We advise many foreigners doing business in Germany and, frequently, these individuals will require residency permits of some kind - whilst in the beginning a temporary permit is ordinarily adequate, as time passes, many foreigners develop the desire to remain permanently.
Thankfully, although Germans are famous for claiming that their country is not a "klassisches Einwanderungsland" (i.e. classical immigrant country), the laws provide multiple highly reasonable paths to residency for foreigners, especially for those who are well qualified.
Of great interest to many highly skilled professionals is the "Blaue Karte" (i.e. Blue Card). Introduced recently, it is Germany's (and the European Union's) most recent - and most solid - attempt to mimic the incredibly successful and globally known Green Card program. The stipulations on the Blue Card are found in Sec. 19 a Aufenthaltsgesetz:
To begin with, a university degree from Germany or a foreign equivalent are required. An alternative path is set forth under b): five years of professional experience working in a given field which provides the equivalent background of the missing university degree. This is particularly interesting for IT-professionals who have a strong CV but lack formal training.
The next requirement that must be met is designed to ensure that the Blue Card holder is able to support him or herself and his or her family whilst at the same time not needing to draw on Germany's (relatively) generous system of social services and public support. For International Standard Classification of Occupations categories 21, 221 and 25 (scientists, medical doctors, engineers, IT-professionals), annual income in the form of a contract offer equal to or greater than EUR 36,192.00 must be demonstrated to the immigration office. For workers not under these classifications, however, that number increases to EUR 46,000.00.
The German Employment Office (Arbeitsagentur) must also consent - usually a formality.
The Blue Card can be converted into permanent residency after either 33 months of paying into the German pension system or, alternatively, after 21 months of the same, under the condition that the Blue Card holder has at least a demonstrable B1 level of German. This incentivizes attending integration courses and learning the local language.
Sec. 20 Aufenthaltsgesetz provides a way for foreign researchers to remain in Germany.
Also of relevance, in particular for management professionals and investors, is Sec. 21 Aufenthaltsgesetz, which enables granting of residency to individuals who are generating significant regional investment or new employment opportunities. Instead of the wage income requirement familiar from Sec. 19 a Aufenthaltsgesetz, it is instead necessary to demonstrate proof of financing either through a bank loan or equity capital.
The German Constitution in Art. 6 subsec. 1 puts families under special legal protection, which finds its expression in Secs. 27 et seq of the Aufenthaltsgesetz. It is possible for family members to "chain immigrate" into Germany as long as one family member has a residency permit. As the law states with heartwarming idealism:
The children of individuals who had residency permits in Germany, who have spent time in Germany and who have now grown up can ultimately receive their own, independent and permanent right to remain in Germany (Sec. 35, "eigenständiges und unbefristetes Aufenthaltsrecht der Kinder"), even if they have no employment and their parents leave the country; the goal of this is to ensure that children who grow up - essentially - as Germans are not later compelled, due to circumstances beyond their control, to leave.
Also keep in mind that Germany has special relationships with specific countries that may impact immigration. Case in point: the German American friendship treaty ratified originally on October 14, 1925 and then signed again (with changes) by the US and the Federal Republic of Germany on October 29, 1954. Remember that when immigrating into Germany there is the issue both of residency and of right to work. In most cases, people coming over will want both the right to live in Germany as well as the unrestricted right to work within Germany. The right to unrestricted work is something that EU citizens benefit from, of course, but some Americans coming to Germany do not realize that the right to work does not come automatically with the right to stay in Germany. However, under the aforementioned treaty, even Americans on temporary visas (e.g., tourists visas) may be able to work unrestrictedly. However, it is very important to note that most immigration officials in Germany may not remember and/or know about the treaty or its impact on visas and you will likely find yourself in the position of educating them on this topic. In German. If that sounds painful, it can be.
In general, German immigration officials are well intentioned and efficient. However, the infrastructure they have available is strained due to the vast volume of cases they are required to handle. It can sometimes help to have a lawyer, if only because it means one does not need to go to the immigration office quite as frequently on one's own. The waiting areas involve pulling a ticket and sitting in spaces like this, albeit in the middle of a bustling crowd.
Many clients express frustration at that prospect, but even if one has engaged a lawyer, occasionally, a personal appearance will be required. In my experience, routine cases can be resolved without legal counsel, except when the client lacks German language ability and does not have access to a translator (e.g. a German-speaking friend or family member).
The costs involved in engaging a lawyer to handle an immigration case typically remain within the three digit area, including 19% German Value Added Tax (Mehrwertsteuer). The expense is usually worth it if convenience is the aim or if the legal aspect is not already 100% settled.