What kinds of visa are there?

In Germany there are different visas serving different purposes. Whether for job-hunting, studying, training or doing research, visas and residence titles have different conditions attached depending on the purpose of people‘s stay in Germany. Here is an overview of the different purposes for which visas are granted.

kinds of visa © fotolia / Björn Wylezich

Work visa

Work visa © istockphoto / andresr

Academics: All academics with a recognised university degree or one which is comparable with a German university degree are entitled to the “EU Blue Card” single residence and work permit. To obtain it, you need to prove that you have a job in Germany which corresponds to your qualification. The only condition is that you must earn an annual gross salary of at least 52,000 euros.

Specialists in the fields of mathematics, IT, life sciences and engineering as well as doctors may be entitled to an EU Blue Card if they earn the same amount as comparable German workers, but no less than 40,560 euros gross per year. In this case, the BA (Federal Employment Agency) must approve your being employed. This approval is not required if you earned your university degree in Germany.

EU Blue Card holders are entitled to a permanent Residence permit after 33 months. This is a Residence permit with no time limit. If you can prove before this time that your required language skills comply with level B1 of the Common European Reference Framework for Languages (CEFR), you can obtain your permanent Residence permit after just 21 months.

You don’t meet the conditions for an EU Blue Card? No need to panic. If you are an academic there are other possibilities besides the EU Blue Card for working and living in Germany. If you have a job corresponding to your qualifications, under Section 18 (4) of the Residence Act you are on principle entitled to a “residence title for the purpose of taking up employment” if the Federal Employment Agency has approved your employment. You do not need to apply for approval yourself. As soon as you have a job offer, just talk with the Germany embassy which is responsible for you if you are still abroad. In Germany you can get further help from the foreign nationals' registration authority or the Welcome Centre in the town where you live.

Graduates of German universities: Did you successfully complete your studies at a German university? In that case, you are entitled to take up a job in Germany which is in line with your studies. You will receive the necessary Residence permit from the foreign nationals' registration authority which is responsible for you. 

Following your studies, if you have not yet found a suitable job, the foreign nationals’ registration authority can issue you a Residence permit for 18 months for the purpose of seeking employment corresponding to your degree. During this period, you can take any job as a means of supporting yourself. You can find out what opportunities are available to you after completing your studies in Germany in the section “Studying in Germany – And after?”

Graduates of vocational training courses: Have you completed non-academic vocational training outside Germany? Then you will be able to take up employment on the basis of the qualifications you have obtained abroad, provided you meet the following criteria:

  • There is a shortage of skilled workers in your profession. A whitelist of such professions is available here.
  • You have received a binding job offer. A list of vacancies is available here.
  • Your qualification has been recognised as being equivalent to a German qualification. Further information on the recognition of vocational credentials is available here. You will have to apply to have your qualifications recognised while you’re still in your home country.

If the authority responsible for qualification recognition relevant to you concludes that you need to do further training to get full recognition (for example practical work as part of an adaptation period), you can get a permit allowing you to reside for up to 18 months in Germany (Section 17a of the Residence Act). While doing your additional training you can take up employment in line with your professional profile without any time restrictions.

With the pointbased model project for foreign professionals (PuMa) high-skilled workers from non EU-countries get the chance to work in the state Baden-Württemberg in a profession, which is not on the whitelist of The Federal Employment Agency. For this, they must meet certain criteria. Learn more about PuMa.

Visa for jobseekers

Visa for jobseekers © fotolia / contrastwerkstatt

If you have not yet found a job in Germany, with a jobseeker’s visa you can come to Germany for up to six months to look for one on condition that you have a higher education diploma which is recognised in Germany. The important thing in this case is that you should have enough money to live on for the duration of your stay, since you are not allowed to be employed during this time. Once you have found a suitable job, you can immediately apply for the necessary EU Blue Card or a Residence permit in Germany – without first having to depart the country – and can remain in Germany while your application is pending.

