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Germany is going to reform its Skilled Immigration Act, hoping to attract more foreign workers from third countries. The aim is to plug the growing number of gaps in its job market. The number of open positions in the German economy has been steadily increasing over the last years, reaching a peak of nearly two million at the end of 2022. The Skilled Immigration Act (‘Fachkräfteeinwanderungsgesetz’), which regulates the work-related settlement of nationals of third countries (non-EU and non-EFTA, or in short, non-EEA residents) in Germany, was introduced in March 2020. After just three years in force, this piece of immigration law will undergo a major overhaul between November 2023 and June 2024 to make the German labour market more accessible to workforce from outside the European Economic Area (EEA).
The current immigration process for skilled workers from third countries wishing to move to Germany is criticized for being slow, rigid and too bureaucratic. Most experts agree that improvements are needed if Germany wants to compete with the world’s top immigration destinations such as Canada. Therefore, the Skilled Immigration Act is going to be modernized. Some of the major issues that will be addressed in the new Act include:
- Requirements imposed on EU blue card applicants will be reduced (e.g., salary thresholds, recognition of professional qualifications, duration of the employment contract, etc.), the list of shortage professions will be expanded while changing employers and bringing family members of EU Blue Card holders to Germany will be made a lot easier.
- In future, more value will be given to practical work experience. That is, anyone with at least two years of relevant professional experience and a vocational qualification or a degree recognized in the country of issuance will be allowed to come to Germany as a skilled worker. Furthermore, anyone matching the description above wishing to pursue a non-regulated profession will no longer need to have their professional qualifications recognized in Germany.
- In cases when recognition of foreign professional qualifications is necessary (e.g., for regulated professions), it will be sufficient if it is initiated once a foreign worker started working in Germany. Currently, a recognition procedure must be initiated before applying for a visa.
- Skilled workers will be allowed to pursue any qualified work not just the work they have been trained for.
- Where possible, the German language proficiency requirements will be reduced as they will be substitutable with good knowledge of English.
- A point system for economic immigrants will be introduced (a so-called ‘Chancenkarte’) that will open the doors to foreigners from outside the European Economic Area wishing to move to Germany for job hunting.
- Foreign students, trainees and foreign jobseekers will be allowed to work more hours.
- Short term employment of foreigners from third countries will be allowed in industries facing chronic shortages of workers.
- It will become possible to change the purpose of stay in the residence permit without having to leave Germany.
- Asylum seekers will be permitted to transition away from asylum procedure into skilled worker status.
The first set of changes to the Skilled Immigration Act will come into force on November 18, 2023 while the next two batches of amendments should follow in March and June 2024. The stepwise introduction of changes spread over a period of seven months should allow participating authorities enough time to adapt to the new requirements.
Amendments from November 2023
The first stage of changes will include lowering of the requirements for granting an EU Blue Card and improving the mobility and family reunification conditions for EU Blue Card holders, dropping the requirement that third-country professionals may only work in their narrow field of expertise, and simplifying the procedures for employing foreign drivers.
Changes Regarding the EU Blue Card
The EU Blue Card Germany is a type of limited residence permit for gainful employment issued to the academics from third countries to take up highly skilled jobs primarily in shortage occupations (e.g., STEM occupations). The main modifications regarding the EU Blue Card will include:
- The salary threshold for granting the EU Blue Card in Germany will be reduced from the current 58,400 euros per year to 43,800 euros for regular professions. For the so-called bottleneck occupations and recent university graduates the new salary threshold will be 39,683 euros instead of the current 45,552 euros per year.
- The EU Blue Card Germany will be made available to a wider range of foreigners. Examples include:
- Young university graduates from third countries who graduated within the last three years will be eligible for the EU Blue Card if they find a job in Germany that pays them at least 39,683 euros a year.
- Foreign IT specialists from third countries will be eligible for the EU Blue Card even if they have no university degree but can demonstrate that they have at least three years of relevant work experience in the IT industry. Just like in the previous example, the lower salary threshold of 39,683 euros a year will apply.
