German visa and residence permits
The new Skilled Immigration Act has opened the German labor market for all qualified internationals, lifted the restriction to deficit professions, and simplified the procedures for getting German visas and residence permits. The EU Blue Card has been in force for highly qualified specialists since 2012.
What is the difference between a German visa and a residence permit?
Each country regulates the entry and residence of foreigners on its territory according to its own interests. The regulations are mostly tied to the duration and purpose of entry and residence. Many non-EU nationals need a visa if they want to visit Germany. People from some non-EU countries can spend up to three months as tourists in Germany and other countries of the European Union without restrictions. However, if you want to stay longer in Germany to work, study, or live with your spouse, you need a permit. There are different residence permits that are issued on the basis of different regulations: National German visa, EU Blue Card, residence permit …
Two types of permits – visas and residence permits – are often used synonymously, which can cause confusion. A permit that entitles you to work in Germany is initially issued in the form of a visa by the German embassy in the immigrant’s home country. After arriving in Germany, you will then have to apply for the actual residence permit at the immigration office at your new place of residence. So it is a more or less administrative matter in which one permit is exchanged for another.
What types of visas and residence permits are there?
EU Blue Card
The EU Blue Card is a special residence permit for highly qualified academic professionals from non-EU countries who want to work in Germany. It was introduced in 2012 and offers several advantages over the “normal” residence permit.
Blue Card holders must take up a position that corresponds to their qualifications and degree. In addition, they must receive a gross annual salary of at least EUR 56,800 (in 2021). A reduced gross annual salary of at least 44,304 euros (in 2021) applies to professions in the MINT area (mathematics, IT, natural sciences, and technology) and in human medicine that are particularly in demand. In this case, the Federal Labor Office must agree to the employment.
The Blue Card is issued for a maximum of 4 years and offers particularly good conditions for obtaining a settlement permit in Germany after just 33 months. If your German language skills are at level B1, then already after 21 months. The visa procedure is comparatively short and family members can also come to Germany under simplified conditions. Spouses without knowledge of German are entitled to a residence permit. This also entitles them to work in Germany.
German visa and residence permit for qualified professionals with academic degrees
In some cases, international professionals with academic degrees may not be able to meet all the requirements for the EU Blue Card, like the minimum wage, or they want to take up a job below their qualifications. In these cases, a residence permit can be issued on the basis of the new Skilled Immigration Act.
The residence permit for foreign international professionals with academic degrees based on the new Skilled Immigration Act differs from the EU Blue Card in several ways:
- Applicants do not necessarily have to work in a position for which an academic degree is necessary. It is sufficient that the professional field corresponds to their education and that they are able to do the job. This means that it is even possible to work in a profession that, according to the job description, only requires vocational training. For example, an electrical engineer could work as an electrician.
- Academic professionals who have reached the age of 45 must have an annual gross salary of at least EUR 46,860 (in 2021) or adequate pension entitlements. A pension can be a pension entitlement abroad that meets certain requirements.
- Some of the benefits of the EU Blue Card do not apply to this residence permit and lead to lengthy procedures.
- A settlement permit can only be issued after 48 months.
German visa and residence permit for qualified workers with vocational training
Since the introduction of the Skilled Immigration Act on March 1, 2020, all non-EU jobseekers with vocational training can receive a German visa if their training has been recognized as equivalent and they meet other necessary requirements. There is no longer any restriction to shortage occupations.
In order to receive this residence permit, the vocational training must have been recognized as being equivalent to the German reference occupation – directly during the first recognition process or after successful additional qualification measures.
The skilled workers can only work in a job that corresponds to their level of qualification and cannot occupy a position that does not require professional training, like unskilled workers. However, they can work in related professions. For example, a pastry chef can work as a baker. As part of the visa process, the Federal Employment Agency checks whether the professional qualification enables the applicant to work in the respective position.
Applicants who have reached the age of 45 must prove an annual gross salary of at least EUR 46,860 (in 2021) or adequate pension entitlements.
German visa and residence permit for training and recognition of qualifications
Almost all skilled workers with vocational training have to prove that their degree is recognized as equivalent in order to receive a work visa. If full recognition of their qualification is not possible and they have to complete additional courses or training in Germany, they can obtain a special visa and residence permit for this case.
This residence permit is usually issued for 18 months and can be extended by 6 months. In order to successfully complete the courses and training, applicants have to speak German at level B1.
If the deficits to reach full recognition are mainly practical skills and knowledge that can be learned on the job, then applicants can start working immediately. The employer must develop a training plan and successfully implement it with the new employee within two years.
German visa for jobseekers
Internationals who want to go to Germany to search for work have the opportunity to apply for a jobseeker visa.
Professionals with academic degrees must have a qualification that is already recognized for regulated professions or is comparable to a German qualification for non-regulated professions. Skilled workers with vocational training must prove that their qualification has already been recognized.
