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Important changes in 2005

Law on Foreigners in Germany

Now German law only knows four residence titles Introduction of a "Blue Card" and further facilitations for highly qualified foreigners
More specific:

Immigration of employees

Humanitarian immigration

Victims of human trafficking

Immigration of children whose parents already live in Germany

Immigration of a foreigner's spouse

Clause for hardship cases


Procedure rules


Residence permit for foreigners with an exceptional leave to remain

Novelties in 2011

Novelties in 2012: Blue Card and other facilitations

Security aspects

Statistics - Where do foreigners in Germany come from?
Unemployment figures in Germany


My homepage in English

Welcome page in German


You can find an English translation of the German Law on Foreigners (Act on the Residence, Economic Activity and Integration of Foreigners in the Federal Territory [Aufenthaltsgesetz])

Blue Card and other facilitations
Is Germany a country of immigration? Some German politicians say it is not, but in recent years the immigration of skilled men and women from abroad has become more and more easy. In some sectors, German firms have difficulties to find adequate staff. Irrespective of the question whether Germany is a typical country of immigration one has to say that this country offers opportunities for foreigners. From 1 May 2011, the German labour market is generally open for citizens of the Eastern European states that joined the European Union in 2004. Some observers had feared that by this opening a big flood of workforce would stir up the German labour market but it did not happen. Today some experts say that Germany is not as attractive as other industrialized countries. One explanation may be the German language, which some foreigners believe to be more complicated than Chinese.

After long quarrels between the two big political camps a new foreigner law entered into force at the beginning of 2005 in Germany. The changes by the new law, the "Zuwanderungsgesetz", were highly disputed and many efforts were needed in order to find a compromise which was accepted by the two political parties and the Bundesrat, the representation of the 16 German federal states. More than two years after the new system became effective a reform passed legislation in July 2007. In July 2008, the federal government introduced a program which included further facilitations for the integration of foreigners. The new regulations have gone into operation at the beginning of 2009.

In December 2011, the German federal government announced the introduction of a "Blue Card" and some other changes which make the immigration of highly qualified foreigners easier. These changes will come into effect on 1 August 2012.

The most important regulations:
  • Now you only find four residence titles ("Aufenthaltserlaubnis" = residence permit and "Niederlassungserlaubnis" = settlement permit, the "Erlaubnis zum Daueraufenthalt-EG" = long-term resident's EC residence permit was introduced by the law of 2007 and, from 1 August 2012, the "Blaue Karte EU" = Blue Card EU).
  • A work permit doesn't have to be requested separately.
  • The immigration of highly qualified employees and investors is facilitated.
  • The German intelligence services can be asked before a residence title shall be granted.
  • Foreigners with no residence title but an acquiescence who have lived in Germany for a long time may be granted a limited residence permit which entitles the owner an access to the German labour market (introduced in 2007).
Immigration of employees

The main principle of the German law on foreigners is that the immigration of foreign employees to Germany depends on the needs of the German economy. One has to say that the stop of immigration of lower qualified employees remains in power. A highly qualified employee finds better chances to settle down here.
Employees with average qualification will be given a permit if they can execute a certain occupation or if there is a public interest. Foreign graduates of German universities may get a prolongation of their permit for one year in order to find a job.

By the way: Employees from the member states of the EU have freedom of movement and the same rights on the labour market as Germans.

In addition to the other possibilities of getting a residence title a new kind of residence permit was introduced in August 2007 for scientists. They have the right to get a permit for at least a year if an agreement has been made between the scientist and the research institute and the institute has signed on the absorption of costs caused by the livelihood or the return of the foreigner up to six months after the end of the agreement (in certain cases it is not necessary that the last requirement is being met).

With the new law of 2009 the German labour market will be generally open for academic persons from abroad. Applicants with a foreign university degree may get a residence permit if the vacant job cannot be given to a German or other citizen of the European Union. Foreigners who have graduated from a German university shall be given a residence title without proofing if the job can be filled with an EU-citizen. The same applies to related persons of such a foreigner (independent from where the university degree was made). On 22 June 2011, the German government announced that there shall be no more a priority check for applicants such as doctors or certain engineers with a degree in mechanical engineering, vehicle construction or electrical engineering.

