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May 17, 2018

How to (not) get a visa for Germany

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Getting (or Not) a German Visa


A Series of Unfortunate Events
Image source: www.imdb.com

A Series of (Un)fortunate Events *


Last week I mentioned I would share my personal experience as I applied for the freelance visa here in Germany (read it here); I am doing so in order to share what can and does happen with visa applications. 

The point of my sharing this story isn’t to scare people off but to get them to do their research when hiring a visa specialist. Make certain they are fully qualified and highly recommended from many different sources because so much can go wrong when it comes to visas and there is nothing to joke about when the immigration office decides you’ve done something wrong-they will not hesitate to send the police to your door to escort you to the airport and out of the country with minimal notice.


Note
*** Disclaimer: This Guide is not a general recommendation or an advice. Everyone’s experience and situation is different. *** 
For legal reasons, the author and myGermanExpert aren't mentioning the name of the visa assistance company (P******.de) or the website recommending it (S*****.me).


German Visa


When I first learned that Germany offered a freelance visa and that Americans qualify for it, I started doing my research. I read through different blogs detailing what people did to get their visas and I made notes on the process, since I planned on doing this all by myself and knew that many had successfully done so with no assistance. But, once I was here in Berlin and learned that English isn’t spoken at the LABO immigration office by law, and with only having a beginner level in German, I decided that hiring a specialist would be the best move.

There were a few blogs I found that were better than most, detailing the many different steps needed to get your new life off the ground here in Berlin; one of these blogs included a “highly recommended visa assistance company” with the convenience of emailing through the blog. I used the form embedded in the blog and waited to be contacted; a few days later I received an email and learned that this woman has been working with visa assistance for years and would be happy to meet me to discuss things in depth. 

At the first meeting I was impressed by the office and the woman seemed quite confident, plus she was German and has been working in this field for years (according to her). I decided to pay the 400 Euro fee and hired her on the spot without doing more research or looking for other visa specialists; I informed her of the date my tourist visa ended and she assured me she would make all the appointments and “be on top of things.” She also informed me that I could cancel the LABO appointment I had made for later in August because she likes to “have the visa appointment at the very end of the tourist visa,” but she didn’t fully explain why and sadly, I didn’t ask for clarity on the subject. I left her office feeling confident that I would soon have my visa and I started emailing out my resume for jobs so that I could get things started early so I could start work immediately after receiving it.  

I didn’t hear from her during the remainder of August and in September I emailed asking what the status was and she didn’t reply; I waited ten days and then emailed a second time. I emailed her daily throughout September and never received a reply- at this point, it was too late to find someone new (I thought) and I didn’t believe I could get my 200 Euro deposit back if I terminated the contract so I felt like I was stuck with this incompetent “specialist”; finally in October I sent an email to her supervisor and amazingly received an email from her the next day where she assured me she had it all under control and all the paperwork I gave her was perfect and needed no further work/changes. 

All of October continued in the same way- my emails being ignored until I contacted her supervisor, which would be followed by an email from this woman; also there were a few times where she would assure me that I would hear from her the next day and then, when I didn’t, I would email asking why I hadn’t heard from her yet, only to receive that automatic “out of the office on vacation” email notification. The lack of professionalism from her was really starting to wear on me and worry me because I no longer had any confidence in her skills.  

At the end of October I was informed that we had an appointment in January and all was in order with nothing more needed from me. When the date got closer she emailed to verify where we would meet the day of the visa appointment and that was it. 

On the day of the appointment in January, I headed to the LABO office with all documents and passport in-hand, confident I qualified for the freelance work and would be successful in obtaining it. I met with the “specialist” outside the office and we headed in, where she sat and reviewed my paperwork one last time; as we were sitting there waiting for my number to be called she made the comment, “well I am a little concerned that they might have some questions about some things but let’s hope we have a nice person making the decision.” What the heck was that supposed to mean? When I asked her to clarify she just waved it away and told me not to worry, also that it would all be said in German and she would explain things to me as we went along. 

We headed in to the office when my number was called and I sat there as everything was said in German and didn’t have an idea what was happening; when I handed over my passport showing my entrance date on the tourist visa stamp everything changed. They started rapidly speaking in German and another worker was called over; I sat there growing more and more worried, especially as I heard my “specialist” say, “but it was my fault.” 

Finally the LABO worker said to me in English, “you do qualify for the freelance visa BUT you overstayed your tourist visa by four months and you need to leave the country two weeks from today.”  

I was shocked! I said, “Wait, she (pointing at the specialist) made this appointment and she swears she made it before my tourist visa expired.” The LABO worker informed me that no, that wasn’t true, the “specialist” hadn’t made the appointment in the correct window of time and didn’t book the appointment until five days after my tourist visa ended. I was speechless. This was my life this idiot woman had just screwed up because she “wasn’t on top of things,” and I couldn’t understand how this had happened, especially since I had been emailing her constantly, reminding her, requesting updates and trying to get 100% assurance she was “on top of things.” 

