Americans abroad and at home know this election cycle is no joke. My timeline lately has been flooded with comments, jokes, and threats to flee the country. Well, I’ve already fled the country, but additional salvation came today, in the form of a little card from the utterly unpronounceable Ausländerangelegenheiten (er, Foreign Affairs office).
“I got my Blue Card!” I cheered to my German friends.
“That’s awesome!” “Congrats!” “Woohoo!” “So…ah. What is a Blue Card?”
Simply, a Blue Card is a new-ish work and residence permit for non-European Union nationals who hold what the EU considers Specialized Jobs. For those familiar with American visas, I think the closest approximation is a cross between an O-1 Visa and a Green Card—marrying specialized knowledge with a pathway towards unlimited (permanent) EU residency. This specialized knowledge is demonstrated through academics; basically, if you hold a Master’s degree or higher that is specific to your field of industry, you could qualify. The other qualifier is making a minimum annual salary. It comes in the form of a tricked-out card that can be scanned and holds your biometric data. Looking at the thing is pretty cool—it’s covered in holographs and hidden patterns.
This all sounds very straightforward, but in truth, it’s pretty confusing. This is largely because the Blue Card is a fairly new permit, and not everyone is clear on the process or the conditions that need to be met. I visited three different government offices—the Hamburg Welcome Center, the main Hamburg District Office, and finally, my neighborhood District Office. According to the Hamburg Welcome Center, I did not qualify for the visa because my M.A. degree was not in their database. I could pay 200 Euro to get my degrees transferred, but in their opinion, it was not likely I would be approved because my institution wasn’t on the list. According to the main District Office, I didn’t qualify because of the industry sector in which I work (I guess it wasn’t “specialized” enough). My neighborhood office looked at my paperwork, said everything was fine, but warned that my employer would have to increase my salary annual to meet the EU salary requirement.
Wildly confused, I took to the Googs. There, more contradictions. Some sites say the Blue Card is only a residence permit, not a work permit, while others say the opposite. Some say that it is wholly dependent on your employer, while others say you can use it to work anywhere. Some say it requires an interview, others say it’s just a quick confirmation of your details while you get your fingerprints made. At the end of my research, I was so confused by the information I found online and received in person that I nearly gave up on the whole process. The saving grace? Expat Facebook groups. I put out an all-call for others who’ve gone through the process, and asked my most important questions. I’ve gathered the answers here as a reference for others looking for clarity, and also to show that, even in real life, there’s not a set precedent—meaning that everyone’s experience is a little different.
- Do you need a residence permit in addition to the Blue Card?
MV: No, the Blue Card serves as both, a residence and a work permit. It is initially limited to a timeframe that is equal to the length of your contract plus three months.
GJ: The blue card is a residence and working permit at the same time. Just have special requirements because it targets a highly qualified professionals.
MR: Blue card is a residence and work permit
CN: The blue card is a residence permit too, so nothing extra required
Ok. We’re all agreed. It serves as both work and residence permit.
- Does your salary need to change every year to reflect the requirements in the Blue Card application? Or am I good if my salary exceeds the current requirement for 2016 and the Blue Card is granted?
MV: No. As long as you meet the requirements for the Blue Card, you are set until you need to extend it.
GJ: As far as know, your salary doesn’t have to change every year. It has to meet the requirements at the moment of applying every time. There’s no a maximum salary required to apply. Just a minimum.
MR: I’m not sure about that cos I earn much more than the minimum. But I think as long as you qualify for 2016 ~49k euro per annum, it should be fine, because they never called me in again to check my current salary
CN: I guess that as long as your salary doesn’t drop to below the minimum requirement you’re good.
Ok. We’re all agreed—contrary to what the Ausländerangelegenheiten said, you do not need your employer to sanction a yearly raise to match the EU requirement. (Darn?)
- If your job changes (promotion, for example) do you need to reapply for the Blue Card?
MV: No. I am basing my response on the fact that my husband got promoted once in the two years we’ve been here and he did not need to reapply. His work contract was re-written though, and naturally those details were provided to the Welcome Center, when we extended our stint in Germany.
GJ: The blue card is restricted to your position, employer and location for the first 2 years. If you change any of them I understand you have to apply again. After the first two years you can request an unrestricted blue card.
MR: Yes, you need to go to the office to get a change of a supplementary card (paper form), which states your job title. That’s just annoying admin work but no big deal.
CN: Promotions have no effect. It is issued for a specific period and then you either renew it or apply for permanent residence.
Eh. Kinda? Promotions should not effect your status, but if your job significantly changes or you switch employers you may run into some trouble. There may be flexibility within that—I guess it depends who is approving your request.
