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Orientation in the bureaucratic jungle

Can a doctor from Ghana work in a German hospital? The answers can be found in an official recognition notice. Migrants wishing to apply for this notice are not left on their own.

Janna Degener-Storr , 27.11.2019
Im Ämterdschungel zurechtfinden
© Nataliya Kalabina/

German companies are keen to recruit skilled workers. And many well-qualified people abroad would love to find a job here. Nonetheless, it is not always easy for either side to find one another. This is because Germany has a bewildering number of professions, from nurse to electronics engineer and from civil engineer to secondary school teacher. The qualifications required to work in any particular one of these occupations are stipulated in some cases in federal, nationwide laws, and in some cases in 16 different state-level laws. When applicants from abroad have completed their training or higher education at home, it is impossible to tell at first glance whether they actually meet the requirements that apply in Germany. Ever since the Law to improve the assessment and recognition of professional and vocational education and training qualifications acquired abroad (Federal Recognition Act) entered into force in 2012, people who have acquired professional or vocational qualifications abroad have been entitled to have them checked for equivalence with a reference occupation in Germany. If necessary, they can take additional training to compensate for any substantial differences.

What do I need to know if I want to work in Germany?

Because different departments and authorities are responsible for processing these applications for recognition, and because migrants will have virtually no chance of finding their way around this bureaucratic jungle without assistance, the Recognition Act has also seen a wide range of information and advice services launched. The Goethe-Institut’s Mein Weg nach Deutschland portal features infographics that provide an overview of the central questions and ports of call when it comes to having university, vocational or school qualifications recognized. Skilled professionals who are still in their home countries and are unsure which German state they should choose to settle in will find useful information about working in Germany on the Make it in Germany portal operated by the International Placement Services (ZAV) of the Federal Employment Agency (BA). In the ZAV’s Virtual Welcome Center, skilled workers can also find answers to their individual questions. “Skilled workers who contact us are often still at the orientation phase and trying to get an idea of those aspects they will need to consider during the migration process. Our job is to convey a realistic picture to them so as to avoid later disappointment. This also involves sensitizing them to the issue of recognition, as many are not even aware at that stage that this is something they will need to address”, stresses Dr Beate Raabe from the ZAV’s press department.
Nurses will certainly need to have their qualifications recognized. 

Regulated professions – who requires recognition?

Anyone wishing to work in a regulated profession, for example as a doctor, lawyer, teacher, nurse or nursery school teacher, will certainly need to have their qualifications recognized. Migrants with professional qualifications acquired in non-EU countries also need recognition as a rule in order to obtain a visa that will allow them to work in Germany in the first place. If they have a non-academic vocational qualification, their occupation must additionally be on the Federal Employment Agency’s whitelist, i.e. there must be a shortage of skilled workers in this area. Furthermore, they are required to prove that they already have a job or a binding job offer. Citizens of EU states who work in Germany in a non-regulated profession, for example as a cook, computer scientist or journalist, are not legally required to prove that they have the proper training for their job. However, practice has shown that professional recognition can also entail advantages for them: “Proof of qualifications plays a very important role in the application process in Germany, yet employers are often unable to assess foreign documents properly. The recognition notice explains exactly which professional or vocational qualifications a person has. This official certificate can increase their chances in the application process, or open up opportunities for further and continuing education by creating transparency. The expert appraisal contained in the recognition notice can also be used to classify a person within a pay scale”, says Beate Raabe.

Orientation in the bureaucratic jungle – who is responsible?

Where detailed information about the recognition process is required, the ZAV refers its website users to the German government’s multilingual information portal Recognition in Germany and to the Working and Living in Germany hotline. People who already know where they want to live and work in Germany can use the Recognition Finder function to quickly identify the appropriate authority responsible. In addition, migrants can find out here for example how to find a German reference profession that matches their foreign qualifications, which fees will be incurred, whether they are entitled to financial support such as the recognition grant, and which options they have if they do not have their paperwork ready. “What is important here is that those seeking recognition bring with them a formal qualification from their home country. If they have that, they can take advantage of services such as the skills analysis: this allows people who for example were unable to bring all of their documents with them to Germany to demonstrate their professional competencies in a practical way. This can take the form of a work sample, an interview or a work test at a company”, explains Julia Lubjuhn, deputy project leader of the Recognition in Germany portal.

Jigar Hasso took part in the skills analysis as a cook.

Jigar Hasso, a Syrian cook who features in one of the portal’s success stories, wanted to obtain recognition to improve his employment opportunities in Germany, but – being a refugee – did not have any paperwork detailing the contents of the recognized training he had undergone in Syria. During a skills analysis, he was therefore given the chance to demonstrate his skills by preparing a three-course meal in a large-scale commercial kitchen and taking an interview.

The more than one hundred advice centres of the Network “Integration through Qualification (IQ)” (Network IQ) offer a free service, providing answers to specific and individual questions relating to recognition, as well as assistance with filling out the necessary forms. When a person has obtained their recognition notice and it is clear that their foreign qualifications are recognized only in part, the Network IQ advisers can also explain ways to obtain the additional qualifications needed and highlight funding options. In addition, the Network IQ offers tailor-made programmes for adapting skills to different professions – these are free of charge for the migrants.

Having qualifications recognized – even before arriving in Germany?

The Chambers of Industry and Commerce (IHKs) in Germany and the German Chambers of Commerce Abroad (AHKs) run various projects relating to recognition. Through its project Professional & Vocational Qualifications for Germany, known as ProRecognition for short, the Association of German Chambers of Commerce (DIHK) reaches out to people who are still  in their home countries. Within the framework of the initiative, which is funded by Germany’s Federal Ministry of Education and Research (BMBF), the AHKs in Egypt, China, India, Iran, Italy, Morocco, Poland and Vietnam have been offering information and advice about recognition and support with the application procedure since autumn 2015. “The goal is to ensure that people come to Germany well-prepared, rather than beginning the process of having their qualifications recognized after arrival, so that they can be integrated into the employment market here quickly”, explains the project’s coordinator Sabine Kotsch.

This article was first published on the Goethe Institute website.