Germany’s new labor immigration law explained

Good overview:

It has never been easy for foreigners to come to Germany for work. For many decades, political leaders have insisted the country wasn’t pursuing active immigration policies. But this has changed in recent years due to the fact that Germany is lacking more than a million skilled laborers to keep its economy going.

As of March 1, a new law will facilitate the immigration of qualified workers to Germany. Below is a list of the most important changes for all those who are seeking a job from abroad.

Who is considered a skilled worker?

Contrary to previous legislation, being considered a skilled worker, or “specialist,” is no longer restricted to a person with a university or college degree. Instead, the term now also applies to someone who has acquired a vocational training certificate. The training program must be at least two years in length, and the resulting degree needs to be recognized as equal or similar to a German degree.

If you want to check whether your qualification suits the requirements, you can access an information portal set up by the German Labor Ministry. How this works is explained on the “Make it in Germany” website, where you can also find links to other issues related to working in the country.

The government’s aim is to finish the recognition process of an applicant within three months after all the necessary documents have been provided. A work visa will be issued four weeks later.

Who is allowed to work in Germany?

In principle, applicants from outside the European Union are generally allowed to work in Germany if they have a work contract with a firm based in Germany and the relevant professional qualification for the job. The new law has stripped away a key regulation: That people from outside the EU can only take a job if there is no German or EU citizen who is able to do it instead.

Job seekers with qualifications lower than the vocational training level are, however, excluded by the new law. They can nevertheless apply for immigration if they possess a work contract or a job offer from a German employer. The employer then has to train the applicant and make sure he or she acquires a professional-level certificate within two years.

What else is needed?

All those with a work contract or a specific job offer are granted residency status for four years, or the duration of their contract. After four years, they can apply for a permanent residence status.

If you’re looking for a job, you are also allowed entry into Germany — on the condition that you can prove you’re able to support yourself and that you speak sufficient German (B2 level).

The new law also applies to foreigners seeking professional qualifications or a university degree in Germany. In addition, they must have obtained a diploma from a German school abroad or any other degree that qualifies them for university or professional education, and they must not be older than 25. After working for two years in Germany, people in this category can apply for permanent residence status.

Foreign skilled workers who are older than 45 have to prove they earn a minimum of €3,685 per month in their German job, or possess adequate old-age retirement funds.

Special rules for special skills

In sectors with an acute shortage of skilled professionals, the bar for emigrating to Germany has been lowered as well. Medical doctors, IT specialists or registered certified nurses, for example, don’t need to have their qualifications recognized by German authorities as long as they can prove a minimum of five years of on-the-job experience.

However, employers are obliged to take on financial responsibility for up to one year, including repatriation costs, for an employee whose contract has expired and who refuses to leave Germany voluntarily.

Family members are allowed

Under the new law, qualified workers are also allowed to bring their spouses and minor children to Germany. But they must prove to be able to support their family members financially and must provide them with sufficient living space. They cannot receive state benefits such as social welfare payments.

Welfare organizations including the Catholic charity Caritas have criticized the regulation, saying it would tear families apart. Those foreigners working in social occupations or the care sector wouldn’t be able to meet the requirements for families, they said.

Are refugees and asylum-seekers also welcome?

In principle, the new regulations also apply to asylum-seekers and refugees, although politicians admit only very few of them would qualify for it, namely those granted exceptional leave to remain.

Such foreigners with no residential status but who cannot be deported for various reasons are allowed to start training under certain conditions. They must have been working at least 35 hours a week for 18 months, and need to be able to support themselves. In addition, they must have sufficient command of the German language (B2 level) and must not have committed a criminal offense.

About Andrew
Andrew blogs and tweets public policy issues, particularly the relationship between the political and bureaucratic levels, citizenship and multiculturalism. His latest book, Policy Arrogance or Innocent Bias, recounts his experience as a senior public servant in this area.

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