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Immigration Act

The Immigration Act entered into force on 1 January 2005 and contains provisions on the entry of foreigners into Germany, their residence in the country, various residence purposes, the termination of residence and asylum procedures. It will hereinafter be referred to as the Residence Act (Aufenthaltsgesetz).

Amendments to the Act took effect on 28 August 2007. These amendments include provisions to implement eleven EU directives on residence and asylum rules, to prevent sham or forced marriages, to enhance internal security, to implement decisions of the German Conference of Interior Ministers on nationality law, to facilitate the immigration of company founders and, above all, provisions to foster the integration of legal immigrants.

Residence permits

The Residence Act stipulates for the first time ever that a visa is of itself a kind of residence permit. This provision is of significance for short stays. A visa now expressly permits the holder to reside in Germany for its duration; under the old Foreigners Act only residence permits acquired after entry into Germany entitled the holder to stay in the country.

In the case of longer stays, the only distinction that is still made is between (temporary) residence permits and (permanent) settlement permits. First-time entry into the country still requires a visa for Germany (national visa), which is then converted into a residence or settlement permit once the holder has arrived in the country. Residence permits are issued for the purposes specified in the Act (education or training, gainful employment, international-law, humanitarian, political or family reasons). Settlement permits are issued if a foreigner has possessed a residence permit for five years and meets the additional requirements (secure income, no criminal record, adequate command of the German language, etc). These can be issued more quickly to highly qualified foreigners and holders of an EU Blue Card.

The amended Immigration Act also introduced the “EC long-term residence permit” as a separate residence permit. It is very similar to the settlement permit.

Implementation of the EU Council Directive on the conditions of entry and residence of third‑country nationals for the purposes of highly qualified employment (the so‑called Blue Card Directive), meant introducing a new residence title with effect from 1 August 2012: the EU Blue Card which is very similar to a temporary residence permit but makes it easier to get a settlement permit.


Residence for the purpose of education or training

Foreigners may be issued with a renewable residence permit for the purpose of applying to and studying at a state or state-recognized higher education institution or comparable training establishment. After graduating, they may have their residence permit extended for up to one year (from 1 August 2012 for up to 18 months) for the purpose of seeking employment relevant to their field of study.

A residence permit can also be issued to those wishing to participate in a language course without thereafter going on to university.

Residence permits to enable a child to attend school can only be issued in exceptional cases.
If the Federal Employment Agency gives its approval, residence permits may also be issued for the purpose of completing in-company initial and continuing training. Graduates of German schools abroad who wish to complete a qualified in-company training course for a state-recognized or similarly accredited training occupation may be granted a residence permit without the approval of the Federal Employment Agency.


Labour migration

A new kind of residence permit that also grants access to the labour market was introduced on 1 January 2005, replacing the previous system of separate residence and work permits. Foreigners will thus now only have to deal with one authority. Abroad this will be the German missions (embassy and consulate visa sections), in Germany the foreigners authorities. The labour authorities will be contacted as required by the missions or foreigners authorities themselves.

The general ban on recruitment, that is restrictions in access to the labour market, remains in place, though exceptions may be made for individual occupation categories by ordinance. Approval may be granted in justified instances if there is a public interest in an individual taking up employment (Residence Act, section 18 (4)).

The Act provides for highly qualified persons to be granted permanent residence from the outset. They may obtain a settlement permit immediately upon arrival. Their family members who come to Germany with them or join them at a later date are entitled to take up gainful employment.

Self-employed persons can be issued with a residence permit if there is particular economic or specific regional interest in the planned business project. To this end, each case is examined also taking due account of the impact on the economy and the securing of financing.

Following graduation, students can remain in Germany to seek employment for up to 18 months (with effect from 1 August 2012).

A residence permit may only be issued once a concrete job offer has been made. Approval by the authorities is generally dependent on the needs of Germany as a business location, with due consideration given to the situation on the labour market.


Seeking employment in Germany

From 1 August 2012, university graduates with a degree from a German or another recognized university or a degree from a foreign university which is comparable to a German degree will have the opportunity to enter Germany to seek employment. The jobseeker’s visa allows a stay of up to six months. Alongside a university degree, proof of adequate means of subsistence for the planned duration of the stay is required. During the period when employment is being sought, it is not permitted to work whether on a self-employed basis or otherwise.


A simpler immigration process for researchers

Residence permits will be granted to people intending to do research at a research facility recognized by the Federal Office for Migration and Refugees, provided a valid “admission agreement” has been concluded by the foreigner and the research facility. The visa procedure for these researchers is conducted as a simplified procedure without the involvement of the foreigners authorities.

Admission of third-country nationals to Germany for the purpose of scientific research (PDF, 2 MB)


Immigration on humanitarian, political and similar grounds – asylum

In line with the EU Asylum Qualification Directive, refugee status is also granted under the Residence Act in the case of non-state persecution. In addition, gender-specific persecution is now also recognized, i.e. a threat to a person's life or threatened bodily harm also constitutes persecution if it takes place solely on account of their gender.


Subsequent immigration of family members and children

A foreigner must have a settlement or residence permit or an EU Blue Card and sufficient living space before his/her family is allowed to join him/her. Further requirements must also be fulfilled, depending on the status of the foreigner resident in Germany.

As regards the subsequent immigration of spouses, the amended Immigration Act introduced the rule that both spouses must be 18 years or older and that the person arriving in Germany to join their spouse must in principle have at least a basic knowledge of German.

As regards the subsequent immigration of children, the upper age limit of 16 years has been retained. Young people between the ages of 16 and 18 may be granted a residence permit in cases of hardship or if their prospects of integration are good. Where a parent with sole custody of a child under 16 immigrates to Germany, the child is entitled to the necessary residence permit.


Fostering integration

Integration is a long-term process aiming to draw all people living legally and permanently in Germany into society. Immigrants are to be able to participate fully and where possible equally in all areas of society. Immigrants have a duty to learn the German language and to know, respect and comply with the Constitution and legislation. At the same time, immigrants need to be granted equal access where possible all across society.

Migrants who have successfully completed an integration course are able to shorten the time they have to wait for a settlement permit or, if desired, for citizenship. The integration course is held in German.


Last updated 23.07.2012