Foreign graduates from German schools abroad may be given full access to the German labour market if such an applicant comes to Germany for an apprenticeship, the consult of the Federal Agency for Labour is not requested. Graduates from German schools abroad who have a foreign university degree or who have made successfully an apprenticeship in Germany may get a residence permit, it is not necessary that the vacancy has been offered futilely to an EU citizen.

Another facilitation for non-academic people became effective in July 2013. Foreigners from outside the EU who completed vocational training may get a residence permit if the foreigner has got a job offer and the job belongs to a business with a lack of sufficient staff. A whitelist with the professions that are subject to this regulation will be provided by the German Labour Agency (the document in German and English can be found in pdf format here). There will be no proof whether the vacancy can be filled with a EU citizen, but the working conditions must be similar to the ones of domestic employees and the foreign professional qualification must met German standards. There are no facilitations for applicants with nursing profession from countries where the World Health Organization has discovered a shortage of health workers.
The most important principles of the German law on foreigners:
  • The admission of foreign employees of non-EU states depends on the needs of the German economy
  • Admission of citizens from outside the EU with an academic training if the vacancy cannot be filled with an EU citizen or if the foreigner has graduated from a German university, no priority check for doctors and certain engineers
  • Admission of non-EU citizens with vocational training in certain branches with lack of sufficient staff without prior recruitment of workforce from the EU
  • Work permit shall be included in the residence title
  • Postponement of freedom of movement for employees from Eastern Europe until 1 May 2011 or, for Romania and Bulgaria, until 1 January 2014, and for Croatia until 30 June 2015
  • Avoidance of immigration into the welfare system
  • Support for integration



Humanitarian immigration

Persons persecuted on political grounds shall have the right of asylum, article 16 a of the German constitution, the Basic Law (Grundgesetz), says. The procedure of how to recognize foreigners seeking asylum is regulated in another law, the Asylum Proceeding Law (Asylverfahrensgesetz). The new law says that even a non-governmental persecution is a reason for asylum if the home state is not capable of granting protection. In addition, persecution for reasons of gender obliges the German state to grant asylum. Apart from this, foreigners find a temporarily asylum if the European Union decides to do so.

Victims of human trafficking

Victims of human trafficking: These women or men may receive a limited residence permit if the stay of these people is necessary for a criminal procedure against a suspected person charged with human trafficking. The applicant must be willing to witness in court. Even foreigners who entered Germany illegally may benefit from this allowance. If a permit is issued, the foreigner may receive a work permit, his employment is not subsidiary to the employment of a German or a citizen of the European Union.

Immigration of children whose parents already live in Germany

As before 2005 children of foreigners may move to Germany if they are not older than 16 and have parents living in Germany. Further on, a child of the age of 16 or 17 shall receive a permit if it speaks German or can adjust to social life here or if the parents have been recognized as persecuted people or if the child immigrates together with the parents who have a permit. In other cases granting a permit to a child is left to the discretion of the authorities.

Immigration of the spouse of a foreigner or German

The immigration of the spouse of a foreigner has been made less easy by the changes of August 2007. The husband or wife of a foreigner may immigrate to Germany if both are at least 18 years old and if the foreigner has a settlement permit or a long-term resident's EC residence permit or a residence permit, the residence permit is only sufficient if certain requirements are being fulfilled (residence permit has been issued at least two years ago or both partners in marriage are already married and the stay in Germany will last at least a year). The following spouse must be able to communicate in German in a simple way (this does not apply to citizens of the USA, Canada, Australia, Israel, Japan, South Korea and New Zealand). With regard to a spouse from Turkey, the requirement of a basic knowledge of the German language has been declared contrary to the EU law by the Court of Justice of the European Union (judgement of 10 July 2014 C-138/13, source: press release of the court of 2014-07-10).

These regulations have been aggravated in order to avoid marriages against the woman's will. Even if the foreign spouse of a German wishes to immigrate to Germany, it is generally requested that the foreigner is at least 18 years old and speaks a little German.

Clause for hardship cases

Even if a foreigner can't get a resident title and is obliged to leave the country there is a chance to help him. The federal states create commissions for cases of hardship where applications can be delivered to. The commission does not grant the permit itself but speaks out a recommendation to the authorities.


