Like many brave people before you, you have decided to turn a new page in your life and try something bold, something hard and something worthwhile; applying for a work visa in Germany. Whatever your reasons, it’s a difficult entreprise and it may sometimes look like an Herculean task. I mean, it’s already hard enough as it is for find a job, but to have a permit to work, it’s almost double the effort.

This blog has helped to deconstruct many complicated topics before, and this won’t be an exception.

This blog has helped to deconstruct many complicated topics before, and the employment visa application for Germany won’t be an exception. So brew yourself some coffee and prepare to dive in while we go step by step.

What is a German work visa and do I need one?

The German work visa is based on a system of residency permits with different conditions based on the specific application and situation. That is like any other residence permit in Germany. If you are not an EU citizen (or from Switzerland, Norway, Iceland, Liechtenstein), you will need permission to live and work in Germany in the form of an employment visa. This does not automatically let you travel and work in the rest of the EU.

Usually, you’ll need to apply before you come to Germany and wait several months for everything to be processed. You can read a broad summary here.

The German Foreigners Office, called the Ausländerbehörde, differentiates between general and specialist employment, as well as temporary employment (guest scientist, au pair, internship), job searching, freelance, and self-employment. Let’s cover the first two categories in-depth in this post.

Do I qualify for the general employment visa?

This is for anyone who wants to live and work in Germany and needs a residence permit for the purpose of employment. For the German work visa, you generally need approval from the Bundesagentur für Arbeit (Federal Employment Office) in addition to the Ausländerbehörde.

To improve your chances of approval, you first need a job lined up in Germany. Ideally, this position is on the whitelist;  there is a shortage of qualified people in Germany for this profession.

Do I qualify for the specialist work visa or EU Blue Card?

Being a specialist in your field gives you a sort of “golden ticket” to working in Germany. In other words, you’re well-educated and your qualifications are beneficial to the German labor market. You enjoy a privileged status during the visa process and special benefits if you’re approved.

If you are a company executive, senior management, university teacher, or possess special professional qualifications, then you don’t necessarily need approval from the Bundesagentur für Arbeit and can skip much of the application process. Check with your local research institution or German mission (embassy or consulate) for more details.

For the EU Blue Card, you need to have a higher education degree and:

  • earn at least €45 300/year (gross) with your job.
  • or
  • earn at least €41 041/year (gross) and are employed in a so-called “shortage occupation”: mathematics, IT, natural sciences, engineering, architecture, interior, urban and traffic planning, design, or medicine (except dentistry).

If you fulfill the first financial requirement and got your degree in Germany, you don’t need approval from the Bundesagentur für Arbeit for your visa. This can mean a faster application process and less hassle!

However, if you have a degree from a foreign university and only fulfill the second financial requirement, you’ll need to get that approval. In both cases, your contract needs to be meeting local German working conditions.

Once approved, the EU Blue Card visa is valid for a maximum of four years, unless you have a limited job contract. In that case your work visa is valid for the length of your job contract, plus three months. After 33 months living in Germany, you can qualify for a permanent residence permit. Get your German language skills certified at a B1 or higher level and you could qualify for that permanent residence permit after just 21 months!

Read a full guide on how to apply for a blue card for Germany.

Learning German is key for a faster permit.

This video is quite helpful as well to wrap your head around the problem too.

What if I don’t have a job lined up yet?

This makes the process for general and specialist employment visas very difficult. These are based on you having a job offer or letter of intent. If you already live in Germany, you can try to apply for a job seeker visa , something we cover in this article in details.

If you need resources on where to find jobs at all, you can read this guide on how to find a good job in Berlin. Most of the tips & resources apply to the rest of Germany as well.

Where and when do I apply for a work visa?

Ideally, you should be applying for the German work visa before you arrive in the country. Your country’s German mission is responsible for handling the visa application and process. If, however, you have citizenship in one of the following countries, you’re allowed to first arrive on a tourist visa and then apply for a work visa in Germany: Australia, Israel, Japan, Canada, New Zealand, South Korea, and the USA. Lucky you!

Unless you qualify for this exception, you need to apply for the work visa through your local German mission. They will give you all the necessary forms and tell you the specific requirements.

In most cases, you’ll need to submit the following documents (originals plus copies):

  • application forms provided by the local German mission
  • valid passport
  • biometric photos
  • proof of your qualifications and any occupation practice permits
  • employment contract or binding job offer
  • detailed job description
  • proof of safe livelihood (such as bank statements or pay slips)
  • fee of €75, but check if you can pay less

The application process can take anywhere from 1 to 3 months, depending on the visa. So, apply as early as possible! Your employer should be aware that you can’t fly over and start right away.

What happens next?

Once you get the initial approval for your application, you’ll receive an entry visa. Time to pack your bags and find a home in Berlin!

Make sure you register your address and schedule an appointment at the Ausländerbehörde offices in Moabit or Charlottenburg right away! This is where you will apply for a residency permit, which allows you to stay in Germany after the initial 3 months of your entry visa.

You’ll get more details before your appointment, but prepare these documents ahead of time:

  • general employment application
  • residence permit application 
  • valid passport
  • biometric photo
  • job contract
  • detailed position description (from your employer)
  • proof of professional qualifications, any occupational practice permits
  • rental contract/proof of homeownership
  • rental costs or expenses for the property
  • proof of main address in Berlin
  • proof of health insurance (traveler isn’t enough)
  • proof of secure finances (EU Blue Card application only)
  • fee of up to €100 for most applications, some nationalities have cheaper rates.

