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Digital application

Since 28 September 2022, doctors can apply online for recognition of their foreign professional qualification in North Rhine-Westphalia. Interview with Beatrice Berbig from the OZG recognition project

The digital application is being implemented by the OZG project “Recognition of foreign professional qualifications” under the leadership of North Rhine-Westphalia. The Federal Ministry of Education and Research (BMBF) is supporting this process. The goal is a standardized national system for the submission of applications which starts with the Recognition Finder at “Anerkennung in Deutschland”. Overall project manager Beatrice Berbig explains the process in the interview.

What is your role in the OZG recognition project?

Beatrice Berbig: The North-Rhine Westphalian Ministry of Labour, Health and Social Affairs (MAGS NRW) has taken on the task of implementing the national “one for all” project supporting the “Recognition of foreign professional qualifications”. This means North Rhine-Westphalia is also implementing the project on behalf of other federal states. The project is essentially about digitalising the recognition procedure for foreign professional qualifications for numerous occupations regulated by the government at national or federal-state level. By doing this our aim is to ensure that the process is simpler and quicker both for the authorities involved and for applicants. The project is taking place as part of implementation of the Online Access Act (OZG). This requires the federal government and federal states to also offer their administrative services for citizens digitally by the end of 2022. The federal government has provided financial support for this through to the end of 2022.

As overall project manager I'm responsible for ensuring decisions are made and for communicating with federal states interested in using the services and with other stakeholders. For us, it is important to continually keep the federal states involved in the project and to create an attractive offer which can be used intuitively by both the authorities and the applicants.

Start of digital application

The digital application for recognition is being facilitated as part of the so-called OZG implementation. With the Online Access Act (OZG), the federal government and the federal states have committed to digitalising all administrative services by the end of 2022. The application for approbation (licence to practise medicine in Germany) as doctor of medicine is first of an initial eight prioritised professions to be digitalised. The goal is to gradually facilitate digital applications for other occupations regulated by the government at national or federal-state level. North Rhine-Westphalia is responsible for the joint implementation project being run by the federal government and the federal states. The project is being funded by the federal government through to the end of 2022, with the aim, going forward, of continually expanding and optimising digital applications.

How did you go about digitalising administrative services in the area of recognition? Which were, and which are, the major challenges from your perspective? Is recognition a particularly complex administrative service? 

Beatrice Berbig: In 2019, in a digitalisation lab, experts from the federal government, the federal states and recognition offices gathered initial thoughts on how the recognition of foreign professional qualifications might be organised digitally in the future, and explored these ideas with people who had gone through the process. A user-friendly application route was developed as an example for the profession of doctor of medicine. In 2020 there was a technical preliminary study for testing the digital options. This is the basis on which we then began the implementation.

In order to design application routes which would work effectively for as many occupations as possible, eight reference occupations were initially identified. For these, application routes were created with experts in working groups assembled from across all federal states. These eight application routes work across all states and therefore cover a large number of the occupations which need to be digitalised under the Online Access Act. We are currently still in the process of bringing together remaining occupations in additional routes.

The recognition application service is linked to the “Anerkennung in Deutschland” portal already established at the Federal Institute for Vocational Education and Training (BIBB). The decision to do this created an integrated user journey from initial information about contacts, via advisory centres and through to making the application.

Over the entire period of the project to date we have worked together closely with BMBF, BIBB and with interested federal states. Collaboration by all parties involved has been focused and based on consensus. We would like to pass on our huge thanks to all colleagues in this regard. 

The specific target audience presented a challenge. Two-thirds of applicants are based abroad and the majority of these are in non-European countries. Depending on the country of origin, technical approaches and solutions, such as authentication of individuals using an electronic proof of identity, can only be used to a limited extent or not at all. However, with help from a number of different experts, it was possible to develop appropriate solutions.

Another feature of the project was its very extensive stakeholder landscape. In Germany, for example, federal state authorities and Chambers are involved in the recognition of foreign professional qualifications. A distinction also needs to be made between occupations regulated by the government at national or federal-state level. The different implementation practices in the federal states are a challenge. We therefore need to find joint solutions and compromises which are supported by the respective partners, and which are feasible for all involved. 

Digitalisation is taking place on a “one for all” principle. What does that mean and which federal states are involved? 

Beatrice Berbig: The key feature of the “one for all” principle is that one federal state digitalises services for applicants, and authorities across the country can then use the offer . 13 federal states have already expressed an interest in the future use of the service for the recognition project.

What are the next steps in the implementation? 

Beatrice Berbig: The go-live for our minimal viable product (MVP) – in other words the basic version of submitting the application digitally – is planned for the end of the third quarter of 2022. In this version, only applications for the occupation of doctor of medicine in the state of North Rhine-Westphalia will be possible. To begin with, therefore, the application route designed initially, as described above, will be implemented. We are currently on the final sprint in terms of implementation for this go-live. The existing MVP will then be developed into Version 2.0 and the other application routes will gradually be released. In parallel with this we are also working hard on integrating those federal states interested in making use of the service in future. Project completion and transition into regular operation is currently planned for the end of 2022.

What do you see as the biggest benefits of the digital application?

Beatrice Berbig: For applicants, the biggest benefit of our digital procedure is that they can submit their application quickly, securely and centrally. Everything functions centrally via the “Anerkennung in Deutschland” portal, from initial information to contact with advisory centres through to submitting the application.

The overall aim is for the new digital procedure to accelerate the application process, simplify it and make the entire application process possible without switching media. Applicants receive detailed information about the documents required and can upload these directly. With this, our hope is that the quality of applications increases so that ideally only complete applications reach the competent authorities. 

What outstanding issues still need to be resolved in relation to the digital application?

Beatrice Berbig: Currently, in some occupations, physical documents still need to be presented for recognition. In the future this interruption in terms of media use needs to be avoided. In Germany, the Chambers are also responsible for the recognition of foreign professional qualifications. To date, however, there is still no nationally standardized regulation relating to the secure legal use by Chambers of “one for all” services in the future. We hope that this is resolved centrally soon.

The interview with Beatrice Berbig took place in May 2022. She is overall project manager of the OZG implementation project in the Digitalisation and Information technologies division at the Ministry of Labour, Health and Social Affairs for North Rhine-Westphalia (MAGS NRW). Contact for questions about the implementation project: ozg-anerkennung@mags.nrw.de