residence permit

immigration policies in Germany

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Embark on a seamless journey by expertly navigating "immigration policies in Germany" for a smooth transition and successful integration.

Germany classifies residence titles based on the duration of stay and the country's intended purpose (including business activities). These include:

  • Visa (Schengen visa and national visa)
  • Residence permit
  • Settlement permit

A visa allows the holder to enter and stay in Germany for short periods (up to 90 days within 180 days). A residence or settlement permit is necessary for extended stays exceeding 90 days in 180 days or for engaging in self-employment or employment in Germany. The specific type of residence title needed depends on the investor's nationality and the particular business activities planned in Germany. Generally, a residence permit is not required for business establishment, but it becomes necessary when the foreign individual intends to operate the business locally.

Who Needs a Residence Title?

EU citizens and individuals from Iceland, Norway, and Liechtenstein can settle and work in Germany without needing a residence title. Swiss nationals, however, must inform the local immigration office of their extended stay in Germany to obtain a residence permit confirming their right to free movement.

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Non-EU Citizens: Entry and Short-term Stays

Non-EU citizens typically need a Schengen visa for entry and short-term visits to Germany. Nevertheless, specific regulations vary for certain nations. For instance, individuals from Argentina, Australia, Brazil, Canada, Israel, Japan, Mexico, New Zealand, South Korea, the UK, the USA, and Hong Kong can enjoy a visa-free stay of up to 90 days within any 180 days in Germany.

Non-EU Citizens: Long-term Stays

For long-term stays, non-EU citizens require a residence or settlement permit. The local German mission initially issued a national visa for entry into Germany. The national visa is converted into a residence permit by the competent local immigration office (Ausländerbehörde). Non-EU citizens from those countries exempt from the short-term stay visa requirements also require a national visa when entering Germany for long-term stay purposes.

There are specific arrangements in place for citizens of Australia, Canada, Israel, Japan, New Zealand, South Korea, the UK, and the USA, enabling them to undertake extended stays in Germany without requiring a national visa. These individuals can apply for the necessary residence or settlement permit at the German immigration office.

residence permit
residence permit

Application Procedure

Typically, individuals must request their residence title at the appropriate German embassy or consulate general before arriving in Germany. The corresponding visa is subsequently issued in the applicant's home country. The standard application fee is EUR 80 for a Schengen visa and EUR 75 for a national visa. Additional fees of up to EUR 100 for a residence permit may exist.

Visa for Incorporation

A Schengen business visa is adequate for most tasks during the initial phase of company formation. It grants the bearer a 90-day stay in Germany, allowing them to undertake essential establishment activities. However, using a Schengen visa for setting up a company in Germany does not automatically guarantee the issuance of a residence permit later on. If needed, an application for a residence permit for self-employment or employment should be submitted promptly. A residence permit must also be sought if the incorporation process extends beyond 90 days.

Incorporation Activities with a Schengen Business Visa:

  • Adopting and notarization of articles of association
  • Registration in the commercial register
  • Trade office registration (provided at least one representative on-site in Germany is available)
  • Other preparatory activities (e.g. the conclusion of contracts).

Residence Permit for Self-Employment

Entrepreneurs from non-EU countries planning to oversee a business in Germany as self-employed individuals necessitate a dedicated residence permit for self-employment. This permit can be obtained if the proposed business is anticipated to have a positive economic impact and possesses secure financing. It entails a comprehensive evaluation of the business venture, considering factors such as the viability of the business concept, the entrepreneur's prior experience, the amount of capital invested, and whether there is an economic interest or regional demand for the intended business activity. The self-employment residence permit is initially valid for up to three years. After three years, a settlement permit (permanent) may be granted if the investment project has been successfully implemented and demonstrates a stable income outlook.

Who is typically considered self-employed?

  • Entrepreneurs, including freelance professions
  • Partners within a partnership
  • Primary shareholders of a GmbH who concurrently serve as managing directors of the GmbH

Residence Permit for Employment

In March 2020, the Skilled Immigration Act was implemented, further expanding access to the German labor market for skilled workers and outlining the criteria for qualified professionals outside the EU working in Germany. These talented professionals encompass university graduates and individuals who have completed high-quality vocational training. The Act emphasizes the necessity of assessing foreign academic and vocational qualifications for equivalence with German credentials and obtaining official recognition in advance. A novel feature is introducing an expedited administrative process, available for an additional fee. When a specific job offer is in place, the German employer can trigger this process at the relevant immigration office, provided the applicant employee has given authorization. This streamlined approach significantly reduces the duration of the administrative procedure.

Typically, residence permits for qualified professionals are granted when applicants possess a tangible job offer, qualifications acknowledged in Germany, and approval from the Federal Employment Agency (FEA).

EU Blue Card

The EU Blue Card expedites entry into the German job market for qualified professionals holding a university degree. Non-EU citizens qualify for this residence permit when they hold a German university degree (or an officially recognized equivalent qualification) and have a job contract offering an annual gross salary of at least EUR 56,400 (as of 2022). In professions with specific skill shortages (e.g., engineers, IT specialists), the annual gross salary threshold is EUR 43,992 (2022). Additionally, the job must be commensurate with the individual's qualifications, and Federal Employment Agency (FEA) approval is required. A permanent settlement permit can be obtained after 33 months or, in the case of a foreign citizen who has reached a specified proficiency level in the German language, after 21 months.

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ICT Card

Germany has also simplified the process for long-term intra-corporate transfers of specific staff categories by introducing the ICT Card. This allows for the seamless transfer of employees from a non-EU entity to a host entity in Germany, provided both entities are part of the same company or corporate group. Eligible individuals for this program are non-EU managers and specialists who have been continuously employed by the sending unit for at least six months immediately preceding the transfer. Furthermore, the employment contract and the assignment letter must outline the transfer details and demonstrate the employee's professional classification if necessary. To obtain the ICT card, individuals must apply at the relevant German mission abroad, and the process is contingent upon approval from the Federal Employment Agency (FEA).

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