Germany now has the highest percentage of foreign-born residents of any country in the world. Despite the foreign influx however, the process for acquiring permanent residency can be a tad confusing.
Navigating the complex requirements can be difficult, so we've put together this helpful guide with tips and tricks to assist you in making the transition from temporary to permanent resident.
READ: What Germany's controversial new immigration laws mean for foreign workers
Permanent residency allows you live in Germany indefinitely, while the related EU citizenship will allow you to live and work anywhere in the European Union. It will not be linked to your job or university, allowing you to change jobs or studies whenever you want.
Another related permit - the EU residency permit - allows you to live and work anywhere in Europe.
Citizenship is largely a different question and depending on where you’re from, it can mean giving up your current passport or citizenship.
We tackled citizenship back in 2016, so this current article primarily focuses on permanent residency. Stay tuned for a new citizenship-focused guide coming up in the next few weeks.
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READ: Your complete guide to visiting Germany's immigration offices
Keep in mind that if you’re an EU citizen you will not need to apply for permanent residency, as your European citizenship also entitles you to live in Germany.
For UK citizenship holders – as you might be aware – things are a little more complicated. Click here for our up-to-date advice. Stay tuned for further residence permit articles on this topic in the run up to and after Brexit, as more details become available.
There are also a range of preliminary things you’ll need to have done before you even get to apply for permanent residency, including registering your address (Anmeldung).
EXPLAINED: Understanding the German Anmeldung
However if you’re thinking of taking the plunge to permanent residency, there’s a good chance that you’ve already got these in the bag.
Permanent residency (Niederlassungserlaubnis)
The right to live in Germany permanently is conferred by the permanent residency permit or settlement permit (Niederlassungserlaubnis). It is not the same as citizenship or a German passport, but it will allow you to remain in Germany indefinitely.
You’ll also have rights to work and study which are largely similar to those of someone with citizenship.
In that sense, it provides you with many of the rights of citizenship, but you won’t need to give up your passport.
EU permanent residency
The other major category of permanent residency is EU permanent residency, which allows you to live and work anywhere in the EU.
This permission was created pursuant to a European directive and is a welcome change for anyone who’s got one eye on moving elsewhere in Europe after having lived in Germany.
The requirements for this are largely the same, although the five-year period cannot be shortened in the same fashion as the German permanent residency laws allow.
What do I need to apply for permanent residency in Germany?
The broad criteria for becoming a permanent resident seem simple enough: adequate German (B1), financial support (through work or other means), no criminal record and sufficient health insurance.
You’ll also need to have lived in Germany for five years or more on a legal residence permit, which will usually be connected to work or study.
Although the criteria seem relatively easy to establish, in reality – as with many things involving German bureaucracy – is not as simple.
While these aspects are less frequently enforced, you’ll also need to pass a health check to prove that you’re healthy enough for work or study.
Then there’s the language requirement. While for anyone who’s been here for five years or more B1 might not seem like such a significant challenge, the test isn’t purely on your language skills.
In addition to sufficient German, you’ll need to show knowledge of other aspects of German society, such as the political system.
How extensive is your knowledge of German culture? Photo: DPA
The five-year requirement is also something which commonly trips people up – as the clock doesn’t necessarily start as soon as you enter the country.
When considering if you’ve satisfied the five-year minimum, the authorities will be looking to see your pension contributions. Generally you’ll be required to have paid into the German pension system for 60 months in order to satisfy the five-year requirement.
This is something your insurance company will usually do on your behalf each month, although not in every case.
For those who arrived on a Working Holiday Visa using travel insurance, it’s likely that the five-year timeframe won’t start until you acquire sufficient German health insurance which pays regularly into the pension scheme.
Aside from the general residency permit process, there are a number of other ways through which you may qualify like marriage or specialist qualifications.
Marriage or civil partnership
The easiest way to secure permanent residency is through marriage or a civil partnership to your significant other.
Once you’ve been married or in a civil partnership for two years or more – and have lived in Germany legally for three years - you’ll be able to apply.
While many of the same stipulations apply for marriage or civil partnership visas as they do for the general class of permanent residency visas – no criminal record, sufficient health insurance, etc - the timeline is much shorter.
B1 level German or better is needed for permanent residency. Photo: DPA
German university graduates and specialist professions
The waiting period is shorter for people in this category.
If you’ve graduated from a German university, you can apply after two years. You’ll need to be working in a job related to your education and have paid into the pension system for 24 months.
If you’re highly qualified – which usually means working in an area with specific technical knowledge or the sciences – you may apply as soon as you have your work contract.
The main thing you’ll need to show is your job offer or work contract.
As with any permits, the costs tend to vary - generally anywhere between €135 and €250 - although considering the result will be the permanent right to live in Germany, it’s a steal.
Other ways to stay: Citizenship and family connections
There are other ways through which you might be eligible for a visa, but many of these come through your family history or lineage.
Children born in Germany to foreign partners have rights to stay and claim citizenship in some cases, while children born abroad to German parents will in many instances also be eligible for a passport.
An influx in foreign workers
It's probably no surprise to anyone who has walked the streets of Berlin, Munich, Frankfurt or other major German cities recently, but Germany's foreign-born population has risen dramatically over the past few decades.
With a thriving economy and an ageing population, Germany has sought to make it easier for foreigners to live and work in Germany.
According to research completed in 2017, Germany has the highest percentage of foreign-born residents of any country anywhere in the world. In total, 15 percent of German residents were born elsewhere - roughly 12 million people.
On numbers alone, Germany has the second-highest amount of foreign-born residents behind the United States' 46.7 million (14 percent).