- The number of shortage positions for the EU Blue Card will be greatly expanded to include professions other than just medical doctors and STEM occupations (i.e., science, technology, engineering and mathematics). Some examples include vets, pharmacists, nursing professionals, physiotherapists, teaching professionals, architects, chemists, social welfare managers, manufacturing and distribution managers, etc. For a complete list check this link. For these jobs the lower salary threshold of 39,683 euros a year will be applicable.
- Holders of the EU Blue Card of another EU country will be allowed to stay in Germany for up to 90 days without a German visa provided their stay is related to their employment in the country that issued their EU Blue Card. Moreover, foreigners staying in another EU country for a minimum of twelve months as EU Blue Card holders will be allowed to move from the country that initially granted them their EU Blue Card to Germany without a visa and will be eligible for the EU Blue Card Germany.
- Shorter contract duration, i.e., a binding six-month employment offer (instead of previously twelve-month) will be enough to qualify for the EU Blue Card.
- Smoother family reunification, i.e., family members of the German EU Blue Card holder who have previously lived with the EU Blue Card holder in another EU country will be allowed to move to Germany to join the EU Blue Card holder who in the meantime moved there with their residence permit issued by another EU member state. To be issued a residence permit in Germany, the proof of sufficient living space and the proof of sufficient financial resources will no longer be required.
Other Changes from November 2023
- Every third-country national who meets all the requirements for a skilled worker as defined in the new Act will be entitled to a residence title in Germany.
- Professionals from third countries will no longer be restricted to seeking employment only in the narrow field of their expertise as they will be allowed to pursue any qualified job.
- Employment of foreign drivers from third countries will be made much easier and faster as they will no longer need to prove that they possess a European driving license and necessary language skills while an often lengthy priority check will also be abandoned.
Changes Coming into Force in March 2024
The key areas of the Skilled Immigration Act to be revised in March 2024 include the rules for the recognition of foreign qualifications while giving more weight to practical professional experience, and conditions for the employment of skilled workers, students & trainees and short-term employment.
Recognition of Foreign Qualifications
- Skilled workers from third countries who have at least two years of professional work experience will no longer be required to have their vocational qualification or degree recognized in Germany as long as their qualifications are recognized in the country where they were acquired (see also the section ‘Practical experience’ below). However, this automatic acceptance of foreign qualifications will only apply to persons wishing to pursue a non-regulated occupation.
- A recognition partnership between the prospective foreign employee and the German employer will be introduced to speed up the employment and recognition process in cases when recognition is necessary (e.g., for regulated occupations). Based on this agreement, it will be possible to issue a work visa even before starting the recognition process as the parties oblige themselves to actively pursue the recognition procedure once the foreign worker entered Germany (currently the recognition procedure must be initiated before applying for a work visa). Other conditions that will have to be met for the visa to be granted are an employment contract, a university degree or a vocational qualification requiring a minimum of two years of training which are recognized by the country that provided such education, and German language skills at least at level A2. The corresponding residence permit will be issued for 12 months, extendable to a maximum of 36 months.
- As part of the process of recognition of foreign qualifications, the residence permit for the purpose of participating in a qualification programme in Germany will be granted for up to 24 months (now a maximum of 18 months) when issued for the first time. It will be possible to extend the residence permit for another 12 months, up to a maximum duration of 36 months. Holders of this residence permit will be allowed to work for up to 20 hours per week as compared to the current 10 hours per week.
- Undergoing a ‘skills’ analysis may sometimes be required to establish equivalence between the foreign and German qualification. For such purpose a foreigner may be issued a visa for undergoing a ‘skills’ analysis in Germany and granted a residence permit for up to six months. For this type of visa, a German proficiency level A2 or higher will be required.
Relaxing of Conditions for Skilled Workers
- Practical experience: As mentioned above, professional work experience will be appreciated more than before. Foreign workers from third countries who have a vocational qualification with a minimum of two years training or a university degree recognized by the country where such qualification or degree was obtained and two years of work experience in a related field will be regarded as foreign professionals eligible for skilled worker status. Recognition of foreign qualifications in Germany will not be required. This provision will apply to all non-regulated professions.
