German Language Laws Divide Spouses

According to the Goethe Institute, six percent of all couples living in Germany are bi-national; that is, one partner is from another country.

However, strict German language laws create obstacles for these couples, often making it impossible for them to live together in Germany even after they’ve been legally married.

The laws require foreign spouses to pass a German language test to join their partners in Germany. No test, no visa. Recently, one couple kept apart by the law spoke to the Associated Press about their situation.

Michael Guhle and Thi An Nguyen had a fairy tale romance. They met in her small Vietnamese fishing village when Guhle was on vacation. They married in Vietnam in 2007. Their plans to live together in Germany were on hold for years while the new Mrs. Guhle tried to pass the German competency test.

Michael Guhle explained to the AP:

 “I thought marrying the person you love and living together was a human right. Apparently this is not the case in Germany.”

The German government claims the laws are there to protect potentially vulnerable immigrants. A spokesman from Germany’s Interior Ministry told the AP that the laws help prevent forced marriages. He also claimed they help new immigrant spouses to integrate into German society.

 “If an immigrant doesn’t have to start from scratch but already knows how to communicate, he will be more motivated to successfully work on his integration after he has received his visa.”

On the other hand, opponents claim the laws effectively discriminate based on social class. According to Hiltrud Stoecker-Zafari, the head of the national Association of Binational Couples and Partners:

“Well-educated people who can afford the language classes won’t have any problems meeting the language requirements quickly — but not the others. Therefore we think: This country obviously wants to send out the message that financially weak and not well-qualified spouses should not even come here.”

The law is set to be challenged in the European Court of Justice this month. Meanwhile, six years later, Mr. and Mrs. Guhle finally got their fairy-tale ending, when a German court agreed to allow her to immigrate. How stringent do you think language requirements should be for foreign spouses?

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4 replies
  1. Melina
    Melina says:

    Given an increased global mobility and the growing number of bi-national couples and marriages, the current German visa and entry regulations for non-EU spouses of German citizens do absolutely NOT meet the needs of these couples.From various experiences (own and others) I can say that German citizens with their non-EU spouse most often do experience unbelievably derogatory and discriminatory regulations when applying for a visa for the foreign spouse or their translocation to Germany. The condescending attitude and behaviour with which most German government staff approach the applicants is appalling and anything but helpful. 

    I’m delighted to hear that German born Michael Guhle and his Vietnamese wife Thi An Nguyen were courageous enough to take their case to court and also won it. Glad to read that this report is not only pointing out Germany’s difficult language test but also the inhuman, outdated German tourist visa regulations for foreign/non-European spouses. 


    While other countries do provide special spouse visas, (e.g. the spouse of an Indian national gets a special entry/spouse visa from the Indian Embassy), Germany presents only two options to non-EU spouses:

    1.) Application for a standard tourist visa BUT unfortunately it plays no role and is of no advantage when the foreign spouse is married to the German partner – the application process is equally complex and resistant as with unmarried applicants.

    2.) A family reunion visa which assumes that the foreign spouse will live in Germany and requires German language skills according to the above mentioned test (Level 1A provided by the German Goethe Institute).

    Can a legal non-EU spouse easily travel to Germany for a short visit, child birth or family emergency? The answer is unfortunately NO.


I heard of a German lady who even works for one of the Asian consulates in Germany and who has a non-EU husband that was not allowed to get a visitor’s/tourist visa to come to Germany when her mother (his mother in law) died. The German lady who lives with her husband in his country went straight to her mother’s funeral in Germany but could not take her husband. She also would have liked him to be by her side when clearing her mother’s house etc. but the officials at the German Embassy in his country denied him the tourist visa.


Another case presents a young German lady freshly married to an non-EU national, both living in his country. In the course of two months her father in Germany got serious health problems and was delivered to the emergency unit. She flew to Germany to see her father. In the meantime her husband applied for a short term visit/tourist visa for which she organised a letter from her father’s chief surgeon confirming the serious and life threatening state. Despite a legal (foreign) marriage certificate, German Embassy officials insisted it was not a valid document, their also doubted the motives of her husband and suspected he would not return to his home country. The father died at the hospital in Germany without having seen his son in law. A couple of years later that same foreign marriage certificate was approved and officially registered in Germany. Truth and love won but it took a lot of time, energy and endurance. 

    But even financially rich countries such as Austria are no guarantee for anything. An Austrian gentleman who wanted to get married to a German and live in Germany with her, got the advice from a German official to change his nationality to German. He was told that the admin process would be much easier then. He wanted to keep his Austrian nationality though and had to go through an ordeal of various procedures to finally get his marriage ability certification and move on with his wife.




I’m speaking five languages (of which one is German and of which only one is my mother tongue). To me it was ALWAYS crucial to live in the respective country to understand and learn the language, while immersing myself in the culture. Learning a European language as a European or UK/US citizen is relatively easy – same letters, more or less similar pronunciation and grammar structure, but learning an Asian language with its totally different alphabet, sounds and structure is a real challenge. And so vice versa: what a challenge for an Asian person (Japanese, Chinese, Thai, Indians, Vietnamese etc) to learn German. With all the good will by an Asian student, I believe that learning German outside Germany – most likely taught by a non-mother tongue teacher – is certainly not conducive at all to create a language and knowledge base for passing even a basic German language test. 

    The German language certificate to enter the country is somewhat a farce anyway. So many “rich” foreigners live in Germany without speaking basic German. Just check the foreign deputy consuls in the bigger German cities. And isn’t it interesting to hear that the culture department of the German government has been sponsoring over several years a British artist with some sort of scholarship involving substantial regular payments which allow him to live and work in one of Germany’s biggest cities very comfortably? And he’s not speaking a single word of German. Only English. 



Yes, there might be candidates who want to abuse the German well-fare system, but why should couples with best intentions suffer because of those black sheep? The whole visa jurisdiction is based on “potential system abusers from abroad” and it seems everyone who applies for a visa gets treated like a potential criminal facing disgraceful interrogations. 

    Furthermore, I find it worth considering this: some foreign spouses might not have a strong financial or educational background, maybe cannot even read and write, but they might very well have an enormous education of heart, brilliant humanitarian skills as well as values and perspectives on life that would surely be beneficial for a rational, functional and left-brain country such as Germany.

    Transformation and balance are required. In Germany, and everywhere else on this planet…


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