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Germany - Visas, Residency, Immigration & Documentation
Germany is one of the participating countries for the Schengen Agreement. This allows residents of the signatory countries to move freely within those countries and any visa (Visum) issued in one of these countries is valid for all the participating countries. The participating countries are Austria, Belgium, France, Denmark, Greece, Finland, Italy, Iceland, the Netherlands, Luxembourg, Norway, Portugal, Sweden and Spain.
With the short stay Schengen visa a visitor can only spend 90 days in the country during the six month validity period, but can leave and enter the country as many times as necessary during that stay providing the total time spent in the country does not exceed the 90 day limit.
Those who are citizens of the EU do not need a visa for a short stay in Germany and neither do those who are married to an EU national. There are also a number of other countries whose citizens do not need a visa for a stay of less than three months and who do not want to go to the country for work. A complete list is available from the websites of the Germany embassies and immigration department, but included is the USA, Argentina and other South American countries and Australia and New Zealand.
If you require a visa it will be necessary to make an appointment with your local German embassy or consulate in order to present your documents (dokument) and make the application (Bewerbung). It is not possible to just turn up as you will not be allowed in without the appointment. You must be resident in the same country as the office to which you are making your application. It is recommended that you make your application as far in advance as possible, particularly at busy times of year.
When making an application for any type of visa it is advisable that you take along the required documents both in the original form and with a photocopy of each one. If you do not take photocopies the embassy or visa office may charge you to carry out that task. If the application form is incomplete or there are documents missing the application will not be processed.
The documents required include a valid passport which proves that you have the legal right to live in the country in which you have made your application. The application form for the visa should be completed and have a passport photo attached. You will need to have a health insurance (Krankenversicherung) policy which covers you for your time in Germany and is valid for all members of the family travelling with you. If there are children travelling who are under the age of 16 then there should be a separate application form completed for each one. Both parents need to sign the form and the parent’s passports must also be presented along with that of the child. The children’s birth certificates are also required documentation for the application.
Those who are applying for a visitor’s visa will also need to produce an invitation from the host family in Germany as well as a copy of the passport of the host. The visitor must also be able to prove that they are able to support themselves financially during their stay in the country. The authority will not be able to accept cash as proof of finances, so the visitor will need to have bank statements (Kontoauszug) or traveller’s cheques. You must also be able to prove your own occupation so a letter from your employer or educational institution is required.
Those who are applying for a business visa will need a formal invitation from the company in Germany. This will need to give details of the visit, including duration, the type of business and a guarantee for any costs involved. The visitor’s employer will also need to provide a letter giving details of your employment and guarantee any costs which are their responsibility. All company letters must be in the original format. Even if the visitor is just making a trip to the German office of their current employer, letters from both offices are required.
Tourist visas are required for some short stay visits. In order to obtain one of these you will need to prove that you have a hotel booked, that you have the financial means to support yourself during your stay, that you have health insurance policy and evidence of your occupation. A tourist visa is valid for a 90 stay within a six month period.
For all types of visa the office may require you to present additional documentation. This could include items such as a birth certificate, marriage certificate if applicable and a driver’s licence (Führerschein). Those who are under the age of 18 will need to have the consent of both parents to be travelling into Germany.
For those who are EU nationals there are some type of visas which are required for longer stays. Those who intend to work in the country will need a work permit (Arbeitserlaubnis) and visa. Those who are from countries which have been in the EU for a number of years will not need these, but those from countries which have recently joined the EU such as the eastern European countries, will need to apply for a work permit. This can be obtained by applying to employment agencies in Germany.
Part of the immigration process is to register your address. This applies to all residents and not just foreign nationals. Within a week of moving into a new residence you must go to the Residence Registration Office which is usually at the town hall (rathaus). You must take along your passport and a copy of your tenancy agreement as well as the registration form.
EU citizens do not have to apply for residency but still need the certificate. Unless there is a good reason this will not be refused. To get the certificate you need a valid passport or ID card and 2 passport photos. In some areas you may also be asked to undergo a medical examination. Some visa types will also test you on your knowledge of the German language, so being able to speak at least a little will be of benefit.
