Syrian passport | Photo: Picture-alliance/dpa/M.Kappeler
Syrian passport | Photo: Picture-alliance/dpa/M.Kappeler

Whether it's an EU Blue Card, a visa or claiming asylum — the paths to Europe for people who flee their countries are as manifold as they are complicated. Here's an overview of different ways a person can leave his country as well as possible outcomes of the asylum procedure in Germany.

Note: This listicle is based on a ZEIT Online infographic from July 2018

For skilled workers — the EU Blue Card 

The European Union’s Blue Card, introduced in 2008, is a work permit that allows high-skilled non-EU citizens to work and live in any country within the European Union, excluding Denmark, Ireland and the United Kingdom. The following people are eligible to apply for a Blue Card: Those who hold a degree from an accredited university, those who are highly qualified in a ‘shortage occupation’ (engineers, doctors, mathematicians, scientists and IT- skilled workers) with a gross annual income of at least €39,624; and those who have an employment contract in Germany with the amount of €50,800 per annum. 

If the Blue Card application is successful, the person can immigrate to Germany to live and work without having to apply for asylum. Find more information here.

Option I: Air travel with valid visa

Everyone with a valid visa for Germany can travel by plane and express their desire for asylum orally. Without a valid passport, refugees entering the country have to undergo an ‘airport procedure’ (by the federal police in the transit area); if it’s negative, the last resort is an appeal against the resulting entry ban; an unsuccessful appeal means deportation. Each of these three steps, provided the outcome is positive, leads to the asylum procedure Germany.

Option II: Seaway

Those without a valid visa for Germany but with several thousand euros in cash usually take the illegal — and risky — seaway to Germany via the Mediterranean Sea. According to UN refugee agency UNHCR, more than 2,200 migrants have died or gone missing trying to reach Europe via the Mediterranean in 2018

In case a private rescue boat like the Sea-Watch 3 takes them on board and they cooperate with police, the next step would be entering Europe via a EU harbor in Portugal, Spain, France, Malta, Italy, Greece or Cyprus. 

Frontex or the coast guard picking them up yields the same result, provided it happens in the territorial waters of a EU member state. 

Upon arrival in an EU port, fingerprints are taken and stored in the central European fingerprint database, the Eurodac. Once the fingerprint is registered, a person can apply for asylum in the country of arrival. If a person refuses to have their fingerprint taken, they risk arrest and deportation. Traveling onward to another EU state is illegal because the country of first arrival is responsible for the asylum proceedings.

Option III: Travel by foot

Provided people have crossed EU borders on foot, they cooperate with police and provide their fingerprint, they can apply for asylum in an EU border country, for example Croatia. If a person wants to continue onwards, their family situation determines whether they can apply for asylum in another EU country, for example in Germany.

Making it via one of the three routes — air, sea or land — leads to ...

Asylum procedure in Germany

First, the "Dublin check" determines which EU member state is responsible for carrying out the asylum procedure. If the result is Germany, the person needs to apply for asylum to the Federal Office of Migration and Refugees (BAMF). A decision can take up to 24 months based on the asylum seeker's statements and BAMF's own research. If the application is rejected, the asylum seeker is either tolerated (in case of an illness or their home country’s refusal to accept them) or deported by the foreigners’ registration office (Ausländerbehörde). A positive decision can result in the following scenarios:

  • The application is approved under §3 asylum law or §16 German Basic Law, which means asylum is granted and the asylum seeker can live and work in Germany. These made up 17 percent of all decisions last year.
  • The application is approved, but the refugee only gets subsidiary protection, not asylum (11 percent of all decisions in 2018). This, too, means the asylum seeker can live and work in Germany.
  • The asylum seeker receives no form of protection, only prohibition of deportation (five percent of all cases). This means the asylum seeker can live in Germany but doesn't have a work permit.

Additional (re)sources and helpful links:

Overview of forms of protection (BAMF)

Film with information on the asylum procedure (BAMF)

The Dublin Regulation (European Commission)

Identification of applications (European Commission)

EU Blue Card Germany FAQs (European Commission)

Deportation laws in Germany — what you need to know (InfoMigrants)


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