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Working students’ rights in times of coronavirus

Many students have lost their jobs due to the coronavirus pandemic and face an unprecedented precarious financial situation. Lawyer Frank Gust answers the most urgent questions for international students in these uncertain times.

12.05.2020

by Celia Parbey

Does my health insurance cover my treatment if I get Covid-19?

Yes, of course! Every student in Germany has obligatory health insurance.

Can students get financial assistance from the government if they lose their job due to Covid-19?

If you are an employee in the social insurance system you can claim unemployment support (“Arbeitslosengeld”). But this is not the case if you have worked as a “Werkstudent” or in a “Mini-Job”.

For freelancers and small businesses, special financial aid programmes have been established. You will have to prove that your financial difficulties are caused by the coronavirus crisis though and did not occur for other reasons. Freelancers and self-employed persons can get a payment of 9.000 euros for 3 months.

Moreover, study loans will be available for international students from 1 June 2020. You can get up to 650 euros monthly from the "Kreditanstalt für Wiederaufbau” (KfW), but you will have to pay it back at some point. More information can be found on their website.

I’m not able to pay my bills, rent, etc. because I lost my income. How do I proceed now?

This depends on the origin of the income: Was it an income as an employee, or as a freelancer or as a small business?

Financial aid programmes from the German state exist for freelancers and small businesses. To receive these aids, you have to apply for them online. Details can be found here.

Will international students get assistance in flying back home, if they got stuck in Germany due to coronavirus?

As a rule, this assistance is delivered by the home country of the student. So this depends on the conditions of the country of origin and nationality.

My visa expires soon.  Do I have a right to extend it, even though I’m not officially a student anymore?

One possibility is to stay a student and add another semester at your university – a simple and improvised solution in case your university agrees.

Another solution would be to try and negotiate an extension at the Landesamt für Einwanderung for these special situational reasons. 

Moreover, you can try to take up a job, based on academic or even practical qualifications. This would give you an "Aufenthaltserlaubnis", the equivalent of a visa.

Since 1 March 2020 non-EU foreigners with academic or also non-academic qualifications and good German language skills are allowed to stay in Germany for 6 months to seek employment, based on their qualification.

I live in Germany on a student visa. I now want to take a semester of vacation and work full-time in Germany, is that possible?

No problem for students from the European Union.

For “third-state” students: As mentioned earlier, if you already have acquired an academic qualification (in Germany or another country) you can get a working permit at the “Landesamt für Einwanderung” when you have a job offer from a potential employer. This is now also possible not only with an academic but also with another (practical) qualification and sufficient German skills.

Please note, that during a  semester of vacation, obtaining the status of "Werkstudent" is not possible. You have to choose a normal employment contract or a “Mini-Job”.

I am currently looking for a student job in Germany, what should I consider in terms of rights and obligations?

If you come from a member state of the EU you can start working without administrative restrictions. Students from non-EU states (“third states”) need a working permit, to be applied for at the “Landesamt für Einwanderung”. Since 1 March 2020, this is much easier to obtain than in the past.

When it comes to questions of financial income and social insurance: If you want to earn more than 450 euros per month and if you want social security, especially unemployment insurance, you have to get a "normal" employment contract. This means that about 20 percent is deducted from your gross income for your social insurance. If you prefer to save this 20 percent of your income you can opt for a "Minijob", earning up to 450 euros a month. If you want to work and earn more, you can agree with your employer on a "Werkstudent" contract. This is legally possible if you work up to 20 hours a week during the semester. The legal minimum wage amounts currently to 9,35 euros per working hour in Germany.

Some students would like to work from home because they want to minimise the risk of catching coronavirus. They might even belong to a high-risk group. Are employers obliged to make this option possible?

As a rule, working from home cannot be claimed by an employee in Germany, even if the kind of work allows this form of work.

The – understandable – wish to minimise risks as such does not give an employee the right to work from home as long as the employer takes the appropriate security measures at the workplace. This can be different for those employees who can prove that they belong to a risk group. They have the right not to go to their workplace.

The question is whether they get paid during this time of absence. Since they are not ill (yet), they cannot claim continued wages in case of illness. If in this situation, the employee offers their services from home, the employer can be obliged to make working from home possible. This only applies if 

  • it is possible to execute the job from home (not when machines have to be handled for example).
  • the employee can guarantee data protection standards even at their home (digital and non-digital security-measures).
  • they are allowed to work in their apartment etc.

 

Frank Gust specialises in employment law as a lawyer and coach. He advises HR managers, managers and employee representatives, and provides them with seminars on labor law. He has been running the seminar “Basic knowledge on employment law and social insurance law in Germany” for the studierendenWERK BERLIN since March 2019. It is his concern to present this important but also somewhat complicated matter as comprehensibly and practically as possible.

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