The Skilled Immigration Act is a new law which expands the number of opportunities for qualified professionals to come to work in Germany. Now, it is easier for skilled workers with vocational, non-academic training from non-EU countries to migrate to Germany in order to work. The current conditions for qualified professionals with university degrees will remain in place, with some relaxations of the rules.
What changes does the new law introduce?
The new law expands the framework under which qualified professionals from non-EU countries can come to work in Germany. The key changes are as follows:
Definition of the qualified professional: The following persons are considered qualified professionals under the Skilled Immigration Act:
Persons who have either completed qualified vocational training in Germany (for which a training period of at least two years is generally required) or persons who have acquired a vocational qualification abroad which has been recognised as equivalent to German qualified vocational training. Shorter foreign vocational training courses may be considered equivalent to qualified vocational training in Germany if the training does not differ substantially or if these differences have been compensated for.
Persons with a higher education degree which is comparable to a higher education degree in Germany.
Accessing the German labour market: It is now easier to enter the labour market. The qualified professional must possess an employment contract or a specific job offer and a qualification recognised in Germany. No priority check is undertaken by the Federal Employment Agency (BA). This means that there is no verification process as to whether an applicant from Germany or the EU is available for the specific job. The Federal Employment Agency will still verify the employment conditions.
Employment opportunities: A qualified professional may exercise an occupation for which they are qualified. This means that employment in related occupations is also an option. In addition, qualified professionals with academic degrees can also work in jobs that do not require a tertiary education degree. They can also work in other occupations related to their qualification and which normally require a vocational, non-academic qualification. This excludes auxiliary and semi-skilled occupations: the occupation must always require a qualification. The EU Blue Card is only ever issued for jobs that commensurate with the professional qualification, which must normally be an academic degree.
Qualified professionals with vocational qualifications: The employment of qualified professionals from outside the EU with vocational, i.e. non-academic training, is no longer restricted to occupations experiencing a skills shortage. If someone has a vocational training qualification recognised in Germany, their residence permit allowing them to work in a specific occupation will also allow them to work in Germany in all occupations covered by their qualification.
Coming to Germany to look for a job: Professionals with a vocational training qualification are also able to come to Germany to look for a job. They will be granted a residence permit for up to six months. The preconditions are as follows: the foreign qualification has to be recognised by the competent decision-making body in Germany, the person can support themselves financially for the duration of their stay, and they have the necessary German language skills for the desired occupation. Generally, German language skills at a minium level of B1 according to the Common European Framework of Reference for Languages (CEFR) are required. During the time spent in Germany and looking for a job, employment of up to 10 hours per week on a trial basis is possible. This enables an employer and the foreign qualified professional to find out if they are a good fit for each other. Professionals with a recognised academic qualification, who are still permitted to come to Germany for six months to seek employment, are also allowed to work on a trial basis.
Period of residence for training and skill development: Opportunities to come to Germany in order to undertake training are being improved. The basic precondition is that a recognition procedure is undertaken by the competent decision-making body in Germany whilst the applicant is abroad, and the procedure finds that the person’s foreign qualification does not fully meet the requirements of a German qualification (in a recognition certificate or “Anerkennungsbescheid”). Another precondition for the issuance of a visa to receive training is that the person has the necessary German language skills. These will usually equate to level A2 according to the Common European Framework of Reference for Languages (CEFR). The 18-month residence permit for this purpose can be extended for at least six months up to a maximum period of two years. After the maximum period of the residence permit has expired, a residence permit for the purpose of training, study or work can be issued.
Permanent settlement permit for qualified professionals from around the world: Foreign qualified professionals are able to receive a permanent settlement permit after four years (previously: five years).
Trainees and students:
Coming to Germany to seek a training place: It is already possible for potential students to come to Germany to seek a place in higher education. According to the new rules, those interested in receiving vocational training are also able to come to Germany to find a training place. The preconditions are as follows: German language skills at a B2 level, a school-leaving certificate from a German school abroad or a school-leaving certificate which entitles a person to receive higher education, a maximum age of 25 years and the ability to support oneself financially.
German language course in preparation for vocational training: If a person has a residence permit for a vocational training course, they may attend a German language course (either general or occupation-related).
Improved opportunities for foreign students in Germany to change their residence status: Foreign students already have the option to switch to other types of residence permits even before they complete their studies. For example, rather than continuing their studies, they can begin vocational training and receive a residence permit to attend a vocational training course. The Skilled Immigration Act expands these options for changing the status: under certain preconditions, and following consideration by the Federal Employment Agency, it is possible to accept a job offer as a qualified professional whilst a person is still studying or receiving vocational training. This entails a switch to a residence permit to work in a qualified occupation.
Permanent settlement permit for those who have completed a vocational training course in Germany: The new act enables foreigners who have successfully completed a vocational training course in Germany to receive a permanent settlement permit after two years, the same period as applies to graduates.
