An expert explains: insight into the practice of the fast-track procedure for skilled workers

Correct as of: 28/03/2022

The Central Office for Skilled Worker Immigration North Rhine-Westphalia (ZFE NRW) is the central Foreigners Authority in this federal state, responsible for the implementation of the fast-track procedure under Section 81a AufenthG. In an interview, Dr Axel Rosenthal (Head of ZFE NRW) answers questions about how his authority goes about implementing this procedure.

1. The fast-track procedure for skilled workers under Section 81a AufenthG has now been in force for two years. Have you collected figures and data on the take-up of the procedure in your federal state? If so, how many applications were submitted over the last two years, and what do you make of these figures?

In North Rhine-Westphalia (NRW), a total of 2,043 fast-track procedures (under Section 81a AufenthG) and some 10,300 advisory meetings were implemented in 2021.
In addition, the ZFE NRW processed around 16,800 procedures under Section 71 AufenthG, involving qualified professionals from abroad who want to come to NRW without the employer following the fast-track procedure on their behalf.
We had originally expected to receive a larger number of procedures, but the COVID-19 pandemic put pay to that. However, the situation seems to be returning to normal – compared to the same month last year, we now have more than double the number of procedures than a year ago.

2. The Skilled Immigration Act requires each federal state to set up at least one central authority to implement the fast-track procedure for skilled workers. How effective is central processing – are there any challenges involved?

As I see it, the central processing of fast-track procedures for skilled workers by a single competent body represents a major advantage for all those involved. Employers seeking to employ a qualified professional from abroad have a single point of contact that deals with all the entire administrative process. The same is true for the other bodies involved, such as the recognition bodies. It works very well in NRW.
However, with pandemic restrictions in place abroad, having to provide the necessary papers and documents poses a particular challenge.

3. What is your impression: are employers adequately informed about the existence of the procedure and how it works?

Thanks to the good and close cooperation with the chambers of commerce and industry, the chambers of skilled crafts, the Federal Employment Agency and, for example, the “Make it in Germany” platform, employers in NRW are now quite well informed about the opportunities offered by the Skilled Immigration Act.
Together with the chambers and the other bodies mentioned above, we have given a lot of publicity to fast-track skilled labour immigration – and the increasing number of procedures shows that employers have been listening to us.

4. For which professions or types of profession are most applications for the fast-track procedure for skilled workers submitted?

Most of the applications submitted in 2021 were in the area of health care, nursing and geriatric care (785). But IT specialists (179) and chefs (129) were also frequently represented. 

5. When the procedure in Germany is positive, a pre-approval for a visa is issued. In your experience, how long does it takes for a pre-approval to be issued?

Since every single procedure is very individual, it is not possible to generalise the duration of a procedure.
It depends on several factors that influence the duration of the procedure – a crucial aspect, for example, is how quickly our clients are able to provide the necessary documents and papers. Since these documents usually have to be obtained from abroad, this can take some time.
The first case completed by the ZFE NRW took just under two weeks altogether. After another fortnight or so, the qualified professional had already arrived here and was working. Unfortunately, however, we also have procedures that take much longer, with some already pending for several months.
The average processing time, which cannot be generalised, is around 60 days.

6. Pre-approval is no guarantee that a visa will be issued abroad. What can cause a visa refusal?

In the German diplomatic missions abroad, it currently depends to a large extent on how they are working during the COVID-19 pandemic.
They are also responsible for conducting a plausibility check. Put simply, this means checking whether the information presented by the employer and the qualified professional is plausible. Unfortunately, insufficient language skills abroad are also a frequent cause of refusal in this context. We are only able to conduct such a plausibility check to a limited extent. Moreover, security screening is undertaken abroad.

7. What can employers do if a visa is refused? Is it possible to make a renewed application, for instance?

It always depends on the specific reasons for the visa refusal.
In principle, it is not impossible to reapply if the grounds for refusal cease to exist.
Often the professional has an inadequate knowledge of German, contradicting the application documents. A new procedure is possible if the qualified professional is able to improve their language skills.

The ZFE NRW provides comprehensive advice to its clients in advance, making the employer aware of the potential pitfalls in the particular procedure. However, it may sometimes be the case that the application documents used to demonstrate the professional’s knowledge do not reflect reality. Then the best advice and procedural assistance are unlikely to help. 

8. In view of the new Federal Government’s plans to facilitate the entry of qualified professionals from abroad, what possibilities for optimisation do you see in the implementation of the fast-track procedure for skilled workers?

On the whole, the fast-track procedure for skilled workers is already very effective. Perhaps the pace is still too slow sometimes, but that has a lot to do with the current COVID-19 restrictions.
I don’t think we should try to speed things up by lowering the requirements for qualifications obtained abroad.
I see enormous potential for improvement with regard to digitalisation. For example, procedures to be completed exclusively at the ZFE NRW can take place entirely in digital format. In many cases, however, there are format mismatches abroad and when it comes to recognising foreign qualifications. As a result, there is a loss of time and convenience. Much would be gained from completing the whole procedure, including recognition and visa application, digitally.


We thank Dr Rosenthal for talking to us.

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