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German Work Permits: Further Info

Unfortunately, obtaining a work permit for Germany is not always easy. Your success in the application process depends on various factors: your nationality, your occupation, even your annual salary. Our expatriate guide to Germany introduces the key aspects that you have to keep in mind.
Foreign investors have an easier time getting work and residence permits for Germany.

When to Apply for a Work Permit: Before or After Arrival?

If you are not an EU national, you will probably enter Germany with an employment visa and get a matching residence permit from the immigration office (Ausländerbehörde).

However, nationals from a few non-EU member states are allowed to enter without a visa and apply for a residence and/or work permit upon arrival. These countries include:

  • Australia
  • Canada
  • Israel
  • Japan
  • New Zealand
  • South Korea
  • United States

Citizens from any other non-EU country have to apply for their visa, residence permit, and work permit at a German foreign mission before coming to Germany.

As Germany is primarily looking for qualified specialists, critical skills enhance your chance of getting a work permit significantly. Expect detailed questions on your job offer, your chosen field of employment, your current occupation, your desired salary, and so on. Also, you have to submit a completed form called "Ausländer- beschäftigung" from your future employer.

As mentioned on the previous page, the immigration office forwards your application for a combined residence/work permit to the Federal Employment Agency. The latter will approve your permit

  • if you have a confirmed job offer
  • and if the vacancy cannot be filled by either an EU national or another immigrant who applied before you.

If you are successful, a work permit will be granted for one year on average. A renewal is possible, though. If you count as a highly skilled employee, however, you may receive a different kind of permit valid for several years.

Skilled Migration

The German government first encouraged skilled labor migration around 2000 when they introduced a so-called "Green Card" for IT specialists. By now, these regulations have been revised several times.

The so-called "Blue Card EU" includes a wider range of various occupations. You qualify for it

  • if you have a college or university degree
  • if you get a job offer with a salary of more than €47,600 a year.

If you have academic qualifications and professional experience in a field with a current shortage of qualified staff (e.g. IT, engineering, healthcare) the income limit is slightly lower. Then you have to earn at least €37,128 annually and work for the same conditions as your German colleagues. 

If you qualify as one of these top-level immigrants, there are some benefits. You do not have to wait for approval from the Federal Employment Agency. Also, the Blue Card is valid for up to four years.

After two or three years, you may obtain a settlement permit (i.e. an unlimited residence permit). Your spouse and dependent children are also allowed to enter the country right away, and they receive a work permit as well.

Self-Employed Expats

If you want to come to Germany for self-employment, you also need to apply for a residence permit, as well as for the permission to start a business here. If you aren’t from an EU member state, your application can be approved or rejected on a case-by-case basis. The following criteria will be checked.

  • the viability of your business idea
  • your business plan and previous experience
  • available capital
  • a potential economic or regional need for your business activity

This type of residence / work permit is usually valid for up to three years. After three years, you may be able to get a settlement permit (i.e. an unlimited residence permit) if you have successfully realized your business project.

There are also special regulations concerning foreign investors and entrepreneurs. If you invest €250,000 in a project beneficial to the German economy and create five or more jobs, getting a permit to live and work in Germany is often relatively easy.

Immigration of Family Members

When it comes to family matters, it makes a great difference if you come to Germany as a highly skilled immigrant. As stated above, the spouse and children of Blue Card employees from non-EU countries may join them at any time.

For all other non-EU nationals, the subsequent immigration of spouse and children has to meet fairly strict requirements. Family reunions are subject to various regulations, for example:

  • You earn a sufficient income to support your family financially.
  • You can provide housing for your family.
  • Your spouse must prove a basic knowledge of the German language.
  • Your children must be younger than 18 years of age and still be unmarried.

However, if you have immigrated as a skilled professional or if you are an EU/EEA national, none of this applies. There are also separate regulations for nationals of the following countries:

  • Andorra
  • Australia
  • Canada
  • Honduras
  • Israel
  • Japan
  • Monaco
  • New Zealand
  • San Marino
  • South Korea
  • the United States.

They are usually exempt from having to acquire any German language skills before coming to join their spouse in Germany.

Also, if you want to get married in Germany, your fiancé(e) from abroad may need a special visa for marriage in Germany, as well as other required documents.


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