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EU Blue Card vs. work permit in Germany

Expatrio 2024-07-12
Woman does research on EU Blue Card and work permit in Germany


Germany offers a variety of visa options for expats, including the EU Blue Card and the standard work permit. Each option comes with its own set of requirements and benefits, making it crucial to understand the differences to choose the best pathway for your career and lifestyle goals.

To help you determine which option best suits your qualifications and career aspirations, this article will explore the specifics of the EU Blue Card vs. work permit. Whether you are a highly skilled professional seeking advanced career opportunities or an experiences worker aiming to fill a shortage occupation (bottleneck profession), understanding these visa options is essential for a successful transition to working and living in Germany. Let's get started.

Understanding the EU Blue Card

The EU Blue Card is a residence permit designed to attract highly skilled non-EU professionals to live and work in the European Union. Introduced in 2009, the card aims to make Europe an appealing destination for talented workers from around the world, addressing skill shortages in various sectors and promoting economic growth.

Blue Card facts

  • Non-EU citizens with a higher education degree and a job offer meeting a minimum salary threshold (€54,300 or €41.041,80 in shortage occupations).
  • The purpose is to make it easier for for highly skilled professionals to enter, settle, and work within the EU.
  • Cardholders can apply for permanent residency (Niederlassungserlaubnis) after 33 months of working in Germany, or 21 months with B1 German language proficiency.
  • After 18 months of working in Germany, cardholders can move to another EU country and apply for a Blue Card there without returning to their home country.
  • Simplified process for bringing family members, who can also work in Germany.
  • Social benefits like access to healthcare, unemployment benefits, and social security, similar to German nationals.

What is a German work permit?

A work permit in Germany on the other hand allows non-EU nationals to work legally in the country. It is different from a work visa, because it is more restrictive in terms of job mobility. The work permit specifies the conditions under which you can work, such as the type of job, employer, and location, ensuring that your employment is recognized and regulated.

Work permit facts

  • The work permit is an authorization for non-EU citizens to work in Germany and requires a concrete job offer from a German employer.
  • Relevant qualifications and skills must match the job requirements. Some work permits may require a labor market test to ensure no suitable EU candidates are available.
  • The permit is tied to the length of the german work contract and can be renewed.
  • Work permit holders have access to social benefits, including healthcare and social security.
  • After several years of continuous employment, work permit holders may be eligible to apply for permanent residency (Niederlassungserlaubnis).

Visa or residence permit?

Sometimes the different titles like work visa, work permit and residence visa lead to a lot of confusion. Here is a clear explanation of the key differences:

Visa options Details
work visa
  • entry requirement (necessary for entry into Germany for employment)
  • pre-entry (obtained before traveling)
  • purpose (entry with intent to apply for a work permit or residence permit)
work permit
  • work authorization (grants the right to take up employment in Germany)
  • post-entry (applied for after entering Germany with a visa)
  • specificity (often specific to a job and employer)
residence visa
  • extended stay (allows living in Germany for extended periods)
  • combined permissions (may include work, study, or family reunification rights)
  • long-term (pathway to permanent residency)


Comparison: Blue Card vs. work permit in Germany

Choosing between the EU Blue Card and a standard work permit involves evaluating several key factors. Both options offer routes to employment in Germany, but they differ in terms of eligibility criteria, the application process, validity and renewal terms, and provisions for family reunification. To help you decide which path best suits your qualifications and personal needs, we will compare these aspects.

Eligibility criteria

The EU Blue Card requires a higher education degree or equivalent qualifications that are recognized in Germany. Additionally, applicants must have a concrete job offer from a German employer. For 2024, the minimum annual gross salary threshold is €45,300 for most occupations. However, for shortage occupations such as IT specialists, engineers, and medical professionals such as doctors and nurses, the threshold is slightly lower at €41,042.

A standard work permit also needs a specific job offer from a German employer and relevant qualifications and skills for the job. In some cases, a labor market test is required to ensure that there are no suitable candidates available within the EU for the position. Compared to the EU Blue Card, the work permit is more flexible in terms of educational requirements (you do not necessarily need a university degree) and can be used for a wider range of professions.

Application process of Blue Card and work permit compared

Applying for an EU Blue Card is generally more streamlined and quicker than applying for a regular German work permit. For the Blue Card you need to apply directly in Germany as it can only be obtained from the local German immigration office (Ausländerbehörde). So, once you have secured a job in Germany, you will need to get in touch with the embassy in your country to get an entry visa first. Upon arrival, you can then apply for the EU Blue Card. The typical processing time takes 4 to 6 weeks. In contrast, the work permit process may involve a labor market test and additional approvals, often submitted through a German embassy or consulate, taking several weeks to a few months. This makes the Blue Card quicker and more efficient for highly skilled professionals, while the work permit process is more complex and time-consuming.

Blue Card vs. work permit in Germany: Validity and renewal

EU Blue Card work permit
typically valid for up to 4 years
duration varies based on the length of the job contract
renewable under certain conditions
facilitates easier transitions to permanent residency after 33 months (or 21 months with B1 language proficiency)
pathways to permanent residency depend on the type of permit and length of continuous employment


Is family reunification possible with both work visas for Germany?

The EU Blue Card offers a streamlined and simplified process for family reunification. Family members, including spouses and children, are allowed to join the Blue Card holder in Germany without significant delays. Moreover, they are granted the right to work in Germany without needing a visa application or additional work permits.

While family reunification is possible with a standard work permit, the process can be more stringent and may involve additional requirements. Family members may need to obtain separate permits to work, depending on the type of work permit held by the primary applicant. Additionally, the application for family reunification might include proving sufficient living space and financial means to support the family, potentially leading to waiting periods and more complex procedures.

Blue card or work permit in Germany: Who should apply for which one?

The EU Blue Card is best suited for highly skilled professionals who have higher salary offers. It is particularly beneficial for those working in fields like IT, engineering, and healthcare. The streamlined application procedure as well as additional benefits such as easier family reunification and faster paths to permanent residency make the Blue Card an attractive option for top-tier talent seeking career advancement in Europe.

The standard work permit is more flexible and suitable for individuals in shortage occupations (so called bottleneck professions or “Mangelberufe” in German), researchers, and freelancers. It is suitable for those who do not meet the high salary thresholds of the Blue Card, but still possess the necessary qualifications and job offers to work in Germany. A work permit offers more varied pathways and is accessible to a broader range of professions.


In summary, the EU Blue Card and the standard work permit each offer distinct advantages tailored to different types of professionals. The EU Blue Card is geared towards highly skilled workers with substantial salary offers, providing a faster route to permanent residency and enhanced mobility within the EU. On the other hand, the work permit caters to skilled workers in various fields, including shortage occupations and freelance roles, offering a more flexible approach to employment in Germany. By understanding these differences, you can choose the permit that best aligns with your qualifications, career goals, and personal circumstances, ensuring a successful and rewarding experience in Germany.

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