The new law contains the state's duty to offer help for integration. When a permit is being issued for the first time a foreigner has a right to take part in a course of integration. This course consists of a basic part and an additional part where the foreigner should learn something about language, law, culture and history of Germany. In some cases it is necessary to participate in such lessons: 1) If the foreigner has a right of participation and is unable to explain something to Germans or vice versa or 2) if the foreigner receives unemployment money 2 (welfare for those who are fit for work) or is in big need of integration and has been asked by the authorities to take part in a course. If a recipient of unemployment money 2 stays away his benefit may be lowered by 10 %.

Procedure Rules 

Since the beginning of 2005 it is not necessary to ask separately for a residence permit and a work permit because the Federal Agency for Labour shall be heard before a residence permit will be granted. The residence title must say whether the grantee is allowed to work or not.
Apart from the visa for shorter stays there are only three residence titles: the limited residence permit (Aufenthaltserlaubnis), the unlimited settlement permit and the long-term resident's EC residence permit (introduced in August 2007). As before 2005 a foreigner who is obliged to leave the country may receive an acquiescence if a summary return to the native country is impossible or humanitarian aspects speak against it. In case of obstacles for such a return a residence permit can be granted in order to avoid a chain of acquiescences if a fast departure is not realistic.
The conditions for a settlement permit are the following ones: a residence permit for at least five years + secure livelihood + contributions to the pension scheme for 60 months or an appropriate assurance + no severe offences in the last three years + employment allowed + sufficient skills for executing a job + sufficient knowledge of the German language + sufficient knowledge of the legal and social system of Germany + sufficient housing (times of studies or vocational training in Germany can be taken into account at half with the five-years time. The period for self-employed applicants can be shortened to three years).

The long-term resident's EC residence permit (Erlaubnis zum Daueraufenthalt-EG) is nearly similar to the settlement permit. The introduction of this new kind of permit became necessary because the settlement permit is not totally identical with the permit prescribed in a directive of the European Union and Germany had to put this directive into action. The long-term resident's EC residence permit is an unlimited permit and the conditions for getting this title resemble to those of the settlement permit. The five-year time can be fulfilled with times spent outside Germany (a stay abroad due to a deployment for reasons of the job) or with earlier times spent in Germany before the foreigner's departure to another country (which was followed by the loss of his residence title). Times of studies or vocational training in Germany can be taken into account at half with the five-years time. One of the great advantages of the long-term resident's EC residence permit is the facilitation of longer stays of a foreigner in other countries of the European Union. In return, foreigners who have had the status of a long-term resident in another member state of the EU have a right to receive a residence permit for Germany.

The Federal Office for the Acknowledgement of Political Refugees has been renamed to Federal Office for Migration and Refugees.

Residence titles which have been granted before 1 January 2005 remain valid (the "Aufenthaltsberechtigung" or the unlimited "Aufenthaltserlaubnis" as a settlement permit and the other permits as an "Aufenthaltserlaubnis"). The same applies to all orders spoken out by the authorities. In the old law there were four titles.

The stay of citizens from the member states of the European Union and the European Economic Area has been facilitated. If such a European comes to Germany for a stay which should last longer than three months he does not have to ask for a residence or work permit. Like Germans, he or she has only to tell his move to the registration office. The legal basis for this treatment is the Law on the General Freedom of Movement of Community Citizens (Freizügigkeitsgesetz/EU [FreizügG/EU]).
If a European has received unemployment money financed by own contributions in his homeland he may receive this money here up to three months after his entry to Germany.
Foreigners who have a right to stay here only because they are looking for a job (that applies generally to citizens of the EU) and who have not yet worked in Germany shall not receive unemployment money 2. This regulation is now also applicable for citizens of EU countries that have signed the European Convention on Social and Medical Assistance. Earlier, the Federal Social Court ruled out that these restrictions shall not be applicable if the EU-foreigner's home country has signed the European Convention on Social and Medical Assistance (judgement of 19 October 2010 B 14 AS 23/10 R). In December 2011, the Federal Republic of Germany declared a reservation to the European Convention on Social and Medical Assistance. According to this reservation, Germany does not feel being obliged to treat foreigners like its own citizens. This means that EU citizens looking for a job in Germany may not receive unemployment money 2 if they have not worked earlier in Germany or if they do not have a certain income even the foreigner's home state has signed the European Convention on Social and Medical Assistance.