- IT specialists: A university degree will not be required from IT specialists who possess at least two years of professional experience in the IT branch (the current requirement is three years). Moreover, they will not have to demonstrate their language proficiency.
- Nursing assistants: Healthcare professionals from third countries who have less than three years of regulated nursing training will be allowed to work in Germany as nursing assistants provided they have a nursing qualification recognized in Germany or nursing training from Germany. Besides that, third-country foreigners who have completed nursing training in Germany will be entitled to a residence permit for jobseekers that is issued for 12 months, extendable for another 6 months.
- Asylum seekers whose asylum procedure has been running since at least March 29, 2023 and who were offered a qualified job in Germany will be allowed to apply for a residence permit as a skilled worker while the same conditions will apply to them as to any third-country national. But, to do that they will first have to withdraw their asylum application.
- Family reunification: Spouses and children of foreign professionals from third countries wishing to join their partners/parents will no longer need a proof of sufficient living space when applying for a visa. Moreover, foreign workers from third countries can be in the future joined by their parents as well as their parents-in-law as long as their spouse is also a permanent resident of Germany.
- Settlement permit: Foreign professionals from third countries who have not acquired a university degree or a vocational qualification in Germany will qualify for a settlement permit after three years of living and working in Germany (i.e., after three years of holding a residence permit) as opposed to four years under the current regulation. Those who graduated from a German university or completed a vocational training in Germany are entitled to a settlement permit after just two years (i.e., this regulation remains unchanged). EU Blue Card holders will be granted a settlement permit after 27 months of working in Germany as EU Blue Card holders (currently 33 months) while those who demonstrate good knowledge of German (B1 level) will get it just after 21 months (this remains unchanged).
Expanding Employment Opportunities for Students and Trainees
- Increasing working hours: Foreign university students from third countries staying in Germany on a residence permit for study purposes will be allowed to take up a part-time job of up to 140 full days a year (i.e., 280 half days a year) instead of the current 120 days a year (i.e., 240 half days a year). This translates to a maximum of 20 working hours per week. Likewise, third-country trainees will also be allowed to take up a second job of up to 20 hours per week.
- Allowing students in preparatory classes to work: Under the new Act, prospective students attending preparatory classes at the university will be allowed to work as many hours as regular university students mentioned above.
- Allowing foreign study applicants to take up a part-time job: Perspective students from third countries staying in Germany on a residence permit issued for the purpose of applying for a university study will be allowed to work up to 20 hours a week.
- Better opportunities for apprenticeship seekers: The upper age limit for third-country foreigners seeking a trainee position in Germany will be raised from 25 to 35 years while the minimum German language requirements will be reduced from the current B2 level to B1. The residence permit for the purpose of seeking an apprenticeship will be granted for a maximum of nine months as opposed to the current six months. Furthermore, potential trainees will be allowed to take up a part-time job of up to 20 hours per week as well as a trial job for up to two weeks while seeking an apprenticeship in Germany.
The new Act will allow for a short-term employment of foreigners from third countries irrespective of their qualifications. Once the Federal Employment Agency defines the demand-quota for shortage jobs, German employers will be able to apply for work permits for third-country nationals they wish to hire. However, to be granted an approval, certain conditions will have to be met: a maximum employment duration of eight months within a twelve month period, a minimum working week of 30 hours, and the employer must cover the workers’ travel expenses and be bound by a collective bargaining agreement while this agreement must also apply to foreign workers.
Changes from June 2024
The most important change due to come into force in June 2024 is the introduction of a job search opportunity card (‘Chancenkarte’). Foreign nationals from third countries who hold a university degree or a vocational qualification that are recognized in Germany are entitled to receiving a job search opportunity card without any further conditions. Others will need a certain score to obtain it. But first, in order to be allowed to apply for a job search opportunity card they will have to prove they hold a university degree or a vocational qualification which required at least two years of training and are recognized in a country where such education was received (an alternative is a qualification issued by a foreign office of the German Chamber of Commerce) and possess German language skills at level A1 or, alternatively, English language skills at level B1.
