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IMMIGRATION

EXPLAINED: How to secure permanent residency in Germany

Every year, more and more foreigners are moving to Germany. We explain the process of obtaining the right to live here indefinitely through acquiring permanent residency.

EXPLAINED: How to secure permanent residency in Germany
It's possible to live in Germany permanently without acquiring citizenship. Photo: DPA

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.

READ: Overnight queues and complex rules: What Germany's immigration offices are really like

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 as the UK transitions out of the EU through the beginning of 2021.

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 time frame 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. 

Costs

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. 

According to the latest Statistical Office figures, Germany grew by 400,000 foreign-born residents in 2018.

On numbers alone, Germany has the second-highest amount of foreign-born residents behind the United States' 46.7 million (14 percent). 

Member comments

  1. Thanks for the summary. I’ve read somewhere on the government website that either you will have lived in Germany for 5+ years, or 20 some months only with the required language skill to be able to apply for the permanent residency. Is this right?

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For members

2022 SWEDISH ELECTION

OPINION: The far right now dominates the immigration debate in Sweden

A televised debate between the party leaders last weekend showed how Sweden’s third party, the far-right Sweden Democrats, has shaped Swedish politics since the last elections four years ago, argues David Crouch

OPINION: The far right now dominates the immigration debate in Sweden

In the build-up to the 2018 elections, the world’s media descended on Stockholm, expecting a breakthrough by the Sweden Democrats (SD) who had been polling as high as 25 percent. In the end, SD took third place with around 18 percent of the vote.

Four years later, SD are hovering at around the same level in the polls. However, Swedish politics has been utterly transformed, as the other main parties have moved onto political terrain previously occupied by SD.

This would have been unthinkable just a few short years ago. When they first entered parliament, SD were treated as political pariahs, a racist party, held at arm’s length by the other parties who refused to cooperate with them in any way.

Attempts to bring the SD into the mainstream of Swedish politics fell flat. The leader of the centre-right Moderates lost her job after suggesting it was “time to stop demonising” the SD. Her replacement, Ulf Kristersson, said he would neither negotiate nor govern with them. After the elections, two smaller centre-right parties – the Centre and the Liberals – agreed to prop up the coalition of Social Democrats and Greens to prevent the SD gaining any influence in parliament.

It was clear, however, that the only chance for the centre-right to govern would be with SD support. After all, in Finland and Norway right-wing populist parties had entered government with the centre right. And in Denmark, the centre-right had governed with populist support. If it worked there, why not in Sweden?

In early 2019, the SD leader Jimmie Åkesson famously had meatballs for lunch with Ebba Busch, the leader of the tiny Christian Democrats, who acted as a bridge-builder. A few months later, Kristersson met the SD leader for the first time in his Stockholm office. By early 2021 the cordon sanitaire dividing the parties had been truly dismantled, and in the autumn the three parties presented a joint budget.

Meanwhile, the Moderates stepped up their rhetoric against immigration and crime. But perhaps the influence has worked both ways? Maybe the far-right have toned down their policies, compromising with the centre so the parties can work together?

On the contrary, Åkesson and other leading SD figures have stoked up the fire and brimstone in their anti-immigrant message. For the SD, the problem is dark-skinned immigrants from Muslim countries whose values conflict with Sweden’s and who should therefore be deported.

The response among the Moderates – and also the governing Social Democrats – has been a deafening silence.

After the Easter riots in six Swedish cities, the Social Democrat government proposed a package of coercive measures to help the police and social services crackdown on criminals.

A televised debate between the party leaders last weekend brought this out very clearly. More than that, it showed how the Sweden Democrats have shaped Swedish politics since the country last voted four years ago.

In the debate on Sunday, prime minister Magdalena Andersson talked about being tough on crime and boasted that Sweden now has one of the strictest immigration regimes in Europe.

It was left to the Green Party (polling 4 percent) and the Centre Party (6 percent) to challenge the SD on immigration. They pointed out that the violent minority is tiny, and that tens of thousands of recent immigrants hold down jobs, obey the law and contribute to Swedish society.

Centre Party leader Annie Lööf listed some of the SD’s more extreme proposals, including demolition of high-immigration neighbourhoods, dawn raids on refugees, and collective punishment for crimes committed by a single family member. This was “pure racism”, Lööf said – where were the “red lines”, beyond which the centre-right would turn against the SD?

All the parties agree that segregation along ethnic lines has gone too far in Sweden, that integration efforts have failed and that something must be done. But there is a paucity of bold ideas that could really make a difference.

Immigration will once more be a battleground at the elections in September, with key politicians competing to be the toughest in dealing with unruly “foreigners”. Meanwhile, the underlying problems that have fuelled disaffection among people with immigrant backgrounds are unlikely to be addressed.

A few weeks ago, Swedish journalist Janne Josefsson spoke to Ahmed, one of the stone-throwing youngsters who shocked the country at Easter.

“We are second class citizens. You let us in, but then Sweden doesn’t care about us,” Ahmed told him. “We are trapped here. I have studied, but will never get a good job. At least once a week we are stopped by the police. In the end, you feel hunted, like a quarry. Do you understand?”

It seems that Swedish politicians don’t really want to.

David Crouch is the author of Almost Perfekt: How Sweden Works and What Can We Learn From It. He is a freelance journalist and a lecturer in journalism at Gothenburg University.

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Listen to a discussion on Sweden and immigration on Sweden in Focus, The Local’s podcast. 

Click HERE to listen to Sweden in Focus on Apple Podcasts, Spotify or Google Podcasts.

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