Moving to Germany without a work contract soon a reality for skilled expats

Expat news
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Published on 2024-02-06 at 10:00
With the Skilled Immigration Act of 2023, Germany has been enacting new immigration reforms to make immigration easier for highly-skilled expats. Applications for the Opportunity Card will start from June 2024. This visa allows skilled expats who pass a points test to move to Germany for one year without any work contract. They can use that year to look for a job in the country itself.

The Skilled Immigration Act aims to remediate the labor shortage in Germany

Like multiple other European countries, Germany is facing a labor shortage in various sectors. The DIHK Chamber of Commerce and Industry reported in late 2023 that half of German companies still face shortages, and there are nearly 2 million unfilled positions in the country. The economic loss from these unfilled positions is estimated to be around €90 billion per year or 2% of the German GDP. Industry and construction are particularly affected, as are growing future-oriented sectors like healthcare, renewable energy, technology and education.

Given this economic situation, it is no surprise that the German state came up with the Skilled Immigration Act. It was approved by the parliament in June 2023. Some have called the act the most liberal immigration reform in Europe in recent years, while others have criticized that it makes a discriminatory distinction between “skilled” and “unskilled” workers.

The Skilled Immigration Act is making expats' lives easier in many ways

Since mid-2023, various reforms in the Skilled Immigration Act have been rolled out one by one. For instance, as of November 2023, skilled workers do not imperatively need to find a job in the same field as their degree or vocational qualification. The same month, the process for granting driving licenses and work visas to professional drivers from non-EU/EEA countries was simplified. For one, they don't need to meet German language requirements anymore to be able to drive in Germany.

From March 2024, further reforms will become effective. For instance, expats whose foreign qualifications and experience need to undergo a skills analysis in Germany to become locally recognized/accredited will now be able to move to Germany during the analysis period itself instead of having to wait until it's complete. They'll get a 6-month residence permit during the accreditation process. Family reunification for skilled workers will also be much easier from March. Skilled expats will no longer be required to provide proof of sufficient living space to bring their spouse, children, parents and even in-laws to Germany.

The Opportunity Card for job seekers will be launched in June 2024

One of the most interesting reforms of the Skilled Immigration Act is the introduction of the Opportunity Card or the “Chancenkarte” in German. This card or visa, which will be launched in mid-2024, will allow third-country nationals (i.e., expats from outside the EU/EEA) to come to Germany for one year to look for a job. The eligibility for this card will be based on a points test. Applicants need to score 6 points to be eligible. These are the criteria for the points:

  • A maximum of 6 points university degree or 2 years of vocational training from an accredited institution. Higher points can be earned for a degree or training in a field experiencing labor shortage.
  • A maximum of 3 points for relevant work experience that matches the degree/training.
  • Age: 2 points for applicants under 35, and 1 point for those between 36-40. No age point for those over 40.
  • A maximum of 4 points for German and English language skills. Applicants are required to speak at least A1 German or B2 English. Higher points are awarded to those who show proof of higher language proficiency (e.g., an A2 in German or a C1 in English).
  • 1 point for previous experience living in Germany (for at least 6 months). This includes living in Germany while as a student, but it does not include stays as a tourist.
  • 1 point if the applicant's spouse also meets the requirements for the card.

The application process is shorter for those whose foreign qualifications receive full recognition in Germany. In addition, applicants must prove they have enough funds to finance their 1-year job search in the country. While in search of a work contract, the expat with the Opportunity Card can do two-week job trials and work part-time (20 hours maximum per week) in any field.