African students from Ukraine being counselled at the office of Pamoja Afrika Köln e.V. in Colone recently, Pamoja, a member of the Help for Africans from Ukraine in Germany (HAUG), advises refugee students on residence permits and education as well as health issues/Photo: Pamoja e.V.

Germany: Non-Ukrainian refugees from Ukraine fear for their residence status

Among those who have fled Ukraine since the beginning of the war in February are around 300,000 third-country nationals – persons who are neither from Ukraine nor the EU, according to the International Organisation for Migration (IOM). Many of these are seeking refuge in Germany and now face uncertainty as a transitional regulation of their residency ends on 31 August

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Refugees from the Ukraine war are not treated the same way in Germany. While those of them with Ukrainian citizenship are granted protection with generous conditions, their non-Ukrainian counterparts have received only a transitional residence permit. Two ordnances of decrees have enabled the entry of third-country nationals into Germany without a visa and their residence in the country without a permit since the beginning of the war. This regulation expires on 31 August.

The difference in the treatment of the refugees from Ukraine stems from the EU Temporary Protection Directive on the people displaced by the war in Ukraine, which entered into force on 4 March 2022.

Under the Directive, all EU member states are expected to issue Ukrainian nationals a 1-year residence permit, which is renewable twice, and provide them social welfare support and full access to the employment market. The same condition is applicable to refugees enjoying full protection in Ukraine.

The Directive however treats the situation of non-nationals living in Ukraine either permanently or on short term residency differently. The foreign residents are supposed to be provided protection if they are not able to return safely and permanently to their home countries. While those who have permanent resident permit in Ukraine may be considered for protection, students and temporary workers are generally supposed to be able to return home.

Many third-country nationals who were in Ukraine before the war are international students. According to the IOM, there were about 75,000 international students from 155 countries in 2020, many of whom are from Africa.

Under the current regulations, the third-country nationals are expected to apply for protection under Section 24 of the Alien’s Act or any other forms of residency status latest by 31 August. Because they are not qualified for Section 24 and the time is short to apply for alternative residence permits, many students fear that they will have to leave the country after 31 August.

For the third-country nationals who are not entitled to a residence permit under Section 24 of the Residence Act, it is therefore unclear what will happen after 31 August. Formally, since the authorities will not be able to decide all the applications filed by 31 August, applicants are considered legal residents until the determination of their applications. However, those whose applications have been rejected have to leave Germany.

In principle, third-country nationals could apply for a residence permit to study in Germany in order to continue to stay legally. However, they have to fulfil the same requirements as prospective international students; for example, they have to prove that they have 10,000 euros to support themselves. Christoph Hilgert from the German Rectors’ Conference sees this as the biggest hurdle for third-country nationals, according to MEDIENDIENST.

Another requirement for most degree programmes in Germany is language skills at the high C1 level. Gundula Oerter from the Bremen Refugee Council told MEDIENDIENST that many of those affected are willing to learn German intensively – however, this is only possible through certified language courses, of which there are simply not enough at the moment due to the presence of about 1 million Ukrainian refugees in the country who are also looking for language courses.

Some federal states have introduced transitional regulations. Berlin, Bremen and Hamburg grant 6-month provisional residence permit to the students to give them time to fulfil the conditions for regular permits such as for studying, to receive training or for qualified employment.

Hamburg and Bremen have been issuing a so-called fictitious certificates (Fiktionsbescheinigung) to third-country students when they register with the immigration authorities since May and Berlin since beginning of August.

With the Fiktionsbescheinigung, third-country students from Ukraine – like the refugees with Ukrainian citizenship – can receive social benefits and work. They are supposed to use the six months to prepare themselves to fulfil the conditions for other regular residence titles, such as to study or receive training or for qualified work.

However, observers say a six-month temporary permit would not solve the problem as it’s too short. The fear is that at the end of the six months the affected would be faced with the same situation of no clear perspective of a longer term stay in Germany.

Added to the travails of the students is the uncooperative attitude of their institutions in Ukraine who are reluctant to issue the transcripts to the students with which they could apply for admission at German institutions. “Ukrainian universities are refusing to release high school certificates of African students who fled Ukraine. They have a policy of retaining the students original WAEC/GCSE certificates until graduation and now they won’t give it back unless the student is expelled,” tweeted Chibuzor Onwugbonu, an activist supporting Africans students from Ukraine. And if the student is expelled their residence permit as international student will become invalid but they need the document to apply for study and residence visa in Germany.

MEDIENDIENST quoted spokespersons of the Bremen Senate that there were no plans to extend the six-month temporary protection status once it has been granted. Hamburg and Berlin have also described the fictitious certificate as a one-time temporary permit.

Meanwhile, those in the other federal states have more worries as their fate is uncertain after 31 August. Their situation has led to many initiatives calling on the federal government to grant protection to all refugees from Ukraine irrespective of their nationality.

Femi Awoniyi

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