Long-term transfers


What are the main work and business permit categories used by companies to transfer skilled staff?

The main immigration categories are:

  • international staff exchange programme within a group of companies;
  • ICT;
  • mobile ICT card for intra-corporate transfers to Germany of third-country nationals already residing in one EU member state;
  • assignments of managerial staff or of employees with special internal knowledge;
  • employees that sign a German contract and are paid under German payroll;
  • executives;
  • EU Blue Card for highly qualified employees;
  • internal training; and
  • implementation of purchased software or machines.

What are the procedures for obtaining these permissions? At what stage can work begin?

The process usually begins by filing a work permit pre-approval at the local employment office in Germany. Once this approval has been issued, the foreign employee must take this original document and other supporting documents and apply for a long-term national visa at the German embassy or consulate in order to enter Germany for work purposes. The visa is issued as a Type D visa with multiple entries and usually for a validity period of 90 days (for stays not exceeding 12 months, there is the option of obtaining the visa for the full duration).

In the case of a Blue Card application, the applicant skips the first step of obtaining work permit pre-approval and proceeds straight to the German embassy or consulate that can approve the visa independently from the local German authorities. Before applying for this visa type, in some cases, if the university degree of the applicant is not listed in Anabin, the degree recognition database, a special recognition process may need to be performed at the Central Education Authority to confirm if the foreign university degree of the applicant is equivalent to a university degree granted in Germany.

Once the foreign employee has entered Germany with the required visa, he or she can immediately start working in Germany, but must complete the post-arrival process within the validity period of the visa. The foreign national must register at the town hall in the city where he or she resides within two weeks of moving into a long-term residence. After registration, the employee must visit the immigration authority to apply for and collect the final residence permit. Since September 2011, this permit is usually issued as an electronic permit, which is a document in a credit card format; however, in some cases, it is stamped directly in the passport.

Exemption processes

Some nationals (from Australia, Canada, Israel, Japan, Korea, New Zealand and the US) are considered favoured nationals and a shorter process applies. They do not need to apply for an entry visa before entering Germany for work purposes. These nationals can travel to Germany on a visa waiver status and apply for work authorisation and a residence permit upon arrival. It is recommended for these individuals that a work permit pre-approval be obtained before arrival in Germany. Nevertheless, once they enter Germany they cannot start working immediately as they first need to register their address at the local town hall and apply for the final residence permit. Only after the local immigration office has issued at least a preliminary confirmation is the applicant allowed to start working. Due to delays at many immigration offices, it is often recommendable for these nationals to apply for an entry visa nevertheless, as this often allows them to start working upon arrival, which is much faster than the non-visa process.

Nationals of EU member states that are subject to the EU freedom of movement regulation do not need a work permit for Germany.

Swiss nationals need a residence card to reside in Germany if their intended duration of stay exceeds 90 days. This can be obtained at the immigration authority in the city where the foreigner resides.

Any individual, regardless of his or her nationality, is subject to the German residence registration regulation.

Period of stay

What are the general maximum (and minimum) periods of stay granted under the main categories for company transfers?

Residence permits with work authorisation are usually issued initially for one to two years and can then be extended.

Applicants for a Blue Card who have an unlimited contract can receive the initial permit issued for up to four years.

International staff exchange permits and ICT cards can only be granted for a maximum of three years. Should a foreign employee on an international staff exchange wish to stay longer in Germany, a local German employment contract will be needed and the permit category must be changed.

Processing time

How long does it typically take to process the main categories?

The normal process to allow the foreigner to begin working in Germany (work permit and visa application) takes, on average, four to 10 weeks. German immigration law does not provide a maximum timeline and it is not possible to obtain a fast-track procedure by paying an extra governmental fee. The timeline in each individual case depends on the category of the permit, nationality of the employee, workload of the officers involved and time slots available at the German consulates or embassies abroad.

Normally, German immigration specialists supporting the visa application can speed up the process by following each step in the process and clarifying issues with the competent authorities in advance.

The application for permanent residence permit takes longer since authorities must perform a background check (eg, whether the foreign national is listed as a criminal or investigations are ongoing based on criminal activities).

For favoured nationals, namely, nationals who do not need a visa to enter Germany for working purposes, the timeline is usually shorter. Normally, it takes three to six weeks. However, waiting times for appointments at the immigration office must also be taken into account.

The immigration process for the EU Blue Card is usually quicker than a regular work permit process as one can skip the work permit pre-approval step.

Staff benefits

Is it necessary to obtain any benefits or facilities for staff to secure a work permit?

Foreign employees entering Germany for working purposes need a private residential address in Germany in order to register themselves there. This can be an apartment, house, furnished business apartment or, in some rare cases, a hotel. A company address is not sufficient. Since November 2015, an additional landlord confirmation issued by the landlord must be submitted for this registration. Not all temporary accommodation premises are willing to sign this document, which can cause a delay in the post-arrival immigration process.

Further, sufficient medical insurance is required. This can be German statutory health insurance or, if the requirements are met from a social security point of view, any other German or international private health insurance with a business licence for Germany can be used. However, the international health insurance needs to have the same coverage as German statutory health insurance and very often, German immigration authorities request the insurance companies to issue a confirmation that German statutory minimum requirements are fulfilled.

A further requirement is that the foreign employee’s remuneration is equivalent to that of a comparable German employee in the same or in a similar job position. The amount of a comparable German employee’s salary must be noted on most application forms.

Assessment criteria

Do the immigration authorities follow objective criteria, or do they exercise discretion according to subjective criteria?