Sources vary about how long this part of the German work visa process takes. Expect at least a few weeks and remember – you’re not allowed to work during this time!

Skilled workers: fast tracking your application

The section 81a of the German residence act (81a AufenthG) introduces the concept of an accelerated procedure for skilled workers. This special visa application method reduces the time it takes to process significantly. This method looks a bit different than the traditional one:

  1. As an prospective employee, you give powers of attorney to your employer so they can represent you on your behalf when talking to the different German authorities involved (Immigration office, Federal Employment Agency, recognition bodies, German mission abroad).
  2. Your future employer applies for this fast-track process with the immigration office. It does the ground work on your behalf to have your qualifications recognized, and green light any other pre-approval conditions.
  3. Once all this qualification process has been carried out, the Immigration office will issue an pre-approval meant for you, the employee. This document should be presented together with the rest of the documents during your appointment at your local German mission.
  4. A decision is taken within another 3 weeks.
  5.  Your future employer pays a 411€ fee for this.

Please note that this fast-track procedure is also taking spouses and children into account too. It can be used if those family members’ applications are submitted at the same time.

What if my application for a Germany work visa is denied?

Don’t. panic.

If your German work visa application is rejected, you can ask for the reason through the remonstration process and possibly attempt to appeal the decision. The process requires you to appeal in writing to the German mission that handled your application. They must reassess your application. If they reject it again, they must tell you the reason in the form of a Remonstrance Notice.

You also have the option to appeal the decision within one month through the Administrative Court in Berlin. In both cases, you should find a lawyer that knows their way around these topics.

To avoid rejection, double-check that your application is complete, your passport is valid for the specified timeframe, all your documents are in good order, and you meet the requirements of the Bundesagentur für Arbeit.

I’m nervous, what do I need to watch out for?

Here are a few tips to keep your composure

  1. Visas are only valid for a limited time and are often tied to your job contract. If you leave that job you will need to reapply for a visa to stay in Germany.
  2. Not sure if you should bring a specific document to a meeting? Bring everything, just in case. This will make you feel more confident going in and might even earn you a rare compliment for being well-organized!
  3. If you have poor German skills, bring an interpreter or German-speaking friend with you to appointments.
  4. Be prepared to have your most important documents translated by a certified translator, even if they’re all in English.
  5. Schedule appointments well in advance. The immigration and registration offices in Berlin are often booked solid for weeks.
  6. Be on time! Germans are big on deadlines and expect everyone to follow official procedures. They do not appreciate tardiness and requests for emergency exceptions.

Remember, the people processing your application are also humans (probably). They want to do well at their job, follow the rules, and get home for the weekend. You can make everyone’s life much easier by being well-prepared for meetings and staying organized.

The German company I’m going to work for is planning to send me abroad; does this not mean that my German residence permit will expire?

Even if you have secured a German work visa, there can be a number of reasons for its termination. One simple reason could be that it has reached its expiration date. It can also be unilaterally terminated if you stay outside the country for longer than 6 months or if Germany is not your common place of residence anymore.

In those conditions, to be sent abroad by a German company to work from there is a legitimate concern. However, the German residence act does plan for such a scenario, by raising this 6 months limit to whatever is needed. Make sure to discuss this with your HR people before hand, so they are aware of that. In doubt, you can also call this hotline to ask what extra-steps might be needed.

How I can get help or guidance?

You can of course decide to talk to immigration specialists. For more general questions, you can also call a dedicated hotline setup by in cooperation with many different German administrations. They can answer your questions in English. More info about this hotline this way.

Aside from official sources and professional practices, you can also turn to this Facebook group: Problems and Challenges with Ausländerbehorde and Einbürgerungsamt (Berlin). While it may not replace professional advice, it’s a good way to get grassroots feedback during your application.

Good luck and feel free to leave comments below! 🙂

German work visa – FAQ

How long is the initial work visa valid for?

Maximum 4 years but it varies depending the type of contract (e.g: limited contract). It is renewable and eventually, you will be able to apply for a permanent residence permit.

Are German language skills required for the application?

Mastering German is not one of the requirements listed by the immigration office. However, it does improve your chances to find opportunities in Germany, in more fields.

What happens if I quit or my contract is terminated?

When your contract comes to an end, you must notify the immigration office immediately. It will grant you a grace period of 3 to 6 months to let you find a new job.

Can I get another job on a work visa?

It’s possible but complicated. A work visa is meant for a single employer. A new application is needed if you want to change jobs. However, if you have been working in German for at least 3 years AND you have an unlimited contract, it is possible to change jobs without a new application. Read here for more info.

Can I also be a freelancer on the side on a German work visa?

Check your residence permit document. If it states “Selbständige Tätigkeit gestattet“, you can register as a freelancer, but it cannot become your main job. Please remember that your employer needs to be aware of it too.

What are travel restrictions on a German work visa?

You can leave the country for a period of 6 months without losing your residence permit. If you plan to leave for a longer period of time, it is possible to ask a special permission at the immigration office.

Sources: 1, 2, 3, 4, 5

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