Practical Guide for Immigrants


Visa requirements

EU and EEA (European Economic Area) nationals
EU nationals do not require a visa to enter the Federal Republic of Germany.

Non-EU and non-EEA (European Economic Area) nationals
Generally speaking, all other foreigners require a visa for stays in Germany. A visa is not required for semi-annual visits of up to three months for nationals of those countries for which the European Community has abolished the visa requirement.

Bodies responsible for issuing visas
Under German law (section 71 (2) of the Residence Act), responsibility for issuing visas lies with the missions of the Federal Republic of Germany, i.e. its embassies and consulates-general. In principle, the Federal Foreign Office is not involved in decisions on individual visa applications, nor does it have any knowledge of the status of individual applications being processed by the missions. Visas are issued by the mission responsible for the area in which the applicant has his/her ordinary residence or domicile.

Visa fees
The fee for a so-called national visa (person plans to stay within Germany for more than three months, e.g. for a course of study) is 30 euro.
Applicants wishing to stay in Germany for a period of more than 90 days but needing to travel to another Schengen country within the first three months of their stay (e.g. scientists) may obtain a so-called national "hybrid visa". The fee for a hybrid visa is 60 euro.
The fee for a Schengen visa (valid for travel to 15 Schengen countries, stay of up to 90 days) is 60 euro.

Time required to process a visa application
As a rule, missions require between two and ten working days to decide on an application for a short stay visa. Applications for visas entitling the holder to a longer stay or to take up gainful employment may take several months to process. During the peak travel season there may be a waiting period for making an application to a German mission. Persons requiring a visa to enter Germany should therefore submit their applications in good time.

Application procedure
As a rule, applicants must submit visa applications, together with all necessary documents, in person at the German mission responsible for their place of residence. In order to avoid time-consuming requests for additional information or documentation, applicants should contact the respective mission well in advance of their departure date to enquire about any special local requirements pertaining to visa formalities.
Visa application forms can be obtained from the mission free of charge (in the local language). Applicants may also download the forms here (see right). The forms submitted must be original versions (at least one set) in the appropriate language of the mission in question. Please contact the mission beforehand to find out exactly which forms are required.

Requirements for the issue of short stay (Schengen) visas
In issuing visitors' visas, missions are bound by the relevant provisions of Community law and German aliens law (the Residence Act and its implementing ordinances). The Residence Act does not grant the right to a visitor's or tourist visa. A visa may be granted provided that the applicant's presence does not prejudice or endanger the interests of the Federal Republic of Germany. Applicants must prove that they have adequate funds for the intended stay and may not claim any public funds in this connection. Should an applicant be unable to finance the journey and stay from his/her own funds, a host resident in Germany may pledge to cover all costs associated with the trip, including the cost of any medical treatment. Under sections 66 ff. of the Residence Act, such a pledge is normally to be made to the aliens authority in the host's place of residence in Germany.
In accordance with a European Council decision, visa holders are as a rule required to have travel health insurance valid for the entire Schengen area (with a minimum coverage of EUR 30,000). Where possible, this should be taken out in the applicant's own country, although it may also be purchased by the host.
In deciding on an application, the mission will take into account the applicant's personal interests and any relevant humanitarian concerns, as well as the security interests of Germany and its Schengen partners. It will also assess the applicant’s willingness and ability to return. Every application must therefore be considered on its individual merits.
If the applicant does not fulfil the above-mentioned criteria, the visa application must be refused. The same applies should it emerge during the assessment process that the applicant's purpose for coming to Germany is different from that stated. In accordance with section 77 (2) of the Residence Act and with international practice, no reason need be given for refusing a visa application nor any information provided on legal remedies. Pursuant to section 83 of the Residence Act, applicants may not appeal a refusal of their application for a tourist visa.

