Work permits

When and how to apply for them

If you plan to work in Germany you will need to get a residence and a work permit. Only if you are an EU national these may not be necessary.

In order to obtain a work permit, you first need to get your residence permit. For further information, see our section on residence permits. Students do not require work permits; however, there is a strict yearly limit of 90 days work. For further information, see our section on student jobs.

EU citizens

EU citizens do not need a permit to work in Germany, provided they have a valid passport or national identity card and comply with German employment laws and regulations (there are also special arrangements with Switzerland and EEAA countries). You should, however, consider getting an EU residency permit. For further information, see our section on residence permits.

Two main exceptions to the rule are Romania and Bulgaria, from which workers coming to Germany currently require work permits. However this will no longer be necessary when their EU memberships are normalised from January 1st 2014.

In Germany, EU citizens have equal rights in terms of pay, working conditions, access to housing, vocational training, social security and trade union membership. Families and immediate dependents are entitled to join you and have similar rights. There are some restrictions on some public sector employment (e.g. Police) and there variances for teachers and health professionals between different Länder (German states).

Non-EU citizens

Work-permits for non-EU-citizens are attached to the type of resident permit you hold. There are various residence permits that are issued for the purpose of taking up employment (as an employee or self-employed work). Which residence permit applies to you and which preconditions need to be fulfilled essentially depends on the type of intended employment. Here it is distinguished between employment that does not require any professional qualifications, qualified employment, highly qualified employment and self-employed work.

Non-qualified Employment

It is generally not possible to receive a residence permit for the purpose of taking up employment that does not require professional qualifications. These are only issued under exceptional circumstances if this has been allowed for in intergovernmental agreements or is permitted by legal ordinance.

Qualified Employment

It is permitted to employ professionally qualified foreigners in the case of specific vocations. These occupational groups are determined by legal ordinance. Whether you get a work permit for qualified employment depends on type of job you’re looking into and the current regulations for giving out permits.

Highly Qualified Employment

Highly qualified persons can, in special cases, receive a unlimited settlement permit (Niederlassungserlaubnis) right from the outset. The prerequisites for this are, among others, that they have a concrete job offer and that the Bundesagentur für Arbeit (Federal Employment Agency) has given their approval. People regarded in particular to be highly qualified persons are scientists with special expert knowledge, teachers and scientific workers with specialist functions. This group also includes specialists and people in senior managerial positions who receive a salary that is above a stipulated minimum value (double the contribution assessment ceiling for statutory health insurance, which is around €4,000).

Self-employed Work

A residence permit can be issued for carrying out self-employed work. This presupposes that certain prerequisites are fulfilled that, in particular, ensure that the work has a positive effect on the German economy. These prerequisites are generally deemed to be fulfilled with a minimum investment sum of 1 million euros and the creation of ten jobs. If the investment sum or the number of jobs is less than these values, the prerequisites are examined in terms of the viability of the business idea, the amount of invested capital, the business experience of the foreigner and involves, among others, trade authorities and associations. Foreigners who are older than 45 years only receive a residence permit if they have a suitable retirement pension.

The residence permit is initially issued for a maximum of 3 years. If the planned business endeavour has been successfully realised in this time, a settlement permit can already be issued after three years regardless of the usual prerequisites.

Working illegally

Given the difficulties getting work permits many people consider working illegally. However, finding illegal work in Germany is difficult and not recommended. Illegal workers are under constant threat of deportation and are often exploited by employers. An employer cannot even be forced to pay for work done by someone working illegally.

Further reading

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