- Is it tied to your current employer?
MV: Yes. This is true until one reaches the 21 month mark i.e. You have been employed and paying into the system for 21 months. At that instance, your Blue Card can be changed to a status that allows you to work for any employer.
MR: Tied to your current job + employer -> any change has to be approved by the foreign office
CN: It’s not tied to an employer.
My Blue Card has not indication of an employer on it, so this is still hazy for me. I assume that you have to at least notify one of the government offices, but I wouldn’t 100% say it is tied or not tied to an employer.
- **If so, do you know if you need to get permission to switch jobs?
MV: I believe you’d need to reapply / revisit your status with the Welcome Center. Also, I think this is dependent on the kind of job you switch to in the future.
MR: Yes, I need to get permission in the first 24 months to switch jobs/employer
CN: No permission needed to change employers.
- Have you gone through the permanent resident process on it? (at 21 months in?) If so, was it pretty straightforward?
MV: We just had a discussion with the Welcome Center about this stage since we’ll actually be at 24 months this October! The paperwork is straightforward but my husband and I have to be proficient in German at a B1 level. If we choose not to go through the permanent residence process at this time, we can revisit at 33 months when we need to be proficient at least at an A1 level. For us, we do want to head back to the US (I know! I know!) for a bit so we’re struggling making a decision here.
GJ: I did. It’s quite straightforward. If you present the documentation they request, you shouldn’t have any problem. I did it after 33 months because I didn’t have the B1 certificate. I got the letter with an appointment to deliver my picture just a couple of days after I handed the documents out.
MR: I am applying for my permanent residency now at 21 months
CN: My partner went from blue card to permanent residence and it was really easy. I qualify too and just need to submit my docs (via email to the Welcome Center and then they’ll schedule an appointment. No stringent interview and they’ve even relaxed the German level requirement for me (and for my partner).
- For the appointment, is there an interview or anything you have to do? Or do you just need to submit the application in person?
MV: You do have make an appointment an appear in person with all your paperwork and fees. The interview is straightforward – they just gauge if your answers are commensurate with the work contract. They do biometrics/ fingerprinting at this time as well.
GJ: For the appointment, it is important to bring all the documents. They may ask you a couple of things if it’s not fully clear in the documentation.Nevertheless, if you have the possibility, ask your employer to support you by hiring a relocation agency. They do this kind of paperwork for a living and are the real experts. Not to mention that they are well known at the welcome center. I would recommend you to get all the documents they request and take into consideration that you need a working visa covering the time between your starting date and the date you finally get the blue card (it could be easily one month after the appointment date).
MR: There wasn’t an interview for me. It was just my application in person. The blue card is relatively new and many staff at the foreign offices are not familiar with the procedures and requirements. I called the central office in Nürnberg a few times to request for info but there is not much they could do. Hearing from people who had completed the process brought so much clarity to the murk, and showed me one crucial thing. It sounds shady, but ultimately, the staff member processing your application is the one deciding the approval of the Blue Card.
My interview (more detail on that below) was fairly straightforward. I was nervous going in, but basically all they want to do is confirm your details and enter it into the system. They’re not grilling you on your qualifications or if you are, indeed, specialized enough.
- Show up to your appointments on time and with your documents as organized as possible. I clipped everything together in the exact order they had requested. Like in most bureaucratic offices, the staff tends to be stressed—a little effort to make their lives easier goes a long way. True story: I was misdirected to the wrong meeting room for my Blue Card appointment, and was a few minutes late. The officer I met with said that I was so late she couldn’t see me—then asked to double-check my documents so she could reschedule our appointment. When she saw how organized my paperwork was, she changed her mind and was able to quickly process me in the remaining time.
- Just because it’s the Office of Foreign Affairs, don’t expect to be spoken to in English. It helps to review some key vocabulary related to your application, or if possible, bring a German friend. Of course ask to switch languages if you need to, but if you can muster some German to greet them or at least say “thank you”, that helps tremendously.
- Don’t necessarily take everything the official offices say as gospel. If I had listened to the Welcome Center, I would never have proceeded with the application process, because I didn’t want to pay to have my degrees reevaluated.
- Don’t necessarily count on your employer knowing the correct visa process. My company, though international, had no understanding of the visa processes for non-EU nationals.
- Ask questions from those who have already gone through it. There are so many amazing references available online. My favorites are Girl Gone International (all-women expatriate group) and ToyTown Germany (great for reading posts, but I was never approved by the admin to actually ask a question).
Have you gone through the process? I’m curious to hear about your experience, and what holds true or untrue for you—let me know in the comments! If you have questions to add, let me know!