VISAS AND PERMITS
Entry clearance requirements are dependent on the citizenship of the applicant. Citizens of many countries do not need a visa to visit Germany for stays of up to 90 days within a reference period of 6 months (European Union (EU) visa waiver program). Please check the German Embassy’s visa requirement list if you are not sure whether you need a visa. For instance, nationals of Argentina, Israel, Japan, Canada, Korea, and the U.S. are not required to obtain a visa for a visitor’s stay of up to three months during any six-month period and are allowed to enter directly with their passports.
Germany is a member of the Schengen Agreement, which provides for the cross-border movement of business visitors without inspection once initial entry has been made. The member countries of the Schengen Implementation Convention include Austria, Belgium, Czech Republic, Denmark, Estonia, Finland, France, Germany, Greece, Hungary, Iceland, Italy, Latvia, Lithuania, Luxembourg, Malta, The Netherlands, Norway, Poland, Portugal, Slovakia, Slovenia, Spain, Sweden, and Switzerland. Visitors to these countries who are not exempt from the requirement to obtain a visa should obtain a Schengen Visa when traveling for business purposes. For the time being, the provisions of the Schengen Convention are either not applicable or partially applicable for new member states that have joined the EU since May 1, 2004; since January 1, 2007 (Bulgaria, Romania); and Cyprus.
Citizens of EU member states do not require visas or residence titles, but are obligated to prove identity. A “certificate of residency title” is granted ex officio. Nationals of “new” EU member states are not required to obtain visas but are still not yet granted employees’ freedom of movement: a “transitory regulation” applies and employment is permitted only with the consent of the Labor Office. Permission in such cases is granted as a “work permit EU.”
All persons who wish to seek gainful employment in Germany are required to obtain a residence permit in the form of a visa. Where needed, a work permit will be included in the visa issued for this purpose.
Individuals who are scheduled to work in Germany and who have an employment authorization application pending may enter Germany as visitors, but their activities must be confined to acceptable Business Visitor activities; in particular, the individual would not be allowed to engage in employment. However, before the grant of the work permit they would have to return to their home country. Nevertheless, this does not apply to nationals of some privileged countries (e.g., Australia, Israel, Japan, Canada, South Korea, New Zealand, and the U.S.) who may enter Germany without a visa and file for the application there before expiration of the 90 days, in order to stay in Germany until the permit is granted.
Individuals may enter Germany as Business Visitors provided their intended period of stay does not exceed 90 days cumulatively in any six-month period, and the purpose of their visit is to conduct allowable Business Visitor activities as described below. In addition, the individual must meet the requirements for a Business Visitor. Business Visitor Visas are required for all nationals, unless the aforementioned privileges do apply or if there is a bilateral treaty in existence between their country of nationality and Germany.
Requirements for Business Visitors
- Business Visitors must have a residence and an employer outside of Germany, and must be traveling to Germany for a limited period of time, not to exceed 90 days in any six-month period;
- Business Visitors may not receive compensation from sources within Germany; however, incidental expenses such as hotel rooms, costs of travel, and meals may be paid by the host;
- Business Visitors must have proof of adequate funds to defray expenses while on a business visit in Germany;
- A Business Visitor must have specific, realistic and articulable plans for his or her stay in Germany; and
- The period of stay must be consistent with the intended purpose of the trip.
Business visitors going to Germany will require employment authorization and a residence permit for activities that are impermissible under the Schengen Visa due to the length of stay or the type of activity. Citizens of European Union member states do not require visas or residence titles, but are obligated to prove identity. A “certificate of residency title” is granted ex officio. Nationals of “new” European Union member states are not required to obtain visas but are still not yet granted employees’ freedom of movement; a “transitory regulation” applies and employment is permitted only with the consent of the Labor Office. Permission in such cases is granted as a “work permit EU.”
Since January 1, 2005, residence and work permits for business visitors are granted together as a “residence title for the purpose of gainful employment” by the immigration authority, in case of need after the Labor Office agreed thereto internally (“one-stop government”).
Under the following circumstances, individuals may not travel to Germany as a Business Visitor, and must obtain employment authorization and a residence permit:
- Any business visit over 90 days will require the foreign national to obtain a work permit.
- “Employment Activities” will require a work permit. Such activities include:Human Resource or finance personnel traveling to the German affiliate to assist with the set-up of procedures, and to review and resolve problems;
Conducting external audits; and
Participating in training sessions and/or exhibitions and seminars organized by the company, trade organizations, or universities.
Business Visitors in Germany may participate in the following activities as long as their intended period of stay does not exceed 90 days in any six-month period:
- Participate in meetings. This includes managers, professionals, and specialists sharing procedures for the mutual benefit of the home country employer and local entity in Germany, and sales representatives meeting with customers and accompanying customers to sites in Germany.
