How can I get a European work visa

Work permit: requirements, exceptions, process

In order to fill important positions, for example in the tech sector, more and more companies are looking for their talents abroad. The crux of the matter: If the employee of your choice does not have German citizenship, he or she may need a work permit. We explain how the process works, what requirements must be met for a work permit and what HR staff have to take care of.

Getting a work permit sometimes takes longer than planned. You can still keep an eye on all applicants and their documents with Personio at all times.

What is a work permit?

The Work permit enables employees who do not have German citizenship and who are neither from the EU nor from an ETFA country to work in Germany. Specifically, this work permit is an entry in the residence documents that so-called “third-country nationals” receive for staying in one of the EU member states.

By the way: The term work permit is actually out of date. The independent work permit was abolished by the Immigration Act and replaced in 2005 by the so-called residence permit.

When is a work permit required?

A work permit is generally required when a citizen of another country takes up gainful employment in Germany. However, there are numerous exceptions.

Citizens of an EU member state do not need a work permit. This also applies to citizens of the so-called EFTA states Liechtenstein, Iceland, Norway and Switzerland. They are on an equal footing with German employees and are allowed to take up work in Germany according to the “right of freedom of movement”.

This exemption is supplemented by the following countries, some of which are outside Europe:

  • Andorra
  • Australia
  • Japan
  • Israel
  • New Zealand
  • Republic of Korea
  • Albania
  • United States
  • San Marino
  • Bosnia and Herzegovina
  • Macedonia
  • Kosovo
  • Serbia and Montenegro.

Special case Great Britain: Great Britain has not been part of the EU since Brexit. Britons who already lived in Germany before December 31, 2020 are allowed to continue working here without any time limit. British nationals who travel to Germany after December 31, 2020 to work here are considered third-country nationals. You have to apply for a work permit according to the general law on foreigners.

Check here whether a potential employee of your company needs a work permit or whether there is a general chance of a work permit.

What are the requirements for a work permit?

If the person is not an EU citizen or a citizen of a state named in the special regulations, the applicant for a work permit must meet several criteria. However, these are only general requirements. Various special regulations defuse this.

  • The applicant has a specific job offer.
  • The employment of a foreign citizen does not have a negative effect on the German labor market.
  • Preferred employees such as German citizens, EU citizens and citizens from the EEA countries are not available (priority check).
  • The conditions for foreign employees are the same as for German employees (remuneration, vacation days and working hours must be the same).

Only when these criteria are met is the first hurdle on the way to a work permit cleared.

Always keep an eye on the status of the work permit

Regardless of whether you want to save the final work permit or document the current status: In Personio you manage all applicant information centrally and always know which process step the applicants are in.

How do I apply for a work permit?

If a foreigner plans to take up employment in Germany and fulfills the criteria mentioned above, he / she applies for a work permit at the immigration authorities. The following documents are essential for this purpose.

  • Correctly completed application form
  • Confirmation of employment by the company; alternatively the employment contract
  • Detailed job description; created by the company.

A form is available for the job description required by the employer, which you as an employer must use. It can be downloaded from the website of the immigration authority responsible for you.

Important: A residence permit is required for the work permit. The issuing authority always issues this residence permit together with the work permit. Since the work permit is dependent on the residence title, proof of residence must be provided in the form of a rental agreement.

In addition to handing over the job description and the employment commitment or the employment contract to the future foreign employee, you as an employer are obliged to inform the Federal Employment Agency. You should therefore promptly provide the Federal Agency with all information on future pay, working hours and general working conditions. Pay attention to the utmost accuracy and the absolute truth content of the information transmitted. Because incorrect information leads to high fines.

Approval from the Federal Employment Agency

The Federal Employment Agency regulates the labor market with regard to foreign workers with your consent. In many cases, this is a prerequisite for obtaining a work permit. Influencing factors are the selected occupational group and the applicant's professional qualifications.

Employment with qualified professional training

In this case, the law differentiates between jobs that require qualified vocational training and jobs that require a professional qualification of at least two years. The approval of the Federal Agency for the work permit is dependent on this.

Employment with the requirement of a qualified education

Residence permits are only issued for occupations in professional groups that are permitted by law. You can find out which professional groups are involved in the employment ordinance.

Employment with at least two years of professional qualification as a prerequisite

This includes, for example, academic professions as well as IT specialists or executives as well as specialists such as specialty chefs, language teachers and specialists in the field of social work. Temporary admission is granted here, provided that you have a sufficient knowledge of the German language.

Nursing staff of all sectors have unlimited time permits to take up a job. The prerequisite for this is that the professional training and knowledge of the foreign employees meet the requirements of German professional law and that they have good to very good language skills.

