Visa and residence title - what is what?

A visa allows you to enter Germany. An application for a visa is issued by the local German embassy in the country of origin or the country of residence of the person applying. Based on what kind of visa the person is applying for the timeframe of validity differs. The Schengen visa (category "C") permits a short-term stay of up to 90 days within a time frame of 180 days. The national visa (category "D") is issued to persons who wish to study, work or stay permanently in the Federal Republic of Germany. 

Overview of residence titles

A residence title authorizes to a legal residency in Germany. It includes the permission to work based on what kind of residence title it is, or not. The residence title is issued by the responsible foreigners department exclusively. In Berlin the foreigners department is the Berlin Immigration Office. The foreigners department is responsible as soon as a foreign person registered him- or herself in the area of responsibility of the department. One requirement to get a residence title is the confirmation of a German health insurance.

Visa and residence titles are valid for a certain timeframe and based on a specific reason.


Overview of the relevant visa and residence titles for employees

Nationals from countries which require a visa to enter Germany or those who are allowed to enter Germany without a visa, but can’t change their tourist status in Germany: You need to apply for a visa for the purpose of employment at the German embassy of your home country or your country of residency. 
Nationals who may enter Germany without a visa and may change their status here (tourist to employee/freelancer): You must have a residence title for the purpose of employment before you start to work. This application must be submitted at the local immigration office.

Overview of visa requirements/exemptions - Federal Foreign Office
Residence permit for the purpose of employment

Residence title for the purpose of employment based on §18 immigration law

Prerequisites for a residence title for the purpose of employment are:

  • a qualified vocational education needs to be shown in combination with 
  • a concrete job offer or a signed work contract and 
  • the approval for the planned employment from the federal employment agency. 

In certain individual cases, a residence permit may be issued if there is a regional, economic or labour market policy interest in the applicant's employment.
The examination as to whether there is a regional, economic or labour market policy interest is carried out in cooperation with the BIS partners.

Option I

Option II

Residence title for the purpose of employment based on §19a immigration law (EU Blue Card)

Three requirements must be met to receive an EU Blue Card:

  1. a German university degree or a degree from a foreign university which is recognised in Germany,
  2. an employment contract or a concrete job offer for a position that suits the educational background and
  3. a minimum annual salary of 53.600€ (2019).

The minimum annual salary for positions Germany faces a shortage, is a bit lower with 41,808€ at least. At present, shortage positions are: Scientists in natural science disciplines, mathematicians, architects, interior, urban and traffic planners, designers, engineers, scientific engineers, physicians (except dentists) and those with academic qualifications in ICT. In such cases an approval from the federal employment agency is required.

The EU Blue Card has several advantages compared with a residence permit for the purpose of employment. These include a validity for up to 4 years, a family reunion without the spouse’s need to prove German language skills and the option to obtain a permanent residence title after 21 months (with proof of good German language skills) or 33 months.

Extension and amendment of a residence title for employees

Generally, the extension and any amendment of a residence title need an approval from the Foreigners Office, and thus a new application. Possible reasons to amend a residence title for the purpose of employment are changes to its basis, e. g. another position or a change of employers. 
For residence titles in accordance with §18 and §19a (EU Blue Card), the approval from the Foreigners Office in such cases must only be reapplied for within the first two years (from the date of issuance of the residence title).

Investors, self-employed, freelancers and selected cases

In selected cases (investors, startup entrepreneurs and freelancers who are of special economic or cultural interest for the city of Berlin), the BIS service of the Berlin Immigration Office also issues residence permits for individuals who are not represented by a company. The connection is usually established via Berlin Partner für Wirtschaft und Technologie or via the IHK Berlin. In these selected cases, there must be a justified economic or cultural interest of the city of Berlin. Freelancers should generally turn to their respective country department at the Berlin Immigration Office.

Application for Freelancer

Your contact at the Industrie- und Handelskammer Berlin:

Maxim Kempe  
Starter Center und Startups
+49 30 31510-298

Your contact at Berlin Partner for Business and Technology:

Burkhard Volbracht
Head fo Unit Talent | International
+49 30 46302-315

Marion Schönicke
Talent | International | Business Immigration Service
+49 30 46302-432


David Kremers
Projekt Manager Talent | International
+49 30 46302-353

For existing companies:
Berlin Partner's areas of expertise
For entrepreneurs:
CCI sectors
Health Care Industries / Life Sciences
Media and Creative Industries
Transport, Mobility, Logistics
Energy technologies
Chemicals and plastics
Food and beverage industries
Service industries
Construction and Real Estate Industry
Digital Economy
Health Industry
Creative Industry

Other residence titles

Other residence permits that may be relevant for companies looking for foreign emloyees:

  • Residence title for students (§16.1 immigration law) 
    Based on their residence title, foreign students are allowed to take up employment totalling no more than 120 days or 240 half-days per year, and to take up part-time student employment. 
  • Residence title for job seekers after graduation from a German university (§16.5 immigration law)
    A person who holds this residence title for up to 18 months is allowed to start working immediately. Changing this residence title into one for employment reasons is much easier due to the German university degree.
  • Family reunion to Germans (§28 Residence Act), to foreigners with a valid residence title (§30 Residence Act) or to EU citizens (§3 Freedom of Movement Act EU)
    People who hold a valid residence permit for family reunion (marriage or marriage-equivalent partnerships) may work without restriction.

Acknowlegdment of a foreign degree

The recognition of foreign university degrees is possible via the Central Office for Foreign Education (ZAB). For this purpose, an application must be submitted online and then sent by post with all the necessary documents. Simple copies and certified translations are sufficient. You will receive a reply (a statement of comparability) within about three months. 
If the purpose of the recognition is to obtain an EU Blue Card, the application will be processed within two weeks. 

Information on statements of comparability

Good to know

Sooner rather than later: Even though the BIS cooperation partners work hand in hand to provide the best possible support for Berlin's economy, the required documents must be submitted at an early stage.  

Temporary residence permits from other EU countries are not valid in Germany.

If an applicant has already stayed in Germany for a longer period of time (no tourist stay), delays may occur. In such cases, the embassy will involve the „Einreisestelle“ of the Berlin Immigration Office, which may take up to three months.