Recruiting qualified professionals from abroad for companies in the hotel and catering industry (the hospitality industry)

Correct as of: 25/11/2022

It is becoming increasingly difficult for hospitality companies in Germany to fill any open employment positions. Recruiting qualified professionals from abroad can help counter the growing problem of filling vacancies in the industry. Learn here what options are available to do so.

The need for qualified professionals in the hospitality industry

The Covid-19 crisis led to a sharp drop in employment in the hotel and catering industry, despite the fact that the furloughing scheme played a key role in stabilising employment subject to social security contributions. No other field of work has experienced such a sharp decline in the number of qualified employees as jobs in the hospitality industry[1]. The German Economic Institute (IW) estimates that the number of people employed in this industry fell by 59,290 from June 2020 to June 2021, a decline of 10.3 per cent [2].

At the same time, the industry is finding it increasingly difficult to fill vacancies, given that hospitality companies were particularly hard hit by lockdown measures during the pandemic. According to the last DIHK-Fachkräftereport[3] (Report on qualified professionals by the Association of German Chambers of Commerce and Industry), 66 per cent of companies in the hospitality industry were finding it difficult to fill their vacancies in autumn 2021 – more than twice as many as in the previous year (31 per cent). In many cases, employees turned their back on the hospitality or tourism industry during the pandemic and decided to pursue a new career. Now there is a lack of replacements.

There is also a shortage of junior staff. The industry has had problems filling vacancies on the apprenticeship market for years. As of 30 September 2022, there were around 5,600 unfilled apprenticeships in the hospitality industry[4]. Such difficulties in finding junior staff may, in the long run, also go hand in hand with the further increase in skills shortages for training companies in the hospitality sector.

Previous labour migration in the hospitality industry

Even now, foreign nationals make a significant contribution to meeting the demand for (skilled) labour in the hotel and catering industry. According to current figures from the Federal Employment Agency, the number of foreign employees subject to social security contributions in this industry increased by 8,450 to a total of 367,946 people in March 2022 compared to the previous quarter. As such, this group accounts for 37 per cent of all employees in the hospitality industry[5]. It is therefore one of the industries represented most frequently by foreign (skilled) labour.

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Important regulations for the recruitment of qualified professionals from abroad

Employers looking for staff in the hospitality sector can take advantage of the opportunities offered by labour migration. Employers have the option of finding appropriate qualified professionals and apprentices in other EU Member States, as well as in third countries. In addition to the special provision for speciality chefs[6] (Section 11 (2) of the Ordinance on the Employment of Foreigners (BeschV)), the Skilled Immigration Act (FEG) provides greater opportunities for recruiting skilled hospitality workers from third countries. However, it is important that employers comply with certain regulations.

Recognition of professional qualifications:

Nationals of EU or EFTA[7] countries do not require formal recognition of their professional qualifications in order to work in the hospitality industry. The principle of free movement of workers applies in this case.

In the case of qualified professionals from third countries with foreign professional qualifications, these must be equivalent to qualified vocational education and training in Germany in order for them to enter and reside in Germany as qualified professionals. When employing third-country nationals, the full recognition of the equivalence of professional qualifications must be certified by the competent recognition authority in Germany before employees can start work.

Employers can also recruit prospective qualified professionals from abroad whose foreign professional qualifications have not yet been fully recognised, by giving them the option to stay in Germany for the purpose of having them recognised. Such applicants can then be re-qualified in Germany and integrated into the company long-term. In this case, a provision for non-regulated occupations – which occupations in the hospitality industry tend to be – allows applicants to enter and reside in Germany for the purpose of compensating for the substantial differences identified, even in the context of employment as a qualified professional in the occupation to be recognised (Section 16d (3) of the Residence Act-AufenthG). The precondition is that the skills, knowledge, and abilities required for equivalence can be compensated for in a practical work environment. To this end, it is advisable for employers to include appropriate assurances in the employment contract.

Visa and residence regulations:

EU and EFTA nationals do not need a visa or work permit to enter, stay or work in Germany. According to the Freedom of Movement Act/EU (FreizügG/EU), qualified professionals from these countries have the same rights as Germans. People from all other countries generally need a visa or residence permit to enter and work in Germany.

In order to obtain a visa for the purpose of employment, the qualified professional must, among other things, provide evidence of a written employment contract or a specific offer of employment when applying for a visa. If the employer in Germany wants to get to know their future qualified professional better in person and test their skills and competencies through trial work, it is legally possible to obtain a job seeker visa. This residence permit entitles foreign jobseekers to do trial work for up to 10 hours per week while looking for a job in Germany. The precondition is that the qualified professional can prove their ability to finance themselves during their stay.

Good to know

Nationals of Australia, Israel, Japan, Canada, the Republic of Korea, New Zealand, the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland and the USA do not require a visa to enter Germany. They can apply for the necessary residence permit in Germany. If employment is to be taken up immediately after entry, it is nevertheless advisable to apply for an entry visa for the purpose of employment at the competent German diplomatic mission, because employment is not permitted without a residence permit allowing such employment.

Language skills:

There is no general rule regarding the level of German required for taking up employment in Germany. Language requirements are determined by the requirements of the job or the employer’s requirements. In the case of re-qualification with parallel employment in non-regulated occupations, however, third-country nationals must as a rule have sufficient knowledge of German when applying for a visa. This corresponds to Level A2 of the Common European Framework of Reference for Languages and must be proven by an appropriate language certificate.

Further development of immigration law:

Germany’s Federal Government is currently developing key points for skilled labour immigration from third countries to enable more (qualified) professionals to take up employment in Germany. Besides changes to the law, there are plans, among other things, for measures to speed up procedures for (skilled) labour immigration. The hospitality sector will also benefit from these new rules.


[1]In this context, jobs in the hospitality industry include all occupations in food preparation and in the hotel and catering industry, based on the definition of the Federal Employment Agency.
[2] Jansen / Risius (2022): Sorgenkind Gastro? Berufswechsel in der Corona-Pandemie, IW-Kurzbericht Nr. 60/2022
[3] DIHK Fachkräftereport 2021
[4] Bundesagentur für Arbeit (2022): Situation am Ausbildungsmarkt
[5] Bundesagentur für Arbeit (2022), Arbeitsmarkt für Ausländer – Deutschland (Monatszahlen), Oktober 2022
[6] Bundesagentur für Arbeit (2022), Arbeitsmarktzulassung für Spezialitätenköchinnen und Spezialitätenköche
[7] The European Free Trade Association (EFTA) currently comprises Iceland, Liechtenstein, Norway and Switzerland.

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