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The Guide

Appointment at the immigration office

Kathleen Parker
Managing director, interpreter, coach
Red Tape Translation

How to get it and what to expect on the day

Ausländerbehörde, Auslandsvertretung, Landesamt für Einwanderung, Ausländeramt, aliens‘ office, foreigners‘ office, immigration office, Alien Authority. Whatever you call it and whether you’ve ever thought of yourself as an alien before, it’s a place that tends to haunt immigrants in their dreams. Eleven years ago, I started a quest to unlock the mysteries of this perplexing institution. Along the way I founded a small agency that helps English-speaking expats and immigrants navigate their way through the fog of German red tape. Here are some important things I learned about how to be prepared for anything at your freelance residence permit appointment.


How to book an appointment at the Ausländerbehörde

In most German cities, walking into the Ausländeramt without an appointment and expecting to be served is now no longer possible. The Corona pandemic put an end to the walk-in culture in 2020 and the war on Ukraine in 2022 sealed the deal. Across the country, the offices are now experiencing severe delays and staff shortages. You’ll most likely be met at the entrance by a bouncer security guard and you’ll have to show your exclusive invitation appointment confirmation to get past.

Exactly how to go about snagging an appointment at your local foreigner’s office will vary, depending on where you land. One constant truth, however, is that you must go to the foreigner’s office in the city in which you have registered your address.

Another, lesser-known truth is that you can always apply in writing. This means you can post and/or e-mail your application directly to the immigration office in your city of residence or use the city’s online portal to upload your documents securely. For many cities in Germany, such as Stuttgart, Hamburg and Nuremberg, doing this is the norm. You’ll be invited to attend an appointment only once your case worker is satisfied that the application will be approved. Berlin’s Landesamt für Einwanderung can work this way too but doesn’t make it obvious.

How to book an appointment in Berlin

Although you can simply apply in writing and wait to be invited to an appointment, Berlin doesn’t mention this option anywhere on its website. Instead, the Berlin immigration office’s website instructs you gently yet firmly to book an appointment online.
This is easier said than done. Searching for open slots on the Berlin appointment booking system has become a complex art form. Most of the time, the website will leave you with a gutting red stripe claiming that no dates are available and that you should try again later.

The website claims that appointments are added regularly to the website. Yet refreshing the Berlin appointment booking site will become an obsession for you. Weeks and months may pass and the relentless red stripe may eventually burn your retinas.

If lady luck is on your side one day, this is how it will go down (watch video).

If you’re unsuccessful after several days, weeks or months of trying, here are your options:

  • Use a browser extension such as ‘Auto Refresh Plus’ and customise it to alert you - draw on the knowledge from the IT degree you were able to complete while waiting for an appointment.
    Cost: free.
    Time commitment: hours, days, weeks or months.
    Turnaround time: unknown.
  • Hire a controversial third-party provider that uses an algorithm to book appointments within your chosen parameters for a hefty fee. Pay in advance and cross your fingers that they respond with an appointment. They might.
    Cost: 50 Euros.
    Time commitment: 5 minutes.
    Turnaround time: unknown.
  • E-mail and post your application by registered mail with all its supporting documents directly to the foreigner’s office before your visa or visa-free tourist time runs out.
    Cost: Free.
    Time commitment: 1 hour.
    Turnaround time: unknown.
    Your legal status in Germany while you wait: confirmed until they decide.

This third option is perfectly reasonable and yet, so few applicants are aware of it. If you have the right to apply for a long-term residence permit from within Germany, then you have the right to do so in writing. If you apply in writing from within Germany and your stay in Germany is legal at the point at which you do so, you can stay in the country until a decision is made. This doesn’t just apply in Berlin; it applies all over Germany.

Don’t believe me? Here’s where this appears in the Residence Act: Section 81, paragraph 3.

Here are two very important points:

  1. The application should be complete when you send it.
  2. Your stay in Germany should be legal when you send it.
  3. You must, must, must attend the appointment they eventually offer you. If you don’t attend, you must have a very compelling reason for your non-attendance. Such as a hospital stay. Or your untimely death.

How to book an appointment in other cities

Frankfurt has an online booking system with actual appointments available at time of publishing. There is no need to upload documents in advance, but you do need to verify your email address within an hour of booking to confirm the appointment.

Hamburg has an online portal on which you can fill in your personal details, upload your documents and wait to be invited for an appointment.

Munich’s online portal is a little tricky, but at the time of publishing, this link here will allow you to book an appointment for a freelance residence permit. You fill in a form online, submit it electronically and wait for an email with either a request for more documents or an invitation to attend an appointment.

Stuttgart asks you to email or call them with information about what you need. I would recommend sending in your complete application this way. The email address you choose depends on the first letter of your surname.

If you’re applying in Nuremberg as a freelancer, you create a “Mein Nürnberg” account and submit everything online. The waiting times for an appointment are quite intense though – 6-8 months as of the beginning of 2023.

For other cities, you could check the website of your local foreigner’s office and use a Google Translate plugin to figure out how they want to hear from you. Or… apply by post/email and wait.

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What to expect on the day of your residence permit appointment

Be Punctual

If it’s your first time visiting an office, it might be a maze. There might be a security procedure that takes 10 minutes. You may have to walk up five flights of stairs and go around in circles until you find the right waiting room. Keep all of this in mind when planning your visit.

For the love of all that is holy, don’t be late. In most cities, you will be assigned a waiting number, which will flash up on a board and direct you to a certain room. If you don’t show up on time, they’ll move on to the next client without a backward glance.

