Act to Promote Skilled Worker Immigration – Key simplifications at a glance
On 18 August 2023, German legislators adopted the Act to Promote Skilled Worker Immigration, thus taking another step towards modernising residence laws.
The following simplifications in the process of immigrating to Germany will come into force step by step between 18 November 2023 and 1 January 2026.
These key amendments to the Residence Act will come into force as of 18 November 2023:
Principle: A skilled worker, i.e., someone who
- has a vocational qualification (new section 18a of the Residence Act) or
- has a university degree (new section 18b of the Residence Act),
can, unlike before, take on any skilled employment with the consent of Germany’s Federal Employment Agency. That means the person’s vocational or academic qualification no longer has to exactly match their planned employment.
However, to obtain an EU Blue Card, applicants still need an academic qualification that matches their planned employment.
There are some simplifications in the EU Blue Card process in other areas, though (new section 18g of the Residence Act):
- In particular, the minimum gross annual salary required to qualify for an EU Blue Card has been lowered to 50% of the annual income ceiling for pension contributions in Germany (in 2023: €43,800.00) for the “big” Blue Card and to 45.3% of that ceiling (in 2023: €39,682.80) for the “small” Blue Card for shortage occupations (STEM subjects).
- In addition, an EU Blue Card for young professionals is being launched. In future, skilled workers who graduated less than three years before applying can, depending on their profession, obtain the small EU Blue Card when they reach the minimum salary threshold (45.3%).
- There is a new option of an EU Blue Card for skilled workers who have completed a tertiary education programme (at an institute of applied sciences, vocational college or similar) that is equivalent to a university degree, requires at least three years of education or training and is at least level 6 on the International Standard Classification of Education (ISCED 2011) or level 6 of the European Qualifications Framework in Germany. This means skilled workers can obtain an EU Blue Card (big or small) even without a traditional university degree.
- What’s more, a degree is no longer required for the IT sector (occupational groups 133 and 25 of ISCO-08, the International Standard Classification of Occupations-08). According to the new section 18g(2) of the Residence Act, a foreigner will be granted a small EU Blue Card to work in IT with the approval of the Federal Employment Agency if the minimum salary threshold is met and the foreigner has at least three years of relevant professional experience, thus having the necessary skills, knowledge and abilities at a level comparable to a university degree or a tertiary education programme.
- There are also simplifications regarding long-term and short-term mobility within the European Union for those holding the EU Blue Card, regarding family reunification with EU Blue Card holders when they change employer. In addition, employment in Germany requiring an EU Blue Card now only has to be for a minimum period of six months. Previously, a minimum employment term of one year was an (unwritten) requirement.
As of 1 March 2024, the following key simplifications will also come into force:
It will become easier to employ students with the introduction of a working days account and an increase in the maximum employment period to 140 working days per year, not counting students’ secondary employment. If a student is employed part-time, the working time will be credited to the working day account depending on what is most favourable for the student, either (i) on a daily basis (with a working day of up to four hours being counted as half a working day) or (ii) irrespective of the distribution of working time, as 2.5 working days per week. During the period when lectures are given, students may not work for more than 20 hours per week.
The following key simplifications will only come into force as of 1 June 2024:
There will be a new points-based residence permit known as the Opportunity Card (new section 20a of the Residence Act.
The Opportunity Card is a one-year residence permit for jobseekers or those taking steps to have their foreign professional qualifications recognised (Jobseeker Opportunity Card). The Opportunity Card can be issued to a foreigner if they (i) either meet the requirements for skilled workers or (ii) they have at least six points and can cover their living expenses.
Foreigners earn points according to the table below for their qualifications, German and English skills, work experience, links to Germany, age and their spouse’s/partner’s potential:
|Factors according to section 20b of the Residence Act||Points|
1: Foreign professional qualification has been recognised as equivalent or a professional practice permit has been issued for a regulated profession
|2: Good German-language skills (at least B2 level)||3|
|3: Satisfactory German-language skills (at least B1 level)||2|
|4: Adequate German-language skills (at least A2 level)||1|
|5: English-language skills at C1 level||1|
|6: Five years of work experience connected to the applicant’s professional qualification within the last seven years||3|
|7: Two years of work experience connected to the applicant’s professional qualification within the last seven years||2|
|8: Professional qualification in a shortage occupation||1|
|9: Age 35 or younger||2|
|10: Age 36 to 39||1|
|11: Prior legal residence in Germany for at least six months||1|
|12: Spouse/partner meets the requirements for the Opportunity Card, is applying for an Opportunity Card from the appropriate authority and entered Germany jointly with the applicant||1|
The Opportunity Card allows foreigners to work for an average of 20 hours a week and to undertake trial employment for a maximum of two weeks at a time, which in each case must be skilled, aimed at training or suitable to be taken up as part of a measure for the recognition of foreign professional qualifications under section 16d of the Residence Act.
The Jobseeker Opportunity Card, initially limited to one year, can also be extended by up to two years if the foreigner has an employment contract or a binding job offer for a skilled job in Germany, the Federal Employment Agency has given its consent and no other residence permit can be issued (Follow-on Opportunity Card).
As part of the amendments to the Residence Act, the Federal Ministry of Labour and Social Affairs and the Federal Ministry of the Interior and Community also issued the Regulation to Promote Skilled Worker Immigration on 31 August 2023, thus also modernising the Employment Regulation.
The most important changes to the Employment Regulation will affect the following arrangements gradually from 18 November 2023:
The Western Balkans Arrangement in section 26(2) of the Employment Regulation will continue to apply indefinitely from 18 November 2023.
As of 1 June 2024, the quota of approvals for residence permits will be increased from 25,000 currently to 50,000. This means that 50,000 citizens of Albania, Bosnia and Herzegovina, Kosovo, Montenegro, Northern Macedonia, and Serbia will be able to move to Germany each year to work in any kind of employment (including unskilled jobs).
The new section 6 of the Employment Regulation will come into force on 1 March 2024. According to this section, the Federal Employment Agency will consent to the employment of a foreigner who holds a vocational qualification or university degree officially recognised in their home country irrespective of German standards, has at least two years of relevant professional experience in the last five years and has a job or has been offered a job in Germany with a gross annual salary of at least 45% of the income ceiling for pension contributions (for 2023: around €39,420.00). For professions in the field of information and communication technology, the Federal Employment Agency will even grant approval if the foreigner only has the required professional experience and the minimum salary.
Assessment and outlook
By amending the Residence Act, the legislators have created a modern and multifaceted residence law. With this new residence law and a simpler process for issuing the EU Blue Card, Germany can now live up to its claim to be an attractive immigration destination for skilled workers. The amendments to the Employment Regulation round off the amendment of the Residence Act in a satisfactory manner. The Western Balkans will not only remain a source of workers but will also be more valuable thanks to the increase in the number of permits issued.