Thursday, March 27, 2008

A Streetcar Tour of Cologne: The Elusive 'Arbeitserlaubnis' Work Permit

I'd like to get some hours as an English instructor or tutor. But there's a trick. A person can't land a job without a work permit, and a non-European Union citizen cannot get a work permit (Arbeitserlaubnis) unless he or she has already found an employer prepared to underwrite the permitting of said alien. Or at least that's how it's been presented to me and the other Americans I've talked to here. Perhaps because the processing alone takes 6-8 weeks, many employers balk at job applicants who aren't already permitted. And honestly, I've procrastinated in filling out this paperwork – though not for nothing. But before I launch into an account of one day's quest to hand in my application, allow me to clarify that I doubt this process is any easier in the United States. (I don't wanna come off as some shrill, self-entitled American tourist whining about another country's long-standing governmental practices.)

This weekend I'd put the final touches on my German-language application. Wednesday I ditched class and, just after 8am, walked into the Ausländeramt in the Altstadt. Although I was informed that I was in the wrong building and, in fact, in the wrong part of town, the rebuff was quick and painless. Off to Luxemburgstrasse.

Two Bahns later I get to where I'm supposed to be and everything goes swimmingly until they realize I'm not E.U. Turns out, Yanks must apply for Arbeitserlaubnis in the Kalk office, on the other side of the Rhein. The news was deflating to say the least, but the woman I spoke with was friendly and helpful, spoke German slowly and clearly, and had printed matter to prove she wasn't just brushing me off.

Three more Bahns and I arrive at what's actually a rather beautiful building, especially for one housing municipal bureaucratic offices. I found the office I needed (they're sorted by claimants' last names; mine was something like “Be – Cr”). Here I must speak briefly about Germans relationships with doors. They prefer them closed. Certainly this is the case in offices, and I understand it carries over into some households, though I've no firsthand evidence to back that up. Office doors are almost never open, nor do they look inviting. The question is, does one knock and wait for an answer? knock and enter? barge right it? or meekly wait for someone to open the door and, merely by chance, collect you? I've been here ten months now, but I don't know the answer. This time I switched it up, trying a soft, single-knuckle wrap at the same time as I slowly opened the door. I thought it was pretty smooth, and believe I can say that it was recognized favorably and with approval. Leider, here came strike three. Wrong office, but I was getting warmer. No Bahns this time, just a walk to an adjacent building.

Tried the tap-and-push number again at the next office, but the door wouldn't give. Immediately after this sort of thing happens, I always second-guess myself. Was it locked? or just a stiff door? Should I try again? or will fumbling with the doorknob make present me as a burglar or schizophrenic? Speaking in a foreign language makes me exponentially more timid, and I resigned myself to waiting outside, hoping for an answer to my knock. I heard movement on the other side of the door but, after a period of some duration, felt compelled to knocked again. A woman on the other side yelled something to the effect of “Moment! Bitte!” I think she was irritated. And, yes, the door was locked. Once inside I was informed in no uncertain terms that this woman (based on the pictures pinned over her desk, an animal lover) was not the person who would under normal circumstances handle my case. However, today she would be happy to assist me. I turned in my much-labored-over application, and was informed that I was light about three items of paperwork. My German's far from great, but I believe I got the gist of what's needed to get things right. Ah, and I got a story out of it! She printed a page of material out for me, and told me that only the top half of the page applied to my situation. After a quick search, she dug out a ruler and carefully positioned it, low on the page at a 45-degree angle. She checked for accuracy, reached for her pen and then, guided by the ruler, drew a perfect straight line diagonally across the page. It was only then that I realized that what she was doing was striking through the irrelevant material. In the United States, we generally do this without straightedges; our paperwork is all the sloppier for it. Anyway, only one more morning Bahn and I made it to class in time for the second act.

A recap for any U.S. citizens who may someday need to apply for a freelance or self-employment work permit in Köln (Cologne). If you've already established residency in Köln and wish to apply for an Arbeitserlaubnis work permit, visit the Ausländerbehorde der Stadt Köln in the Bezirksrathaus Kalk, located at Kalker Hauptstrasse 247 (Haltstelle Kalk Kapelle, on the 1 and 9 lines). Bring your passport, obviously. There's a three-page form (Antrag auf Änderung zur Ausübung einer selbstandigen Erwerbstätigkeit) that asks things like where you went to school, where you've worked, whether or not you are diabolically wealthy, and what sort of work you hope to find in Germany. You also need a copy of your resumé/C.V., copies of any education certification, and possibly some sort of written confirmation that you're familiar with the German language. Though it didn't appear on the printed page, I was told verbally that I also needed a letter of interest from an employer. There, just so you know.


Aaron Burkhalter said...

See, this be the kind of thing that would have me whimpering in a bathroom stall not knowing what to do. I'd probably kick a wall too...

Good luck with all that...

By the by, I would think you're doing pretty will with your German if you were able to navigate the employment bureaucracy... There be those of us out there that have no German to speak of... well, I mean, we've got German shepherds... but those don't get you much in the way of international communication.

See you in four days! (less even!)

viola said...

Um...I'm betting you need to give yourself lots of credit language-wise. I'd also be wadded up in a ball in the closet whimpering. So -- I think it's cool that you got through all of that! And -- soon you'll be teaching!!!

Mark Jabbusch said...

alles Gutezum Geburtstag,

ein Wunsch bitte!

SPARC said...

It's not better for us Germans. You may have a look at the lyrics of a song Reinhard May made about it:

"Einen Antrag auf Erteilung eines Antragsformulars,
Zur Bestätigung der Nichtigkeit des Durchschriftexemplars,
Dessen Gültigkeitsvermerk von der Bezugsbehörde stammt
Zum Behuf der Vorlage beim zuständ‘gen Erteilungsamt."

You'll find the rest here:

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