Immigration to Germany
Immigrating to Germany offers the chance to improve your standard of living and secure a decent future for your children.
Why immigrate to Germany?
- Visa-free travel. A German residence permit or permanent residency entitles holders to travel across countries in the Schengen area without a visa. A German passport is considered one of the world’s most powerful passports, ranking third in Henley & Partners’ 2020 Passport Index. German visitors can travel visa-free to 189 countries of the world, including the European Union countries, the United States, and Australia.
- Multicultural society. One in four Germans has a migrant background, according to the Federal Statistics Office of Germany. Germany is host to the second-largest number of immigrants in the world, after the USA.
- Social inclusion and integration. Modern Germany is home to people with different traditions, cultures and religions. The German government implements national policies to help successfully integrate foreigners into German society.
- High wages. Wages in Germany are among the highest in the EU. An average monthly net salary (after taxes) is about €2,350, according to Numbeo.
- Quality healthcare. Germany is one of the top global destinations for travellers seeking medical care.
- Geographical proximity. Germany is located in the heart of Europe and is a stone’s throw away from many major European cities.
- Low corruption. Germany ranks ninth in Transparency International’s 2019 Corruption Perceptions Index.
- High standard of living. Germany also ranks ninth in Numbeo’s 2020 Quality of Life Index, scoring 177.3 points as compared to France with 151.6 points, Italy with 138.9 points, and Russia with 101.5 points.
- Welfare state. German residents receive support and social protection from the state.
- Quality education. German education enjoys a good reputation for helping students to join the workforce successfully. QS included 12 German universities in their world’s top 200 universities list.
How to immigrate to Germany?
There are several pathways to German immigration — for the purpose of education, work, marriage, opening a business, reuniting with family, seeking asylum, or under repatriation programmes for Jewish and ethnic German descendants.
In order to immigrate to Germany for the purpose of education, you must be admitted to a German university and obtain a student visa that is valid for up to five years. Upon completing the academic course, you may obtain a residence permit that gives you up to 18 months to look for a job. Once you are employed or have set up a business in Germany, you may obtain a residence permit for employment and remain in Germany.
The advantages of this pathway to immigration is that higher education in Germany is fairly inexpensive and the chance of a visa refusal is minimal. You do not need to know German if your education course is in English.
A student visa can be obtained by academic applicants who have been admitted to a German university, are taking university preparatory courses or have simply submitted their documents to a university in Germany. Applicants must prove they have sufficient financial means to pay academic fees and live in Germany for the duration of their studies.
In order to immigrate to Germany for employment, you must obtain an official invitation from a German or multinational company and prove that your higher education and/or work experience and qualification(s) are recognised in Germany. You must then obtain an employment visa and residence permit on entering the country. An employment residence permit is issued for a period from six months to three years and may be renewed.
A residence permit for employment in Germany may be obtained by foreigners practising professions that face long-standing skills shortages, such as doctors, engineers or researchers. The range of professions covered by the employment residence permit is wide.
In order to obtain an employment visa, the applicant must prove they have knowledge of the German language, submit documentary proof of a completed degree, and have an employment agreement.
EU Blue Card
The EU Blue Card (Blaue Karte EU) is a special residence permit offered to highly qualified specialists coming to the EU for the purpose of employment. The Blue Card is valid for the term of the holder’s employment agreement (up to four years) and may be extended or terminated.
This permit is only available to highly qualified and academically trained professionals who have an executed employment agreement for at least one year. The holder’s salary must be at least 1.5 times the national average.
The gross salary threshold needed in order to qualify for a Blue Card is €55,200 per annum. Professionals in in-demand occupations, such as IT and engineering, must earn a salary of at least €43,056 per annum.
Blue Card holders may file an early permanent residency application after 21 months of permanent stay in Germany if they have a B1 level of German language proficiency, and after 33 months if their level is A1.
Setting up business
There are two ways to immigrate for the purpose of carrying on business in Germany: one is to set up a new business, and the other is to undertake private activity (free work).
A free worker is a highly qualified self-employed professional who is not considered to be a business person and is not subject to business tax. Free workers may be advisors, lawyers, translators, teachers, writers, psychologists, nutritionists, dentists, or hold other occupations, and they may hire assistants. A freelancer is not considered to be a free worker and must register as a legal entity instead.
The applicant may apply for a Type D visa after preparing a business plan or the documents proving their professional qualifications. A residence permit must be obtained after entering the country. However, if the business turns out to be loss-making, any application for the renewal of this residence permit will be refused.
Marriage is the simplest way to immigrate to Germany. The fiancé(e) of a German citizen is not required to know German at a proficient level (A1 is sufficient), or have hefty cash in the bank, academic degrees and high professional qualifications.
A special visa for one’s fiancé(e) must be obtained before moving to Germany. This visa allows the holder to enter the country and marry a German citizen or resident. Following marriage, the applicant may first obtain a residence permit and then apply for German citizenship after living in the country for three years. If Germany’s migration services detect a sham marriage, the violator will be deported from the country.
The primary reason to seek immigration via this pathway is in order to reunite families that have been divided by country borders. A German citizen or the foreign holder of a German residence permit may invite their family (spouse, dependent children and parents) to come to Germany. A relative seeking medical help for a serious health condition may also come to Germany.