Fast-track procedure for skilled workers: Employers can initiate the fast-track procedure for skilled workers at the relevant Foreigners' Registration Office in Germany. This will shorten the duration of the administrative procedure for the issuance of the visa significantly. To do this, employers need a power of attorney from the qualified professional. The following information and steps are crucial:
An agreement has to be concluded between the company and the Foreigners' Registration Office including the following documents: powers of attorney and obligations for the employer, the qualified professional and the relevant authorities (Foreigners' Registration Office, Federal Employment Agency, recognition bodies, German mission abroad) and a description of the procedures including the parties and the deadlines.
The Foreigners' Registration Office advises the employer, supports them as it carries out the procedure to have the qualified professional’s foreign qualification recognised, obtains the approval of the Federal Employment Agency and examines the preconditions for approvals under legislation regarding foreign nationals. The recognition bodies and the Federal Employment Agency must make their decisions within certain deadlines.
If all the prerequisites are met, the Foreigners' Registration Office issues a pre-approval, which is sent to the employer to pass on to the qualified professional. The qualified professional then makes an appointment at the German mission abroad to apply for the visa. The appointment will take place within three weeks. At this meeting, the original copy of the pre-approval must be presented along with other documents needed for the visa application.
Once the complete visa application has been submitted by the qualified professional, a decision is usually made within another three weeks.
The fast-track procedure for skilled workers also covers the qualified professional’s spouse and minor, unmarried children, if the applications for their visas are submitted at the same time and if they meet the statutory requirements for the subsequent immigration of family members.
The fee charged by the Foreigners' Registration Office for the fast-track procedure for skilled workers is € 411.00. On top of this, there is a fee of € 75.00 for the visa and fees for recognition of the qualification.
I am a qualified professional. What do I have to do to work in Germany?
Recognition of professional qualifications acquired abroad: The first important thing you need to do is to have your qualification recognised in Germany. Basic information on the recognition process and on migration to Germany can be obtained by calling the Working and Living in Germany hotline. Please click here for further information.
Language skills: You will have to speak some German if you wish to come to Germany to find a training place or seek a job as a skilled worker with a vocational qualification. You will also need some German language skills if you are to attend a training course in Germany. For further information on language courses, please click here. Contact person for visa/residence: If you live outside Germany, the German missions abroad are responsible for issuing the necessary visa. The addresses of German institutions in your area can be found on the world map. If you already live in Germany, you need to contact the local Foreigners' Registration Office about residence and visas.
Required German language skills depending on the type of visa
You can use this chart to check whether and which German language skills you need to have to obtain a certain residence title.
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Training period ("Referendariat") is the period of internship for aspiring civil servants, (teaching or legal professions). The term is most commonly used in the teaching or legal professions and the interns are referred to as "Referendarin" (if a woman) or "Referendar" (if a man).
Professional qualifications are the intellectual and social skills required to exercise a given profession.
Common European Framework of Reference for Languages (CEFR)
German: Gemeinsamer Europäischer Referenzrahmen für Sprachen (GER)
The CEFR is a reference tool in working with languages. It was developed by the Council of Europe. The CEFR provides a common ground for the comparability of foreign language skills. It is used in Europe, as well as on other continents.
The Federal Employment Agency (BA) is the point of contact for people and companies on all questions concerning the labour and vocational training market. One of the tasks of the BA is to help people find training posts or employment.
The Immigration Act provides for two titles which govern entry and residence in Germany: the settlement permit (Niederlassungserlaubnis) and the residence permit (Aufenthaltserlaubnis). The residence permit is temporary and is granted for a specific reason, such as gainful employment, training or family reunification, or else for humanitarian, legal or political reasons.
The EU Blue Card is a residence title for academics outside the EU who wish to work in an EU Member State. To obtain an EU Blue Card, applicants are required to have a university degree and a work contract which meets the minimum gross salary requirement.
The settlement permit has permanent validity and entitles holders to exercise gainful employment. People applying for a settlement permit have to satisfy specific requirements which are laid down in the Residence Act.
In some cases, the Federal Employment Agency has to check whether there are job applicants with priority rights over migrants. This means investigating whether or not an actual vacancy can be filled by a job-seeker in Germany. This criterion is considered to have been satisfied if the employer can prove that there are no suitable applicants among the priority unemployed.
German missions abroad are diplomatic institutions outside Germany. They represent Germany’s interests abroad and foster political relations.
The fast-track procedure for skilled workers is based on Section 81a (Residence Act) and enables a faster entry of third-country skilled workers. The procedure can be initiated at the relevant immigration authority in Germany. This works through the qualified professional assigning a power of attorney to their employer. Once the agreement is concluded, a fee of 411 euros is charged, which is to be borne by the employer applying for the procedure.