Requirements for the issue of visas for longer stays and/or stays entitling the holder to take up gainful employment
As a rule, all foreigners require visas for stays of more than three months or stays leading to gainful employment. Exemptions apply to EU and EEA (European Economic Area) citizens and Swiss nationals. Furthermore, citizens of Australia, Canada, Israel, Japan, New Zealand, the Republic of Korea and the United States of America may obtain any residence permit that may be required after entering Germany. Citizens of all other countries planning a longer stay in Germany must apply for visas at the competent mission before arriving in the country. Visa applications must be approved by the relevant aliens authority in Germany, i.e. the aliens authority in the place where the applicant intends to take up residence. Visa application forms for a long-term stay (longer than three months) can be obtained from the relevant mission free of charge. They can also be downloaded here (German, English, French, Italian). The forms submitted must be original versions (at least two sets) in the appropriate language of the mission in question. Please contact the mission beforehand to find out exactly which forms are required.
The approval procedure usually takes up to three months, in some cases longer, since the aliens authority will often consult other authorities (e.g. the Federal Employment Agency). Missions may only issue visas once they have obtained the approval of the aliens authority.
The aliens authorities are also responsible for measures and decisions pertaining to residence law for foreigners already residing in Germany. Aliens authorities are not subordinate agencies of the Federal Foreign Office, and the Federal Foreign Office cannot influence their decisions. They are in fact accountable to and operate under the supervision of the respective interior ministries and senators of the Länder (federal states).

The Immigration Act

Residence titles
The new Act for the first time specifies the visa as an independent residence title. This regulation is significant for short stays. Possession of a visa now explicitly constitutes grounds for a residence entitlement. Under the previous aliens law this only applied to residence titles obtained in Germany following entry into the country. In the case of longer stays, a distinction shall only be made between the (limited) residence permit and the (unlimited) settlement permit. First-time entry into the country still requires a visa for the Federal Republic (national visa), which is then converted into a residence permit or a settlement permit in Germany. A limited residence permit is issued for the possible residence purposes listed in the Act (education or training, gainful employment, international-law, humanitarian, political or family grounds). An unlimited settlement permit is issued if an alien has possessed a residence permit for five years and fulfils additional requirements (secure income, no criminal record, adequate command of the German language, etc.).

Residence for education purposes
Aliens may be issued with a renewable residence permit to enable them to apply to and study at a state or state-recognized higher education institution or comparable training establishment. After graduating, foreigners will be able to have their residence permit extended for up to one year for the purpose of seeking employment relevant to their field of study, if the job can be held by an alien.
A residence permit for participation in language courses unrelated to study preparation or for school attendance may be issued in certain cases. If the Federal Employment Agency gives its approval, a residence permit may also be issued for the purpose of completing in-company initial and continuing training.

Labour migration
To replace the previous system of separate residence and work permits, a residence permit which also grants access to the labour market has entered into force on 1 January 2005. Foreigners will therefore only have to deal with one authority. Abroad this will be the foreign missions (embassy and consulate visa offices), in Germany the aliens authorities. The labour administration is involved via an internal employment approval procedure where this is required.
The Act provides for highly qualified persons to be granted permanent residence from the outset. Such persons may receive a settlement permit immediately. Family members who enter Germany with such persons or subsequently are entitled to take up gainful employment.
Promotion of the settlement of self-employed persons: as a rule self-employed persons receive a residence permit if they invest at least one million euro and create a minimum of 10 jobs. If these requirements are not met, each case is examined on its own merits to determine whether there is an overriding economic or specific regional interest, to assess its impact on the economy and to check its financial basis.
Students are now entitled to remain in Germany for up to one year after successfully completing their studies for the purpose of seeking employment.
The general ban on the recruitment of unqualified and low-qualified persons is to be retained, with a regulation allowing exceptions for individual occupation categories. In addition, 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 so-called points system has been abolished. A residence title may be issued only when a concrete job offer has been made, although approval of the position generally depends on the demands of Germany as a business location with due consideration to the situation on the labour market.

