Few experiences in my life have been as dreadful and anxiety riddled as dealing with the German immigration system. I would rather get arterial surgery again than go to the freakin’ Aüslanderamt or foreigners office.
To be fair, thems was some goooood drugs, I got!
But if you want to live in Germany, it’s a necessary evil… Like listening to your co-worker talk about how their weekend was.
So in this video, I’m going to share my immigration experience from getting my initial visa at the German consulate in Chicago to getting my Aufenthaltstitel residency; my Blue Card; and finally last year; my Niederlassungserlaubnis, or permanent residency.
Stick around for the end and I’ll share a little update on citizenship.
Visa or Aufenthaltstitel
First up, the visa. We had an in-person appointment at the German consulate in Chicago where we had to provide all of our documents. For all the rules and guidelines they give you, the decision all comes down to the person sitting across from you. We’d quickly learn that this would become a running theme in German immigration.
This person can decide to give your spouse a shorter visa contingent on you learning the language, restrict your spouse’s ability to also seek employment, or they can just give you the same visa you’re getting.
Fortunately, my wife got the same visa I got, the Aufenthaltstitel. But not before she challenged us on our marriage certificate.
Yeah, that’s right. Our marriage certificate. “It doesn’t look fancy enough,” she said. We explained, doch, that’s our marriage certificate. But she just wasn’t having it.
“It’s not like we haven’t seen a marriage certificate from Cuyahoga County before.”
To this day, I have no idea what kind of scam she thought we were trying to pull.
Listen, see. We’re gonna apply for jobs, see… And if one of us gets a job, we’re going to start the process of uprooting our lives, see, and travel to a city six hours away to get our visa. But here’s the kicker! We’re gonna give her a FAKE marriage certificate! It’ll be a grand ole hunky dory time! She’ll never know the difference! It’s not like she works for the world’s most bureaucratic organization that’s ever existed!
Anyways, after we kept insisting that we gave her our real marriage certificate, she stepped away from her station, spoke to someone, and then said it’s fine.
That, by the way, is another recurring theme in German immigration––an official challenging the authenticity of whatever you’re saying or presenting only to talk to someone behind closed door and then delivering a verdict on whether they believe you or not.
What a system! But I did get the Aufenthaltstitel. And that meant I was tied to my job for a certain number of months before I could look elsewhere. Once I got my next job, my salary increased to the threshold needed for a Blue Card.
The Blue Card allows you to change jobs as you like and live in Germany indefinitely. It also gives spouses the same work privileges as a national of the country.
So it’s a big relief from the simmering stress of worrying about whether or not your visa will inexplicably get denied. Then, cut to a John Cena type tossing you out of the country like a bouncer does a drunk.
But it’s never as simple as meeting the requirements and simply changing your residency. You have to gather a ridiculous amount of documents. Nothing is digital. And it always comes down to whoever is sitting across from you. They can ask for a document that wasn’t listed in the requirements. We always had a blue folder we called our immigrant folder complete with everything we could reasonably imagine an official would ask for.
Getting the appointment itself can be a hassle. The pandemic certainly didn’t help things for us. But we did eventually get in and get our blue card approved. Fortunately, we had a lawyer with us because the official didn’t want to give us an extra document that would allow us to leave the country and return while waiting for our plastic blue card. This was still in the thick of the pandemic, so we didn’t know if we’d have a family emergency and need to leave.
The lawyer essentially said, “They requested this, they’ve been waiting a long time, please just do it.” He sighed in that way you do when you realize you don’t have a valid reason for not doing something you really don’t want to do––and he did it.
Niederlassungserlaubnis – Permanent Residency
Next up: Niederlassungserlaubnis or permanent residency.
This is another one where you’ll hear wildly different stories. A buddy of mine applied around the same time, also in Berlin. He sent his information via email and heard back within just a few weeks with an appointment, also via email. Unheard of efficiency around here––and again, via Email!
I heard back relatively quickly, requesting another document. I sent it in and then… Bupkis for months. I tried calling and following up, but the response was quieter than Merkel’s standup special on her treatment of Putin called: “Hab ich das getan?”
