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Changes to Germany's skilled immigration rules take effect

March 1, 2024

Germany urgently needs skilled workers from abroad. Now the rules for immigrants from non-EU countries are being introduced step by step, with some provisions coming into effect on March 1, 2024. Here's an overview.

Olaf Scholz (m) chatting with young professionals in the Matti Café in Bengaluru
Germany urgently needing skilled workers was also a topic for Chancellor Olaf Scholz on a visit to IndiaImage: Michael Kappeler/dpa/picture alliance

German employers are short of hundreds of thousands of workers. IT and technology, medical care, contractor fields, technology and logistics are among the hardest hit sectors.

The reworked Skilled Immigration Act, which Germany's parliament, the Bundestag, passed in the summer, aims to quickly lower the barriers to immigration of skilled workers from countries outside the European Union.

Starting November 18, 2023, the new rules are coming into force in three stages. Details, available in German, English, French and Spanish, are available on the government website.

EU Blue Card

Starting in November 2023, more academic and similarly qualified workers from third countries have been able to come to Germany on the EU Blue Card without German language requirements.

Annual salary limits, in place to prevent wage dumping, were changed in 2024 to just under 45,300 ($49,500) for entry-level and in-demand jobs, known as "bottleneck occupations"; the cut-off for all other occupations was set at €41,042.

Such occupations now include educators and nurses.

How much immigration does Germany need?

In the IT sector, skilled workers without a university degree can also receive an EU Blue Card if they can prove that they have at least three years of relevant professional experience. Nursing assistants with less than three years of nursing training are also granted access to the German labor market.

In Germany, the Blue Card has been in place for a decade. With the lower income requirement, it will now be easier to get. Once in Germany, workers will also have more flexibility in changing careers, although regulated professions — such as law and medicine — will still require the necessary qualifications.

Right of residence, more flexibility

Skilled workers with professional or academic qualifications who meet all the requirements are now entitled to a residence permit. Previously, diplomatic missions abroad and immigration authorities had discretionary powers.

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The Federal Employment Agency has been instructed to accelerate the approval process of prospective foreign workers. Experienced skilled workers will no longer need their qualifications recognized in Germany if they are already recognized by their country of origin and have at least two years of professional experience.

Qualifications and training

Anyone who needs to undergo training to obtain a qualification in Germany to match their equivalent foreign training can stay in Germany for up to three years and work up to 20 hours per week on the side. Part-time work will also be extended in general to students and trainees.

If employers in Germany agree, skilled workers can come directly to Germany and work while the procedure to recognize their qualifications is underway. The stay can be extended to up to three years. Prerequisites are a professional qualification of at least two years and at least an A2 level of German.

Regulatory jungle - Migrants facing German bureaucracy

Family reunification

Concerning spouses and underage children, skilled workers have to prove they can support their livelihoods, but not that they have sufficient living space. They may also bring their parents or parents-in-law.

Further changes are to come into force on June 1, 2024.

Opportunity card

A points-based "opportunity card" is set to be introduced in June for those with an equivalent foreign qualification. This will allow them to come to Germany for a year to look for work, so long as they can demonstrate financial independence. For others, a university degree or a vocational qualification of at least two years, plus either A1-level German or B2-level English, will be required.

Workers with an opportunity card may work up to 20 hours per week, including during a probation period. The opportunity card can be extended for up to two years for those who have a contract for qualified employment.

Germany plans to relax citizenship rules

Western Balkans regulation

Another regulation affects people from countries in the western Balkans, which doubles the quota to 50,000 workers from Albania, Bosnia-Herzegovina, Kosovo, Montenegro, North Macedonia, and Serbia who may come to Germany. These are countries that have long been on the waiting list to join the EU.

This article was originally written in German. It was first published in November 2023 and republished to reflect new developments.

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Andrea Grunau
Andrea Grunau Reporter and author