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Most welcoming countries for highly skilled internationals: Germany offering new visa

(Editor’s note: This post is part of our series looking at which EU countries offer visas for tech talent hoping to make the move from non-European Union countries. Terry Boyd also contributed to this post.)

Germany is always on our lists of the most welcoming advanced European countries for highly skilled internationals. Of course it is … it’s Europe’s largest economy by a mile. But there’s so much more to it than that. Germany is urgently seeking workers from abroad — at least 400,000 each year, according to DW.

In fact, Germany is reforming its visa requirements to make it easier for third-country nationals to work including a new “opportunity card” that use a points system based on required skills.

Every year, German officials will set quotas based on which industry needs, according to Euronews.

Applicants must meet three out of four criteria must to be eligible:

  • have a degree or vocational training recognised by Germany
  • have three years’ professional experience
  • have German language skills
  • be 35 years old or younger

The opportunity card is still a work in progress and likely won’t be available until later this year. But it is likely to be the first of many changes as Germany struggles to find skilled workers in every sector.

Here’s the German High Tech Strategy  2025 (launched 2018), which includes

  • investing 3.5 percent of GDP into research and innovation by 2025
  • securing the leading international position in future technologies e.g. artificial intelligence and quantum computing

Let’s look at the numbers

Ranking countries is subjective and we hesitate to assign scores because countries across Europe are changing the rules every day, adding new visas for HSIs (see above) and Digital Nomads. But we need some way to evaluate the visas so you can decide which country works best for you.

So, each country will get a score, though we’re not going to rank countries first through tenth, or whatever. We will just include the previous scores with each new country we post over the rest of 2022.

Germany, like the Netherlands and other advanced economies, has multiple tech hubs, finance and great universities … basically, The Silicon Valley model where Stanford, tech giants and Sand Hill Road have created a virtuous cycle of talent creation, innovation and early stage capital.

BENCHMARKS (Maximum score possible is 700) Germany scores 515.

• Wages, based on the average wage for a software developer in the United States at about $98,000, according to Glassdoor. 100 points. In Munich, the biggest tech hub, the average wage is 70,000 euros for a score of 70.

• English in the workplace: About 90 percent of workplaces use English as the first language in the U.S. In Germany, that figure is 56 percent, and English is not typically the main language in the workplace or university as it is in the Netherlands. We’re rounding off to 50 points

• Dedicated visa for tech talent? 100 points for each country that has them, and Germany does. So, 100 points awarded.

• Are international schools available? 100 points for each country with multiple schools. German cities from Hamburg to Düsseldorf have multiple international schools. 100 points out of 100. (See our lists of international schools here.)

• Sophistication of the tech scene based on number of Unicorns in 2021.

If there’s an ecosystem in Europe that rivals Silicon Valley (and there really is’n’t) Germany’s comes closest, cranking out Unicorns such as NuCom Group, Gorillas (now owned by Gitr), Personio, flying taxi startup Volocopter, virtual bank N26, Celonis and on and on. 95 points out of 100

• Ease of migration/availability of special work visas for highly skilled internationals. 

Of course for those from the EU, no visa, residence or work permit required. For those from outside the EU, a straight forward, quick process is a plus. Luckily many countries have special fast track visas or permits especially for highly skilled workers, and some countries have even created specialized versions of these visas for those working in tech. 100 points out of 100.

Unicorn farm

Germany, like France and Sweden, is a Unicorn farm.

“The speed at which some companies have gone from 0 to 1 billion is astonishing, and Germany has in particular stood out as Europe’s fastest breeding ground, with the Top 4 fastest European unicorns ever created originating from Berlin.” – i5invest 2022 Unicorn and Soonicorn Report (this is a .pdf file). The report identified 25 German Unicorns and 52 Soonicorns 

The German startup tech sector is less centralized than in France, which mostly centered in Paris. Not one but two German cities appear in Deep Ecosystem’s “Startup Heatmap”  for Europe. Berlin in No. 2, and Munich is No. 7.

Germany is often considered to be one of the countries at the forefront of innovation (4th place worldwide according to Bloomberg Innovation Index 2021). And the tech ecosystems in Berlin and Munich are clearly thriving. However it can sometimes appear as if this innovation takes place within a technology bubble. 

But on some level, it’s tale of two Germany.

Beyond the offices of the technology industries; and the coworking spaces and hipster coffee shops where Germany’s startups and scale-ups work their magic, other parts of the country (in particular, the realm of public sector) seems to lag behind somewhat.

Of course being behind the curve means there are thousands of job opportunities opening up. German officials have specified that the country needs to attract 400,000 high skilled workers, and names IT specialists as an area of particular need. According to Bitkom there were 96,000 unfilled IT positions in 2021, rising from 86,000 the previous year, with numbers expected to rise further.

Visas/Permits

The Fachkräfteeinwanderungsgesetz (FEG) or “Skilled Immigration Act” 2020 aimed to boost immigration of qualified individuals from abroad. Provides a fast track residency permit for highly skilled workers hoping to migrate to Germany. Specifies particular qualifications, language skills and minimum salary requirements. 

