Germany´s New Skilled Labor Immigration Act aims to attract foreign talent

In Germany, the new Skilled Worker Immigration Act came into force on March 1, 2020. The new law marks a milestone for the German federal government in strengthening qualified immigration from abroad. In the light of the growing demand for qualified skilled workers, the legal situation regarding labor migration has been continuously developed in recent years. This new law facilitates access for skilled workers in training occupations in particular and improves the prospects for foreign skilled workers.

Key changes of the new act include: Opening of the labor market, making it easier to find work, facilitating the recognition and visa procedure, and better career prospects for skilled workers. 


  • The law provides Germany with a more unified concept of skilled workers, which includes university graduates and employees with qualified vocational training.

Skilled workers in the context of the new law are foreigners from non-EU countries, who have a German qualified vocational training, a foreign professional qualification equivalent to a German qualified vocational training, a German college degree, a recognized foreign college degree, or a foreign college degree comparable to a German college degree. 

  • The act includes waiving of a priority check in the case of recognized qualifications and employment contracts.

Under the stipulations of the law, work permits will be made available to anyone who get a job offer in these professions. German employers don't have to give priority to German or EU nationals with equivalent qualifications anymore. This priority check ("Vorrangprüfung") will be waived for positions in skilled professions. However, in the event of a change in the situation of the labor market, it can be reintroduced again.

  • The act means abolishing the limitation to shortage occupations for qualified vocational training.

The previous restriction to so-called bottleneck professions is abolished. This means that the German labor market is now fully open not only to highly qualified workers but also to people with recognized vocational training.

  • Job-seeker-visa: The act offers the possibility for skilled workers with qualified vocational training to come to Germany to look for a job in line with the existing regulations for university graduates.

People with vocational training can be granted a six-month so-called “job-seeker-visa” to enter Germany to look for a job. The criteria is that the candidate must have a recognized qualification, the necessary German language skills (generally level B1) and a secure livelihood. With this visa, job seekers may work in their professional field on a trial basis for up to ten hours per week.

  • The new law extends the possibilities of residence for recognition of foreign vocational qualifications.

The recognition of foreign vocational qualifications is essential for a skilled worker from a non-EU country to be able to obtain a residence permit for employment. Particularly in the non-academic field, it is the case that a foreign qualification is only recognized as equivalent when the person has acquired additional practical or theoretical qualifications in Germany.

  • The act provides for a fast-track process for skilled workers.

From March 1, employers can apply for a fast-track procedure for an entry visa for skilled workers with a foreigner’s power of attorney. The foreigner’s designated authority will advise the employers and be of assistance in filing an application for recognition of the foreign degree or certificate of the skilled worker. The authority is also responsible for obtaining the necessary approval from the Federal Employment Agency. When all prerequisites that can be examined in Germany have been met, the foreigner’s designated authority will issue what is called preliminary approval, which the employer will send to its employee. As soon as the employee has received preliminary approval, they can make a visa application appointment at their consulate abroad.

  • The act opens up access to the labor market for IT specialists with extensive practical work experience but without a formal qualification.

There is an exception made for IT specialists. They are not required to present proof that they are skilled workers, provided that they have acquired comparable qualification through at least three years of professional experience during the past seven years, earning an annual gross salary of at least 49,680 euros and have a command of the German language at level B1 (may be waived in exceptional cases, e.g. if it can be proven that the specific occupation requires only a command of English)

  • Applying for a settlement gives better prospects for skilled workers.

Skilled workers, who have a German university degree or German vocational training, can obtain a settlement permit after two years of employment and having had a residence permit for qualified employment and skilled workers with a foreign degree after four years (and if other requirements are fulfilled). Before this was only possible after five years.

  • The law can help refugees and asylum-seekers.

The act does not contain any regulations for tolerated persons. The Act on Toleration in Training and Employment introduces new regulations. For those for whom the obligation to leave the country cannot be enforced and who are well integrated through long employment, German language skills and compliance with the law, this law provides legal security with a new reliable status. After 30 months, and if the prerequisites are met, this new employment tolerance can lead to a residence permit. In addition, the already existing training tolerance will be extended to state-recognized or comparably regulated assistant professions. Clearer criteria are to ensure uniform application nationwide.

The new rules are diverse and complex. Only time will tell whether labor processes really can be speeded up and whether many foreign skilled workers can benefit from them. However, it should be noted that the entire complex of these new regulations is merely optional. The new foreigner’s authority can issue these residence permits, but there is no legal entitlement. It is therefore advisable to seek the advice of a specialist lawyer for migration law when applying for a resident permit.

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About the Author

Richard Hoffmann
Richard Hoffmann

Richard Hoffmann is a German immigration attorney. He is a partner with Ecovis International, working out of the company’s offices in Heidelberg, Germany, and Beijing. Ecovis is one of the biggest tax and legal consulting companies in the world, specializing in medium and small-sized enterprises. It employs more than 7,000 people in nearly 70 countries.

Hoffmann has expertise in global tax planning models, legal relations, international tax law, fee accountancy, marketing, public relations, corporate management, acquisitions and German immigration law. He has been with Ecovis since 2012.

Hoffmann, a native of Germany, also serves on various boards within Ecovis, such as its marketing, management, legal task force and quality development boards. He is supervisor of its China business, where he spends approximately 30 percent of his time when not based in Germany.

Prior to joining Ecovis, Hoffmann worked at other law firms in China and the United States.

Hoffmann frequently speaks at events in China and around the world. He has been quoted as a legal expert on international television and radio stations. He also has published more than 50 articles in international magazines. Hoffman teaches commercial law at SRH Hochschule Heidelberg. He earned his law degree from Heidelberg University in 2003.

Hoffmann speaks German, Chinese, English and French.

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