The European Court of Justice confirmed the clause in the German law on 15 September 2015 (C-67/14). Denying EU  citizens entitlement to certain special non-contributory cash benefits does not contravene the principle of equal treatment if the foreigner's right of residence in the territory of a host Member State arises solely out of the search for employment. Where an EU citizen who has enjoyed a right of residence as a worker is in involuntary unemployment after having worked for less than a year and has registered as a job-seeker, he retains the status of worker and the right of residence for no less than six months. During that period, he can rely on the principle of equal treatment and is entitled to social assistance. Where an EU citizen has not yet worked in the host Member State or where the period of six months has elapsed, a job-seeker cannot be expelled from that Member State for as long as he can provide evidence that he is continuing to seek employment and that he has a genuine chance of being engaged. However, in this case the host Member State may refuse to grant any social assistance(Source: press release of the European Court nr. 101/15 of 2015-09-15).

In the case of economically inactive EU citizens who came to Germany solely in order to obtain basic social benefits, the European Court of Justice judged that an EU state must have the possibility to refuse these benefits. The stay of such applicants does not have a legal basis under the directive of the EU in the host Member State, the court says. In addition, the court pointed out that, under the directive, the host Member State is not obliged to grant social assistance to other EU citizens even during the first three months of residence. (Judgement of 2014-11-11 C-333/13, source: press release of the European Court nr. 146/14).

With the beginning of 2017, a clarification of access to social benefits for foreigners from the European Union came into operation in German law. Those who are not employed or self-employed are not entitled to long-term basic unemployment support or welfare within the first five years of their stay. But temporary benefits for the time until they have left Germany may be granted for up to a month (in cases of hardship even longer). If an EU-foreigner has worked in Germany for at least a year, he is entitled to unemployment insurance benefits or basic unemployment benefits (welfare) like German citizens. For applicants with a shorter time of employment, basic unemployment support is accessible for a maximum of six months.

Related persons of Europeans who are not citizens of a member state of the EU shall be granted a certificate about the right to stay here. The certificate will expire after five years.

After a legal stay of five years in Germany Europeans have a continuous right to stay.

There were restrictions for Europeans from the Eastern European states that joined the EU in 2004 and later. From 1 May 2011 on, these Eastern European apart from Romanians and Bulgarians have to be treated like Europeans from the old member states. On 1 January 2014, also Bulgarians and Romanians got free access to the German labour market. The restrictions for citizens of Croatia expired on 1 July 2015 (Source: Press release of the German Federal Ministry of Labour and Social Affairs).

Residence permit for foreigners living long-time in Germany with an exceptional leave to remain

The future status of foreigners without a residence title whose deportation has been temporarily suspended remains a big task for the German authorities.

Generally, a foreigner with an acquiescence (in German: Duldung) shall be given a residence permit if his or her deportation has been suspended for 18 months and if the foreigner is prevented from leaving the federal territory through no fault of his or her own. Fault on the part of the foreigner shall apply in particular if he or she furnishes false information, deceives the authorities with regard to his or her identity or nationality or fails to meet reasonable demands to eliminate the obstacles to departure. The other requirements for a residence title must also be met (livelihood secured. Before the completion of 18 months, issuing a residence permit is a question of latitude).

Facilitated integration of young foreigners with an acquiescence: Young foreigners under 21 years of age shall be granted a residence permit if he or she has been staying in Germany for at least four years, goes to school for at least four years or has achieved a high school diploma or a vocational qualification, is familiar with the living conditions in Germany and supports the free democratic basic order. If the parents of such a young privileged foreigner do not get a residence permit, their deportation shall be suspended.

