Special activities: internship, job shadowing and voluntary service

Some forms of activity that are common in the German cultural sector and are often offered by cultural organisations. The residence status of the individual also plays a role in these cases.

Internship (Praktikum)

The term internship (Praktikum) is used to describe a variety of activities in Germany that can have different objectives. An internship may be a temporary work placement in an organisation/company in order to acquire new knowledge and skills, or it may help a person to get to know an organisation. The internship may be full-time or part-time, for a particular project or integrated into the processes of the organisation.

Artists and creatives who do not have full access to the labour market must take a close look at the type of activity to determine whether it is permitted under residence law or requires (further) authorisation.

Some internships are explained in more detail here.

Some internships are compulsory internships (Pflichtpraktika). These are usually a mandatory part of a training or degree programme. Compulsory internships must be approved by the Foreigners' Registration Office.

Voluntary internships (freiwillige Praktika) that are independent of school, university studies or vocational training are usually regarded as employment. This means that the same conditions apply as for employees (see also Employment). For those with restricted access to the labour market (in the case of a temporary residence permit for asylum seekers or exceptional leave to remain), an internship permit (Praktikumserlaubnis) must be obtained from the Foreigners' Registration Office (Ausländerbehörde). It does not matter whether the internship position is paid or unpaid.

If the identification paper states "Internship permitted according to Section 22 (1) Sentence 2 No. 1- 4 German MiLoG, ("Praktikum nach § 22 Abs. 1 Satz 2 Nr. 1- 4 MiLoG gestattet"), the Foreigners' Registration Office has approved the internship in advance and no separate internship permit is required.

Job shadowing (Hospitanz) is also a kind of voluntary internship, but does not constitute employment under the law. It is regarded as an "observation" of the organisation/institution during which the artist simply observes as a "guest". Job shadowing may be initiated at any time and is not subject to approval by the Foreigners' Registration Office.
There is no fixed maximum duration. In the case of a longer period, however, care must be taken to ensure that the job shadowing does not lead to trial employment. If in doubt, it is advisable to consult the Foreigners' Registration Office.

Trial employment (Probebeschäftigung) is also considered an internship. It serves to determine whether long-term employment would be a good option for both sides (employer and employee). The activity is performed on a trial basis for a fixed period and integrated into the organisation's workflows.
This is usually considered employment that requires the approval of the Foreigners' Registration Office (Ausländerbehörde) and the Federal Employment Agency (Bundesagentur für Arbeit).

The Foreigners' Registration Office is responsible for granting authorisation for an internship where required. To obtain such a permit, it is necessary to submit the "job description" form (Formular "Stellenbeschreibung") – completed by the future employer – to the Foreigners' Registration Office. Additional documents are also required, such as proof of health insurance cover, proof of a secure livelihood in the case of an unpaid internship, etc. The application is subject to a fee (in Berlin, for example, up to 100 euros depending on the complexity of the case).

Detailed information on the requirements and documents to be submitted is available online from the Foreigners' Registration Offices (Link to the Foreigners' Registration Offices search page on the Federal Office for Migration and Refugees (Bundesamt für Migration und Flüchtlinge) website). Examples of information provided by the authorities in Berlin can be found here: https://service.berlin.de/dienstleistung/305303/  

Additional information about internships:

Voluntary Social Year Culture (Freiwilliges Soziales Jahr (FSJ) Kultur) and Federal Voluntary Service in Culture and Education (Bundesfreiwilligendienst (BFD) Kultur und Bildung)

In Germany, it is possible to volunteer at a cultural or educational institution as part of a year of voluntary service (Freiwilligendienst). Artists from third countries and refugee artists and persons engaged in the cultural sector are also eligible to engage in voluntary service. This service is regarded as a special form of volunteer work.

The following options are available in the cultural sector:

  • FSJ Culture – voluntary service for people under the age of 27
  • and BFD Culture and Education – voluntary service for people aged 27 and over.

Certain rules apply to voluntary service:

  • volunteers must help in the organisation for at least 20.5 hours per week for a period of between 6 and 18 months,
  • they contribute their own experience,
  • they do not receive a salary but are paid a small allowance for their help (this is usually not enough to cover accommodation, food, etc.).

Cultural and educational institutions must be recognised as places of assignment. A list of places of assignment can be found here: search function on the Federal Voluntary Service (BFD) website (in German only).

Activities performed in connection with an FSJ Culture and BFD Culture and Education are regarded as employment. This means that the same eligibility requirements apply as for employees (see also Employment). However, access is somewhat easier than for regular employment, as the approval procedure for asylum seekers and artists and creatives with exceptional leave to remain does not require the consent of the Federal Employment Agency. The Foreigners' Registration Office must still approve of the position, however.

Information on voluntary service opportunities in the area of culture and education (particularly for refugees) can be found on the Voluntary Services in the Field of Culture and Education (Freiwilligendienste Kultur und Bildung) website (available in German, English and Arabic).

Voluntary Services in the Field of Culture and Education, Information for people who are not German (pdf)

Information provided by the Workers' Welfare Association (Arbeiterwohlfahrt, AWO): voluntary service for refugees (in German only).

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