My Residence Permit
Ladies and gentleman, let me tell you a tale. I once moved to Germany. The International Office of the university was extremely helpful. They had all of the paperwork that we needed together and reviewed it with us before we had our appointments at the Immigration Office. They also assisted us with registering with the city, which must be done within two weeks of becoming a new resident of any town in Germany. During orientation activities, representatives from two major health insurance companies as well as representatives from banks came to the university for us to sign up with. This is required in order to get a residence permit.
With all of the application materials in hand, I went to the Immigration Office where the International Office also had staff to help the process along. I handed over my papers, and dutifully allowed the immigration official to scan my fingerprints. Then, I was informed that I would be notified when my residence permit arrived from Berlin.
A month later, I went back to the office to retrieve my newly-minted residence permit. Finally, I was the proud owner of a little card that would allow me to stay in Europe longer than the three months allowed to tourists. I was happy and legally residing in Germany until…
That residence permit had to be renewed.
A Wild Goose Chase
Obtaining my first residence permit was made to be easy thanks to the amazing International Office at the University of Konstanz. Unfortunately, they do not have the same services for students renewing their residence permits.
I knew that I would need to schedule an appointment. The papers that the Immigration Office give you when you apply in the first place state, “Please apply for your new residence permit approximately 6 weeks before your current residence permit expires.”
I contacted them well over 2 months before my residence permit was due to expire. They responded back telling me that the next available appointment would be October 10. That was one day before my current residence permit expired.
Here’s a bit of advice to anyone seeking a meeting with the Immigration Authorities of Germany: Apply crazy early for an appointment. Due to the influx of refugees, the workload in Immigration Offices has increased. The problem is, Germany hasn’t hired enough employees to help manage the workload. Therefore, if you want a meeting, you should ask early or you will overstay your residence permit.
Anyway, meeting date and time in hand, I set about collecting the documents I needed. I tell you, I have never been on such a wild goose chase in my life. The documents needed for a residence permit renewal are:
- Application for residence permit extension
- Current passport
- Current residence permit with sheet explaining work allowance
- Current enrollment
- Current health insurance
- Proof of financial resources
- Biometric passport photos
- Fee (€80)
Let’s walk through these one at a time, shall we?
The Verlängerungsantrag, or application for extension, can be found in your local Immigration Office. That’s the easy part. Once you take the thing home, you have to fill it out. You’ll be asked about your background, what you’re doing here, and all that good stuff.
There are a few things that you might want to know. First, when you are asked for your eye color, “hazel” is not an appropriate response. The Germans apparently do not have hazel eyes, so you’d better settle for writing “green.”
Second, when you are asked about the size of your accommodation, you should write at least 12 m². This is the minimum, because living with less is apparently inhumane for normal immigrants, although it is okay to stuff an entire family of refugees into one little room. Criticism of the handling of refugees aside, you really need to watch this one. Note that this is meters squared per person living in your flat.
Current Passport and Residence Permit
This one is the easiest. All you have to do is bring the documents that you already have. Just remember to check that your passport is still valid through the entire period for which you are requesting a new residence permit.
The Immatrikulationsbescheinigung is pretty easy to get if you know where to go. At the University of Konstanz, you just have to go to the Studierenden-Service-Zentrum (SSZ), or Student Service Center. Ask for an Immatrikulationsbescheinigung mit Bestätigung über das voraussichtliche Studienende. In English, that’s a certificate of matriculation including the expected completion date of your studies.
The document is just a quick printout stating that you are enrolled. At the bottom, the woman preparing my certificate made a stamp, wrote down the day next year that is the end of my studies officially (forever!), signed her initials, and then slapped an official university stamp on it. Done.
Current Health Insurance
If you live in Germany, you are required to have health insurance. My student health insurance is about €90 per month, which is reasonable considering it covers the doctor, emergency rooms, the dentist, and the optometrist. In case you’re wondering, I have not had to use it in the emergency room. (Knock on wood, please.)
What you need is a current Mitgliedsbescheinigung, or membership certificate. The little insurance card that they give you is not accepted. What I had to do was contact my health insurance and request one of these certificates, which is really just a letter saying I have coverage.
I accidentally ended up getting this twice. I contacted my health insurance representative, and he sent me one… in English. I thought that was not going to slide. To be safe, I went to the office and requested another one in person. This time, I made sure my certificate was in German.