Applicants must have sufficient funds and health insurance for the entire stay. Skilled workers with vocational training must also speak German at level B1. The visa is issued for a maximum of 6 months.
German visa and residence permit based on the Western Balkan Regulation
In principle, Germany only allows qualified immigrants to get a work visa. Jobseekers from Serbia, Bosnia and Herzegovina, Albania, Montenegro, North Macedonia, and Kosovo are an exception. They can get a work visa based on the Western Balkans Regulation. This enables them to take up employment in Germany that does not require a degree or vocational training, e.g. B. as a construction worker or unskilled worker. The regulation was extended until the end of 2023.
German visa and residence permit for vocational training
The German vocational training system offers young foreigners a first-class opportunity to get trained for a profession and continue to work in Germany. The new Skilled Immigration Act has made it easier for applicants from non-EU countries to do vocational training and offers a special residence permit for this purpose.
Requirements are an apprenticeship contract or offer and knowledge of German at level B1. Language skills may also be lower if the applicants will complete a preparatory language course before the start of vocational training.
The vocational training lasts at least two years. There are school and company-based training. In the case of purely school-based training, sufficient funds must be proven for the entire period. With company-based training, part of the training is completed at vocational schools and the other part in the company. In this case, the trainees receive a salary that covers the cost of living.
If the trainee is not employed in the company after completing the training, he or she will receive a residence permit to search for another job in Germany. The work permit is valid for one year.
If applicants want to go to Germany to look for a vocational training position, they can obtain a German visa for this purpose.
The prerequisite is that the candidates have not yet reached the age of 25 and have a middle school certificate that entitles them to study at a university. In addition, they must prove that they speak German at level B2 and have sufficient funds to cover their living costs for the entire duration of their stay. This German visa is valid for 6 months.
Residence permit for IT specialists
The new Skilled Immigration Act has introduced a special visa for, particularly competent foreigners regardless of a formal qualification. This means that some foreigners can be admitted to employment even though they have not completed any vocational training or university studies, but have many years of professional experience in professions for which a corresponding qualification is normally required. This primarily includes jobs in IT.
It is typical for IT specialists that the technical specialization is not necessarily acquired through training or a degree but through professional experience. They usually complete theoretical training or acquire internationally recognized certificates. Not every job meets the requirements for this residence permit. Currently, this visa is mainly given to software developers
In order to make up for the lack of vocational training or studies, the applicant must prove relevant professional experience of three years in the last seven years.
Another requirement is a minimum gross annual salary of 51,120 euros (in 2021) and sufficient knowledge of German at level B1. In individual cases, language skills can be waived if the employer confirms that the working language will not be German.
German visa and residence permit for professional drivers
Unlike in most other countries, professional drivers in Germany have to complete a three-year vocational training. Since a recognition procedure is not applicable in this case, as the applicants do not have any foreign vocational training, an exception was created for professional drivers. Professional drivers can get a residence permit for skilled workers with vocational training if they
- have an EU / EEA driving license (CE) and
- have a basic qualification or accelerated basic qualification (code 95).
If the applicant does not have an EU driving license or basic qualifications, but only a driving license from the country of origin, he can also obtain one in Germany.
If a foreign professional driver only has a local driver’s license and no basic qualification (Code 95) but has a job offer, he can acquire the missing qualification in Germany and receive a residence permit for this purpose.
Parallel to this qualification measure, the applicant can work in Germany for up to 15 months, e.g. in a warehouse or as a co-driver, until he has successfully completed the course for the basic qualification. Knowledge of the German language is not absolutely necessary, but the embassies can require it.
German visa and residence permit for freelancers and sole traders
If you want to work as a freelancer in Germany, you can obtain a residence permit for freelance work. The prerequisites are:
- adequate funding
- Corresponding qualification or experience for the desired activity
- Permission to practice the profession if the profession is regulated
- Adequate retirement provision for applicants over 45 years of age
- Other requirements depending on the type of work
Anyone wishing to set up a business as a sole trader can obtain a residence permit if the following requirements are met:
- There is an economic interest or a regional need for the product or service
- The activity can be expected to have positive effects on the economy
- The financing is secured
- Adequate retirement provision for applicants over 45 years of age
- Other requirements depending on the type of work
Fast-track immigration process
The Skilled Immigration Act gives companies and international professionals from non-EU countries the opportunity to shorten the immigration process even further. Companies can apply on behalf of chosen candidates for a fast-track immigration process. The fast track process is open for immigrants who want to apply for an EU Blue Card or a residence permit based on the Skilled Immigration Act. This option is not available to applicants who want to come to Germany via the Western Balkans Regulation.
Information on this website is intended to give you an orientation about German visas and residence permits and does not constitute legal advice. You can find up-to-date immigration requirements via the visa navigator of the Federal Foreign Office.