- Participate in training sessions organized in the course of an export or license agreement. Participation in any other type of training requires a work permit.
- Executives and managers representing shareholders or exercising fiduciary oversight of local affiliates or branches within Germany.
- Executives and managers traveling to Germany to negotiate with unrelated third parties who are potential acquisition targets, or to negotiate contracts for joint ventures, manufacturing affiliations, joint marketing, sourcing and licensing agreements.
- Sales and marketing personnel soliciting orders, providing product information, negotiating contracts, and resolving issues with customers.
- Computer specialists, manufacturing technicians, and other foreign employees traveling to Germany to install equipment and provide temporary services to a client, including training the client’s employees to handle this work.
Maximum Period of Stay/Extension of Stay
As previously mentioned, the maximum allowable stay in Schengen countries is 90 days cumulatively for all member countries within any six-month period. (For example, if a Business Visitor stays in Germany for 30 days within six months, he or she may only spend up to 60 days total in all other Schengen countries as a Business Visitor.)
Extension of Stay
The Schengen Visa is non-extendable. For any visa-required foreign national who stays in Germany beyond 90 days, the immigration authorities require either a visa that permits a visit for pleasure in excess of 90 days or a work permit.
Business Visitor Visa
Business Visitor visas are required for all nationals, unless there is a treaty in existence between their country of nationality and Germany.
Visitors who are not exempt from the requirement to obtain a visa should obtain a Schengen visa when traveling for business purposes. Schengen visas may be obtained from the consulate of the member country in which the visitor will spend the majority of time during the visit.
Visa Process and Documents
An application for a Business Visitor Visa may be made to the German Consulate closest to the applicant’s place of residence.
The following are examples of documents that may be required to be submitted to the Consulate:
- Completed application form;
- Valid national passport for the period of the planned stay and three months thereafter;
- Two passport-size biometrical photographs;
- Proof of residence in the country of application;
- Official affidavit of support confirming that costs of immigration and emigration are covered;
- A letter from the applicant’s employer and/or invitation from the German host or entity, verifying that the employee is employed outside of Germany, justifying the need for the visitor to travel frequently to Germany and stating that all travel and lodging expenses of the visitor are guaranteed by the employer and/or the German host;
- Invitation letter from the host company, including name, address, and telephone number of a local contact;
- documentation of the financial situation of the applicant (copies of bank account statements from the last six months);
- Proof of health care coverage for all Schengen countries for the planned period of stay (minimum coverage: 30.000,- €);
- Outbound or return airline ticket and hotel reservation or lodging in Germany; and
- Application fee.
Additional documentation may be required.
Usually, the processing time for visa applications is between two and 10 working days.
Consular fees for the Schengen visa are approximately 60,- €.
Foreign nationals other than European Union (EU), European Economic Area (EEA) and Swiss nationals may as a rule only reside in Germany for the purpose of taking up gainful employment if they have the requisite residence permit. They may not work without it. Australian, Canadian, Israeli, Japanese, South Korean, New Zealand and U.S. citizens may also acquire this residence permit from the competent foreigners authority after their arrival in Germany, but have to file the application before expiration 90 days after their entry into Germany. They may not, however, commence gainful employment until they have the permit. Nationals of all other states must apply for a work visa from their local German mission before coming to Germany.
In principle, foreign nationals who enter Germany on the basis of a Schengen visa may not convert their immigration status from visitor status to work status while remaining in Germany. Nevertheless, the employee may be present in Germany on the basis of a business or tourist visa while the work permit application is being processed, but has to refrain from engaging in employment. Once the work permit application is approved, the employee must obtain his or her interim residence permit from a German Embassy/General Consulate abroad. The aforementioned does not apply to nationals of some privileged countries (e.g., Australia, Israel, Japan, Canada, South Korea, New Zealand, and the U.S.) who may enter Germany without a visa and file for the application from there before expiration of 90 days in order to stay in Germany until the permit is granted.
Categories for Recruitment of Third-Country Nationals
Some categories for recruitment of third-country nationals have special permissions and requirements. These include “highly qualified persons,” executives, academics, IT specialists, executive staff and specialists, intra-company transferees, short-term deployments, and self-employment.
Highly Qualified Persons
Highly qualified persons do not need the approval of the Labor Office and shall be granted a settlement permit. The highly qualified include scientists with special theoretical knowledge; teachers or professors of high standards or scientific assistants; and specialists and executives with particular job experience, who earn a salary of at least double the income limit for the assessment of contributions to the health insurance scheme.
Highly qualified persons do not need the approval of the Labor Office and shall be granted a settlement permit.