The LABO gave me a letter in German that I had to show to the customs desk as I was leaving the country two weeks from that day (see image below); they kept my passport until I could return to show proof of my flight reservation out of Germany on February 1, 2018. They said, “Sorry but you made this mistake and there is nothing we can do because this rule has been broken, so you must leave the country in two weeks time and you can only return on a tourist visa after you spend 90 days outside of the Schengen Zone or you can return under a different visa that you apply for and obtain through a German embassy in America.”  

LABO
This was the letter (from the LABO)
I had to turn in to the customs agent as I left the country.

I was assured this wasn’t my fault and I wasn’t in trouble, plus there was no long term effects from this, even though there very well could have been. In fact, this is exactly what the LABO worker said to me- had this been my fault I would have been given 72 hours to leave the country and police would have escorted me to the airport and remained with me until I boarded the plane. 

They handed all of the documents minus my passport back to me and we were shown out the door. I was still speechless at this moment because I was trying to process everything. I had two weeks to leave my life in Berlin-two weeks to find someone to sublet my apartment, to house sit my dogs and apartment while I was in another country for potentially three months. And during all of this the only thing the visa “specialist” said was, “I should have been more on top of it.” REALLY?! That’s all you have to say to me? The next thing she said was, “Well since this is all my fault I guess the least I can do is try to get my company to cover the costs of your flights.” That was it. That was the extent of her apology and assistance; she said goodbye outside the LABO and that she would “of course help me in any way she could.”  I was so angry but still processing all of this information and trying not to panic as I started working out my plans.  
One week later, after I purchased my flights, the “specialist” and I returned to the LABO office in order to pick up my passport and show proof of my leaving plans. The impression we’d both been given the previous week was that all we needed to do was show back up in this woman’s office with proof of flight and she would hand over my passport. Nothing is ever that simple at the LABO office. We arrived and since we hadn’t made an appointment that meant we had to stand in this insanely long line in House C (thank god I always travel with a book to read, it is all I can say).

After about 25 minutes of standing in line the visa specialist went to the woman’s office from the week before to ask if we truly needed to wait in this long line; she was disappointed to learn that yes, we did need to stand and wait. An hour later we made it to the window and the “specialist” explained everything, showed my reservations and got a number; we then went back to the waiting room where we waited another 40 minutes for my number to be called. When we went to the new office and showed proof of my flights out, the new LABO worker needed everything from the previous week to be fully explained to him and what had caused the mistake in the first place; then when he was “caught up” as he put it, he then looked at my flights and became angry that I had booked round trip tickets back to Berlin! 

She spent approximately another 10 minutes explaining that was because I fully intended to return when I was legally able to and. if needed, would change the dates based on what happened at the embassy in Boston. Another 30 minutes of dealing with the LABO worker passed until he was finally satisfied with all of it and gave me my passport back. 

Thankfully, I managed to find a wonderful, reliable house and animal sitter who was flexible enough to be able to stay for either one month or, potentially, the entire 3 months if I wasn’t successful in obtaining a visa through the German embassy in America. I also am lucky to have family who lives in England, so I had somewhere to fly to and stay that was outside the Schengen Zone; I also am lucky to have dear friends who live in Boston, Massachusetts, who were more than happy to have me stay with them for three weeks while I worked on applying for the job seeker visa so that I could return to Berlin before three months’ time. 

When I was flying out of Tegel airport, customs took a bit longer to navigate due to the expired tourist visa in my passport and the letter from the LABO that I handed over which explained, in German, what had transpired and how none of it was my fault. 

Had I not had that letter I could have been subject to a fine of 100 Euro for each day that I had overstayed my tourist visa (I had overstayed by a total of 4 months remember so that would have been a monumental fine), and the potential to be banned from the Schengen Zone/Germany for up to ten years! Overstaying visas is no joking matter, in any way, and believe me, this was an incredibly scary situation that could have been far worse than what I actually experienced. The customs agents were kind, they were not rude or aggressive with me and there were no further issues/problems, but it was the first time I’ve ever had to deal with anything like this and I truly hope to never experience it again. 

In Boston, because of my education, I successfully obtained the six-month job seeker visa, which meant that I was able to return to Berlin after only one month. I have hired a reputable and highly recommended visa specialist, one who I thoroughly vetted and received many positive recommendations of her work. 

My LABO appointment is next week and all my paperwork is in order (according to my new specialist she’s amazed that the previous woman never worked with me on mistakes with my documents- obvious mistakes that makes her truly question how this first woman is in business!). I’m much more positive and confident this time around and believe things will work out.



[* Reference: The title is inspired from Lemony Snicket's A Series of Unfortunate Events]

About

Tres C is an American who’s lived and worked all over the world and who has traveled extensively. She moved to Berlin in July 2017 with her dogs; she’s excited to share her hard earned knowledge about relocating to Berlin through her writing on this blog.


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