Proof of Financial Resources
Oh, dear. This one might have made me crazy. I will try to give you the most condensed version of the story possible. First, you should know that students are required to finance the entire duration of their stay up front. What this means is that you need something that says you will not become broke, homeless, and starving while living in Germany.
One way to do this is to get a bunch of financial documents from your parents or another person willing to support you showing that they have enough money or income to do so. If you do this option, it has to be renewed every two years of your time in Germany. This is not really an option for me, so I took the alternative.
The alternative is having all of your money put into a blocked account which dispenses a monthly allowance. How much money, you ask? The required minimum amount goes up beginning January 2017. It will now be €720 per month, which adds up to €8,640 for a full year. To help take the edge off, you can subtract from that total with a work contract. I happen to have a student job at the university, so I combined savings in a blocked account and a work contract.
This is all very good in theory. Here’s how it actually went down. I go to get a new blocked account from my bank, and instead find out that they do not offer this service anymore. The International Office at the university tells me a few options, and I chose to go to Sparkasse to set up my blocked account. I filled out my Sperrvermerk Bescheinigung, or certificate for getting a blocked account, and headed over to the bank.
The fee to do set up this account is €50, which annoys me because last year it was free to do at Commerzbank. I guess this is okay since some banks charge as much as €100. I handed over my Sperrvermerk Bescheinigung and passport. After lots of waiting while the bank employee tapped around on her keyboard, I paid the fee and handed over the money that I needed to block. Then, I received the documents that I needed. Check… almost.
I found out some time ago that there has been an ongoing dispute between the Immigration Office of Konstanz and the International Office of the university. the Immigration Office doesn’t like to accept contracts for student jobs as part of the proof of finances. A meeting was set between the International Office and Immigration Office to discuss this issue on the day after my appointment at the Immigration Office. This left me nervous, but I had to try using my contract since I didn’t have any more money.
Biometric Passport Photo
I thought passport photos would be easy. Wrong. The cheap photo booth that I used last year is unfortunately gone. I did some research and decided to try a local photography shop in town. After I found it in the winding streets of Old Town, the boy who was working was able to take my photo right away. I only had to wait ten minutes for the photos.
Simple enough in the end, but I have a word of caution yet again. Whenever you apply for a new permit, you must have photos that were recently taken. I did mine the week before my appointment. Furthermore, the Immigration Office will say to bring one passport photo. What they really mean is that you need two. One photo should be pasted into the application where indicated; the other photo will be handed over during the appointment and attached to a different piece of paper.
The fee to renew a permit is €80. If, like me, you find yourself with a late appointment, then your residence permit will expire before you get the new one. In this case, you will need a Fiktionsbescheinigung, or temporary permit, which will last until you get a new permit. The cost for this is €20. Really, I ended up paying €100.
Day of Reckoning
All documents, photos, and fees in hand, I arrived at the Immigration Office at the appointed hour on the day of reckoning. When I was called in, I sat down and had a small exchange in German to explain that I preferred English, although I do understand some German. Redundant, I know.
One after another, I handed over my documents. When we got to the proof of finances bit, the immigration official informed me that the acceptance of my contract would depend on the outcome of the meeting happening on the following day. I would be contacted later with the decision.
I signed some documents which stated that I understood I will have to leave Germany when my residence permit expires. I signed some others for various things not worth mentioning here.
At some point, I noticed that the immigration official had a rather thick stack of papers clipped together with my name on the front of it. For a moment, I was really freaked out by how much information they had collected on me already after just a year. Then, I though about how much information the NSA probably has on me, and I wasn’t bothered by it so much anymore.
After shuffling more papers between us, I had my fingerprints scanned again. I guess they wanted to make sure that I hadn’t changed them in the past year. After this, the temporary permit was handed over in exchange for my hard-earned €100. My job was done. All I had to do was wait.
The meeting about the student job contracts was held the next day. Fortunately, it worked out in my favor. I was informed by the Immigration Office that my application was being accepted and sent to Berlin.
In the coming weeks, a shiny, new residence permit will make its way from Berlin to my little corner of Germany down on the border with Switzerland. After it arrives, I will be summoned back to the Immigration Office to receive it. Thus, this story is to be continued….
*This information is based on my experience as an American citizen applying for a student residence permit.