As part of moving to Frankfurt, Germany for my job, I had to obviously apply for a work permit. If you’re reading this post, you probably already have an idea of what the EU Blue Card is and whether you should be applying for this card. As I came here for my job, I was eligible for the EU Blue Card in Germany and this is exactly what I got. This post will outline what the Blue Card is, what is required to get it, and my personal experience in getting it (with a picture of my blue card to prove it!)
If you’re moving to Germany, make sure to read my other posts detailing my ex-pat life in the country.
For those planning or thinking of moving to Frankfurt, make sure to also read why I absolutely love living in the financial capital of Germany! This post is also a part of my guide to living in Frankfurt, Germany where I list out all the things you need to know as an expat in Frankfurt and Germany.
What is the EU Blue Card?
The EU Blue Card is an EU-wide work permit which allows highly-skilled non-EU citizens to live and work in the EU. Besides that, it offers many other benefits to potential card holders that are quite attractive.
In general, the Blue Card is valid in all EU-member states, except Denmark, Ireland, and the UK. Initially, it is issued for a limited period of four years at most. If the employment contract has a term of fewer than four years, the Blue Card is issued for the duration of the employment contract plus three months.
This is the link to the official German Government Blue Card page.
EU Blue Card in Germany
The EU Blue card is the de facto highly skilled visa in many of the EU nations. Germany introduced this visa in 2012 as a way to fill jobs with labor shortages, and largely align itself politically with other EU nations.
The Blue Card is the most “prestigious” visa if you will, of all the residency permits in Germany, and is the probably the most sought after visa. Coincidentally, Germany is the largest user of this visa, awarding almost 80% of the blue cards within the European Union.
Benefits of the Blue Card
Being the most sought after visa, the Blue Card carries with it benefits that you can’t find in other permits within Germany. Again, the Blue Card is Europe’s most prestigious visa geared towards highly skilled people, so the benefits will be commensurate as such. The benefits for having this visa are as follows:
- Automatically valid for 4 years
- Family members can automatically immigrate to Germany without having to prove any language abilities or financial capabilities (because if you can get the blue card, you area already making enough to support others)
- Spouses can find work in Germany without any visa restrictions or requirements
- After two years, you can look for another job at another company in Germany; you can even move to another European country and look for jobs there without having to reapply
- After 21 months, you can apply for the German permanent residency, or Niederlassungserlaubnis, if you can pass a B1 German language test, or after 33 months, you can apply with only an A1 language proficiency
- Unlimited travel throughout the EU, which is especially useful if you come from a country without this privilege. Having American and Canadian passports, this is not a big deal for me as I can already travel to all Schengen countries without issue.
Difference between Blue Card and a regular work permit
There are numerous work related permits available in Germany like the freelancer visa, general work permit, and blue card. The freelancer visa is in its own category so I will just compare the two normal work permits here.
Regular Work Permit
- Can be issued for shorter periods (from 6months) and can be extended regularly
- Expensive in the long run (each extension costs about €100)
- Can be converted into a permanent residence permit after 60 months
- Independent of how much one earns
- Can be issued in connection to other visas e.g. Family visa and in special cases a study visa
- If bringing along the family, a work permit holder has to prove their job will sustain the dependents.
- Application process can be complicated
- Automatically issued for 4years with no extension
- Cheaper, issuance costs about €150 but no more than €250
- Can be upgraded to a permanent residence permit after 21 months (for those with B1 German) or 33 months for the others
- Is usually company dependent, meaning it is issued with the purpose of working for a specific company. In case you change jobs, then you have to get a new one.
- Issuance is dependent on how much you earn. Minimum salary thresholds listed below
- Is issued independently
- Automatically allows family members to join the card holder, without need to prove financial capabilities. This is because, holding the card already shows that one is earning enough. Also, a spouse can find employment within Germany immediately
EU Blue Card vs US Green Card
As the Blue card was recently introduced, my hunch is they took some of the marketing from the US Green Card visa which allows people to work and live anywhere in the US. As the European Union’s colors are blue and yellow, I think this is where the term “Blue Card” was born.
Many people equate teh EU Blue Card with the US Green Card. In my opinion, the EU Blue Card is somewhere between an H1-B visa and a Green Card.
While a H1-B visa allows someone to look for jobs outside of their sponsoring company, it does not mean you can automatically get a Green Card. You still need company sponsorship and wait many years depending on your nationality. I have plenty of my Indian and Chinese friends that are in a nationality based “queue”, with Indians having to wait over 10 years to get a green card! That is insane. If you’re from a country where few people apply for the Green Card like Switzerland or Norway or something, you can expect to get it much much faster.
