German residence law stipulates the conditions under which qualified professionals from outside the EU can work in Germany. Non-EU citizens who would like to work in Germany require a residence permit for employment.
EU Blue Card
The EU Blue Card allows qualified professionals with a university degree to be fast-tracked into employment in Germany.
Non-EU citizens may apply for this special residence permit if they possess the following:
- a German university degree or a comparable recognized qualification obtained abroad, and
- a job contract with an annual gross salary of at least EUR 45,300 (2024).
The employment must be appropriate to the professional’s qualifications. Approval from the Federal Employment Agency is not required for this wage level category of the EU Blue Card.
In professions with a particular skill shortage, the annual gross salary level is lower at EUR 41,042 (2024). In addition to the STEM professions, the list of professions was significantly expanded in November 2023. For instance, managerial staff in manufacturing or logistics as well as an extended group of healthcare professionals are also included. The Federal Government's Make it in Germany official information portal provides a list of the bottleneck occupations. Within this category IT specialists who do not have a university degree but do have at least three years of relevant professional experience in the last seven years can also obtain an EU Blue Card.
Regardless of profession, entry-level employees (i.e. graduated within the last three years) can also benefit from the lower salary threshold. Approval from the Federal Employment Agency is required in all cases subject to the lower salary level.
Once a German EU Blue Card has been obtained, a settlement permit can be granted within 27 months - or after 21 months if the foreign citizen has attained a specified German language skill level.
Qualified Professionals / Skilled Workers
Besides the EU Blue Card, there are other residence permit options for qualified professionals (also referred to as "skilled workers" or "skilled employees").
Qualified professionals include university graduates and persons who have successfully completed vocational training over a period of at least two years.
In general, residence permits for qualified professionals are issued where the following requirements have been met:
- applicant has a qualification officially recognized in Germany,
- a concrete job offer, and
- approval from the Federal Employment Agency.
Skilled workers with a qualification obtained or recognized in Germany can pursue any form of qualified employment - and not just in the sector in which they obtained their qualification. Regulated professions - including, for example, engineers and medical professions - require a license.
Qualified professionals can be granted a residence permit for up to four years. A settlement permit can be granted after three years.
Recognition of Qualification
Employee qualifications (academic and vocational) obtained abroad must generally be officially recognized in order to start the application procedure. The Central Service Point for Recognition provides information about the recognition procedure and serves as a central contact for applicants during the recognition process. The recognition procedure takes place at the federal state level with the competence of an authority being subject to the specific qualification. Please see the Recognition in Germany portal for further information on the recognition of foreign professional qualifications.
Recognition of the qualification after entering Germany is possible based on a recognition partnership concluded between the skilled worker and the employer. The employee may already work for the employer during this time. The partnership requires, among other things, a professional qualification of at least two years training or a university degree. The qualification must be recognized by the country of training. Moreover, the employee needs German language skills at level A2.
In specific cases of non-regulated professions, the recognition of a foreign qualification in Germany is not necessary. It is sufficient that the professional qualification of the skilled employee is recognized in the country in which it was obtained. IT specialists may even access the German labor market without any professional qualification. Only employees with at least two years of professional experience can benefit from this facilitation. The employee must reach a certain salary level if the employer is not bound by a collective bargaining agreement. The usual recognition procedure applies where these conditions are not met.
Approval from the Federal Employment Agency
The Federal Employment Agency must generally issue its approval before a foreign skilled employee can obtain a residence permit in Germany. Applicants for an EU Blue Card with a gross salary of at least EUR 45,300 (2024) do not require this approval.
The approval may be issued if a foreign employee is hired on the same terms and conditions of employment as comparable German employees (especially in terms of wages and working hours).
The Federal Employment Agency also checks if an employment relationship in Germany can be demonstrated. The Agency provides further information about the approval procedure.
Senior Executives, Managing Directors and Specialists
A residence permit may also be granted to:
- Senior executives
- Members of a body legally representing a legal entity (e.g. managing director of a GmbH)
- Persons who have specialist knowledge – with particular relevance for the company – for the carrying out of a domestic qualified employment.
An approval from the Federal Employment Agency is also required for these group of employees. The approval may be granted if an employment status exists and if the foreign employee is hired on the same terms and conditions of employment as comparable German employees.
The Federal Employment Agency performs an overall assessment of the individual case. A specific professional qualification is in general not required for executives.
Germany has facilitated long-term intra-corporate transfers of specific staff categories by introducing the ICT Card.
The ICT Card complements other existing relaxed measures for specific groups of employees temporarily posted to Germany. The ICT card enables an intra-corporate transfer from a sending entity outside of the EU to a host entity in Germany. Both entities must be a part of the same company or company group.
Eligible employees are non-EU managers and specialists who have been employed in the sending unit for at least six uninterrupted months immediately preceding the transfer.
The duration of the transfer must exceed 90 days and last up to a maximum of three years. Moreover, the work contract and, if necessary, the assignment letter e.g. need to state details of the transfer and proof of the employee's professional qualification.
The ICT Card has to be applied for at the German embassy or consulate general abroad – this also applies for Australian, Canadian, Israeli, Japanese, New Zealand, South Korean, UK, and US nationals. It requires an approval from the Federal Employment Agency.
The short-term mobility regulation of non-EU nationals in possession of an ICT card issued by another EU state has also been relaxed. Under specific conditions, this employee category may be able to work at a German company (belonging to the same company or the same group of companies) for up to 90 days within any 180-day period without a German residence permit. A notification including specific evidence to the German Federal Office for Migration and Refugees is required.