This provision applies to you even if you are already in Germany and previously had a residence title allowing you to exercise gainful employment, but which is no longer valid. However, note that a Residence permit allowing you to hunt for a job that corresponds to your qualifications cannot be extended. You can only apply for another if, once your Residence permit has expired, you spend at least as much time abroad as you spent in Germany seeking a job.

Visa for studying

Visa for studying © fotolia / torwaiphoto

Studying: Do you come from a non-EU state and want to come to Germany to study here? If you have already been accepted by a state or state-approved university, you can apply for a study visa. This is valid for up to 2 years, but can be extended on request. You have to be able to prove that you have the means to support yourself for the duration of your studies. To do so, you are allowed to work during your studies for up to 120 full or 240 half days. Once you have graduated, you can extend your Residence permit again for up to 18 months to find a job that corresponds to your qualifications. While looking for a job, you can exercise any kind of employment. 

Applying to study: If you have not yet been accepted by a German university but are interested in studying in Germany and meet the requirements for doing a university degree, you may be entitled to a Residence permit for the purpose of applying for a course of study (Residence Act Section 16). This allows you to come to Germany for nine months to apply for a course of study or to prepare to start studying – for example by attending a language course or a preparatory course (called a “Studienkolleg”). The important thing is that you should have the means to support yourself during this time. Note that the Residence permit for applying to study cannot be extended. Also, you are not allowed to take up employment at the same time (except during the holidays). You can find out how to prepare for studying in Germany in the section "Training & Learning"

Visa for training

Visa for training © istockphoto / monkeybusinessimages

You can obtain a Residence permit to do training in Germany even if you are a national of a non-EU state. If you meet the requirements for the training course you are interested in and have the means to support yourself while training, you will receive a Residence permit for the purposes of “school education serving to acquire a vocational qualification” (Section 16 (5a) of the Residence Act). If you do your training with a company (“dual education”), you can obtain a Residence permit for the purpose of “basic and advanced industrial training” (Section 17 (1) of the Residence Act). This also requires the agreement of the Federal Employment Agency. Approval is usually given if there is no German applicant or another applicant with priority rights for the training course. The vocational training course must last at least 2 years. If you wish to learn a vocation at a vocational academy or similar institution, approval of the BA is not required.

During your training period, you can take up employment for up to 10 hours a week. After completing your training, your Residence permit may be extended for a year to allow you to find a job which corresponds to your qualifications. You apply for the requisite Residence permit to the competent foreign nationals' registration authority. During this period, you can exercise any occupation as a means of supporting yourself. Once you have found a job corresponding to your qualifications, you can get the appropriate Residence permit from the foreign nationals' registration authority. You can find out more about vocational training in Germany in the section “Training & Learning”

Visa for an internship

Visa for an internship © istockphoto / laflor

Are you studying abroad and would like to come to Germany to do an internship? If you are not a national of an EU state, you will usually require a visa for your internship in Germany. Beside an offer for an internship with a company in Germany, you will also need the approval of the Federal Employment Agency (BA). Your employer should apply for this on your behalf as quickly as possible. If you have documents proving both of these, you should apply for a visa to the competent embassy or consulate before travelling to Germany. Your internship may not last more than twelve months and can only be extended in exceptional cases.

Some internships do not require the agreement of the BA. These include internships under EU-funded programmes (Leonardo, Socrates, Erasmus, etc.). Internships funded by international intergovernmental organisations are also exempt from approval. You can find out more about internships in Germany for students from abroad from the International and Specialized Services (ZAV).

Visa for research

Visa for research © fotolia / DragonImages

Besides the EU Blue Card, special regulations apply for highly qualified professionals, for example regarding the employment of scientists, researchers and teaching staff or executives.

As an international qualified scientist or researcher you can apply to a recognised research institute for a temporary Residence permit in Germany to pursue an activity in your field. You are not usually required to have any German language skills. With this residence title you can either work in the research institution named in the work contract or as a teacher. The Residence permit can be extended as long as you still meet the basic requirements.

Moreover, researchers with special technical knowledge, as well as teaching personnel or scientific personnel in prominent positions – for example leaders of scientific projects and work groups – may be granted a settlement permit (pursuant to Section 19 of the Residence Act) directly if they can prove that they have an actual job offer in Germany. You can find out more about the provisions on residence for international scientists in the section Research in Germany.