There is no “nationality queue”, nor do you need any formal sponsorship to get German residency with a Blue Card.
EU Blue Card to German Permanent Residency
The EU Blue Card does not have any of that nonsense. Within 21 months, you can apply for the Niederlassungserlaubnis which is Germany’s permanent residence permit/Green card equivalent if you can pass a B1 language test. From what I’ve heard, the B1 language test is not difficult and means you can have basic conversations in German. After 33 months, you can apply for the permit with little to no language requirements and be approved.
After you have the Niederlassungserlaubnis, you can work and live anywhere in Germany for as long as you are here. If you leave the country for extended periods of time (greater than 6 months) without informing the authorities, you can have this taken away (similar to a Green Card). With this permanent residency, you are not allowed to move and work in another EU country. Of course, you can visit EU countries without issue, but if you’re American/Canadian like myself, this benefit is useless as I can already freely travel within the EU. If you want to work in another EU country, you’ll have to apply for the blue card in that country.
If you have the Daueraufenthalt however, this permit is applicable for work throughout the EU. This requires 5 years of German residency no matter what type of visa you have. If you plan to only stay in Germany, there’s no need to get this visa but if you plan to work in Spain or France after a few years, this might be the better option.
Requirements for the EU Blue Card
From what I’ve read, very few people actually apply for the EU Blue Card entirely on their own. If you’re not an EU citizen, and have an employment contract with a German company, there’s a good chance that they will help facilitate the visa process on your own. This means hiring lawyers and experts to take on your situation. For starters, the application form is in German only so if you were not fluent in German, Google Translate would only take you so far.
This is exactly what I had. However, compared to my South African Work Visa process from many years ago where I also had help from lawyers and “professionals”, the requirements for the EU Blue Card are far less stringent and paperwork is much less cumbersome. This is what is required for the EU Blue Card:
A bachelor’s degree from an accredited University if a must. You don’t need a masters degree, but just a University bachelors. If the degree is not from a school in Germany, it must be recognized as an acceptable degree. You can check this qualifications with the Anabin website. You will need to show a diploma and an official transcript that clearly shows your major(s).
For the most part, if you went to a 4 year university that is somewhat legitimate, and have a standard major that is not too out of the ordinary, this will be satisfied. I have a dual degree from my school. Because my transcript did not specifically state that I had dual degrees (they are just listed on two separate lines), the lawyers said that it might be problematic as one of the degrees was not recognized (Applied Mathematical Sciences) even though my other degree is Economics (which is the most generic major out there). In the end, there was no issue as they fully recognized my Economics degree (even though Applied Math should be recognized as well).
If your major is not recognized, you’ll have to go through an entire degree recognition process that can take months.
A Valid Employment Contract with minimum salary
The most obvious requirement is you need to have a job contract from a German company. For the EU Blue Card, there is also a salary threshold you must meet. For 2019, this is €53,600 a year before taxes. If you are working in skill shortage fields like math, medicine, Tech, engineering etc, this comes down to €41,808 a year. This number will go up every year with inflation.
You will need to provide an official, German language version of your employment contract that clearly states your name and compensation.
Passport and photos
This is pretty self explanatory. You need a valid passport with at least 2 full pages left. My passport was due to expire in 20 months when I applied for my Blue Card and the immigration officials didn’t seem to care. They did say that when I renewed my passport, I’d have to come in again to get a new sticker.
In addition, you have to have at least two passport style photos. These can be purchased at any photo shop in Germany, and even at kiosks in the U-Bahn/S-Bahn stations. I went to a photography shop in Sachsenhausen who knew exactly what to do. I paid about €12 for 4 photos. I used one photo for this visa application, and another for my health insurance card.
I’d recommend holding off until you arrive in Germany to get these so to reduce any risk of getting the wrong format of pictures taken.
Registration of Address
This is the one of the more confusing things to do in Germany, but it is absolutely required. German’s are pretty hardcore about making sure they know where every one of their citizens and residents are. The first thing you must do if you plan on living in Germany, whether you’re applying for the Blue Card or some other visa like the freelancer visa, student visa, job seeker visa etc. is register your address. This is called Anmeldung in German.
This is super important so make sure to read my post on obtaining your anmeldung!
You might ask, how could I have a home if I just moved here and don’t even have a visa? What if I want to explore the city first to figure out where I really want to live? All very good questions. The fact of the matter is, the German Government doesn’t care, and wants to know where you are residing. They will not issue any visas of any sort if you do not have this.