German immigration authorities follow the requirements stipulated in the immigration law and the in-house government rules, which aim to provide officers with details on how to apply the various immigration categories. Some terms in German immigration law have not been defined very precisely, which gives certain room for interpretation. Immigration authorities exercise their decisions not only by objective criteria but also by exercising their own discretion. In particular, atypical cases allow flexibility and discretion in favour of the applicant and it is always worth discussing a case professionally with the competent authority. The discretion of the authorities is quite often exercised in favour of applicants and employers who are important for the labour market in the region.

Nevertheless, this discretion must always follow justifiable arguments based on the immigration regulations, and ends when a decision would be unlawful or arbitrary.

High net worth individuals and investors

Is there a special route for high net worth individuals or investors?

There are special rules for individuals performing self-employed activities in the German market. When applying for work authorisation, they must regularly submit a business plan and financials. In addition, the authority checks whether the intended activity is important for and has positive effects on the business development of the region. The immigration authority will most likely involve the chamber of commerce for its assessment. Under current German immigration law, there is no provision for fast-track applications in these cases.

Currently there is no special visa category for investors or wealthy retirees who wish to reside in Germany for their own benefit.

Is there a special route (including fast track) for high net worth individuals for a residence permission route into your jurisdiction?

See question 16.

Highly skilled individuals

Is there a special route for highly skilled individuals?

Highly skilled scientists or researchers can apply for a permanent residence permit immediately. This permanent residence permit contains unlimited work authorisation.

The Blue Card for highly skilled individuals can be granted to employees with a local German employment contract, a recognised university degree and on meeting a minimum salary level. In 2019, the minimum annual gross salary for a Blue Card application was €53,600. A lower minimum salary (€41,808 in 2019) is sufficient for some specified scarce professions, such as IT specialists, engineers and medical doctors, to compensate for the lack of specialists on the German labour market. The minimum salary requirement is adapted each year by the German government.

A Blue Card holder in Germany qualifies for a German permanent residence permit more quickly than a holder of other German permits.

The German Blue Card does not automatically permit working in other EU countries. The same in reverse applies for a Blue Card issued by another EU country.

Ancestry and descent

Is there a special route for foreign nationals based on ancestry or descent?

There is a residence permit category available for former German nationals, which allows individuals who held, but lost (for whatever reason), German citizenship to apply for residency in Germany.

Minimum salary

Is there a minimum salary requirement for the main categories for company transfers?

There is a minimum salary requirement for all work authorisation categories in Germany. In principle, the foreign national must earn a salary that is equivalent to a comparable German local employee in the German company where the foreigner intends to work. Therefore, the minimum salary is determined on a case-by-case basis for each company and position. The comparable amount must be provided on the application form.

The total gross remuneration of the foreign employee can be composed of base salary and assignment benefits (eg, assignment allowance, housing allowance, per diems) in order to achieve the comparable German salary. It is to be noted, however, that only allowances being paid out as a lump sum for the assignee to use as he or she pleases can be considered. For example, per diems paid out upon submission of receipts or housing or car rental paid directly by the company are not accepted. In some cases, the authorities exercise even stricter regulations requesting that the allowances not be linked to a specific purpose on the payroll.

In some industries (eg, the construction industry, professional cleaning, security), the minimum wage of the German collective bargaining agreements for these industries must sometimes be observed for foreign employees working in Germany even if the employment contracts of the foreign employees are not governed by German law.

Resident labour market test

Is there a quota system or resident labour market test?

In some cases, there is a labour market check to find out whether a German or EU national is available for the job. For most German work permit categories, the authorities can make a discretionary decision on whether a labour market check is required. A labour market check is not required for international staff exchange, other assignment cases and many other immigration categories.

A quota system does not exist in Germany. Only the category of international staff exchange is restricted in number. Under this category, a German company can only apply for as many work authorisations for foreigners as they have German-based employees assigned abroad (in summary: for every German-based employee sent out of Germany, one foreigner is allowed in).

Shortage occupations

Is there a special route for shortage occupations?

The Blue Card offers an easier process for local hires in occupations that are considered scarce in Germany. These are IT specialists, engineers, medical doctors, mathematicians and natural scientists. If all prerequisites are fulfilled (ie, local German employment contract, recognised degree), these individuals can get a Blue Card by meeting a lower annual salary (€41,808 in 2019) than required in the regular Blue Card procedure.

Other eligibility requirements

Are there any other main eligibility requirements to qualify for work permission in your jurisdiction?

If a foreigner intends to apply for a German work permit on the basis of an assignment under an ICT card, he or she must already be employed with the home country company for at least six months to qualify.

For many permit types, such as the Blue Card, it is not sufficient to simply have a university degree; the university and degree type must be listed in the degree recognition database, Anabin.

Third-party contractors

What is the process for third-party contractors to obtain work permission?

A contractor can obtain work permission in Germany if the contractor proves that he or she is an independent contractor (no deemed employment or illegal labour lending), and provides the contract regulations and sufficient medical insurance. The immigration authority checks the public interest of the market in the region and additional criteria before granting the permission.

Recognition of foreign qualifications

Is an equivalency assessment or recognition of skills and qualifications required to obtain immigration permission?

In most cases, an academic background is required to obtain a work permit in Germany and degree certificates from a university are required. Already recognised qualifications can be found at www.anabin.kmk.org. Alternatively, an official recognition process can be initiated, which can take from two weeks to three months. For certain applications, such as the Blue Card, a fully recognised degree is essential.