Subsequent immigration of family members and children
Regulations for subsequent immigration of children and family members have not changed significantly (in relation to previous aliens law). When family members immigrate to join an alien, the alien must be in possession of a settlement permit or residence permit and adequate living space. Further requirements must also be fulfilled, depending on the status of the alien resident in Germany. In the case of subsequent immigration of children, the age limit of 16 years has been retained. Young people between the ages of 16 and 18 may be granted a residence title in cases of hardship or on the basis of a positive integration prognosis. In future, however, children under the age of 16 shall have the right to immigrate to join a parent with sole custody in Germany (to date subsequent immigration in these cases was a discretionary matter).

Promotion of integration
For the first time the Residence Act provides for legal entitlement to an integration course. This right applies to new immigrants who are to take up permanent residence in Germany and have received their first residence or settlement permit on humanitarian grounds. In return, aliens are obliged to attend the course if they do not have simple oral language skills.

Expulsion grounds
Various reasons for deportation exist:
A deportation order ("must") is issued if an alien receives a prison sentence or youth custody of at least three years for committing one or more intentional offences, commits an intentional offence under the Narcotics Law or receives a non-suspended prison sentence or youth custody of at least two years for breach of the peace or a non-suspended prison sentence for smuggling people into the country.
Regular expulsion ("should"), however, applies when there is justification to believe that the alien belongs to or supports a terrorist organization or poses a risk to the free democratic basic order of the Federal Republic of Germany, publicly instigates violence, threatens to use violence or is a leader of an incontestably banned organization which has violated criminal law or the free democratic basic order.
Discretionary expulsion ("can") applies in the case of hate mongers, i.e. those who disseminate ideas which condone war crimes or terrorism in a manner conducive to disturbing public safety and order or instigate or violence hate against sections of the population or attack the human dignity of others by insulting, denigrating or slandering sections of the population.
In addition, discretionary expulsion is permissible if false or incomplete information is provided in the visa application process.
Special protection from expulsion generally no longer applies where compelling grounds for deportation exist, as in the case of human traffickers and members of terrorist organizations or where the free democratic basic order of the Federal Republic of Germany is threatened, as well as for leaders of incontestably banned organizations which have violated criminal law or the free democratic basic order.
The new Residence Act provides for the supreme Land authorities (or the Federal Ministry of the Interior) to issue an immediately enforceable deportation order without prior notice or warning of the deportation to avert a specific threat to the security of the Federal Republic of Germany or a terrorist threat on the basis of an evidence-based threat assessment. The alien, however, is entitled to interim legal protection within seven days of the deportation order being issued.

Law on Nationality
The widely amended law on nationality entered into force on 1 January 2000. Here you can find the central points of the new law.

Provisions for foreigners living in Germany
If they are born in Germany, children of foreign parents acquire German nationality provided certain prerequisites are fulfilled. They must however decide between the ages of 18 and 23 years whether they want to retain their German nationality or the nationality of their parents.
Provided that certain other prerequisites are fulfilled, foreigners in general have the right to become naturalized after only 8 years of habitual residence in the Federal Republic of Germany, instead of 15 as was the case before. For naturalization, it is necessary to prove adequate knowledge of Germany. A clean record and commitment to the tenets of the Basic Law (Constitution) are further criteria. The person to be naturalized must also be in a position to pay for his/her own maintenance.
The principle of the avoidance of multiple nationality still marks the law on nationality. Those applying for naturalization must in principle give up their foreign nationality. However in contrast to previous legislation, their are generous rules governing exceptions which allow the previous nationality to be retained. These apply for example to elderly persons and victims of political persecution. If release from the foreign nationality is legally impossible or unacceptable for such persons, for example due to high release fees or degrading methods of release, they can retain their previous nationality. This is also the case if the release from the foreign nationality would bring considerable disadvantages, especially economic disadvantages or problems with property and assets. There are special facilities for retaining previous nationality for citizens of most EU countries.