Living and accommodation
At the beginning of your stay in Germany you are under the obligation to live in an initial reception centre where your essential needs will be provided for. During this period of time you will receive support in the form of goods such as food and clothing. After a maximum of six months, your obligation to live in the initial reception centre will end and you can move to a collective accommodation facility or apartment, if you find a place. Collective accommodation is often smaller and spread all throughout the federal states.
A special provision applies to people from so-called safe countries of origin (currently these are Albania, Bosnia and Herzegovina, Ghana, Kosovo, the former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia, Montenegro, Senegal and Serbia). Asylum seekers from these countries are obligated to live in an initial reception centre for the entire period of the asylum seeking process.
As an asylum seeker you have to immediately inform the Federal Office for Migration and Refugees, often just called BAMF, of your current address after each move. This is very important for the asylum seeking process, as summons to hearings as well as any decisions regarding your asylum application are sent to the address that you report to the BAMF.
Restrictions on the possibility of travel within Germany
At the beginning of your asylum seeking process you are not allowed to travel within Germany without permission. This spatial restriction applies for at least the first three months after arrival and possibly longer if you are still obligated to live in an initial reception centre. This obligation can apply for a maximum of six months. During this time you are not allowed to leave the district in which your reception centre is located without permission. Travelling within Germany and abroad is not allowed during this time. In urgent cases you can apply at the Aliens Authority for a special permit to travel within Germany. If the BAMF rejects your application for asylum, the spatial restriction applies until departure.
People from so-called safe countries of origin are obligated to live in an initial reception centre during the whole period of asylum proceedings. In this case the spatial restriction applies for the whole duration of proceedings and in case of rejection, until departure.
Cooperation during the asylum procedure
You have a right to a fair examination of your asylum application. Besides your rights during the asylum procedure, you also have a number of obligations. These mostly concern your cooperation during the asylum procedure. It is important that you can be reached at all times by the German authorities during the entire asylum process. You are obligated to always inform the Federal Office of your current address if it has changed. Important instructions by this authority will be sent to your last known address. You are therefore responsible for making sure that letters reach you at your indicated address.
During your personal interview at the Federal Office for Migration and Refugees (BAMF) you should explain the reasons why you cannot return to your home country. The authorities are obligated to ask you questions and point out any contradictions in your responses. You should take care to respond thoroughly to the questions asked and not forget any details. In this regard it can make sense to seek consultation at an advisory centre before your hearing.
During the asylum process you will receive a limited form of health care. During this time you will only be entitled to treatment for acute cases of illness and pain. For other cases, especially chronic illnesses, treatment may be possible under certain conditions. There are no restrictions with regard to cases of pregnancy, vaccinations and important medical check-ups. Depending on which federal state you live in, you may receive a health insurance certificate from the social welfare office or a health insurance card so that you can visit a doctor. Asylum seekers whose asylum proceedings have already been going on for 15 months will receive social security benefits in accordance with the regulations of the Social Security Code and a health insurance card with full access to all health insurance benefits, in particular without restrictions to the treatment of acute pain and illnesses.
Persons who cannot provide for themselves receive financial support from the state under certain conditions. The amount of benefits received is regulated by a special law, the German Social Welfare Law for Asylum Seekers. Asylum seekers thereby receive less benefits than German citizens who may also be dependent on welfare. After 15 months the amount is adjusted to the same level as that of German citizens dependent on welfare.
As long as you are living in an initial reception centre, you will mainly receive benefits in the form of goods. This includes food, clothes and other items that you require for your daily life. You may continue to receive benefits in form of goods when you move to collective accommodation. If this is not feasible or wanted by local authorities, you will receive a fixed amount of money. If you live in an apartment you can, within a reasonable scope, get those costs refunded.
Learning German and integration courses
In Germany there is a uniform integration course that offers foreigners the opportunity to learn German as quickly as possible so that they can better navigate life in Germany and develop an understanding of the country. The course includes 900 hours of instruction: a language course and a section about the German legal system, values, culture and history. There are also various specialised courses, for example for people who may not be able to read or write properly. The integration course ends with a language test, which, when passed, places you at the B1 level. There is also a test about “Life in Germany”.
During the asylum process you can only participate in an integration course if there are available places and it can be expected that you will stay in Germany on a permanent basis. Currently, this applies to applicants from Eritrea, Iraq, Iran, Syria and Somalia. Applicants from so-called safe countries of origin cannot participate in integration courses. In order to participate, you have to file an application at the Federal Office for Migration and Refugees (BAMF).
