Love, bureaucracy & despair in the city


Leipzig is a colorful and vibrant city, attracting more and more people from all over the world. But while coming on a tourist or student visa is rather easy, foreigners who fall in love with the city have a rather hard path to a long-term visa. You may have noticed or experienced this yourself when, for instance, trying to obtain permission to work here.

In my circle of friends, a lot of expats from the US and UK are fighting to stay in Leipzig. This depends on being able to meet increasingly stringent requirements.

The city of Leipzig can breed equal parts love and despair for expats. (Photo: public domain)

One of those I support in the fight to remain in this city is my boyfriend, who is American.

One wonders how the German government looks upon migrants who come here to build a good life and pursue their happiness. Personal experience has shown me how the federal state of Saxony is particularly led by a very strong hand, sticking to immigration law and residency rules with almost painful precision.

While the amount of requirements is vast, the information on them is rather scarce. The website of the Foreigners’ Authority (Ausländerbehörde) in the city is accessible in English, but little info is available other than where to find the office and a link to booking an appointment.

When going there for an appointment, another problem comes up, as you may have observed: the language barrier. Many of the staffers at the Foreigners’ Authority lack comprehensive English knowledge. Therefore, they cannot provide as much information as needed, and very often cannot answer questions fully.

Another very important fact is that there are no brochures about the requirements on hand at the bureau’s location (Technisches Rathaus on Prager Straße).

Before my boyfriend and I met, he had to deal with the Foreigners’ Authority himself. He was only given info on what papers needed to be handed in.

No one ever told him what to do, specifically, to meet the government’s requirements – and even more importantly, to obey German law.

The city of Leipzig can breed equal parts love and despair for expats. (Photo: public domain)
Public domain photo.

Coming to Leipzig in 2009 as an artist and musician, my boyfriend applied for a visa and a work permit. Like many of his friends, he started working as a freelance English teacher, so that he could further pursue his interest in art and music.

Over the years, the requirements regarding his income got stricter and stricter. The immigration authorities demanded that he bring in more and more income to cover his alleged expenses.

His ability to express himself as an artist increasingly faded into the background, as he had to work ever longer hours as a teacher to be granted a new one-year visa and work permit. Today, he does not paint anymore, and does not work with his band or on other musical projects he had been involved in.

When we became a couple, I asked him how much money he was supposed to make to meet the requirements. He said he didn’t know. I was surprised and startled that no one had told him what was expected of him. When I asked him why he didn’t ask, he said that he did; but that due to the language barrier, he didn’t get an answer he understood.

But it was with his latest visa application for another year, in March 2017, that the problems really started.

Even though he’d been in this city since 2009 – and working as a freelance English teacher since 2012 – the Foreigners’ Authority suddenly demanded proof that he’d registered with the German Pension Office. He had never heard of this and asked me about it.

I of course know that, as a German citizen, I have to pay into the pension system. But I wasn’t acquainted with the rule applying to my boyfriend’s case.

I contacted the pension office in Leipzig and made an appointment. Getting there, we were told that German law indeed requires that freelance teachers register with the office, and that they pay a monthly due of 18% of their income to secure the provision for retirement.

Then I wondered why no one at the Ausländerbehörde had told him about this law, since they knew from the beginning what kind of occupation he had. One of the papers he’d had to fill out when registering his work with the immigration authority asked for a detailed description of his occupation.

The devastating news was delivered to us two days later, when we went back to the pension office to hand in all the paperwork.

They told us he’d have to pay back the dues for the past four years. This is the specific amount of time the pension office is allowed to demand back payments of pension fees.

Ever since we received the official notice of this stipulation, we have been trying to fight it. We’ve talked to lawyers. I’ve called offices, written letters, tried to have his status revised, tried to push for him to be able to give up his right to a German pension. But guess what – this specific law has been revoked, and you can no longer do that.

The city of Leipzig can breed equal parts love and despair for expats. (Photo: public domain)
Public domain photo.

I asked my boyfriend’s immigration officer why nobody had told him about the pension requirement. The answer I was given was that it’s my boyfriend’s duty to inform himself.

This is true, of course; but one would also expect that a government office whose sole purpose is to deal precisely with such things would provide information that enables people to make educated decisions. This lack of proper communication has led many of my boyfriend’s friends here into a similar devastating outcome.

We are now facing €10,000 in back payments from the pension office. Plus the ongoing monthly pension fees of almost €250. And finally, the general demand from the Foreigners’ Authority that he earn at least €900 to cover his living costs, according to their assessment.

Since his new application, we have had to fight for every single visa extension. He has to check in at the Ausländerbehörde every three months with his progress on earning enough money. The most recent extension runs out next month.

If we cannot make a miracle happen until then, his application will be denied and they will force him to leave Germany.

Cities like Leipzig, and Germany in general, are so very much appealing to people, due to their multiculturalism and diversity. I understand that migration needs to follow certain rules; what I do not understand is why the German government is making it extensively harder for people to be able to stay here, to work and to just build a good life.

The lack of migration means the lack of individualism, the lack of progress, of understanding and respect. It’s the lack of the possibility to grow as a nation that is free from prejudice and full of acceptance.

I wish those who come to Leipzig to seek their fortune all the best – and hope that they can find a way through the minefield of requirements, laws and missing information.

The city of Leipzig can breed equal parts love and despair for expats. (Photo: public domain)

By Lilly Stahl

Lilly is from a little town in Brandenburg, but grew up in western Germany. She came to Leipzig to study, then fell in love with the city and decided to stay. She works at the local branch of an international software company, as their revenue manager. Her hobbies include reading books, playing board games and visiting flea markets. She spends most of her free time with friends, her boyfriend and their dog.

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