Employment in Germany: The Arbeitsamt

What is the so-called “Arbeitsamt” and how can you benefit from it?

By Elisa Stella of ELP-Expat: Expatriate Support

Expats in Germany > Expat How-To Guides for Germany > Employment: The Arbeitsamt

Germans commonly refer to their government-run employment service as the Arbeitsamt (employment office), but the official name is “Bundesagentur für Arbeit” (Federal Employment Agency). The Arbeitsamt is a public service that brings employers and employees together, and offers help with your professional career through administrative and consultant services. Its Jobbörse (job exchange) is an excellent way to find employment and apprenticeships in Germany. Once you have a job, the Arbeitsamt also can help you in other ways.

Agentur fuer Arbeit

Germany’s Agentur für Arbeit can help you find a job – and also help if you become unemployed.
PHOTO: Bundesagentur für Arbeit

Language Issues: Although the Jobbörse website is available in English and some other languages, you still need to know German in order to enter most of the requested data. For instance, all the job categories are listed in German! (“Please note that text box entries must be in German.”) See below for how you can get help in working with the Arbeitsamt.

NOTE: You first need to register before you can use any of the services of the Arbeitsamt. There are also private job agencies in Germany, but that is a topic for another time. Here we are concentrating on the public job agency known as the Bundesagentur für Arbeit.

Foreigners have to deal with the Arbeitsamt mostly in the following three situations:

  • At the very beginning, when searching for a job for the first time | You register with the Arbeitsamt in order to find a position and get advice on potential jobs in Germany.
  • When you’re at risk of being laid off in the next three months | You need to go to Arbeitsamt before becoming unemployed. See why below.
  • If you become involuntarily unemployed after having worked versicherungspflichtig (paying social and unemployment insurance) for at least 12 months in the last two years | The Arbeitsamt pays an unemployment benefit equal to 60-67% of the previous average net monthly income, and supports you by helping you find a new job, including retraining.

Let´s go through the key steps of each situation, which are likely to apply to foreigners in Germany:

  1. You´re new in Germany and want to find a job. | You need to register as “Arbeitssuchend” (looking for work) – either in person at a local office, or online at the official Jobbörse website: jobboerse.arbeitsagentur.de, entering your data, CV, skills and previous experience on the website. Using your log-in data you can immediately start to surf on the Jobbörse, searching for vacancies. The advantage is that all vacancies posted on the Jobbörse are legal and transparent jobs, even the simplest occupations. – After a while (the waiting time can vary from 3 to 6 weeks, based on my experience), you get an invitation for a personal interview with a consultant at the Arbeitsamt in your town. He/she will assess your skills, again enter data in the database and give you input. The commitment and the willingness of the consultant to help are essential, so ask specific questions and don´t accept dull, generic answers. Motivated consultants have the power to use some budget for you, which means they can approve training and programs for you. (The amount depends on your potential and current availability.) Less motivated consultants just aim at checking off a visit. To improve the chances of a fruitful meeting, collect information in advance and focus your questions, fine-tune your attitude, and be sensitive to using the right tone.
  2. You have a temporary contract, which expires in the next three months. Rumors say your employer is “re-organizing” personnel. | Register with the Arbeitsamt as explained in item 1. – The theoretical idea behind this rule is to help you find a new job before getting unemployed. Actually, I have never heard of someone being so lucky. However, it’s necessary for administrative reasons: The internal database of the Federal Agency uses these data for forecasts; it is your duty, and if you do not accomplish this, you might be punished with a lower unemployment benefit.
  3. You have been fired or you lost your job. | Go to the Arbeitsamt personally within 3 working days of your last day at the company! This time limit is mandatory to register as “arbeitslos” (officially unemployed). They will give you a bunch of forms to fill out, then calculate your benefit and pay your health insurance. If you have been working for one year before being unemployed, six months benefit are the usual support you get. If you worked at least two full years, you get it for 12 months.Beside the monetary benefit, during this time you will have to apply for jobs, go to appointments with your consultant at Arbeitsamt, eventually attend trainings and prove your efforts. You cannot leave your town of residence longer than 21 days per year – and never leave without informing the Arbeitsamt. The logic beneath this: you are at disposal, if some employer searches workers like you; you shall do all possible efforts to start working as soon as possible, therefore you´re allowed to leave your town if attending a job interview elsewhere.

There are two basic principles for approaching the Arbeitsamt, and pretty much any other German institution: (1) You must speak German, and (2) they will speak German only (hire an interpreter or bring a German-speaking friend!). You have to back up every statement you say or write with evidence, documents, and certificates.

Some additional information in English related to the German labour market is available on the official arbeitsagentur.de website.

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