Exception: If a foreigner has been living in Germany for a long time, there is usually no differentiation according to qualification level or occupational group - provided that the Federal Agency generally approves the work permit. In this case, all employment opportunities within the German labor market are open to this group.

Blue Card - option for highly qualified people

In order to facilitate access to the labor market for highly qualified people from non-EU and EEA areas, the “EU Blue Card” has been in place since summer 2012. This Blue Card makes it easier for highly qualified people and their families to obtain work permits. This blue card is issued under the following conditions, for example.

  • Citizen of a country outside the EU and EEA
  • academic degree
  • Income of at least 52,000 euros per year

If the income is below the stated annual income of 52,000 euros, but the applicant has a university degree in a MINT occupation, he is also eligible for the EU Blue Card.

It should be noted that a foreigner receives a residence permit, but no work permit. Regardless of whether the consent of the employment agency is required or not. Above all, foreigners with origins outside of the recognized countries who cannot provide evidence of at least two years of qualified vocational training are often refused a work permit or they are only granted a work permit in justified exceptional cases.

Employment without qualified professional training

Many newly arrived foreign citizens apply for jobs that do not require qualified professional training. In order to prevent exploitation of the workforce in this area, the approval of the Federal Employment Agency is required for the following employment relationships. Approval for the work permit will only be granted after all criteria have been met, including the truthful transmission of the working conditions and remuneration by the future employer.

  • Seasonally employed workers with a working week of at least 30 hours a week in agriculture and forestry, fruit and vegetable processing as well as in the hotel and restaurant industry and in sawmills. With a few exceptions, the work permit is limited to a maximum of eight months per company.
  • Showman assistants, a maximum of nine months per year.
  • Employment of au pairs for a maximum of one year; Basic language skills and an age of under 25 years required.
  • Domestic help as part of an employment subject to compulsory insurance for a maximum of three years.
  • Domestic workers, if you work for posted workers from a company based abroad.
  • Workers in the culture and entertainment industries
  • Temporary practical work if it is a prerequisite for the recognition of foreign qualifications.

Your foreign employees come to Germany and everything is new. You will arrive faster with this information brochure.

After the work permit comes the relocation

Accommodation, insurance, language courses: with this information, new employees from abroad can get off to a good start in Germany.

Exceptions to the approval of the Federal Employment Agency

In the case of numerous employment relationships, the approval of the work permit by the Federal Employment Agency is not required. In this case, the immigration authority issues a residence title and work permit based on its own decision.

  • Interns as part of various study and support programs
  • Corporate executives; General power of attorney or power of attorney required
  • Scientific persons at research institutions and universities
  • Commercial employees of domestic companies who normally work for this company abroad and who stay in Germany for a maximum of three months a year
  • Persons employed in the context of a voluntary, charitable or religious service without a gainful focus of activity
  • Journalists from the foreign press recognized by the Federal Government's Press and Information Office
  • Special professional groups such as photo models, professional athletes and the like
  • Employees posted by foreign companies
  • Schoolchildren and students as part of vacation internships of a maximum of three months per year
  • Representatives of organizations and associations for the preparatory organization of the event
  • Temporarily posted workers of a company based within the EU or an EEA signatory state

In these cases, the priority check does not apply, which means that the approval of the Federal Employment Agency is not required.

This regulation also applies to foreigners who already live in Germany for the following employment relationships.

  • Family members in your own company, provided they live in the same household
  • People who are employed in the context of healing, moral reform, upbringing or re-acclimatization

Work permits for asylum seekers and tolerated persons

People who seek refuge in Germany for humanitarian, political or international law reasons do not need the approval of the Federal Employment Agency to start work if they are in possession of a regular residence permit under the Residence Act.

For foreigners who are staying in Germany as tolerated persons, there are also various facilities for integrating them into the work process. If you have been permitted or tolerated in federal territory for at least three months, a work permit can be issued with the consent of the federal agency.

The approval of the Federal Employment Agency does not apply in the following situations:

  • Internships carried out in accordance with the Minimum Wage Act
  • For vocational training in state-recognized and comparable training occupations
  • Employment in one's own business by close spouses, first-degree relatives and life partners

After a four-year stay in Germany without interruption, the tolerated foreigner can pursue any employment. The elimination of the priority check is a particular relief. This is the case if foreigners have been tolerated or allowed to stay in Germany for 15 months or have been granted a residence permit. Further exceptions to the work permit without consent for tolerated persons can be found in the Residence Act.

Once the contract has been signed, onboarding begins. How to design it professionally with Personio.


We draw your attention to the fact that the contents of our website (including any legal contributions) are for non-binding information purposes only and do not constitute legal advice in the actual sense. The content of this information cannot and is not intended to replace individual and binding legal advice that addresses your specific situation. In this respect, all information provided is without guarantee of correctness, completeness and topicality.