ended after some time. It's a much quicker process if you can prove you're level B1 or above in German after 21 months and already have the blue card. Without decent German, you can only ask for an open-ended permit after 33 months. So learn German, or wait longer!
I've asked for my permit to be extended and they've given me a three-month visa. Why?
When asking for your visa to be extended they can give you what's called a Fixionsbescheinigung. This is like a placeholder permit while they check whether or not to extend your proper one.
What if I want to do a low paid or unpaid internship?
Doing a low-wage internship for longer than three months could well be stressful, visa-wise. If you are a student it's different because you can register at a local university, but the German government is trying to avoid employers taking people on for free instead of creating actual jobs. If you are a graduate, be creative and convince your employer to pay you a proper wage.
I have a job lined up, what can I expect from my employer?
Employers can contact an immigration lawyer to make sure a job description is narrow enough so only you meet the pre-requisites. This enables them to pass the “working market check” because we can be sure there's no German more suited for the position.
I'm a freelancer, how do I get a visa?
If you want a freelance visa you have to present a thorough enough argument to the authorities of how you plan on making money. It can be difficult when people don't prepare well enough. As a freelancer you have to go back a year and prove that you have an income, otherwise they will not let you stay. You need a reason to be granted a visa, sometimes you have to create this reason yourself.