With respect to executives, no consent of the Labor Office to take up employment is needed for those with complete authorization or “Prokura”; members of the organ of a legal entity who are authorized to represent the company; associates of a trading company or members of another trading partnership, as long as they have been appointed by law, rules or by a contract of a company to represent the trading partnership or the business management; and executives of a company also active outside Germany for employment at the level of a board of directors, a management board, or for an occupation in other leading positions that are of essential importance for the development of a company.
Graduates who hold a German or foreign university degree or a higher qualification, or any similar qualification being recognized as equivalent to a comparable German degree, may be granted a residence title for the purpose of employment within their field of expertise; cp. § 27 no. 1 Employment Regulation. Since January 1, 2009, unlike the previous regulation, there is no longer the need for an assessment of the public interest; e.g., creation of new jobs, prevention of job loss, opening new markets (“door-opening function”).
It is, however, required that no privileged job-seekers can be employed. However, again, and also since January 1, 2009, this does not apply to applicants holding a degree from a German university or German international school abroad, cp. § 27 no. 3 Employment Regulation. Furthermore, the salary threshold as mentioned above for the highly skilled visa category (at present: 5.500,- € gross per month = 66.000,- € gross per year) will not have to be met. By means of this special stipulation, further incentives shall be created for the employment of a certain category of persons. However, according to the official instructions of the Labor Office on how to apply the regulation, the consent for employment with the German establishment of a company can be granted only if this employment is subject to social security contributions in Germany. Nevertheless the permit may also be granted if the employment is exempt from the German social security system due to a clearance certificate under any bilateral agreement.
The previous so-called green card regulation for IT specialists expired on December 31, 2004, and has been replaced by a more general provision that has been amended further, effective January 1, 2009. Now, § 27 par. 1 no. 3 Employment Regulation provides for a residence title for the purpose of gainful employment for professionals having a degree or qualification comparable to a German or foreign university degree with specialization in the fields of information and communication technology. Here again, there is no need for any public interest whatsoever to be met; the salary threshold, as mentioned above, for the highly skilled visa category (at present: 5.500,- € gross per month = 66.000,- € gross per year) will not have to be met in order to attract more IT specialists to Germany. However, the foreigner shall not be employed under conditions that are disadvantageous in comparison to those granted to a comparable German employee.
In practice, the foreigner’s office asks the Labor Office for its consent, which can be granted once a so-called “examination of the labor market” has been executed. This procedure usually takes between 8 and 12 weeks. However, an examination of the labor market is not required for some types of highly qualified people, legal representatives of the company, and executives, or if an intracompany transfer is concerned and certain conditions as provided in § 31 Employment Regulation (“Beschäftigungsverordnung”) are met.
The idea of an intracompany transfer is that no examination of the labor market must be carried out in the event of a transfer of personnel from abroad to Germany and from Germany abroad, which takes place between the companies of the employer or the group it belongs to. It goes without saying that the exchange of personnel needs to be roughly the same in terms of the number of employees involved so there is no impact on the German labor market – “10 in/10 out.”
The intracompany transfer application process is likely to take 6 to 10 weeks after all documentation has been compiled and the complete application has been filed. The permit will be granted for a period of up to 3 years.
Finally, with respect to short-term deployments, no consent of the Labor Office is needed to grant a residence title to persons sent to Germany for a period of up to three months, within an overall period of12 months, to (1) set up and install, give operating instructions, or maintain or repair machinery, plants and programs for electronic data processing that have been provided by the employer for commercial purposes; (2) inspect or receive instructions for the operation of machinery, plants and other equipment acquired; (3) remove used and acquired plants for the purpose of reconstruction in the residence country of the employer; (4) install, remove and attend to company-owned stands at trade fairs or to those for foreign companies that are residing in the residence country of the employer; or (5) take part in a company training course in the context of export and license agreements.
With respect to self-employment, a residence title for the purpose of self-employment is granted if there is a higher interest or special regional need; positive effects are expected on the economy; and financing is assured by private equity or the promise of credit. Other criteria must be met, such as a business plan, entrepreneurial experience, and contributions to innovation and research. Also, applicants older than 45 years require a sufficient provision for an old age pension.
Work Permit Exemptions
Nationals of European Union countries and those senior managers and executives who may be classified as a “Prokurist”; i.e., an individual who possesses Power of Attorney on behalf of a German company, are exempt from the Work Permit requirement due to EU law.