Apart from qualification and language skills, points will be given for age (the lower the better), professional experience, links to Germany and spouse’s or partner’s employment potential. Six points out of a maximum ten will be needed for a job search opportunity card to be granted. The card is issued for 12 months and allows the holder to work part-time for up to 20 hours a week besides a maximum of two-week trial employment while looking for a permanent position in Germany. If necessary, the opportunity card can be extended for another 24 months provided the applicant has an offer of qualified employment at the time of expiry.
* It goes without saying that anytime a third-country national is applying for any form of a visa or a residence permit mentioned above, they will have to prove they can support themselves financially for the entire duration of their stay in Germany.
The Western Balkans Regulation
Under the current Western Balkans Regulation which is due to expire by the end of 2023, 25,000 workers from Albania, Bosnia and Herzegovina, Kosovo, Montenegro, North Macedonia and Serbia are allowed to work in Germany in any non-regulated job. In the new Act, this quota will be doubled to 50,000 and the new regulation will be valid indefinitely.
Over the period of November 2023 to June 2024 Germany will be implementing a number of legislative changes aimed at attracting skilled foreign workforce from outside of the European Economic Area. The goal is to allow more foreigners from third countries to enter the German labour market and to make their entry process as uncomplicated and smooth as possible so as to meet the growing demand of German employers for qualified workforce. The most important amendments to the Skilled Immigration Act are listed below.
Revising the Requirements and Benefits for EU Blue Card Holders
The lower salary thresholds, more occupations included in the scheme and shorter duration of employment contract needed for granting an EU Blue card should help broaden the range of eligible applicants. Holders of the EU Blue Card will in future enjoy easier employer change requiring only a declaration rather than an application, simplified relocation within the EU and facilitated family unification.
Changing the Conditions for Skilled Workers
Anyone who has a vocational qualification requiring at least two years of training or a university degree that are recognized in Germany will be entitled to a residence title in Germany. Alternatively, those who hold a foreign qualification recognized by the country where it was earned and, in addition to it, have a minimum of two years of work experience in their specialization will under certain conditions also qualify for a residence title in Germany.
A job that a skilled worker wants to pursue in Germany will no longer need to be strictly tied to their formal qualifications and training. Foreign workers with at least two years of vocational training (or any higher education degree) will be allowed to take up a job in any qualified field.
Relaxing the Rules for Recognition of Foreign Qualifications
Skilled third-country workers with at least two years of work experience in their profession will no longer be required to have their professional qualifications recognized in Germany if they are recognized in the country where they were obtained. The new regulation will allow them to pursue any qualified non-regulated occupation.
Professionals from third countries who were offered a job in Germany but need to have their foreign qualifications recognized can apply for a visa before initiating a recognition procedure. Once their visa is approved, they can move to Germany and start working while the recognition is in progress. This is made possible under a recognition partnership which is a written contract between employer and applicant that is going to be introduced in the new Act.
An opportunity card (‘Chancenkarte’) is a kind of residence permit for job search that is going to be introduced to encourage more foreigners to come to Germany for job hunting. Everyone who will score a minimum of 6 points out of 10 will be entitled to it.
Other important changes
Students and trainees will be allowed to work more hours, short-term employment in industries experiencing acute labour shortages will be permitted and no qualification restrictions will apply, the Western Balkans regulation will be renewed and the quota doubled, asylum seekers will be able to ‘change lanes’ by withdrawing their asylum application and applying for a residence permit as a skilled worker, while family unification for people with a skilled worker status will be made much easier.
Since the 1960s Germany has been one of the most popular immigration countries in Europe. At the moment, around 5.2 million foreigners are working in Germany but many more will be needed to replace millions of German baby-boomers who are going into retirement. Therefore, over the next decade or so the government plans to attract 400 thousand foreign workers a year to keep the German economy afloat. That would make Germany by far the top European destination for skilled economic migrants from third countries. The upcoming reform of the Skilled Immigration Act is believed to help achieve this goal.
For more details on how the new Skilled Immigration Act might affect your personal plans visit also other sections of this website discussing specific topics such as immigration, working, studying and pursuing vocational training in Germany.