Once you have been living and working in Germany on a temporary residence permit for a certain amount of time, you are entitled to apply for a permanent settlement permit. This type of residence permit, as the name suggests, grants you the right to remain in Germany indefinitely and gives you free access to the labour market.
Types of permanent residence permits
Although they are almost identical, there are actually two types of permanent residence permits in Germany. Your personal situation and travel requirements will determine which one is most suitable for you.
Permanent settlement permit
This type of permanent residence permit enables you to live and work in Germany for an unrestricted amount of time. It is available to anyone who has been living in Germany for five years on a temporary residence permit and fulfils other basic requirements. Certain categories of people (see below) may be able to obtain their permanent settlement permits much sooner.
Permanent residence permit for the European Community
The qualifying conditions for this permanent residence permit are very similar to those for the permanent settlement permit. The main difference is that this type of residence permit also gives the holder freedom of movement (and the right to temporary residence) within all European Union member states.
General requirements for the permanent residence permit
Anyone who wants to apply for a permanent residence permit in Germany needs to fulfil certain basic conditions:
- You have held a (temporary) residence permit for 5 years.
- Your subsistence is secure, i.e. you are able to support yourself without benefit payments.
- You have made contributions to a statutory pension scheme for at least 60 months or can provide evidence of a comparable old-age provision.
- You are permitted to be in employment and hold the necessary permit.
- You have sufficient command of the German language and basic knowledge of the social / legal system and way of life in Germany (demonstrated, for example, by successfully completing an integration course).
- You have sufficient living space for yourself and your family.
- You do not have a criminal record.
Note that holders of a residence permit for the purpose of studying are not eligible to apply for a permanent settlement permit. You must first complete your studies and apply for a workers’ residence permit before you can apply for permanent residency.
Categories entitled to special provisions
If you belong to one of the following categories of people, you may be able to obtain your permanent residence permit in less than five years. Note that this only applies to the German permanent settlement permit and not the permanent residence permit for the European Community.
EU Blue Card holders
If you are in possession of an EU Blue Card and fulfil all general requirements, you can receive a permanent residence permit after 33 months. You must have remained in employment and made contributions to the statutory pension scheme for the entirety of that period.
If you have sufficient knowledge of the German language (defined as being educated to level B1), you can receive the permanent residence permit after 21 months.
Graduates of German universities
If you have completed your studies at a German university, you can apply for a permanent settlement permit after two years, provided you have a job related to your degree. As well as fulfilling the general requirements, you also need to have made contributions to the statutory pension scheme (or a comparable alternative) for at least 24 months and have reached level B1 in the German language.
Workers who are deemed “highly-qualified” and fulfil the general requirements may be granted a permanent settlement permit immediately. Professions that fit into this category are:
- Researchers with special technical expertise.
- Teaching or scientific personnel in prominent positions.
You may need approval from the Federal Employment Agency to apply for a permanent settlement permit as a highly-qualified professional. You wil need to provide evidence of academic training.
If you are self-employed, you are entitled to a permanent settlement permit after three years. To qualify, you must have a valid residence permit for self-employment and have realised the purpose of your residence permit (i.e. successfully set up your business). You will also need to prove that you have the financial stability to support yourself and your family members indefinitely.
Note that the German tax system legally distinguishes between freelance and commercial activities. Freelancers do not qualify for this reduced period.
Applying for a permanent residence permit
To submit your permanent settlement permit application, you will need an appointment at your local foreigners’ office (Ausländerbehörde). You can find your local office on the website for the Federal Office for Migration and Refugees. Depending on your location, it is not always possible to schedule this appointment in advance.
Permanent settlement permit application forms
You need to bring a completed application form with you to the appointment. This can usually be downloaded from your foreigners’ office’s website. Alternatively, the office will be able to give you a paper copy.
The documents you need for your permanent settlement application depends on your personal situation. Your foreigners’ office will be able to inform you of the exact requirements but the necessary paperwork usually includes:
- Completed application form
- Valid passport
- Biometric photo taken in the last six months
- Registration certificate including a proof of residence (Wohnungsgeberbestätigung)
- Proof of health insurance
- Rental agreement
- Proof of sufficient German language skills (e.g. certificate of completion of integration course)
- Confirmation of contributions to a pension scheme
Additional documents for employees
- Employment contract
- Tax clearance certificate (from tax office (Finanzamt))
- Last three salary statements
Additional documents for self-employed persons
- Confirmation of employment
- Tax clearance certificate (from tax office)
- Business registration
- Audit report form filled in by tax consultant for Chamber of Commerce
At the appointment, an official will check over all your documents before submitting your application. As long as all the necessary conditions are met, your application will usually be successful and your permanent residence permit issued.
The foreigners’ office will write to you to let you know when the permit is ready for you to collect. If for any reason your application is unsuccessful, you will be informed in writing and be given the chance to lodge an appeal.
Permanent residence permit costs
The cost of applying for a permanent settlement permit varies according to your professional circumstances. The fee for a general settlement permit is usually 113 euros. For self-employed workers it is 124 euros and highly-qualified people have to pay 147 euros.
Expiration of permanent residency
If you leave Germany for a period of more than six months, your permanent settlement permit will expire. If you hold an EU permanent residence permit, it will expire after a 12-month stay outside the European Union. Certain exceptions to this rule apply - for instance if you previously held an EU Blue Card or have lived in Germany for at least 15 years. If in doubt, speak with your local immigration office.
Whilst having permanent residency status brings many advantages, it does not give you certain rights enjoyed by those who have German citizenship. For instance, a permanent settlement permit does not enable to you to vote in elections or have a German passport. If you have lived in Germany for more than eight years, you may choose to apply for German citizenship instead.