However, transitory regulations apply with regard to nationals from the “new EU member states” that have joined the EU effective May 1, 2004 (Estonia, Latvia, Lithuania, Malta, Poland, Slovenia, Czech Republic, Slovakia, Hungary, and Republic of Cyprus), and effective January 1, 2007 (Bulgaria, Romania). Such transitory regulations assure the stepwise implementation of the new law of the European Community; each and every member state is entitled to opt out from the full application of the freedom of EU nationals to move and work within the EU for a certain period of time. According to the 2-3-2 formula, Germany has made use of its right to opt out for another 2 years with regard to the first set of new member states (except for Cyprus and Malta). Hence, until May 1, 2011, nationals from the first round of accession states will have to apply for a work permit in compliance with the old national regulations as set forth in §§ 284 subs. of the German Social Security Code III. The same applies to Bulgaria and Romania until December 31, 2013.
Maximum Period of Stay
The work permit is valid for period of up to three years (for U.S. citizens, up to four years); however, in practice the permit is initially granted for a year.
The temporary work permit is generally valid for an initial period of one year, with an extension every year.
Work Visa Process
For those nationals who must apply for a work and residence visa at a German consular post:
- Upon submission of the application to the consulate, the application is forwarded to the Foreign Affairs Office (Ausläenderbehoerde) having jurisdiction over the employee’s proposed place of residence in Germany.
- Once the Foreign Affairs Office receives the application, the Foreign Affairs Office will forward an internal request (if needed) to the appropriate Labor Authorities (Agentur für Arbeit) for review.
- Upon approval of the work permit petition, the Labor Authorities forward a Recommendation to the Foreign Affairs Office, where the processing of the residence permit application takes place.
- Upon final approval by the Foreign Affairs Office, a notification is sent to the Consulate, authorizing the Consulate to issue a temporary residence permit visa.
Work Visa Documents
An application for work/residence permits is initiated through a German consular post and consists of the following:
- Two application forms;
- Two biometric passport-sized photographs;
- Valid national passport: original or copies of the first identifying pages;
- Proof of health insurance coverage for the duration of stay in Germany with a level of coverage that is at least equivalent to the German statutory health care system;
- A statement from the employer in Germany regarding the nature and duration of the proposed employment; e.g., job description form containing the following information:
- Name and address of employer outside of Germany;
- Name and address of German employer;
- Relationship between (a) and (b);
- Proposed job duties, in detail;
- Working conditions (full-time/part-time; working hours)
- Education and prior experience of applicant;
- Duration of stay;
- Salary; and
- Accommodations in Germany.
- Documents to support the above, including items such as the company’s annual report and brochures; and the employee’s resume and education credentials;
- Doctor’s certificate confirming no contagious or communicable diseases; and
- Police clearance certificate, confirming that no criminal record exists.
Work Permit Process and Documents
This process is combined with the work visa process and documents.
Work/residence permit applications, submitted to a German Consulate, typically take approximately 10 weeks to approve.
Consular fees for visa are approximately 60,- € to 100,- €.
The accompanying spouse and dependents should apply for their visas in conjunction with the principal applicant, either in their country of citizenship or in their country of legal residence.
Additional documents to include with the principal’s visa application include:
- Photocopies of each family member’s passports;
- Two biometric photographs of each family member;
- Evidence of health insurance coverage for each family member;
- Original, certified copy, affixed with either an Apostille or German legalization, of marriage certificate as well as translation into German or English; and
- Original, certified copy, affixed with either an Apostille or German legalization, of birth certificate of children as well as translation in German or English.
Generally, spouses and dependents are not entitled to work during the first year in Germany (waiting period) unless they have obtained a work-related residence permit in their own right. Family members of a settlement permit holder are allowed to work without restriction.
Upon entry to Germany, the employee (and any accompanying family members) must immediately register their residence with the local registry office within 7 to 14 days (depending on the state law) and must visit the foreigners’ office to secure a residence permit. The final work permit will be granted against production of the residence permit. The residence permit will usually be limited to one year but can be extended if necessary. An unlimited settlement permission can be granted from the beginning only to highly qualified specialists or after five years of residence in Germany.
U. S. citizens may travel to Germany as visitors and file a residence and work permit application directly with the local authorities (but no later than 90 days after having entered Germany). In such cases, the employee must register his or her residence with the local authorities within 7 to 14 days (depending on the state law), and must apply for a Residence Permit at the local foreigners’ office. The latter in conjunction with the labor authorities will process the work permit application.
Germany does not follow the principle of ius soli (citizenship by place of birth) but by the principle of ius sanguinis (citizenship according to citizenship of the parents).
Foreigners who have been legally residing in Germany for at least eight years can be naturalized under certain circumstances. This generally requires that they have established themselves in Germany, which means that they are able to sustain themselves and their family without help of public assistance or unemployment assistance, that they have no criminal record and an adequate command of the German language. Applicants are generally requested to give up their present citizenship.