Those who are applying for visas to live and work in Germany on a long term basis will also be expected to produce other documentation such as proof of an offer of employment, details of qualifications or membership to trade organisations and students must be able to prove that they are registered at a university.
When making an application the requirement is that passport should have a minimum period left to run. For short stay visas this should be a minimum of three months, although six is advised. For visas that are for longer stays it should be a minimum of six months. Passports should also have a few unused pages in them.
Fees are payable for all visa applications and there is a flat rate for all types, although this is reviewed regularly. The website of the Immigration department of the German government has details on charges. Fees are payable regardless of the outcome of the visa application. If you are not sure if you qualify for a visa then it is a good idea to seek advice before making the application in order to avoid unnecessary expense.
Applicants should be careful to submit their applications on the correct forms. If the form is not right then the application will be rejected. Those who are making the application in their home country can ask for a form in their own language. If making the application in Germany then the form to be completed will probably be in German.
The German authorities are currently implementing a new electronic system which allows the forms to be completed online. These can then be printed and taken along to the visa appointment. They are scanned in by means of a barcode and waiting times at visa offices are reduced. This is ideal for those who wish to travel in the summer or at other busy times of year.
Forms can be downloaded from embassy websites as well as the website of the German immigration department. If you prefer you can request that these are sent to you by post. The websites also have information guides relating to all the different visa types and these can tell you how to complete the form and give details of the supporting documentation that you need to send with your application. Forms are available in different languages, making it easier for those who have little knowledge of German.
In order to apply for a residency permit (Aufenhaltsgenehmigung) an individual must apply in person at either their local German embassy or consulate or the Immigration authorities in Germany. EU nationals have the right to live and work in Germany, so the granting of a residence (Aufenhalt) permit is just a formality.
The application form is required in duplicate and must be presented along with the applicant’s passport (pass), passport photos and all other relevant documentation. These items are checked when the applicant is interviewed.
For those who are not EU nationals, there are three categories of residency permit if the intention is to work in the country. The first is for general employment (Arbeit), the second is for professionals with specialist skills and the third is for the self employed. Non EU nationals should ensure that they have the residence permit approved and in place before moving to Germany. Those who come from Iceland, Norway or Liechtenstein are considered to have the same rights as EU nationals.
Those who come from Australia, the USA, New Zealand, Canada or Japan, it is possible to move to Germany and apply for the residence permit when you arrive. In this instance it is important to ensure that your employer has your work permit (Arbeitserlaubnis) ready when you arrive so that there are no problems when starting work.
Applications are sent through the Foreign National Authority in Germany. The time for processing an application can be as long as 10 weeks. Applicants (Bewerber) are informed automatically when the decision has been made. When you first move to the country you will need to go to the local Foreign Nationals Authority to register (registrieren) with them.
Those who are applying for a general employment residence permit will need to have a vocational qualification (Qualifikation) which allows them to carry out skilled work and a firm offer of employment from a company in Germany. The application should be accompanied with the applicant’s passport and two photocopies; there should be two copies of the relevant qualification and a letter of invitation confirming the employment offer which gives as much detail as possible about the vacancy to be filled. This type of permit is quite hard to get as the authorities prefer jobs to be given to German nationals where possible. The employer (Arbeitgeber) will need to justify why the job is to be given to a foreign national.
If you are applying for a specialist professional residence permit then you need to fit into one of a number of categories. Most applicants in this instance are graduates (Graduierte) who have specialist skills, university professors or managers who have several years experience and who expect to earn a high salary. They must be able to settle easily into German society so should have good language skills. They should be able to support themselves without the need to make a claim on the German social security system and there should be a definite offer of employment. Similar documentation is needed as for the general employment category, although more details are required on the qualifications.
Those who are self employed and wish to apply for a German residence permit will need to be able to prove that their skills are required in the area they have chosen to settle in. They must also be able to show that they can make a positive contribution to the local economy, normally by agreeing to employ local staff. A self employed (selbständig) individual must also be able to show that they can fund the start up of their own business, as very few funding options are available to those who are not German nationals.