BUT makes a notable exception for IT specialists with regards to their qualifications. Notes the particular need for IT specialists (e.g. developers, data and security experts), as well as the understanding that professionals in this area often demonstrate their competency via their work experience rather than traditional qualifications and training. So if IT specialists can demonstrate 3 years of experience in the industry within the last 7 years, they don’t need to have the formal qualifications they would need in other sectors.

The Make it in Germany website (“the official website for qualified professionals”) points to multiple options for obtaining a visa as a highly skilled worker or specialist in the IT field

Option for freelancers or digital nomads looking for a longer stay in Germany, is to apply for a freelance visa or Aufenthaltserlaubnis für selbständige Tätigkeit (for short 😉 ). Freelancers can apply for a visa for up to three years, and thereafter could apply for a permanent residency permit if they chose to lay down roots. 

Requirements:

  • You can provide proof of sufficient funds to finance your projects. 
  • You have obtained any licenses required perform the job in question.
  • If you are older than 45 years of age, you must provide proof of adequate old age pension provisions. 

Salaries

A person working in Information Technology in Germany typically earns about 45,900 euros per year (roughly the same as average across all jobs 45,700), according to Salary Explorer. Salaries range from 23,800 euros(lowest average) to 74,900 euros (highest average).

Averages in the two biggest tech centres, Berlin and Munich, are 52,300 euros and 50,600 euros respectively. 

Highest Paying Jobs in Information Technology

  • Chief Information Officer(74,900 euros)
  • Online Banking Manager(71,400 euros)
  • Information Technology Project Manager(68,000 euros)
  • Enterprise Infrastructure Manager(66,000 euros)
  • Director of Application Development(64,600 euros)
  • Chief Information Security Officer(63,300 euros)
  • Web Security Manager(62,600 euros)
  • Business Intelligence Consultant(61,900 euros)
  • Technical Project Manager(60,700 euros)
  • Information Technology Sales Manager(59,900 euros)

Annoyingly the graphic for this is monthly salary instead of annual salary.

Language and Integration 

Intermediate level German (B1) is generally a prerequisite for most residency permits. However there are expectations for some industries (IT being one of them) in cases applicants will be working within a company where the working language is English. And this of course is increasingly true for a great many start ups and scale ups within Germany.

A large number of jobs are being advertised for English speakers. Though speaking German to at least an intermediate standard is still of course a big asset, and remains a requirement for many jobs. 

There are a fairly large number of English speakers in Germany. Around 56 percent according to Eurobarometer. And that figure is a great deal higher in Berlin, and other major cities. Indeed there are parts of Berlin where you might overhear English spoken almost as often as German.

 English First’s “Language proficiency index” 2021:

  • Ranked 11/112 countries
  • Ranked 10/35 within Europe
  • With a score of 616 is in “very high proficiency” band

Some level of German language is still a necessity for engaging with German bureaucracy. However, it is quite common for paperwork to be provided with an English translation, and some governmental departments also give the option to speak with an English speaking representative. 

In order to further encourage successful immigration, the Federal office also provides services to help new arrivals and their families navigate the first few months in their new home. 

The BAMF Working and Living in Germany hotline offers personalised information and advice, in German or English, on the following topics:

  • Job search, work and careers
  • Recognition of foreign vocational qualifications
  • Entry and residence
  • Learning German

(Editor’s note: Read more here from Laura about learning German and the integration course.)

Family and Schools

It is relatively straightforward to bring your spouse and children (under 18 years) to Germany with you, providing you have already secured an EU Blue Card or permanent residence from one of the other schemes listed above. Whilst it is usually necessary for a non-EU member spouse to be able to speak German in order to obtain a visa, there are exceptions for these particular permit schemes, as well as for citizens of Australia, Canada, Israel, Japan, the Republic of Korea, New Zealand, the USA and the UK.

Once the necessary residency permits have been approved, your spouse is able to take up employment in Germany, and you are entitled to publicly funded childcare and schooling.

Childcare is heavily subsidised in most of Germany and FREE in some places, including Berlin, which guarantees free childcare for children of all ages up until compulsory school age. Though there have been some issues with the availability of childcare places in recent years, care is generally of a high standard and… did we mention free?! 

In Berlin it is very common to find bilingual kindergartens offering English (and other languages) alongside German education, though some such kindergartens do charge a small monthly top up fee to cover the cost of hiring additional native speaking educators.

From International Schools in Berlin:

Most major German cities have an English-medium international school, with large concentrations found around Frankfurt, Cologne and Berlin. Across the country, there are 85 IB World Schools, of which 80 are authorised to offer the International Baccalaureate Diploma. Many schools offer the curriculums of Britain, America and France, while Japanese, Swiss and Czech schools can also be found.  Several schools offer the IB Diploma alongside British and American programmes. Other schools teach both German and international curriculums.

In Berlin alone there are 18 international schools offering education in various languages, some of which are partially or even fully subsidised. Nelson Mandela school, John F. Kennedy School, Quinten Blake School and Charles Dickens European School all offer bilingual English/German education for free.

That said, places are difficult to get, which is the case across most of Europe.

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Laura Kaye is a freelance writer, researcher and editor. Her work focuses on social and development issues, parenting and family life.

Originally from the Wirral in the United Kingdom, she is a serial expat now happily living in Berlin, Germany.

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