• Germany Expands Immigration Options for Highly Skilled Workers, Entrepreneurs and Students
  • May 15, 2012
  • Law Firm: Fragomen Del Rey Bernsen Loewy LLP - New York Office
  • The German government is poised to enact legislation that will introduce a German version of the EU Blue Card, eliminate the minimum investment and job creation threshold for the entrepreneur visa program, and expand the work rights of non-EU students and recent graduates. The legislation cleared a final vote today and is expected to take effect in August 2012.

    The legislative reforms are being enacted to comply with recent European Union regulations. It was also drafted based on recommendations from the National Regulatory Control Council, an agency that assists the federal government in reducing administrative burdens and improving regulations. The Council conducted a series of surveys in 2011, during which several German state governments, regional alien offices, and private companies provided input on how to improve the country’s immigration system. Fragomen also provided input during this process.

    Germany’s Version of the Blue Card

    The Blue Card will provide expedited application processing for highly skilled, non-European Union nationals seeking to live and work in Germany.

    To obtain a Blue Card, a non-EU national must be sponsored by an employer in Germany. To qualify, an applicant must hold a university degree, have a confirmed job offer or valid work contract with the sponsoring employer, and earn a minimum annual salary, which will be subject to change each year. German labor authorities will have the administrative authority to expand access to Blue Cards to applicants with work experience that is the equivalent of a university degree.

    The minimum salary will be set initially at €44,800 for standard applicants and €34,944 for those who will work in a shortage occupation. Employers sponsoring applicants who will work in a shortage occupation and earn less than €44,800 will be required to obtain the consent of local labor authorities, though applicants who hold a degree from a German university will be exempt from the consent requirement. The Blue Card program’s specified minimum salary threshold will allow for better planning by employers, compared to the fluctuating salary requirements for standard work permits, which require foreign workers to be paid the same wage as a comparable German worker. Though the Blue Card is only available for local hires, some employers may choose to move intracompany transferees to local contracts and apply for Blue Cards, even for short-term assignments to take advantage of this benefit.

    After residing in Germany for 18 months, cardholders will be able to enter other EU countries visa-free and apply for a Blue Card under local rules. A Blue Card holder will be permitted to apply for German permanent residence after contributing to Germany’s pension fund for 21 months and meeting other requirements. Typically, a foreign national must reside and work in Germany for five years before he or she can apply for permanent residence. The spouse of a Blue Card holder will qualify for a dependent permit without having to meet German language requirements. The spouse will also be entitled to work incident to status, without the need to apply for employment authorization.

    The Blue Card program will replace the current permanent residence program for executives and highly qualified specialists. Currently, these workers can apply directly for permanent residence rather than a standard work permit, provided they earn more than €67,200 annually. When the new law is implemented, executives and specialists will be required to apply for a Blue Card, which will not be subject to the higher salary threshold. Permanent residency may still be an option in very limited cases for those with the highest qualifications, at the discretion of immigration authorities.

    Elimination of Investment Threshold for Entrepreneur Visa Program

    The law will expand access to the entrepreneur visa program to attract a wider range of foreign businesspersons and encourage start-ups. Foreign entrepreneurs will no longer be required to invest at least €250,000 in their German venture or create at least five new jobs to qualify for status. Rather, adjudicators will consider the quality and sustainability of an applicant’s business idea. Foreign graduates of German universities will qualify for entrepreneur visas if they can demonstrate their business idea is connected to the subject of their degree. Entrepreneur visas will continue to be subject to the discretion of adjudicators.

    Expanded Work Rights for Non-EU Students and Recent Graduates

    Non-EU nationals studying full-time at a German university will be entitled to work for up to 120 full days or 240 half days per calendar year. Currently, non-EU students are limited to 90 full days or 180 half days of work per year.

    Recent non-EU graduates of a German university will be able to obtain job-seeker residence permits for a maximum stay of 18 months, up from 12 months. Recent graduates use this time to find a full-time employer willing to sponsor them for an employment-based residence permit. Recent graduates will also be given the unrestricted right to work during this period. Currently, they are limited to 90 full days or 180 half days of work during the 12-month stay.