This country-specific Q&A provides an overview of Corporate Immigration laws and regulations applicable in Germany.
What are the relevant government entities relating to immigration in your jurisdiction?
Federal Employment Agency (Bundesagentur für Arbeit)
local town hall
Federal Office for Migration and Refugees (BAMF)
The assignee applies for a visa at the German embassy. In some cases, this requires the prior approval of the Federal Employment Agency. After entry, the applicant registers with the local town hall. After registering at the local town hall, the applicant applies for his or her residence permit at the competent immigration office. The Federal Office for Migration and Refugees is rarely required for labour migration, but can be involved in the context of the mobile ICT Card.
What are the options available for sponsor-based employment in your jurisdiction and timelines involved in securing a work permit?
Germany has a uniform permit system. Thus, there are residence permits entitling to employment and residence permits not entitling to employment. The work permit is not necessarily a sponsorship-based regime in the traditional sense, as it may be known from other jurisdictions (e.g. the UK).
There are several options of sponsor-based employment, for example, the EU Blue Card, specialist permit, permit for skilled worker with a university degree, permit for skilled worker with vocational training, ICT card, Mobile ICT card, residence permit for researcher, residence permit for privileged nationals, etc. The processing of residence permits for work purposes can take different lengths of time. Normally, one assumes 8 to 12 weeks from the time of application. However, we recommend adding the application for a national D visa for privileged nationals as well, as there is a large backlog of appointments at the various immigration offices locally. This can take additional time. Some German consulates currently have a waiting time of several months.
What are the primary options available for unsponsored work and investment in your jurisdiction?
A primary option for unsponsored work is a capital share of at least 50 %, which gives the manager a significant influence on the company. In the case of a lower participation, it is necessary to consider whether the free arrangement of the activity with regard to time, duration, scope and place, a performance-related salary, exemption from the prohibition of self-contracting, the assumption of a guarantee for the company’s liabilities as well as the granting of loans to the company may, taken as a whole, lead to self-employment.
A foreigner may be granted a residence permit for the purpose of self-employment if:
a. There is an economic interest or a regional need,
b. the activity is expected to have a positive impact on the economy and
c. the financing of the implementation is secured through equity capital or a loan commitment
What are the requirements for becoming a sponsor of employment-based migrants and what are the role and reporting duties of sponsors?
Since permits under German immigration law are not sponsored in a formal sense but are tied to a concrete job offer/employment contract, such a formal job offer would be the crucial requirement. The offer and its conditions must meet certain requirements, as must the background/experience of the foreign national in question, in order for a residence permit to be granted for work purposes.
The sponsor must be a German company with a company number and an actual place of business. The employer must fulfil some reporting obligations to the authorities, e.g., in case of early dismissals or certain changes in working conditions.
Are applications filed electronically, or paper base? Is a physical visa/work permit document issued or is an electronic approval issued?
In most cases, the applications can be filed electronically (via email or through an online form). In each case, in-person appointments are necessary (see below), which require some paper-based documents. Most documents issued by the authorities are still paper based and needed in original (e.g., work permit pre-approvals).
The visa and the residence permits are issued as paper-based documents and cannot be approved just electronically. Final residence permits are issued by the national printing agency in a hard card format (much like an ID).
Is an in-person attendance/interview required as part of the visa/work permit application process? Is an individual required to enrol their biometrics (digital photo, fingerprint scan) as part of the visa/work permit process?
Yes, for all applicants older than 6 years, a personal interview is required for the visa appointment and the appointment at the local immigration authorities to convert the visa into a “final” permit that can be valid for several years. During these appointments, the biometric data of the applicants is also collected.
What persons qualify as dependants? Can dependants work based on their dependant visa status? Are there any restrictions?
Dependents are the spouse and the underage children. Additional family members can only join the family in cases of special hardship. For a positive decision on the applications, it is important that the livelihood and sufficient living space for the entire family is secured without support from the German state. The spouse is generally expected to acquire German language skills before entering Germany. When applying for a visa, it should therefore already be possible to present a language certificate of the lowest level A1. There are exceptions to this requirement, for example if the skilled worker fulfils the requirements for the EU Blue Card. Family members can work due to their family member status and have an unrestricted right to work in Germany.
What is the general time frame and processes for obtaining permanent residence and citizenship for sponsored and unsponsored business-related immigration?
The time frame for obtaining permanent residence is usually 5 years for most residence permit types. EU Blue Card holders may qualify earlier. If they hold an A1 German language certificate, applications can be made after 33 months and for B1 certificate holders after only 21 months. German citizenship can generally be applied for after 8 years of living in Germany and requires also German language skills, among other things.
What productive type activities can a business visitor undertake and for how long?
No productive work activities can be performed on a business trip.
