For entry and residence in Germany, foreigners must have permission in the form of a residence permit. The visa, the residence permit, the EU blue card, the settlement permit and the EC long-term residence permit exist.

For Citizens of the European Union and their family members special regulations apply.


If a foreigner wants to come to Germany for a short visit (as a tourist or to visit relatives), he or she has to apply for a so-called Schengen-Visa with the German embassy or consulate. The visa can be issued for up to three months per half year. It entitles to move and travel freely in all European Schengen-Countries. Citizens of certain countries are allowed to come as tourists without a visa. The Schengen-Countries together have issued a consistent list for this, the EC-Visa-Regulation.

Residence permit

Whoever wants to stay longer than three months, permanently in Germany or wants to work here, principally has to apply for a national (German) visa. After the entry with this visa, the municipal foreigners office at the place of residence is in charge of granting the residence permit. The residence permit is valid only for a limited time and always issued for a specific residence purpose. This purpose can be the subsequent immigration of dependent family members, the purpose of education or training, or labor migration. For foreigners who are already living in Germany, a residence permit may also be allowed on humanitarian grounds, e. g. if refugee status is acknowledged or if a return to the home country would be unacceptable. Since recently, juveniles who are well integrated and only have exceptional leave to remain in Germany may also be granted a residence permit. They are required to have been born in Germany or entered Germany prior to their 14th birthday, to have lived in Germany for at least six years and to successfully attend school or have (already) attained recognised educational or vocational qualifications in Germany. In addition, their previous education and way of life must ensure that they are capable of integrating into the way of life in the Federal Republic of Germany. An appropriate application must be made in the period between the ages of 15 and 21.  

Since 1 August 2012, a new residence permit – the EU Blue Card – has been available to university graduates and persons with similar qualifications and with a minimum of five years professional experience who would like to work in Germany. To apply for an EU Blue Card, an employment contract or a binding offer of employment for a position with a gross annual salary of at least Eur 44,800 must be provided. Where appropriate, the municipal foreigners office must involve the Federal Agency for Employment in the procedure.
Foreign graduates may now also be granted a six-month permit to seek employment that is commensurate with their degree in Germany.    

If the municipal foreigners office have already been asked by the German embassy during a visa process for approval, the granting of a residence permit after entry is usually not a problem. Always on time, before expiration, one has to apply for an extension to a residence permit at the municipal foreigners office. A late application can create major disadvantages. Due to the fact that a municipal foreigners office has to check whether the reasons for an extension exist, a "probationary permit" is issued until the decision for an extension is available.  

If the reason for issuing of a residence permit no longer applies, the permit will not be extended or even may be timely restricted before its expiration. This is the case e. g. if a student does not finish his or her studies or if a married couple divorces. In cases where a foreigner who entered Germany with his/her family and is now separated from his/her spouse, the residence permit is nevertheless extended if both spouses have lived as husband and wife in the territory of the Federal Republic of Germany for a period of three years. The residence permit of a student can be extended for a year in order to search for a job.  

Settlement permit

After a certain time, persons who are in possession of a residence permit may be awarded a settlement permit. A settlement permit is always valid for an unlimited period and contains no other restrictions. The residence does not depend on a certain reason (family reunion, humanitarian, etc.) and the permanent residence is guaranteed. The settlement permit can be issued after holding a residence permit for five years. If one has a humanitarian residence permit, the period of time is seven years. A further requirement is that living costs can be met on a permanent basis without relying on social security benefits. Furthermore, it is required to have paid 60 monthly contributions to the pension fund. Having a criminal record can also be a reason to be denied the settlement permit. German language skills have to be fair, equalling the European Language Testing Certificate, level B1. Furthermore, basic knowledge of law and social order have to be proven. The municipal foreigners office informs about where to take the specific tests. EU Blue Card holders can even obtain a settlement permit after 33 months.  

Facilitated requirements apply to foreigners who are married to German citizens and live together with their spouse: in these cases the settlement permit may already be issued after three years. The German language skills have to be just „basic“, which equals a certificate A1. Furthermore, it is not required to have paid 60 monthly contributions to the pension fund. However, the means of subsistence do have to be ensured on a sustained basis without requiring social benefits (especially without requiring unemployment benefit called „Arbeitslosengeld II“).

Admission to "EC long-term residence permit"

Due to a European guideline, an additional residence permit exists, the so-called "EC long-term residence permit". It has to be applied for separately for this residence permit and it is similar to the settlement permit. The admission requirements are also very similar. With this residence permit, the mobility as an employee is increased and basically it is possible to live and work in another EU-country.

Expiration of a residence permit

All other German residence permits expire automatically, if a foreigner is abroad longer than six months, unless the municipal foreigners office formally (in a written document) allows a longer stay abroad. For owners of a settlement permit, who have been legally in Germany for longer than 15 years, favourable regulations apply. The admission of the EC long-term residence permit expires only, if one stays outside the EU for longer than 12 months or outside of Germany for longer than six years.

Turkish employees

Due to an agreement between the EU and Turkey, Turkish employees have a right to extend their residence permit, if they have been properly employed by the same employer. After three years with the same employer, they can apply for a work permit with a different employer but within the same industry. After four years of proper employment, the entire labor market is open to them non-restrictively.

Foreigners with a „permanent residence permit“ of another EU-country

Foreigners who already hold a so-called “permanent residence permit” in another EU-State will be granted a residence permit if they wish to remain in Germany for longer than 3 months.  Evidence must be provided that applicants are able to meet living costs and have sufficient health insurance cover. Should employment be taken up, permission is to be obtained from the Federal Agency for Employment, which will be sought by the municipal foreigners office. If permission is granted, the residence permit will initially only be issued in connection with this employment. This restriction is dropped after one year.

Liability to depart / exceptional leave to remain

If the residence permit does not get extended or an asylum process ends negatively, the respective person has to leave Germany. The immigration office issues for this a so-called „form to cross the border“ („Grenzübertrittsbescheinigung"), which has to be given away at the airport or the border. The border patrol sends this document back to the foreigners and immigration office which by this gets informed about the departure. If one does not leave the country, the immigration office has to deport the foreigner. If this is not possible because, e. g. the home embassy does not issue the necessary papers, or because the person is severely ill and not able to travel, an exceptional leave to remain has to be issued. By this, the deportation is only temporarily postponed. The liability to depart is still holding on. Only in specific cases, this exceptional leave to remain may be „converted“ into a residence permit. This may be the case e. g. if a ‘grandfather clause’ for long-term tolerated resident foreigners permits this or if the foreigner with no fault of his or her own is in fact not able to leave the country.

Persons without papers („Illegality“)

Persons without a legal resident status also live in Bonn. If a foreigner has no resident permit at all, the residence according to German right is „illegal“ and even liable for prosecution. An arrest, deportation and eviction order impends. Out of fear of these consequences, persons without papers often avoid contact to official institutions. Counselling offices and initiatives offer anonymous councelling and help, also in Bonn - especially in emergencies.

The legalization of an „illegal“ stay by issue of a exceptional leave to remain or residence permit is only possible in rare cases. This case may be e. g. a severe, long-lasting disease. If a residence permit is issued due to a marriage, the immigration office principally at first requires a departure from Germany. One then has to apply for a visa for subsequent immigration of dependent family members with the German embassy abroad.

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