Voluntary services in Germany for foreigners (international volunteers)

Participation of foreigners in the German voluntary service (Bundesfreiwilligendienst, BFD), a voluntary social year (Freiwilliges Soziales Jahr, FSJ) or a voluntary ecological year (Freiwilliges Ökologisches Jahr, FÖJ)

Are foreigners allowed to participate in BFD, FSJ or FÖJ? What are the legal requirements for the occupation of foreigners (international volunteers) in voluntary services in Germany?

Valid residence title

Generally, foreigners are allowed to participate in BFD, FSJ or FÖJ. This applies to all foreigners regardless, whether they come from an EU member state or a third state. However, for young EU citizens there are fewer obstacles to overcome. They can serve a voluntary year in Germany with no difficulty.

Foreigners from Non-EU states require a valid residence title, usually in form of a visa. This title of residence must allow for employment (see § 4 II 2 German Residence Law, AufenthG). That is no problem as generally any foreigners may receive a residence permit according to § 18 AufenthG especially for the participation in voluntary services. This requires no approval of occupation by the Federal Employment Agency according to § 39 section 1 AufenthG in conjunction with §§ 1 and 9 Beschäftigungsverordnung (Employment Regulation): According to § 9 No. 1 Alt. 1 Beschäftigungsverordnung the voluntary social year and the German voluntary service are statutorily regulated voluntary services.

The place of assignment or the responsible institution respectively often offer support for the request of visas.

Also following a stay as au-pair in Germany a voluntary social year is possible. However, the residence permit has to be requested again.

To EU members applies, as said before, freedom of movement. However, they need to make a living from their own financial resources. They therefore have to check, whether pocket money, meals, accommodation and any other services they receive from the supporting institution of the voluntary service , are sufficient before commencing the voluntary work. They must not call upon social benefits from the German state, even not additionally.

Place of residence in Germany

The foreigner`s place of residence has to be located in Germany at the latest when commencing the voluntary year. The foreigner has to register with the registration office of the responsible community or town.

No work permit required

No work permit is required to participate in voluntary services.

To participate in BFD, FSJ or FÖJ no approval on occupation by the Federal Employment Agency is required as earnings are not the primary purpose of these occupations (§9 Beschäftigungsverordnung and § 2 Beschäftigungsverfahrensverordnung [Employment Procedure Regulation]) and thereby the Federal Employment Agency has no competence.

Exception: Prohibition to work

Foreigners, who are prohibited to work, are not allowed to participate in voluntary services. The reason for this is that the engagement in voluntary work is bound by instructions and the place of assignment functions as an employer. The voluntary service is therefore regarded as an occupation.

Work is prohibited for tolerated foreigners (§ 60a AufenthG) and asylum-seekers with residence permit (§ 55 Asylverfahrensgesetz [Asylum Procedure Act]) during the first year of residence on German territory. In certain cases a prohibition to work exists for tolerated foreigners also after one year of residence, if the Aliens Department announces a prohibition to work as a sanction according to § 11 Beschäftigungsverfahrensverordnung. After one year of residence the Aliens Department can allow employment for the above named persons, which allows also the participation in voluntary services.

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