Germany: post-pandemic and beyond

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Bettina Offer
Offer & Mastmann, Frankfurt

Gabriele Mastmann
Offer & Mastmann, Frankfurt

Germany has seen practical pandemic-era changes to immigration rules as well as legal ones. Due to the (partial) border closures, employment migration has become more complex and thus increasingly complicated. While in the past immigration eligibility depended on the nationality and professional training of the candidate and the type of occupation aimed for in Germany, we now have to take the country of departure into account. The world has been divided into no/low-risk countries, high-risk countries and mutation areas, each with different rules regarding border closure and quarantine requirements. While economic migration from low and high-risk countries is generally possible – albeit subject to additional documentation requirements – economic migration from mutation risk areas has been limited to medical personnel. Additionally, Brexit finally happened, thus UK citizens are no longer treated as European Union nationals and now need a work and residence permit if they intend to work in Germany. In March 2020, just before the start of the pandemic, a new immigration law came into effect in Germany providing for additional options for employment migration and a fast-track process. Last August the updated EU regulation on posted workers has been implemented changing the rules on comparable salaries.

The practical changes refer to a weakened administration with employees working from home and German missions abroad that are closed or run a limited visa service. Clients need to calculate longer process times and a rise in costs to cover extra documentary duties.

The changes in immigration law that just happened during the pandemic will stay with us, as they are the result of long-term lawmaking efforts. That refers to the new immigration law and posted worker regulations. Where it comes to the practical shortcomings, we hope that the current deficits in the quality of administrative processing will turn into the opposite: the government as well as the people in Germany realising due to the pandemic that our public sector needs better funding to enhance digitalisation and training of personnel. Quarantine rules and travel bans will not be continued once the pandemic becomes history.

Currently, many of our civil liberties are restricted to fight the pandemic. German constitutional law allows such restriction only in order to preserve another civil liberty. From the legal point of view, the weighting of conflicting civil liberties is one of the most difficult tasks for any lawyer or politician. Thus, when vaccines prevent the spread of the virus, there is – legally – no room to continue restrictions on the civil liberties of individuals who have been vaccinated. Then again, allowing immunised individuals a ‘normal’ life again while barring others would only seem non-discriminatory when vaccinations are readily available for the general public. It seems to be a matter of timing. Accordingly, the EU is already planning to create a digital vaccination passport, so that restrictions can be lifted for those who have received the jab. Our guess is that they will implement it sometime this summer, once vaccination rates could be raised considerably and the vaccines are available for all.

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