If you’re a non-EU researcher coming from North America, you will get a visa under Paragraph 20, whether or not your pay is coming from your home institution or a German entity.  The official overview pamphlet is here, but there are a few things that I’d call out as particularly significant, or as different in real life than in the pamphlet:

  • You need to be affiliated with an approved institution in Germany to get the visa.  In our case, my spouse was coming over to research in archives, not to do research or collaborative work at a university.  However, he had to contact colleagues at a university in the general area where he would be visiting archives and request sponsorship.
  • You need health insurance to get the visa, and your home health insurance / travel insurance likely won’t qualify.  You are required to have insurance that will cover you for pregnancy and childbirth at a German hospital.1 For more on health insurance, see this post.
  • The pamphlet tells you that your spouse’s visa will have work permission.  This is, strictly speaking, true.  In practice, however, the work permission comes with restrictions that may limit your spouse’s ability to find a job.  A special second part of the visa states that work may only be undertaken after the employer files for permission from the Arbeitsamt.  There is a special form that you can get at the Ausländerbehörde for an employer to fill out; the most significant requirement is that the employer has to prove that a German candidate could not do the job.2

How to Apply:

  • If you’re coming from Canada, the United States, or a number of other countries, you apply for your visa once you’ve arrived in Germany, not beforehand.  You need to apply within three months of arrival.
  • When you move into your house/apartment, you need to register with the authorities at the Einwohneramt (anmelden).  This is something all German residents must do, any time they move.
  • Once you have the form from your Anmeldung (you get this form at your meeting), you can go to the Ausländerbehörde to fill out and hand in a visa application, which will trigger the office to schedule you for an appointment.

(Note:  the rest of this is Nürnberg-specific, as we experienced it in 2015; other cities may have different times / procedures.)

  • They will mail the date of your appointment to you, and may email you in the interim to request copies of any documents they require.
  • At the appointment, you show up at your appointed time, check in, get a number, and wait to be called.  All of you must be there, even your child, even if your child should be in school.  Once you meet with the official and your documents have been reviewed, you will be asked to pay the fees at a payment machine in the waiting area, then come back with a receipt.
  • At the end of the appointment, you will be given an appointment to return — in our case, in a month — to pick up the visa cards (Aufenthaltstitel), which are sent to the local office from Berlin.  At that appointment, only one member of the family has to show up, as long as s/he has signed approval from the others to pick up their visas.
  • At the end of your time in Germany, you need to go to the Einwohneramt again, to let them know you’re leaving your residence (abmelden).  DO NOT miss this step — we know people who’ve forgotten it, and it has made it difficult when they’ve tried to enter Germany afterward.

1 I am assuming this applies only to female members of the family who’ve reached puberty, but don’t quote me on that. In the end, we all went on a policy that covers pregnancy, but some health insurance policies for visiting academics only cover pregnancy if you purchase an optional rider. I assume with those policies only a woman would need the optional coverage.
2 In our case, the spouse (me) had a long professional career before moving to Germany, but finding a job in my profession — where I’d have had credentials a German candidate might not have — would have required more than a year’s commitment. I’d hoped instead to get a part-time job to help pay for bills & travel, but that proved impossible as none of the employers I spoke to were willing to fill out the Arbeitsamt paperwork.  I gathered from one of them that it had been difficult in the past to get the permission.