Right to stay for well-integrated foreigners with an acquiescence: Since August 2015 it is easier for some foreigners with an acquiescence to obtain a residence permit. These regulations are applicable regardless of the age of the foreigner or a certain deadline. A residence permit shall be granted to foreigners who have stayed in Germany for eight years or longer (six years are sufficient in case of care for a minor child), support the free democratic basic order and have a certain knowledge of the political and social system and the living conditions and if he or she secures the livelihood mainly by own work, has sufficient skills of the spoken German language (A2) and proves that his or her child attends school regularly. A temporary dependence on social benefits is no obstacle in case of students and apprentices or in case of families with minor children (single parents with children under three years) or in case of long-time care of close relatives.

Other novelties in 2011

Apart from the regulations for young foreigners without a residence permit (see above) some other changes have been introduced by the law of June 2011. Forced marriage has now a become a crime and the time for the repeal of such a marriage has been prolonged to three years. The victim has now a right to return to Germany if the victim has been integrated into the German society before the wedding or if there is a good prognosis for the integration. Other new regulations intend to avoid sham marriages, stress the need of participation in integration courses or loosen the obligation of certain foreigners not to leave a particular area.

Novelties in 2012: Blue Card and other changes

On 1 August 2012, a new kind of residence title was introduced in the German law: the "Blue Card". The "Blue Card" is for foreigners from outside the EU with a work contract and an income of at least 50,800 euro a year (in 2017). Applicants must have a university degree and prove the contract and income. A lower income limit of 39,624 euro (in 2017) will be applicable for jobs with a significant lack of adequate staff (this applies to all kinds of engineers, academic and related experts of the information and communication branches, natural scientists, mathematicians and doctors). In case of the lower income limit there will be a proof whether the work conditions are similar to contracts of domestic employees. Holders of the "Blue Card" will have the right to get an unlimited residence title if they have stayed in Germany for at last 33 months. A shorter period of 21 months will be applicable for foreigners with knowledge of the German language (B1 level). Family members will have the right to stay and work as well when the document is issued.

The "Blue Card" is based on the directive 2009/50/EC on the conditions of entry and residence of third-country nationals for the purposes of highly qualified employment. A directive does not apply directly in the member states of the EU but the directive must be adopted by the national legislature which in Germany consists of the parliament ("Bundestag") and the "Bundesrat", the representation of the 16 German states.

Apart from the introduction of the "Blue Card" due to the European law the proposal of December 2011 contains also some other changes:
  • There will be no minimum wage for highly qualified people.
  • Foreign graduates of German universities shall be granted an unlimited residence title (settlement permit) after two years of work.
  • The administrative procedure for residence titles for scientists shall be facilitated.
  • Foreigners who have come to Germany for a vocational training will be allowed to stay in Germany for a year after the successful end of the job training. Such beneficiaries shall use the time for finding a job.

Security aspects

A foreigner who is suspected to be a terrorist can be expelled on a prognosis, it is not necessary that such a foreigner has broken the law. In the same way a preacher of hatred can be deported or a foreigner who supports terrorist crimes in a public way or who calls for the use of violence or threatens by announcing such actions. Further on, men who smuggled foreigners into Germany and have been sentenced to imprisonment for this have to leave the country.
The new law brings more work for the German Intelligence Services. Before a residence title shall be granted the personal data of such applicants can be transferred to the intelligence services (Offices for the Protection of the Constitution, Federal Intelligence Service and Military Counterintelligence). They have to proof whether there are any objections. In case of the settlement permit this procedure will become standard. It is obligatory before a naturalization.

Picture above: The Minster of Ulm has the world's tallest church tower (161.5 metres or 530 feet). (CC BY-SA 3.0, Patrick Six)

Picture above: The Cologne cathedral. Its construction began in 1248. The towers are 157 metres tall (515 feet).
(CC BY-SA 3.0, Rolf Heinrich)

Picture above: The Loreley, a rock on the Eastern bank of the Rhine River.
(CC BY-SA 3.0, Dirk Schmidt)

Picture above: The Holsten Gate (German: Holstentor), a city  gate in the Hanseatic City of Lübeck. (CC BY-SA 3.0, Arne List)

Picture above: The Fernsehturm (TV tower) and the Marienkirche (St. Mary's Church) in the city centre of Berlin. With its height of 368 metres (1,207 feet), the tower is the tallest building of Germany. The tower was built between 1965 and 1969 in the era of the German Democratic Republic. The pictured church is much more older, its construction began in the thirteenth century. (CC BY-SA 3.0, Lokilech)