If the investment that you plan to make in your own business (Betreib) is worth more than 1 million Euros and creates a minimum of 10 jobs then you have a very good chance of being accepted in this category. You will need to present a viable business plan (Geschäftsplan) which demonstrates your long term goals and how you intend to achieve them. Details of your previous business experience are also required, so those who have run a similar business successfully in the past stand a better chance of being accepted. Details of the exact amount you will be investing should also be presented to the authorities and if your plan can show how your business will affect local employment and skills that is preferred. If you plan to contribute in some way to research and innovation then that is a bonus.
There is a certain amount of documentation required for this type of residence permit. As for the general employment category, the application form should be filled out in duplicate and photos and the passport are required. There should be a detailed description of the business plan which shows how you expect the business to meet German requirements. Applicants who are over the age of 45 will also need to show how they will support themselves when they reach the retirement age.
Residence permits for the self employed are issued for a maximum of three years. This is to give the business a chance to flourish and if it is successful an indefinite extension (Verlängerung) can be granted. The individual will have to show that they are achieving the goals set out in their plan.
Those who are applying for a residence permit for Germany in order to join family members who are resident there or who are perhaps seeking asylum will normally be granted a residence permit without too much trouble. These applications are rarely rejected unless there is a good reason to do so. An applicant who has a criminal record will normally be rejected.
There are two types of residency permit – limited or unlimited. Which one is issued will depend a great deal on your country of origin and your reason for wanting to be in Germany. If you apply for a permit so that you can do a specific job then you will find that the permit is for the same length of time as the contract of employment.
In order for a foreign national to become a citizen (bürger) of Germany, there are a number of ways, but for most people it will depend on the number of years that have been spent living and working in the country or heritage.
An applicant must have a valid residency permit (aufenhaltsgenehmigung) and have been living in the country for a period of 8 years. An applicant must also be able to prove that they can work for a living or have an independent income so that they will not be claiming social benefits. Individuals must also be able to speak German at a level which is considered to be reasonably fluent.
Most people are expected to give up their old nationality (Staatsangehörigkeit) although in some cases dual nationality is permitted. This will depend upon when the naturalisation took place, so it is a good idea to check with the German immigration authorities (Einwanderungsbehörden) to find out what naturalisation (Einbürgerung) will mean for your current nationality. Once the application has been approved the individual will need to swear an oath on the German constitution.
Those who marry a German citizen can obtain citizenship without the 8 year residency rule applying. A couple must have been married for a period of 2 years and the spouse has to have been living and working in Germany for a minimum of 3 years. Children do not have to have been living in Germany for 8 years either and an application (Antrag) for citizenship can be made on their behalf by a parent who is already a citizen or who is in the process of making the application.
In the eyes of the German authorities, citizenship is defined by the nationality of the parents (Eltern). Those children who are born to a German mother or father are automatically considered to be German citizens. However, if a child is born to foreign parents while in Germany, they cannot make an automatic claim to citizenship. If a child is entitled to both German citizenship and that of another country when they are born they will not be expected to choose between them at a later date, although the parents should check the law in the other country, which may well expect them to make a choice.
Some people may be able to claim German citizenship even if they are not living in the country. In order to do this a person must be able to speak German fluently and prove that they have strong ties to Germany. They should also be able to prove that they can support themselves financially. If you think you may qualify then it is advisable to consult the relevant German authority to check before putting in an application. There are fees (Gebühr) attached to an application which are payable regardless of the outcome.
German citizenship can be easily lost. German nationals who apply for citizenship of another country will automatically lose their German citizenship if they do not have prior permission to keep it. This does not apply if they are claiming citizenship of an EU country. Those who spend time in the army of another country after claiming German citizenship will also find that they could have their German nationality taken away.
Applications should be made directly to the Immigration department of the German government, and applicants will be expected to provide evidence of their time spent in the country and details on how they can support themselves financially. Copies of birth certificates (Geburtsurkunde), marriage certificates (Trauschein) if applicable and employer details will all be required when the application is made. Fees are non-refundable, so applications should not be made on speculation as this could be costly.
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