One of the issues I have been pondering since I moved here is how to handle my stay. My husband and children are, of course, German nationals (in the case of the children, dual-nationals). I received a three year visa when I arrived, as one would expect.
Since I came to Germany knowing not even a word of German (darn all those years of French and Latin!), it was an immediate goal for all of us that we learn the language. My children went into a Geman kita as soon as we found a place to live and a kita that we liked, and I went straight into a language class (it took about 6 weeks for the above). I had some ups and some downs, quite a few missed classes due to the children being ill and a few due to my being ill. Then vacations and breaks and travel and more illnesses and so on. But I went on from A1.1 to A1.2 to A2.1. At this point life became even more awkward, as the German started working in a different city and the girls started going to different schools. Still, after another pause and another illness or two, I persevered and went on to A2.2 and finally B1.1.
I stalled out a bit there, as the German's work schedule became busier and the girls' swimming schedule did the same, but I only delayed my last class and finally finished B1.2 this fall. However, my visa ran out before that date and I wasn't certain whether I should take my exam before applying for a permanent visa.
To make it worse, here in Berlin at least, it's just about impossible to get the Auslanderbehorde to either answer the phone or return e-mails and my scheduled appointment was 1. only 4 days before the expiration of my three year visa and 2. my husband (required to be at the appointment) had a meeting that day which was not re-schedulable. So we had to actually take a day to go to the Auslanderbehorde just to see if we could reschedule our appointment.
The Beamterin on duty yelled at us because the German stuck his head behind the door that said it was the correct door: must love that customer service thing. All we could talk about on the way home (after getting a new appointment, after my visa expired, but having been told that was okay) was how ridiculous it was for this woman to put up a hand written sign that resulted in her yelling at every single person she spoke to all day, when a differently worded handwritten sign would have resulted in the outcome that she desired, with no yelling needed....
At the actual appointment, things went more smoothly than one might expect, having had prior experience with German Amts. The German brought every piece of paper that he had brought for the first appointment we had (when I received my first visa). He brought even more pieces of paper- every one that he could think of. I brought official forms from my VHS showing the German classes that I had completed (there are official forms for everything here- when I started to write a not on one the Secretary scolded me for doing so on an official form) and the receipts showing registration for the DfZ and the Orienteerungskurse. It started well: the Beamterin was nice (didn't yell at us and said hello), took all our forms and when she asked for additional forms that we had not been told we needed, we actually had them.
But then she asked for an employment contract. That's something the German doesn't have. That is, he has a contract showing that we are here in Germany for a certain time and he even had an older note from his boss discussing his circumstances. He had pay stubs and tax info and insurance info and a million things. But what he didn't have was a German, currently dated, official form saying that he can't be fired tomorrow.
I kept on saying that this particular type of form doesn't exist in the US, and as was clear in all his information, the German is employed in Germany through the international side of an American firm: on loan, as it were. The Beamterin said other North Americans have brought in such forms and that she could accept a note from a partner written on letterhead. Unfortunately, it was a holiday in the parts of Germany where someone might have been able to help us out and fax such a note over. I asked what would happen without such a note, considering that my visa had already expired, and she said the issue was that she wanted to give me a permanent visa rather than another three years and that there were additional documentation requirements. So we went back out to the waiting room while she looked over the documentation that we had and discussed our lack of the contract with her superior, I assume.
When she called us back, she had already put the permanent visa into my passport. I asked her why I didn't need to finish the Integrationskurs or take the Orienteeringskurs or the DfZ (the German poking me to stop the whole time), saying that I thought they were required, and she looked at me as if I were mad and said that I had (while arguing, I guess) displayed an adequate amount of language knowledge and off we went.
It was an interesting experience and one that I think shows how relatively easy it is for Anglophones to become permanent residents: so many of my classmates from a non-Anglophone background seem to have encountered so many more problems on the way to their permanent residency. The process also explains why all my Anglophone acquaintances seem so surprised that I have actually bothered to take classes— they laugh when I say that I need to know the language and want to take the 45 hour class (why wouldn't I want to have an understanding of the structures and legal basis of the country in which I am living?). Let me point out that even with a theoretical B1 level of language, I am still unemployable, I would guess. I think C1 would be an employable level of language when any conversation ability would be necessary and my written German is even worse. But with this level of language, I can live in this country, I can speak to my children's school teachers and I can make myself understood in any situation at all, even though it might be with an incorrect sentence structure or general rather than specific word choices: this is what integration means. Everything after this is above what is required and will simply make me personally happier.