Working in Germany

There are no restrictions for citizens of the EU with respect to residence and work permits in Germany (freedom of residence inside the EU). However, you must apply for a residence permit for formal reasons.

Nationals from Norway, Iceland, Liechtenstein have the same rights as EU nationals due to treaties with the European Economic Area (EEA). The so called "guest workers' treaty" (Gastarbeiterabkommen) facilitates the access for Swiss nationals.

General prohibition to work, few exceptions

It is very difficult for non EU nationals to find a job without any residence permit in Germany. This general prohibition, issued after the recruitment stop in 1973, only allows for exceptions in certain business sectors and for limited time periods.

Work permit and residence permit

The authorities only issue work permits to non EU nationals if they have one of the residence permits mentioned below. In such a case, the German Immigration Department (Ausländerbehörde) will contact the responsible Employment Agency (Arbeitsamt).

The Immigration Department will decide if and for how long a work permit will be issued. If you already know what your job is going to be, you can also apply directly at the responsible local Employment Agency.


A work permit may be issued on a case by case basis subject to the development of the labour market. It is restricted, though, to certain companies, occupational groups, business sectors or certain regions.

Under certain conditions non EU nationals may be exempted from the obligation of applying for a work permit (this applies in particular to directors and executives with general power of attorney).

Green Card

The currently best-known exemption is the so called Green Card for information and communication technology experts.

IT Specialists for 5 years

The German Green Card (available since July 2000), however, has many restrictions.

On the one hand it only applies to IT specialists who are requested by a German employer.

A university degree is required which corresponds to a German university degree, or the work contract must be for an annual salary of 100,000 DM minimum.

On the other hand, the Green Card's work permit is limited to a period of 5 years.

The Green Card bridges the time gap until the end of 2004 when a new immigration law is to be passed.

Contract work employees

Contract work employees have a job with a foreign company which has a co-operation with a German company. This type of contract is mainly used by foreign sub contractors in the building sector.

A precondition is a treaty with the country of residence, as is the case for most eastern European countries.

Additional Exceptions

There are exceptions for some business sectors and professions which are limited in time:

  • Specialists and executives from developing countries may do a training job for a period of up to 12 months.
  • Certain nationals may be exempted from the recruitment stop, e.g. citizens from Israel, Japan, Canada, Switzerland and the US.
  • Very limited exceptions may apply to certain professions for which very specialised qualifications are required, e.g. teachers who give native language lessons, speciality cooks, scientists, executives, pastors, nursing staff, artists, acrobats, models, professional sports men, women and trainers.
  • Seasonal workers are allowed to work for three months per year in agriculture, forestry, in the hotel and catering industry, in the vegetable and fruit industry and in sawmills.
  • Fairground employees are allowed to work for nine months per year. If the working period exceeds 6 months a new job as a fairground employee is not permitted in the following year.
  • Special regulations apply to specialised nursing staff from Croatia (and until its accession to the EU for Slovenia).

The countries of origin of all guest workers, seasonal workers and fairground employees must have concluded a guest workers' treaty with the German Employment Agency. This applies to almost all eastern European states.

The employer must apply for the employment of a non EU national at the local Employment Agency in charge. They also provide further information and application forms.

Guest Workers' Treaty with Switzerland

As a consequence of a bilateral treaty between Switzerland and the EU, Swiss nationals no longer need a work permit for Germany. The formerly necessary allowance proceedings for industrial placements and similar jobs therefore has become obsolete.

Residence permits

Non EU nationals basically need a residence permit for Germany if they are not merely tourists.

Legally, there are four types of residence permits:

Residence Allowance (Aufenthaltsbewilligung)

The Residence Allowance is only granted for reasons, which, by their nature, are limited to a certain period of time. After entering Germany, non EU nationals must file a formal application for the Residence Allowance with the Immigration Department of the future place of domicile. The Residence Allowance is issued for a maximum period of two years and can be renewed once, if the objective of the residence has not been achieved. This regulation usually concerns students, apprentices and contract workers.

Residence Admission (Aufenthaltserlaubnis)

The Residence Admission is in principle not limited by achieving a purpose. It grants a general right of residence and may lead to a permanent right of residence. It is usually granted in relation with family reunions.

Residence Permit (Aufenthaltsberechtigung)

The Residence Permit is valid without any limiting conditions or regulations and grants a right of residence which is not limited in time or to certain regions. No additional restraints or conditions apply to it. Under certain circumstances (Art. 17 Immigration Act - Ausländergesetz AuslG) it can be enforced legally.

Residence Authorisation (Aufenthaltsbefugnis)

A Residence Authorisation is granted to foreigners because of the law of nations or humanitarian reasons.

German Labour Law Regulations

Partially, the German Labour Law Regulations differ from those of other European countries. The most important differences concerning annual leave, work time, continuation of payments, redundancy and social security regulations are summarised in the following:


In Germany the employee's rights to paid vacations are governed by federal laws: every employee is entitled to a minimum of 24 free work days per year. Many employment contracts, however, grant more vacation. The full salary or wage is paid during the vacation. Some companies even offer vacation money, i.e. they pay an additional amount of money during holidays. This can be up to two thirds of the average salary.

Working time

Apart from exceptions, the maximum working time is 8 hours per working day plus a minimum of 30 minutes break after 6 working hours. However, very often the weekly working time is reduced to a maximum of 32 hours by collective labour agreements.

Continuation of payments

The continuation of payments during sickness leave will be made by the employer during the first six weeks of the leave and amounts to 100%. Afterwards the continuation of payments is reduced to 70% and made by the health insurance.

Redundancy regulations

After a six months probation period the legal redundancy protection becomes applicable in companies with more than 5 full time employees. Pursuant to these laws and for permanent contracts, the dismissal will only be effective for operational reasons or in case of severe personal misconduct of an employee and after giving a prior warning letter.

On the employee's side the period of notice is one month before the month in which the work contract shall be terminated, insofar as no other notice periods have been agreed. If the employee is above 25 the notice period to be observed by the employer prolongs automatically. The longer a person is employed by a company, the longer are the notice periods an employer has to comply with (e.g. 2 months after 5 years job tenure, 3 months after 8 years etc.). For companies with less than 20 full time employees the law stipulates a notice period of one month before the month of termination if no other regulations was agreed.

Social security

Social security is compulsory for all employees in Germany. The payments to unemployment, health, pension and long term care insurances are made by employers and employees.