Voluntary Immigrant

While working in hospitality for over 5 years I had the pleasure of meeting and working alongside people from all over the world. People from places that I had never heard of or knew little about. They all had one thing in common, they risked everything, leaving behind family, friends, and even children to seek the opportunity to build a better life.

They told me stories about how their families would frequently be denied access into the country to visit them. They would go years without seeing their loved ones. They missed births, birthdays, holidays, weddings, and funerals. They struggled to find the words to express themselves and were ridiculed by others for where they were from or how they spoke. All of that was worth it to them to be in the US to work and have the opportunities they didn’t have back home.

Many people leave their home country out of necessity due to war and other unlivable conditions. They pick up with only a few items and no money and start out with only the faith that there is something better awaiting them on the other side. The smallest things, things that many Americans take for granted, bring them such joy.

There are things as an American I never had to think about. I didn’t have to worry whether or not I would qualify to rent an apartment. I didn’t have to think about going into a business and being able to communicate with people in the room. Applying for a job simply entailed going online and filling out an application. Feeling secure with my status within my country. These are all things I took for granted.

Moving to another country where the language is completely different is challenging enough. But the realization that I am now an immigrant with second class citizen privileges is a startling position to be in. I can’t just apply for any job I want. I can’t go into a store and communicate freely with people in the room. I can’t feel secure with my place in this country.

I don’t take for granted that I voluntary chose these struggles. I wasn’t placed her, I wasn’t forced here, I’m not running from horrible conditions. There are refugees here that were taken in by the government but are being pushed out by the citizens. They have no where else to go and no means to make another way but they are being abused and outcasted.

The German government is very good about taking care of refugees. They don’t even call them refugees they have a nicer way of saying it that basically translates to people who come from a tumultuous country. They assist them with safe living accommodations, the opportunity to work, and other public assistance. They deserve all the help they can get. In turn, voluntary expats are given no easy way into to staying in the country.

As a US citizen we still are allotted several benefits that people from other countries don’t get. We can stay in the country for 90 days with no visa and we can travel to and from other countries within those 90 days. Many people speak English so it’s possible to get by knowing little to no German but that’s only in Berlin. Many people sublet their apartments but you can’t sublet from a landlord without their version of a credit history called a SHUFA and 3 months worth of pay stubs.

However, working is tricky. I did much research on working in Germany before coming here. I’ve heard of people hiring attorneys and translator to apply for a work visa and still getting denied. It’s not enough to want to come here and work and be a contributing member of society. They make you beg for it.

The immigration office here is called the Ausländerbehörde. The people there are tasked with assisting all non German citizens with their resident permits, work visas, and all others permissions needed to live in Germany. You would think that you would be greeted by people who want to make the process as easy as possible for you. That’s not these people. It’s like they get joy out of telling you no. And if you don’t speak German, you’re at a huge disadvantage.

I’ve gotten lucky in other official offices but not at this place. I’ve been there 4 times, one day I waited for 3 hours only for them to tell me there’s nothing they can do for me. Online appointments aren’t available for 2 months and even if you have one they continue to give you new forms or documents you need to bring back.

While I was waiting in line, outside in the cold, for those 3 hours, the woman in front of me started up a conversation. She was surprised that I was having such a hard time getting approval to work. “So many women come here, have 4, 5, 6 babies and just want to live off of the government. All you want to do is work. You would think they would want more people like you.” What I gathered from that was that I needed to get started on popping out some kids because that would be easier than the route I had been on.

There are a variety of ways to get a work visa here, the easiest is to have a job to sponsor you. Problem with that is that you have to have a set a skills that would justify them giving you the job over a German citizen. You can apply for a freelance visa but you have to provide proof that your freelance work is enough to reach their monthly standard of living. If you want to live with a family as an Au Pair you can go that route but only if you’re under 26. There are visas to study German or at a University but you’d have to show proof of enrollment or first be qualified by a University to study.

Once you receive a visa in a particular field you can’t just move to any job. They are very specific about what field you can work in and if you want to change fields, you have to go back and apply for another visa. I never thought getting permission to work would ever be so challenging.

They say anything worth having is worth working hard for. There have been many times in my life where I seriously doubted whether I would accomplish my goals. Again and again I was faced with setbacks, road blocks, and disappointing news. The moments I wanted to give up, I somehow convinced myself to keep fighting and in the end, achieved the goals I set out for. No matter how many times they tell me no or turn me away, I’m not going to let a few people stand in the way of what I’m trying to accomplish: being an employed immigrant in Berlin.


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