Friday, October 27, 2006

At the immigration office

Getting working permission in Germany is a simple process which begins at the Immigration Office. The Kiel immigration office is a fairly typical German administrative building, with a friendly atmosphere and an easy to find location. You simply turn off the main street and go down a small alleyway opposite an Italian restaurant. There you will find a number of driveways with trucks being loaded. Go past these driveways, watching out for cars which lurch out of them at regular intervals, and you will find a driveway with no marking on it. Turn into it and you will see a small door on your right with the words Administrative Offices Schleswig-Holstein on the glass door in white. Go straight in, if it is between 8:30am and 1pm Monday, Tuesday, Thursday and Friday. If it is a Wednesday or any other time you will have to come back later.

On the first floor you will see a building plan that is indecipherable, a small lift and a flight of stairs. Finding the office you need is no problem, simply take the stairs to the second floor and go into the door marked Found Property. This takes you past the lost property office to a waiting area where a group of individuals from other countries are staring at screen showing the numbers of those being served in red, and a pair of double doors. Go to the machine, which has seven buttons with various letters of the alphabet on them. Choose yours and sit down. Letters such as X,Y and Z are located together, which is a slight disadvantage for those of Chinese or Japanese background but the machine was made for Germans by Germans and it is simply not logical to have a special machine for foreigners (my name begins with T, which is a common German letter to start a name, so I often get in before those unfortunate enough to have names that begin with less popular German letters; this always makes the atmosphere in the waiting room especially interesting).

After about half an hour to an hour you will be called into the double doors by a flashing red number. Once you are in the office, you will be greeted by a typical German bureaucrat, with the flexibility and adeptness which they are so famous for. No matter what language you speak to them in, be it English, German, Turkish or anything else, they will always reply to you in German, demonstrating little understanding of what you have said. No matter what you think you are there for they will unfailingly make it clear that you are wrong. After repeated visits to the office and waiting periods of different lengths you will find that, after all, you are there for the right reason and will be given your piece of paper, or your stamp. You may or may not have to pay depending on who serves you. All processes which take place in order for you to get your stamp are out of the control of the person you are talking to. All necessary papers to get your work permission or whatever else you may be requesting, are available at a different office in another building with different opening times.

The best way to greet a worker in this office is therefore to say nothing and hand over your papers. Answer any questions they ask you with as little information as possible. The more information they have, the longer the possible waiting time for it to be processed. Don't smile in your passport photo. Above all, don't tell them how to do their job. You may think you know why it is you are there and what you need, you don't. Their job is some other quite different thing of which you have no idea.

Once your request has been delivered to the relevant authorities by mail, which can take up to ten days, they will process it. If they don't process it you will discover this because nothing will happen. It may be that nothing is happening productively, that is, they are processing it, or it may be that they are not. Once you have visited the Immigration Office three or four times to check, each time pulling your name from the German machine and waiting in the friendly waiting room and waiting for a different bureaucrat to look at your file and ask you why you are there if your application is being processed by the relevant authority which they have nothing to do with, it will become clear if it is being processed or not. If not, a quick phone call from the Immigration Office will remind them. Then it may take up to weeks for your application to be considered. The main question is, naturally, are you taking the job of a German?

Then it becomes the task of the Employment Office to look at your case. They send a number of emails to your employer asking, for example, why a German cannot be an English teacher as is the case in their school system. The issue of your qualifications may be raised and you may have to provide them to the Employment Office. Surprisingly, they are not required to be translated, possibly because no-one realizes they are in English because no-one looks at them, they are simply filed into a drawer. So there is no need to pay for a translation. Then you may have to provide a job description so that the job can be advertised to the local community at the Employment Office. The question of particular qualifications which may only be available to foreigners may be raised. In my case the term 'native speaker' proved a sticking point but after a mere week of emailing and telephoning and a meeting with the case worker and my boss the issue was resolved nicely, with both sides agreeing that although there may be such a thing as a 'native speaker', we were certainly not going to stop that getting in the way of the bureaucratic process of advertising the job to the German population.

Once you have then waited a few weeks to see if any German native speakers of English (for example) would turn up and take your job you then receive no word from anyone for a further three weeks. Then, a wonderful letter turns up from the Immigration Office telling you to bring A) this letter and B) your passport to the Office between 8:30am and 1pm Monday to Friday (but not Wednesday) to pick up your stamp. Then it is simply a matter of going into the Office one or two times in order to find a worker who will bother to look into your file rather than just photocopying your passport and telling you to come back another time and you have your stamp. It's as easy as that. In twelve months, you simply need to renew it.

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