Standard business travel usually includes activities such as:
attending meetings and conferences,
promoting sales/ services through presentations to potential clients or similar,
conducting business negotiations,
negotiating and signing contracts,
attending trade fairs/trade shows in order to promote products or services – not including direct sales activities,
attending a job interview.
The following activities are not classed as standard business travel activities:
providing consultancy services of any kind,
maintaining and repairing equipment,
touring as a professional speaker.
Can remote work be carried out from your country?
From an immigration law point of view, a work permit (and therefore visa or residence permit) is required when the work is carried out from inside the German territory only.
Are there any productive work / revenue generating activities that can be carried out as a visitor and without the need for a work permit? If so, what activities and for how long?
No, there aren´t any activities that can be carried out as a visitor and without the need for a work permit. Foreigners need a work permit for sponsored and unsponsored work (exception: business trip).
Is there a remote work or nomad visa category in your jurisdiction? If not, how likely is it that this will be implemented in future?
There is no specific remote work or nomad visa. At the moment, there are no remote work permit categories planned.
How easy is it to switch visa categories/jobs/employer from within country? And/or if made redundant, can the individual regularise their stay in another capacity and what is the timeframe allowable?
In general, it is possible to switch between residence permit categories and also between employers and jobs. Usually, as the permits are bound to one employer and job/offer, the switch of employers / jobs requires a new application at the immigration office. This also applies to the change of categories, as the authority must check whether the legal requirements for the change of legal basis are met.
The timeframe depends on the appointment situation at the responsible immigration office, on average it may take up to 4 – 6 weeks. In case of redundancy or job loss, the immigration office could also issue job search residence permits, allowing the holders to stay in Germany to look for a new employment. The duration of such a permit is at the discretion of the authorities. Generally, EU blue card holders could stay up to 3 months after the end of their employment for job search.
What common issues or concerns may arise for employers under business immigration in your jurisdiction?
The appointment situation at German consulates and embassies abroad varies greatly and depends on the situation in the country itself, so delays may occur.
The same can apply to the immigration offices and their ability to allocate and respond to appointments at short notice. This delays the procedure and can also have a negative impact on workers.
Is there a fast track process / certification that business can obtain to expedite visa / permit processing?
In 2020, a fast-track procedure was introduced for workers with a local employment contract. The requirement is that the employer has concluded a corresponding contract with the competent immigration office, that a processing fee of currently €411 is paid and that it is a residence permit for which the procedure is applicable (for example, skilled worker, company specialist, IT specialist, etc.).
What are the recent trends, both political and social (including COVID-19 pandemic), that have impacted your jurisdiction with regard to immigration policy and law? How will this shape the immigration landscape moving forward?
The war in Ukraine has affected immigration policy and law in our country. A special residence title for Ukrainian citizens who fled to Germany before the war in Ukraine has come into force (residence permit for temporary protection). With this residence title, Ukrainian citizens receive a legal residence title in a relatively uncomplicated manner and promptly receive a work permit that does not contain any restrictions.
In addition, the growing shortage of qualified professionals with vocational training has had an impact on immigration policy. Thus, the access of foreign skilled workers with vocational training was facilitated with the Skilled Workers Immigration Act.
In principle, Germany should be made attractive as a location, especially for qualified skilled workers, by making the immigration process as simple as possible. This also includes making it as easy as possible for their relatives (partners, children) to enter the country. Furthermore, the recognition of foreign vocational training should be further simplified.
How is the COVID-19 pandemic shaping the immigration landscape in your jurisdiction?
The COVID 19 pandemic and the accompanying travel restrictions had a huge impact on the ability of skilled workers to travel and relocate; in addition, demand from companies for staff had dropped significantly in the meantime. Furthermore, the ever-changing entry rules – and restrictions – have created a great deal of uncertainty.
Are there any anticipated changes in the immigration laws of your jurisdiction?
The family reunification of skilled workers from third countries – that is, all countries except the states of the EU, the European Economic Area and Switzerland – is also to be facilitated. In order to make immigration to Germany more attractive for skilled workers, proof of German language skills is to be waived in future when their families join them. The regulation is limited to skilled workers.
Well-integrated foreigners who are merely tolerated in Germany should be able to obtain a right to stay more easily.
How do you see technology developing and evolving to support immigration process in the future?
As many foreigners offices and authorities in Germany do not yet work with digital files or have just started to do so, there is still great potential for technological development in the public sector.
The visa application form for a Schengen visa can be filled out online but must be brought as a printout to the application appointment.
At Germany’s missions abroad in Belgrade, Kolkata and São Paulo applications for the EU Blue Card are now being accepted online. Holders can take up employment within the EU. At the end of this year, the pilot phase for online passport applications for German citizens will begin.
What are the Right to Work requirements in your jurisdiction?
