The COVID-19 virus has a worldwide impact on travel activities, affecting foreigners such as employees of companies intending to travel to Germany as well as those who are already in Germany but are now effectively unable to leave.

1. Restrictions on entry and visa issuance

The countries of the Schengen area have decided to impose entry restrictions on all non-essential travel from third countries. Accordingly, the Federal Foreign Office has discontinued the issuing of visas, also for business travelers and specialist professionals. This does, however, not apply to third-country nationals with "central functions or needs." These individuals include health personnel and researchers, members of the nursing professions, transport personnel in the movement of goods, etc. You should therefore check whether your employees fall under this definition. If employees are already in possession of a visa, they may enter the country, but should be able to prove their systemic relevance at border control.

In many countries, the German missions abroad were entirely closed to the public. This also applies to the respective visa offices of the embassies. We therefore recommend to check first whether the visa office at the mission abroad competent for the employee (depending on his or her permanent residence) is open. If this is not the case, the employee will only be able to contact the respective mission abroad via a hotline that has been set up for visa related emergencies. The mission will then decide at its discretion whether an emergency exists.

2. Staying in Germany on the basis of a Schengen visa

In general, persons staying in Germany on the basis of a Schengen visa will need to leave the country prior to the expiry of their visa. It is frequently impossible, however, to leave the Schengen area because of entry bans and the suspension of air traffic.

The Federal Minister of the Interior has issued a legal ordinance for these cases. Foreigners who were already in Germany with a valid Schengen visa by March 17 or who entered the country with such a visa by April 9, 2020 will be exempt from the requirement of a residence permit from the time of expiry of their Schengen visa until June 30, 2020. They will also continue to be permitted to engage in gainful employment. Obviously, this only applies to the extent that their Schengen visa has allowed them to do so prior to their visa expiry.

3. Holders of an expiring long-term residence permit

Holders of a long-term residence permit must take steps to renew it in due time. At present, however, no appointments can be made with the foreigners authority in the near future and the offices are closed to the public. The application for renewal already triggers what is referred to as a fiction of the continued validity, however, meaning that the existing residence permit together with its subsidiary provisions, including the permission to engage in gainful employment, will continue to be effective. The application must be verifiably submitted by fax or email.

In some cases, municipalities have also issued general decrees on the enforcement of the Residence Act, according to which (without an application having to be filed) the fiction of the continued validity of all current long-term residence permits of foreigners who have their main residence in the municipality is ordered. This means that the existing residence permit will continue to be effective even after expiry. The subsidiary provisions of the respective permit, in particular the right to work, will remain in effect. The foreigners authority will then contact the foreigner to extend the permit. As a precaution, however, foreigners should also contact the authority themselves once the foreigners authority has reopened.

Foreigners, such as employees of companies whose long-term residence permits are about to expire, should therefore consult, for example, the homepage of their municipality in order to find out whether such a fiction exists for them.

The content of this article is intended to provide a general guide to the subject matter. Specialist advice should be sought about your specific circumstances.