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ZSBA: A year of providing guidance

The Service Center for Professional Recognition (ZSBA) was launched in February 2020. One year later and it’s time for team leader Dominik Keindorf to take stock.

How did the ZSBA launch go in February 2020?
To begin with 30 employees were recruited who then underwent intensive preparation for their new tasks until the Skilled Immigration Act entered into force on 1 March. Many employees already had experience in providing recognition and migration guidance, and also in providing job training advice. Many had even experienced migration themselves and had the relevant language skills. Besides German and English, the ZSBA can currently draw on 12 other languages when providing guidance, including French, Spanish, Portuguese, Serbian, Turkish, and Arabic.

The initial weeks in particular involved a great deal work on the initial concept - everyone got on with it and actively helped to set up their new workplace. The tasks ranged from team responsibilities and arrangements for covering leave, through to the complexities of reciprocal arrangements with the many recognition offices, and setting up a hotline for cooperation with the Federal Ministry of Education and Research (BAMF). In parallel with this, the number of enquiries were constantly rising. And then coronavirus arrived. Following this there was initially a sudden reduction in the number of skilled workers seeking advice, but this is now rising rapidly once again.

What do the tasks of the ZSBA involve?
The ZSBA supports those seeking recognition from abroad and helps them to identify a future place of work and the competent authority in Germany. We helped them to be able to realistically evaluate the chances of recognition and the official terms and conditions and requirements relating to this, and in doing so we assist them in making well-justified, promising decisions regarding immigration. We work together with those interested in recognition to then put together all of the application documents required. If training is needed, we refer them to appropriate provision in order to ease the workload on the competent authorities and also the job training advice services in the regions. This takes place in close coordination with many stakeholders involved in the migration and integration process. The key role of the ZSBA in this respect is to understand the interfaces, to refer clients on to the appropriate office at the right time, and to be the first point of contact in Germany for the foreign skilled workers.

What are the challenges in terms of guidance and supporting the process?
The recognition landscape in Germany is complex and varied. Here you find people with widely varying experience of the government's bureaucratic processes and who frequently struggle with barriers in terms of language and understanding. It may be the case that some give up, drop out, make errors on forms when submitting the application, or make multiple enquiries to different institutions. While there are some well-informed individuals seeking recognition who are able to act independently, there are also a large number of skilled workers facing significant challenges. A central contact point for applicants from abroad is therefore filling a gap in the system of professional recognition. The assistance is gratefully received and the risk of incorrect or incomplete applications is avoided at an early stage. The huge amount of positive feedback from clients is a major encouragement for advisors in their everyday work.

There is an immense amount of work involved in supporting the procedure at the individual level, both in terms of content and time—but in most cases it is worth it. However, the truth also remains that there are still hurdles to overcome. For example, at the start of the guidance process, we are only able to make firm commitments in a very limited way as regards financial support. Added to this is the varied landscape with regard to recognition offices and the need to improve German-language skills. Providing guidance may also mean that people decide against immigration.

What are the most common countries of origin and occupations?
To date we have provided guidance to people from almost 100 countries—currently the main countries of origin appear to be Turkey, Morocco and Bosnia-Herzegovina. If those seeking recognition already have an eye on a specific destination region, then the main areas currently tend to be North Rhine-Westphalia, Bavaria or Berlin. The sectors with the most enquiries are academic and non-academic medical professions, engineers, and Chamber of Industry and Commerce occupations.

What are the most common concerns of those seeking advice?
There's a huge range which extends from the very initial orientation for people without German-language skills with still only very vague intentions in terms of migration, to those who already speak fluent German, have all of the application documents in place and have found an employer who is interested but who may still need an offer of job training. There are others who have received no embassy appointment due to the coronavirus pandemic, who have completed a test in their home country but do not have any actual training. Others who are superbly well-qualified but are concerned about whether and how their family will cope with moving to another country. Or people with a really tragic tale to tell as the reason for their wish to make a change. The ZSBA advisors therefore have to adapt, with each new conversation, to a complex mix of entirely new administrative, cultural and personal factors—it's a challenge but also an opportunity to gain experience to use when providing advice in the future.


A guest article from Dominik Keindorf, team leader at the ZSBA. The ZSBA is based at the Federal Employment Agency's (BA) Centre for International Migration and Development (ZAV) in Bonn. Skilled workers abroad seeking to gain recognition of their professional qualification in Germany are able to receive advice even before they enter Germany as well as individual support through the recognition procedure. They contact the ZSBA via the hotline “Working and Living in Germany”

Facts and figures at a glance

Since the start of February 2020, the 30 employees at the ZSBA have provided guidance to people from almost 100 countries. The three most common countries of origin are currently Turkey, Morocco and Bosnia-Herzegovina. The sectors with the most enquiries include academic and non-academic medical professions, engineers, and Chamber of Industry and Commerce occupations. The ZSBA provides advice in 14 languages including German, English, French Spanish, Portuguese, Serbian, Turkish and Arabic.