Red Tape interpreters do have a procedure that sometimes works in Berlin and Munich for late applicants. If the waiting number comes up before the applicant arrives, we knock on the door and convince the case worker into calling up the number again in 15-20 minutes. It generally works…. but don’t be late.

Fun fact: most clients who call us to tell us they are running late to their appointment at the immigration office are stuck in traffic in a taxi.

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How to keep your case worker happy

Have a complete application on your person

If you’re applying for a freelance permit as an artist, this is what a complete application looks like (this list is based on the Berlin requirements and may vary depending on where you are based):

  • Your passport
  • Application form, filled out, signed and dated
  • Your registration certificate (Anmeldung)
  • Biometric photo
  • CV
  • Diploma certificate or academic transcript
  • Any other relevant qualification certificates you have
  • Letters of intent (at least two from German-based companies)
  • Permit to work if you need one (for artists, this is usually not necessary)
  • Health insurance policy document
  • Rental lease or purchase contract if you own your home
  • Bank statement with evidence of rental/mortgage payments and savings balance
  • Revenue forecast (1 page)
  • Pension plan in some cases

Naturally, if any of these documents are missing, it might not be possible to issue you with a permit on the day. Even if your application is complete, your case worker may still want to see something you haven’t brought, for example, a translation or extra evidence of your living situation. This is annoying but not uncommon. Always ask if it’s possible to send a missing or requested document as a PDF and get your case worker’s direct email address. In many cases, they will be able to grant you the permit as long as you send the document as a PDF shortly after your appointment.

Present your documents in German

In Berlin, case workers are quite used to receiving documents in English and will generally grit their teeth and bear it. Submitting your documents in German will make their job easier and eliminate misunderstandings. If you have to prioritise for financial reasons, show your CV and your letters of intent in German at least, and don’t rely on machine translation - for more information on this topic, read this article. You generally won’t need to translate university diplomas, bank statements or health insurance policy documents for the freelance permit in Berlin.

In other German cities, taking English language documents with you to an appointment can be risky – if a case worker doesn’t feel confident understanding the content, they will just ask you to return with a translation. The general rule: if the case worker feels confident understanding the content, they should accept the document without a German translation. Whether your assigned case worker feels confident with English-language content is absolute pot luck.

Official certificates such as marriage and birth certificates generally always need a certified translation and sometimes also an apostille attached. But you rarely need to submit those to get the freelance permit unless you’re bringing family members with you.

Speak German or bring an interpreter

If you speak some German and your case is straightforward, it’s perfectly acceptable to go by yourself. If you have completed B1 level German, I feel like you’d have the right skills to deal with the language.

If you don’t speak German, do take an interpreter or a German-speaking friend. If you can’t find a friend … there are services available where interpreters can be booked.

Do not ever visit any public office in Germany with the expectation that you can communicate in English or any language other than German. Yes, German children have compulsory English language classes at school, but for many case workers, that was a long time ago. If a case worker does speak some English, they are sometimes not willing to do so for fear of making a mistake. They will immediately relax if they see you’ve brought a translator.

Be honest

It is always best to be honest about your circumstances. The honesty policy applies in particular to:

  • providing letters of intent from real companies that genuinely want to work with you
  • giving your registered address in Berlin
  • Telling the office how much rent you pay

I mention these things because they are the areas in which I often see tangled webs of deceit. Of course, as an interpreter, if I am in an appointment with a client and they tell a lie, I have no choice but to deliver the message to the case worker with my poker face. But even if you get away with it, it can come back to bite you years down the track.

Be flexible

Your case worker may ask for your documents and then send you outside to wait while they peruse. This is normal. The appointment is not over, and you’ll probably sit in the waiting room for about 20-40 minutes and be called in again.

Even if you’re convinced everything is perfect, your permit may not be approved on the spot. If there is something the case worker is not sure about, they may send it away to another department, such as the Senate Administration or the Chamber of Commerce, for extra checks. If this happens, you won’t get an answer on the spot. This is disappointing, but it happens. You will usually hear by email or post within a few weeks whether it has been approved.

Whatever happens, go with the flow and try not to argue or raise your voice. If you believe you are being treated unfairly by a case worker, ask to speak to a supervisor and if all else fails, get your case worker’s name and raise a complaint about them later.

If I, as an interpreter, believe that a client is being given the wrong information, my usual approach is to ask “innocent” questions, as though I don’t know the answers, with my client’s permission in advance, of course. My experience shows me that case workers respond much more helpfully to a series of (non-confrontational) questions that leads them to realize they have missed something or delivered false information than to any form of accusation.

Be natural

This is a public office, open to anyone and everyone. You will see all sorts and they all have a right to service there and an equal chance at getting a permit, regardless of what they look like or how they are dressed. There is no need to dress up. Your dress code is unlikely to affect the outcome of your appointment at all. It’s all about what’s on paper.

It will all be OK

The key takeaway is this: It is very unlikely that there will be any dire consequences of your visit to the “alien’s office”. Applications are not just rejected or burned on the spot. You will never be escorted onto a plane directly from the office and sent home. If you can’t be granted a permit on the spot, there will usually be a solution that allows you to stay in Germany until a decision can be made. If you forget to bring a vital document, you’ll usually have the chance to submit it later. Sure, you may get some sass from your case worker, and that’s never fun, but you will still be given ample opportunity to fix errors, submit extra documents or wait until certain conditions have been met before applying.

Good luck, fellow alien!

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