Family members of a German citizen or residence permit holder may in turn obtain residence permits and the right to work in Germany. For this, applicants must prove their relation to the German resident, a source of continuous income, future plans to live jointly, and at least A1 knowledge of German.
Germany offers immigration programmes for Jewish people, covering applicants who have at least one Jewish relative (a parent or grandparent). The applicant must provide a birth certificate for their relative specifying “Jewish” in the line for nationality.
Applicants eligible for this programme must prove they have at least A1 knowledge of German or English, sufficient financial means to live in Germany long-term, and a clean criminal record. Applicants who are proficient in German, are highly-qualified, have relatives in Germany, or have an employment contract with a German company have better chances of success.
An applicant who obtains permanent residency in Germany with the right to employment may apply for German citizenship in six years.
Germany’s programme for late repatriates is designed to help foreigners of German ethnicity repatriate to Germany. A foreign citizen may immigrate to Germany if any of their family members is an ethnic German, be it a parent or grandparent.
The applicant must pass a German language test at the B1 level, as well as a culture and traditions test. They must submit documentary proof of their relation to an ethnic German.
The application for immigration may be filed in Germany or the applicant’s home country.
A repatriate is granted the right to obtain German citizenship immediately after arrival.
Individuals facing the threat of persecution or humanitarian catastrophe in their home countries may apply to Germany for asylum. Asylum seekers must produce convincing evidence that their rights and freedoms are impaired or threatened in their home country.
In order to obtain asylum, the asylum seeker must enter Germany legitimately on any visa issued in their home country and then apply to a refugee centre in Germany.
Four steps to German immigration
Foreigners who want to move to Germany must substantiate their reasons for immigration, demonstrate their knowledge of the German language and prove they have sufficient financial means to live in the country.
Step one: national visa
The first step towards immigrating to Germany is to obtain a national visa. A national visa is a long-term visa that allows the holder to live in the country for 90 days in a six month period. Unlike a tourist visa (Type C visa), a Type D national visa allows the holder to live in Germany for a long time.
A national visa is usually obtained for the purposes of work, studies, medical treatment, family reunion, late repatriation, or Jewish immigration. Documents required in order to apply for a national visa on the above grounds are listed on the Schengen Visa website.
Applicants seeking a Type D visa must submit the required documents to a German consulate in person and appear for an interview. All documents must be translated into German and certified, and any original marriage documents must be apostilled. It takes anywhere from one week to several months to obtain a visa, depending on the grounds for immigration. The visa fee is €75.
Step two: residence permit
The second step is to convert a national Type D visa into a residence permit. A temporary residence permit gives holders the right to stay in Germany for at least six months and up to 2–3 years, depending on the purpose of stay. The grounds for obtaining a residence permit may be work, setting up a business, education, marriage, humanitarian reasons, or others.
Temporary residence applications are filed at Germany’s Federal Foreigners Office. The applicant must seek their residence permit on the same grounds as those on which they were issued a national visa. Issuing a new residence permit costs €100-110 and a renewal costs €65-80.
Any individual who stays in Germany for more than 183 days in a year becomes a German tax resident. A residence permit is revoked if its holder stays outside Germany for a continuous period of more than six months.
Step three: permanent residency
Being granted permanent residency in Germany entitles the applicant to acquire the same rights and obligations as those of German nationals, with the exception of political rights.
Applicants for permanent residency must fulfill the following prerequisites:
- Live in Germany for five years with a residence permit;
- Not leave the country for a total of more than six months;
- Have regular and steady income;
- Not receive government allowances;
- Make contributions to a state pension fund for the previous 60 months;
- Prove knowledge of German at the B1 level;
- Have basic knowledge of the legal system and social policy in the federal state of the applicant’s residence;
- Own or rent housing in Germany with an area of at least 12 m2 for each family member;
Permanent residency applications must be filed at the Federal Foreigners Office. The processing fee for applications ranges from €135–250.
Blue Card holders may file an early permanent residency application after 21 months of permanent stay in Germany if they have a B1 level proficiency of German and after 33 months if their level is A1.
Business immigrants have the right to apply for permanent residency in Germany after three years if their company is operating successfully and shows strong financial performance. A spouse of a German national is eligible to gain permanent residency after three years of marriage and living in Germany.
Step four: citizenship
A German passport entitles an immigrant to acquire the same political rights as German citizens, and travel visa-free to 189 countries of the world. Germany does not recognise dual citizenship and applicants must be prepared to renounce citizenship of their home country when applying for a German passport.
Applicants for German citizenship must fulfill the following prerequisites:
- Live in Germany for eight years on a temporary residence permit or permanent residency;
- Prove knowledge of German at the B1 level;
- Pass a citizenship test proving knowledge of German history, law, and culture;
- Prove financial sufficiency;
- Not receive social security or unemployment allowances;
- Not be convicted of serious offences;
- Renounce previous citizenship.
The qualifying period to live in Germany before obtaining citizenship may be reduced to 6–7 years if the applicant successfully completes an integration course and proves knowledge of German at the B2 level.
The spouse of a German citizen may obtain citizenship after living in Germany for three years. Germany does not grant citizenship by virtue of birth.