Visa for self-employment

Visa for self-employment © fotolia / contrastwerkstatt

Do you want to set up a business in Germany? For nationals of non-EU states special visa regulations apply in this case. 

Self-employed (“Gewerbetreibende”): If you wish to set up a manual trade or retail business you can get a Residence permit for Self-employment (Section 21 (1) of the Residence Act) if you satisfy the following requirements:

  • There is commercial interest or regional demand for your products or services.
  • Your business activity is likely to have a positive impact on the economy.
  • You have secured financing for your business by way of capital or a loan commitment.

If you are over 45 years old, a Residence permit will only be issued to you if you can also provide proof of adequate provision for old age. 

Freelancers (“Freiberufler”): If you want to be self-employed in one of the liberal professions, you can get a Residence permit for freelance work (Section 21 (5) of the Residence Act). This Residence permit is granted if you can prove that you have the means to fund your project, to support yourself and a permit to exercise that profession. If you are over 45 years old, you must also provide proof that you have adequate provision for old age. 

If your business idea is successful and you are able to make a living for yourself and your family as a result of your business, you can have your Residence permit extended, which is initially limited to a maximum of three years. If you set up a manual trade or retail business, you can apply for a settlement permit after just three years. You can find out how to turn your business idea into a reality in Germany in the section Setting up a business.

Visa for the recognition of professional qualifications

Visa for the recognition © fotolia / Monkey Business

Have you applied for recognition of your Professional qualification and the outcome was not what you wished? What can you do if the competent authority in Germany decides that you are not qualified for full recognition?

No need to panic! You can participate in qualification programmes in Germany to acquire the theoretical or practical skills you lack. These provide the possibility of training in a company, or doing a technical training course, preparatory course or a vocational German course, for example.

If you come from a non-EU country, you generally need a Residence permit for recognition of professional qualifications (Section17a of the Residence Act, or Aufenthaltsgesetz). To obtain this, you must meet the following requirements:

  • In its assessment notice (Anerkennungsbescheid), the competent authority states that you must complete further theoretical or practical training to receive full recognition of your qualification.

  • To apply for a visa, you have to provide proof that you have successfully applied for a course. If the course consists primarily of practical training in a company, the company must draw up a professional training plan setting out how you can acquire the skills required for recognition. Also, the training plan must set out how much the company will be paying you during the practical training period.

  • To obtain a visa, you have to prove that you have sufficient financial means to support yourself while in Germany. You can find out how much the required financial means are and what proof you have to provide on the German embassy Web site of your home country. You will find the address of the competent German embassy on our Local contacts world map.

Once you have all the documents, you can apply for the visa to the German mission abroad in your area. After you arrive, you will receive your Residence permit from the foreign nationals' registration authority for the entire duration of the course, including the examination, but for no longer than 18 months.

If you wish to work at the same time as doing your qualification course, that is perfectly possible: in your own professional field this can be for more than 10 hours a week  , but no more than 10 hours in any other. For example, while doing a qualification course in nursing, you can work for more than ten hours a week for your future employer by working as a carer.

If you wish to work, please specify this when applying for the visa so that the required permit can be issued. If you are only offered a job after entering Germany, enquire at your local foreign nationals' registration authority.

You have passed the examination after completing your qualification course? Now there is no further obstacle to getting full recognition for your foreign Professional qualification. Your Residence permit can be extended by up to a year under Section17a (4) of the Residence Act to allow you to find a job that corresponds to the recognised Professional qualification. During this time, you may take up any kind of employment.

Visa for taking an examination

Has the competent authority found that you need to take an additional examination before your qualification can be recognised? In that case, you can apply for a visa to be able to take the examination in Germany. The requirement is that your future employer has made a firm job offer to you if you pass the exam. You can find out more about the visa procedure from the German embassy in your home country. There, you can get more information about how to apply for the visa.

You will find further advice on getting your foreign Professional qualification recognised in the guide to "Working in Germany".

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