Labour migration policies in Germany


This blog provides an overview of specific national labour migration and work permit policies in Germany, based on this detailed case study. We also track how single provisions match policy recommendations we developed in our 2021 report on labour migration.

Skilled Immigration Act

The ‘Skilled Immigration Act’, which came into effect on 1 March 2020, allows qualified professionals from non-EU countries to apply – from outside Germany – for a combined residence and work permit on the basis of an offer of employment (track 1), for a job-seeking permit (track 2) or to get recognition and equivalence of professional training (track 3).

This Act covers all jobs that require at least two years of professional experience, training or academic studies. Track 2 and track 3 are currently limited until 1 March 2025. All three tracks entail cumbersome application procedures, and high costs for the workers. Most importantly, the related work permits only concern so-called “skilled employment”, although track 3 allows for broader access to work.

Track 1: Work

Through this track, workers need an offer of employment or employment contract to come to work in Germany. Once in Germany, the person can start to work, but needs to apply for a combined residence and work permit for skilled work before the entry visa expires. The permit issued is for the duration of the job contract, up to a maximum of four years, and can be renewed.

It is possible to change employer on the same permit. During the first two years, it is necessary to stay within the same profession and receive consent from the Federal Employment Agency. After two years no consent is required, the person just needs to notify the authorities of the change. After four years, the person can apply for a long-term residence permit.

Workers switching jobs do not need to apply for a new permit, nor are they required to have an offer for their next job; people can be unemployed for up to six months while looking for work. They can access unemployment benefits on the same terms as nationals.

Track 2: Job-seeking

Through this track, people who have a recognition certificate, but not an offer of employment, can also apply for a 6-month visa to look for work in their occupation. Job-seekers need to demonstrate adequate subsistence for the time they search for work, and the job-seeking visa only allows for visa holders to work for 10 hours per week, in the job they are qualified for.

Once the worker finds a job in their area of specialisation in Germany, there is no labour market test; they can apply for a combined residence and work permit based on their labour contract.

The visa cannot be extended. People can apply for it again only after they have spent the same duration abroad that was spent in Germany searching for employment.

Track 3: Education and training

Through this track, partially qualified workers can apply to enter Germany to complete their professional training and be recognised as equivalent. If the permit is granted, these workers will have 18-36 months to achieve full equivalence in skills through on-the-job training or relevant education.

Similar to the job-seeking visa, the permit for completion of professional training can be converted into a work permit; the person can apply for a combined residence and work permit from within the country based on a labour contract, without being subject to a labour market test.

Western Balkan Immigration Regulation

The West Balkan Immigration regulation is currently the only pathway for migration to work in jobs that are not considered skilled as per the Skilled Immigration Act. The regulation allows nationals of Albania, Bosnia and Herzegovina, Kosovo, North Macedonia, Montenegro and Serbia to enter Germany under a combined residence and work permit, irrespective of their qualifications. This regulation was introduced in 2015 and initially intended to expire in 2020, but was extended until the end of 2023, with a new annual quota of 25,000 permits. This pathway is largely used to fill labour shortages in sectors such as construction, hospitality and cleaning.

Employment can be in any job and sector. The worker must have an employment contract or binding job offer. The position is also subject to a labour market test; the Federal Employment Agency assesses both if the job offer meets standards on working conditions and if there are employees available locally to fill the position.

Applications for this permit are made by the prospective employee, and must be submitted to the German embassy in the Balkan country. There have been significant issues with long waiting times for visa appointments.

Permits are issued for the duration of the job offer/ employment contract, and may be renewed. The worker can change employer but needs approval from the Federal Employment Agency in order to do so. People can apply for family reunification on the basis of this residence and work permit.