Then, out of the blue, my appointment came in a letter. To give you a sense of the timeline, I got the letter around November for an appointment in February. I had all my ducks in a row, but the appointment immediately took a bad turn.
The guy looked like Professor Honeydew from Sesame Street and the Comic Book Guy from The Simpsons had a kid, just to give you an image.
He said I needed to be in my current job for at least “half a year” before I could get permanent residency. It’s true, I had changed jobs since I got my appointment. And I did later find out that you have to be out of your Probezeit or probationary period to get permanent residency.
But this wasn’t on the list of requirements. When I pointed that out, he literally told me that they cannot list their requirements publicly because there are just too many considerations.
Of course I get frustrated. He tells me it’s not a big deal. I have my Blue Card and can always come back. And this, too, is something rampant throughout the immigration process. Most of the time, the officials are not immigrants themselves. So they don’t understand the anxiety that comes with these appointments where one person can decide your fate. To them, it’s no big deal that you keep waiting.
But of course I’m thinking about everything that can go wrong. We’re still in the pandemic, Russia just invaded Ukraine. I paid my taxes, I jumped through all the bureaucratic hoops. I wanted what I earned.
He didn’t like that I tried to stick up for myself. Things started to get heated until he finally scheduled me for another appointment in June, which didn’t make sense because I would’ve still been in my Probezeit.
But none of that mattered because I very quickly lost that new job and started a new one just a month before my new appointment. I tried contacting them in advance to see if I should bother coming in because I was, again, in Probezeit for a new job.
No response. In the end, I knew I’d be wrong not to go in for an appointment––mein Termin!––and wrong to show up while still in Probezeit. I decided going in was the least offensive.
So I go in. This time I bring my wife because the rules do say that you can combine your income to qualify. It’s a flimsy Plan B.
Thankfully, I’ve got a different official this time. More of a gentle giant type. He asks what my wife is doing there. I explain the income thing and he says, “That’s only if she’s German.” So Plan B was dead on arrival.
It doesn’t take him very long to figure out that I’m again in Probezeit. He kinda sighed and gave me a hard time about changing jobs again. I started to explain that I tried to contact them and he literally put his hand up as if to say, “Silence!”
Sticking up for yourself in front of authority in Germany is clearly a big no-no. Just ask HISTORY!
After that, he collects some papers, and steps away––just like the woman in Chicago did with our marriage certificate. It felt like a small eternity went by when he finally came back and said, “Alles gut.”
I was as stunned as I’d ever been. I gave Melanie minor fractures in her hand from squeezing so hard. We waited in disbelief as he typed away on his computer like a gate agent at the airport on adderall.
Seriously, what are they typing!? It makes no sense! No surname is that long!
Eventually, he handed me some things to sign and gave me the greatest blessing I had ever received. He told me I never had to come back to the Ausländeramt again.
So where does that leave me now? I have EU Permanent Residency, which gives me the right to live and work almost anywhere in the EU. But I still can’t vote, like the other 25% of immigrants living in Berlin.
Seriously, there’s an absurd amount of disenfranchised people living here.
So the next step is citizenship, assuming the new reforms pass that allow dual citizenship. But it’s already a backlogged excrement show. I still haven’t gotten the results back from my citizenship test I took in January. And all it was was a 33 question multiple choice exam, the kind of test that they just instantly ran through a scanner when I was kid. That’s right, Dale R. Rice Elementary School is more efficient than the country of Germany.
Not that any of that matters, because it’s currently impossible to start the process of applying for citizenship in my district while the city finishes constructing a new centralized immigration center. I can only cry laughing at how long this will take. The powers that be estimated 18 to 24 months.
And even then, it all comes down to whoever’s sitting across from you. Just the other day, this story came out where a case worker asked a Palestinian woman for her position on the Israel-Palestine conflict before deciding on her citizenship.
Terrible, right? Fortunately, Ich weiß, dass mein zukünftiger Sachbearbeiter eine freundliche, einfühlsame Seele ist, die niemals eine solch unmoralische, willkürliche Entscheidung treffen würde. (wink)
Now after all that, you’re probably wondering why the Hell I put up with Germany. So click here to see I do believe Germany is the best place to move to in Europe or check out this playlist of all my travels in Germany.
Bis nachher, Sachbearbeiter!