That time of the year ended for me on Monday. That time of the year, for us foreigners/expats/immigrants, is the period before our visas expire—whenever that may be. It can go from days to weeks, or even months in the case of Berlin. It goes without saying that the process is more frustrating for some than for others, and I am fully aware of the fact that some less fortunate would even consider the mere possibility of applying for a work permit here in Germany a privilege. However, this article refers to my own experience, and I’m glad I was able to renew my visa and can continue living and working here in Germany. Basically, I got permission from the government to continue doing what I’m doing, which is building my life in this foreign country I moved to seven years ago.
To be clear, I didn’t move to Germany because my life back in the States was bad or anything like that. Prior to moving here I lived a pretty good life in Portland, Ore., had a decent job, lots of friends, and didn’t have to worry at all about any such thing as a work permit. I moved to Germany because I genuinely like this country. I took the time to learn German, and left everything I had in Portland to come here out of bona fide interest. And luckily enough, I got to stay!
Fate, providence, or luck, gave me the chance to complete, against all financial odds, two degrees at the University of Heidelberg. Studying here is free for foreigners, so basically the German government invested in my education. Now it’s my turn to pay something back through my taxes (Steuerklasse I, you’re welcome), and that’s totally fine, even though most of the money goes toward social security benefits I’m not even entitled to—which is then in turn collected by many of those people yelling “Ausländer Raus!” at right-wing demonstrations. Oh, well. That’s kind of an unfortunate irony and one can only laugh about it, I guess.
The whole process is nevertheless particularly frustrating at times. I mean, it should be in the best interest of the German government to allow qualified immigrants to work and pay taxes—especially if they graduated from a German university. Renewing your visa is just part of the game, I guess, but it is really exhausting.
Being fair, renewing my visa was never particularly stressful in Heidelberg—but it was here in Berlin. Seriously. It’s not the fact that the only reason I got an appointment was because I got lucky, since getting one here in Berlin is extremely difficult. It’s also not the fact that I was told I could pick up my visa whenever, only to be sent home empty-handed after waiting at the immigration office for five hours and told to come back in a month because “someone made a mistake.” No apologies, no nothing. It’s not even the fact that, after going back the following month, I was handed a work permit that didn’t even have the correct passport number on it—and was charged almost twice the amount that they first told me because, again, “someone made a mistake.”
Then what is it? It’s the fact that people at the immigration office here make you feel unwelcome; that they make mistakes, which in some cases can cost people their stay in the country, and remain unapologetic just because they know that they can get away with it. It’s the fact that they talk to you like you’re a kid even though you hold a Master’s degree from one of Germany’s best universities.
I get that some people don’t like their jobs, but if “Germany needs immigration,” the authorities are going to have to step up their game, because by the looks of it they don’t have the infrastructure to deal with us newcomers. I’ve seen talented, young, and enthusiastic people leave the country due to intransigent or careless employees—such as my friend Megan, who wrote this article about her own experience with the immigration authorities in Frankfurt. Furthermore, this only jams the gears of a machine that should be running as smooth as possible, since it’s overheating as it is. But then again I guess we wouldn’t be immigrants if we didn’t have to go through this ordeal, right?
The immigration office I went to on Monday was already full by the time I got there shortly after seven in the morning. The frustrated monologue of a man whose application had evidently been turned down echoed through the otherwise silent hallways. The line was full of people from a number of nationalities, from very different backgrounds, some dressed better than others, some who are often discriminated against, some who are often privileged. And there we were, standing in line, in the same tired and frustrated state, waiting to find out whether we can stay or need to go.
Anyway, I’m glad it’s over. I’m glad I won’t have to go through this again for another year. I’ve been doing this for seven years now, but if this is the price to pay to live abroad so be it. However, if you play by the rules and contribute your fair share in taxes, is it really necessary for the employees of the immigration office to see your presence there as an annoyance and make your experience as uncomfortable as possible?
We all chose to play the game, and here it’s all or nothing. I’m all in.
Have you had a similar experience in Germany? How is it where you are? Share your experience in the comments below! Thanks for reading, Seb