The employer who hires third-country nationals must make sure that the third-country national has a valid work permit and must keep a copy of it on file. In addition, certain changes in the job or working conditions must be reported to the authorities, as well as early terminations. Similarly, the employee must ensure that he or she is in possession of a valid and correct residence permit and must also inform the authorities of early terminations.
What are the types of civil and criminal penalties employers may face for non-compliance with immigration rules i.e. employing an individual who does not have the Right to Work?
If an employer violates the principle that a foreigner may only be employed with a residence permit, this can result in a fine of up to €500,000.
In the event of persistent repetition, the act is punishable and may be punished with imprisonment of up to three years or a fine.
The same applies if more than five foreigners are employed without authorization.
If, in addition to the unauthorized employment, significantly worse working conditions than usual are granted, this may result in an imprisonment of up to five years.
Are there any quota and / or labour market testing requirements in your jurisdiction and if so, what do they involve?
There are no quotas. The Federal Employment Agency is generally required by law to undertake a labour market testing if foreign employees from countries that do not belong to the European Union (EU) or the European Economic Area (EEA) – are to be employed. As a rule, the labour market review consists of the so-called priority review and the review of employment conditions.
At first the Federal Employment Agency reviews all persons registered as unemployed or seeking work to determine whether so-called “preferred” employees are available to fill the position. Preferred applicants are domestic applicants as well as applicants from EU or EEA countries. After that the employment conditions are checked, which includes salaries and working hours.
Are there quota requirements, restrictions or a cap on the numbers of foreign nationals hired per company in your jurisdiction?
No, there aren´t such restrictions on the numbers of foreign nationals hired per company. Only in the case of a posting as a personnel exchange, one employee of the domestic part of the company must be posted abroad for each foreign employee coming to Germany. This relieves the German labour market.
Are there any exit procedures in your jurisdiction, if an individual is departing permanently?
Every person (including Germans and EU citizens) who leaves Germany permanently must deregister at the local town hall. If the third-country national holds a residence permit with the main purpose of employment and terminates it early, this must usually be reported to the immigration office.
Are there any requirements for medical certificates or vaccinations for your jurisdiction?
Residence permits and visas are only granted if the applicant can prove that he or she has sufficient health insurance comparable to the German statutory health insurance. No special vaccinations are currently required. If new regulations come again, it may be that the Corona vaccination will have an impact on the examination and quarantine obligations.
Are there any language requirements for your jurisdiction?
The language requirements depend on the different residence titles:
Skilled workers are to be granted a permanent settlement permit if they have a sufficient command of the German language (Level B1).
No language skills are required to apply for an blue card EU.
A foreigner shall be granted a permanent settlement permit if the foreigner has a sufficient command of the German language (Level B1)
As regards quality vocational training, foreigners are required to furnish proof that they have a sufficient command (B1) of the German language, if their command of the language required for the vocational training has not been tested by the educational institution and is not to be acquired in a preparatory German language course.
A foreigner’s spouse is to be granted a temporary residence permit if the spouse is able to communicate in the German language at least on a basic level (Level A1).
What are the government costs associated with a typical employment based visa?
The processing fee is €80 for Schengen visas and €75 for national visas (for longer stays). Issuance of a residence permit, an EU Blue Card or an ICT Card costs €100. The fees for the fast-track procedure for skilled workers are 411€.
Is a local contract of employment required in order to obtain a work based visa or work permit? Are there salary or other thresholds to be met?
Some work-related visas/residence permits require a local contract, but there are also opportunities for people who are formally posted. A foreign worker must generally be paid a salary comparable to that of other workers with similar jobs and professional backgrounds in Germany.
In addition, for some types of permits, such as the Blue Card, there are certain salary thresholds that must be met. In 2022, the threshold for an EU Blue Card is €56,400 or €43,992 for shortage occupations.
What are the maximum periods of stay for individuals on an employment based visa / work permit?
In the case of a secondment, the stay can usually be up to 3 years. In the case of local employment contracts, there are no restrictions. However, permits must be renewed before their expiry date. Permanent residence permits must be renewed together with the person’s passport.
Does your jurisdiction allow dual nationality?
In principle, German law does not provide for dual citizenship as a rule, but rather as an exception
At birth, children can acquire dual citizenship if one parent has German citizenship, but the other parent has a different citizenship. Since December 20, 2014, they have been able to retain both citizenships if they grew up in Germany. Only those who did not grow up here must, in principle, choose between German and foreign citizenship after reaching the age of 21. Another exception is the retention permit.
What are the most positive aspects of your immigration system compared to the rest of the world?
The German Immigration Act was amended in 2020 and takes better account of the need for foreign skilled workers than before.
For professions in high demand in the natural sciences and technology, the requirements for applying for certain permits are relaxed.
In addition, German residence law generally leaves room for the authorities to make exceptions in individual cases, for example if a longer stay abroad becomes unavoidable, which would generally lead to the expiry of the permit.
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