Berlin is the new start-up capital of Europe, but can you set up there?

Berlin may be the new start-up capital of Europe, but in a post-Brexit scenario, what can British entrepreneurs do if they want to set up a base in Berlin?

Berlin

As recently as January this year, at the Davos World Economic Forum, Berlin was revealed to be the best city to launch a start-up. With its low cost of setting up, and its young, talented demographic and international appeal, Berlin has seen year on year growth. 22,800 jobs were created in the tech industry between 2008 and 2015, and Berlin’s share of the digital economy has grown from 4.8 per cent to 18 per cent, according to the Berlin Chamber of Commerce.

The city also has the highest number of self-employed in Germany, with a new business starting up every 20 minutes. All of these statistics may prove that Berlin is the new start-up capital of Europe, but in a post-Brexit scenario, what can British entrepreneurs do if they want to set up a base in Berlin?

A new service enables entrepreneurs in Berlin to start up a company and obtain a residency permit at the same time. British property realtor based in Berlin, Black Label Properties has teamed up with vpmk Rechtsanwälte Legal Services to offer a dual service to help entrepreneurs set up a company and obtain a residency permit in one application. The combination of ‘Company Foundation Service’ together with ‘Residents’ Permit for Entrepreneurs’ has been launched in response to an increase in enquiries from freelancers and start-ups looking to relocate to the city because of the political situation in the UK and US.

According to Stephanie Dufner, immigration lawyer and specialist at vpmk, each service can be applied for separately or together in one full package to speed up the immigration process and help entrepreneurs get their businesses up and running more quickly. Here Dufner explains how the visa process for non-EU nationals works in Germany, and what you need to do to ensure your application is successful.

What type of enquiries do you get?

We get a lot of enquiries from self-employed entrepreneurs who want to set up their own company in Berlin. Also from foreign nationals who have an employment contract with a company based in Germany and need help getting the right work permit, and companies who have found an employee and need help with obtaining the most suitable work permit We also get lots of enquiries from high-qualified candidates who are looking for job seekers’ visa which gives them six months to find a job, and from people who are looking to obtain residence permits for family members (spouses and minors) so they can raise their family here.

We’re also getting a lot of enquiries about the Blue Card EU, which is a special residence and work permit for highly qualified people. To get one you need to have a university degree that’s recognised or equivalent to a German degree and be on a certain salary level. It can be transferred to a permanent residence permit within 21 months if the person is at B1 language level or 33 months for A1 language level. Blue Cards are much quicker than the general visa process. In effect, you could get it within 1-2 weeks.

Have you had more enquiries since Brexit and the US election?

When the Brexit vote was announced, there was an increase in enquiries especially for UK citizens who are in Germany and worried about being able to stay, so they have been asking us about German citizenship. We’ve also had lots of Americans contacting us who would like to get out of the US due to the political situation and are looking for longer-term visas – three years or more.

People can apply for German citizenship if they have lived here for eight years, in exceptional cases with good “integration” proofs even earlier. Currently there are issues around dual citizenship – in general this is not possible in Germany – but I think there will be an exception for UK citizens post Brexit and we will negotiate a way for people to keep both. We know the rules and local offices and can help clients get German citizenship. We can try to help you to keep your natural citizenship – if there is a reason accepted by the law – and do everything to be successful.

How does the application process work?

We get lots of email enquiries. The first consultation is done in our offices in Berlin or Stuttgart or via Skype or phone if the client is overseas or prefers that. This is popular as it’s convenient for people and we have multilingual staff who speak English, French, Spanish, Mandarin, Russian and Ukrainian. We answer their questions and then develop a strategy to work out which type of visa is best. They sign a service agreement and we send the client a list of documents we need to get started.

For the entrepreneur or self-employed visa we need to see a business plan (we also have contacts who can help you with this) and it needs to be very specific. We would do some pre-clearing to make sure it’s an acceptable idea to minimise the risk of rejection. Tricky businesses include restaurants as we have so many in Berlin already – even ‘national kitchens’. Successful applications include IT start-ups and tech businesses, which Berlin is known for. These have a good success rate.

How long does it take?

A Blue Card Visa can be obtained within a week or two if a person qualifies for one and is at the right salary level. This is because it’s issued by the embassy without involving other offices (immigration or labour office). The entrepreneur or self-employed visa takes longer – up to three months – because the Senate of Economy or the Chamber of Commerce are usually involved. We are currently pushing this in favour of our clients and trying to speed things up.

How much does it cost?

It varies depending on the type of visa. Our fees start at 1,500 EUR for the whole residence and work permit or Blue Card process and approx. €2,500 for the self-employed or entrepreneurial visa. The Company Foundation Service starts from 2,500 EUR. Family Member Immigration starts from €500 per family member. We offer a transparent, flat-fee package service for clients so there are no hidden costs.

What else do you offer?

We have a new dual service for entrepreneurs and start-ups that’s unique to our law firm and helps with company foundation and a residence permit in the same process. We can help with the business set up and personal immigration process, which helps speed things up. My colleagues Volker Mauch and Lars Kroidl handle the company formation and our attorneys Christoph von Planta, Katja Ponert and of course me process the residence permits. It’s proving very popular as it’s convenient for clients to be able to use one law firm for the entire process.

We also support the companies after the foundation with their contractual needs like employment contracts etc.

Also, we have opened a new vpmk office in Stuttgart this year, with main focus on assisting companies with the work permits and Blue Cards for their foreign employees. Due to the strong economy in the south-western part of Germany the companies there suffer from a lack of skilled employees and are recruiting more and more abroad.

Any tips for success?

Please bring original certificates with you – degree, marriage and birth certificates etc., best with an apostille on it. Germans are crazy about original documents! Most people have the certificates hanging on their parents’ wall so please take them down and bring them with you! This will speed things up, as they can be hard to obtain once you are here.

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