You can register your address at the local Bürgeramt (Citizen’s registration office) which you find easily on Google Maps.
Find Temporary Accommodation
With that said, you need to find a temporary accommodation that is willing to sign paperwork confirming you are in fact staying there. Most hostels will not do this, and if you’re staying in an Airbnb, there’s definitely no way the owner will do this.
You have to find hotels and aparthotels/corporate apartments that are willing to do this for you. As I came for work, I stayed in a furnished apartment building for a few months. They are used to this and were willing to sign off these forms for me. They must fill it out and stamp the paper. I asked the front desk what is the minimum stay that is required for them to sign off on these documents. The answer? 2 weeks.
With this piece of paper proving your address (whether it’s long term or short term), as well as your passport, you must visit the local address registration office to register yourself. This is a short process, after which you will get a document with a registration number and a summary of your information.
Enrollment in German Health Insurance
Like any good socialist nation, Germany does not mess around when it comes to making sure their citizens and immigrants have health insurance. Enrollment in health insurance is an absolute must before applying for any sort of visa. Germany does not want you to get sick and then burden their health systems without having paid into it. Fair enough I’d say!
In order to register for health insurance, you must have the address verification form from the section above. See? It all comes together. I’m not an expert by any means with the state medical system but I have had some experience with it now. Make sure to read my guide on German health insurance to know all the details of the public and private systems! For the sake of time, I took the easiest route which was enroll in the public health insurance system.
With my passport, employment contract, and address registration form, I went to the AOK office, which is one of Germany’s primary public insurance providers, to enroll in the state medical insurance. The process took no more than 30 minutes after which I had a form saying I was “insured”.
Applying for the EU Blue Card inside Germany
This was something very surprising to me. From previous experiences getting work visas for other countries, I always did this in my home country at the embassy of the country I would work in. While I could have done this for Germany, the lawyers advised that it would take many more months to get an appointment at the German embassy in New York.
As I had to start work rather soon, I was advised to move to Germany and apply for the visa once I arrived. With that said, I came in on a tourist visa. Once I arrived, I went and got my address registered, and then enrolled in the health insurance on my own.
The lawyers had already been working with the immigration officials on my application and they somehow were able to be light speed quick and scheduled an appointment with the immigration office for 1 week after I had arrived to get my Blue Card.
My Interview with the Immigration Office
Up to this point, I only got the address verification and health insurance on my own. My company and lawyers had already filled out the EU Blue Card application and collated all the documents necessary. On the day of the interview, I promptly made my way to the Immigration Authority office. As I was moving to Frankfurt, the local immigration office is located here on Kleyerstrasse.
I’ve heard that the lines can be very crazy here which is to be expected, especially as Germany has taken in so many refugees. I’ve heard horror stories of people lining up at 4am! My appointment was at 10am on a Friday so I did not have to do any of those things. When I arrived, the office looked tame. There were no lines down the block. It just looked like a normal Government office.
Meeting with the Immigration officials
I went into a room with two officials that were processing the paperwork on the spot. My company had prepared all the documents including the application form, my employment contract that states I make more than the salary threshold, my University degree, etc. I provided my health insurance enrollment letter, as well as passport photos for them to make the visa. The people working here were quite friendly and I ended up chatting to both of them about random topics while they were working on my visa. Apparently, not many people apply for the EU Blue Card entirely on their own which makes sense as this is supposed to be the “highly skilled” visa.
Receiving my Blue Card
Everything was done on the spot and the meeting concluded in less than 1 hour. The company paid the application fee which was 140 euros or so. I now had my Blue Card application completed and a nice shiny two page sticker in my passport! I thought I was receiving a physical card as the name “Blue Card” would suggest. Apparently, they have started giving out passport stickers in favor of physical cards which is a bummer. I really wanted to have that card!
All in all, from the time I initiated the process with my lawyers (where I gave them all my documents including a scan of my passport, employment contract, university diploma and transcript, etc) to getting my Blue Card, it took only 2 months. I was quite shocked how quickly I was able to get my visa. I’ve read online that it normally takes much longer to get this but in my case, German efficiency was a real thing.
Switching jobs before 2 years
I also asked the officials what happens if I switch jobs within 2 years? They said I would have to reapply with my new company, but the amount of work required would be less. If I were to switch roles within my current company, and assuming my salary didn’t go down, I could come into the immigration office and just have them change the conditions of my visa which would not be too much of a hassle.
Hopefully this guide has helped those looking to move to Germany. If you have any questions, please leave a comment below!
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