Picture above: The Wartburg Castle near Eisenach in Thuringia. Germany is also the country of the Protestant Reformation. It was here where Martin Luther (1483-1546) translated the Bible into German. (CC BY-SA, Thomas doerfer)

Picture above: Neuschwanstein Castle in Southern Bavaria. The castle was commissioned by the mentally troubled Bavarian king Ludwig II (1845-1886).
(CC BY-SA, Softeis)

At the end of 2010 around 8.2 % of the 81.752 million inhabitants of the Federal Republic of Germany are foreigners according to the Federal Statistics Office. (Source: Statistisches Jahrbuch 2011 [Statistical Yearbokk] p. 28, 52).

From 1954 to 2001 31 million Germans and foreigners immigrated to Germany whereas 22 million people left the country in the same period. 40 % of the foreigners now living in Germany have been doing this for more than 15 years. During the discussions about making immigration to Germany easier the demographic development played an important role. The birth rate in Germany is 1.3 to 1.4. Many people fear that the German population will shrink to 50 million until 2050 which will cause a severe decline of demand in the economy. And for employed persons a drop from 41 to 26 million people is being prognosticated (according to the report of the independent commission "Zuwanderung").

Where do foreigners in Germany come from? (According to the Federal Statistical Office's publication Fachserie 1 Reihe 2, Bevölkerung und Erwerbstätigkeit, Ergebnisse des Ausländerzentralregisters, published on 2013-10-22, p. 37-41)

Country  Amount 2012
Turkey 1,575,717 In 2012, the number of foreigners in Germany has risen by 282,000 (+ 4.1%) compared with 2011, the highest plus since 1993. There were 394,900 more foreigners who came to Germany than foreigners who left this country. Un addition, there was a small birth surplus of 2,800 within the foreign population in Germany. 114,900 men and women are not more registered as foreigners due to naturalization. 80% of the new foreigners came from states belonging to the European Union. There was a significant increase of immigration from the countries which joined the European Union in 2004 and 2007 and from the southern European countries badly affected by the sovereign debt crisis. The rate has of Turkish citizens living in Germany has fallen like in the years before mostly due to acquisition of German citizenship. (Source: Press Release nr. 354 of the Federal Statistical Office of 2013-10-22).
In 2010, the average time foreigners were already staying in Germany was 18.9 years. 19% of all registered foreigners in Germany were born in this country. Foreigners from the traditional foreign workers countries (Italy, Spain, Greece, Turkey, Morocco, Portugal, Tunisia and Yugoslavia) are living in Germany for an average of 24.9 years. (Source: Press Release nr. 132 of the Federal Statistical Office of 2011-03-31).
Poland 532,375
Italy 529,417
Greece 298,254
Croatia 224,971
Serbia 202,521
Russia 202,090
Austria 176,314
Bosnia and Herzegovina 155,308
Netherlands 139,271
Ukraine 123,341
Portugal 120,560
France 113,885
USA 105,068
United Kingdom
China (People's Republic) 93,676
all foreigners
The table above mentions people who do not have the German citizenship, it does not include men and women with dual nationality.

Last update: 23 March 2017

Picture credit: The picture with the Ulm Minster is based on the photo "Ulm Minster.jpg" (author: Patrick Six), the photo with the Cologne cathedral on the photo "Kölner_Dom_20101230_003.jpg" (author: Rolf Heinrich, Köln), the photo of the Loreley on the photo "Loreley_rhine_valley_wp_d_schmidt_08_07.jpg" (author: Dirk Schmidt), the photo from Lübeck on the photo "Holstentor April 2009.jpg" (author: Arne List) the photo from Berlin on the photo "Berlin Marienkirche Funkturm.jpg" (author: Lokilech), the photo with the Wartburg on the photo "Wartburg2004.JPG" (author: Thomas doerfler) and the photo with Neuschwanstein on the photo "Castle_Neuschwanstein.jpg" (author: Softeis) from the file repository Wikimedia Commons. The pictures are licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-Share Alike 3.0 Unported license.