Further information on the content and programme of the integration course can be found on the website of the Federal Office.
In addition, volunteers and other institutions offer free German courses or so-called language cafés. Information on such courses can be obtained from advisory centres.
Kindergartens and day-care centres help children to settle into life in Germany, learn the German language and (to) find friends. The language acquisition is most important because it is a prerequisite for the subsequent admission to school. Even before they start school, children are supervised with peers of the same age in day care centres. This applies regardless of the resident status of the parents. The youth welfare office may fully or partially bear the costs for this.
It is compulsory for children (and adolescents) above the age of 6 to attend school for 9 years (in some federal states 10 years). This also applies if they are in the asylum seeking process, have already been recognised as refugees or have been granted subsidiary protection in Germany.
At some schools, so-called preparatory classes or welcome classes have been set up to convey the basics of the German language before the children participate in regular classes.
The exact registration procedure differs according to the federal state in which you live. In Germany, the attendance of public schools is free of charge. However, special costs may arise during the school year, for example for schoolbooks. You may apply for these extra costs to be taken over by the social welfare office.
During the first three months of the asylum process you are not allowed to work. In addition, you are not allowed to work as long as you are obligated to live in an initial reception centre, which can be a maximum 6 months. You can then register with the job centre as seeking employment. The job center will support you in your search for employment. In order to take up a specific job you require a work permit, which you can apply for at the Aliens Authority. For the Aliens Authority to issue the permit they need permission from the Federal Labour Agency. Self-employment is not possible during the asylum process.
If you come from a so-called safe country of origin, you are not allowed to work during the asylum process. Countries that are currently considered as safe are Albania, Bosnia and Herzegovina, Ghana, Kosovo, Macedonia, Montenegro, Senegal and Serbia.
A vocational training qualifies you for a specific profession and facilitates your entry into the labour market. There is institution-based training and company facilitated training. In the case of an institution-based training, you will acquire all the necessary knowledge for a specific profession at a vocational institution – for example for employment as a nurse. In a company facilitated training you work directly in a company and attend a vocational institution. A vocational training usually takes between two to three years and is partially compensated.
An institution-based training is possible at all times without special permission, as long as you fulfil the necessary requirements, such as required school education qualifications and necessary language skills. In contrast, you may only begin company facilitated training three months after the start of your asylum process at the earliest. In order to undertake training you require the permission of the Aliens Authority. This permission will only be given when you are no longer obligated to live in an initial reception centre. This obligation can remain valid for a maximum of six months.
For persons coming from so-called safe countries of origin, there is a prohibition of employment during the entire asylum process/ for the entire period of the asylum process.
In principle, everyone in Germany is allowed to study – regardless of their residence status. Unlike in the professional field, there are no specific restrictions on asylum seekers and those under subsidiary protection. One may therefore not enjoin you from studying. There are, however, a few practical obstacles: lack of language skills and academic certificates as well as financing problems.
In principle, the university decides on the specific prerequisites for admission. If you would like to apply for admission to a German university, you need to have proof of prior education. For this purpose you will need to submit all previously acquired certificates to the university. If you do not have documents of proof or the university does not accept your documents, you will need to take a special exam.
In addition to the proof of your professional qualifications, you usually also have to demonstrate appropriate language skills in German. Admission without German language skills may be considered for international courses that are not taught in German.
Another obstacle can be the financing of your studies. In principle, students can receive financial aid from the state if they can neither finance their studies themselves nor with the help of their parents. This financial aid is called BaföG (Federal Education and Training Assistance Act/BundesAusbildungsförderungsGesetz). During the asylum process, asylum seekers cannot receive BaföG support. After being recognised as a refugee, a person entitled to asylum or, under additional requirements, a person receiving subsidiary protection, financial support through BaföG can be requested.
If you would like to study, you also have to bear in mind that as an asylum seeker you are not free to travel and relocate. You require permission from the responsible authorities if the school or university at which you want to study is in an area not corresponding to your residence status.
Recognition of qualifications
Having your foreign academic and professional qualifications officially recognised would greatly improve your professional start in Germany. You can check whether your qualifications comply with German standards. This applies to your school, academic or professional qualifications. You can already apply for official recognition of your qualifications before the Federal Office for Migration and Refuges takes a decision regarding your application for asylum. For recognition, you need to file an application at the responsible certification authority.
You can receive consultation regarding the recognition procedure. For further information please visit the website of the IQ-Network.
The Federal Government has also set up a website informing about the recognition of professional qualifications.