The Hamburg Welcome Center

The Hamburg Welcome Center

The Hamburg Welcome Center sees in qualified professionals from abroad above all one thing: important customers. Birte Steller heads the centre and explains in this interview how her staff help foreign professionals and why service is so important.
by Clara Görtz

Ms. Steller, the Hamburg Welcome Center was established in 2007. What was the idea behind it?

Like many other German cities, at the turn of the millennium Hamburg realized that demographic change is a major challenge and will sooner or later lead to a serious shortage of skilled workers. Qualified professionals are currently in great demand in Hamburg, particularly in the healthcare sector, in nursing care for instance. For this reason we considered at an early stage how we can become more attractive and supportive of immigration for international professionals. The idea arose to develop a bilingual, service-oriented point of contact. We address both foreign professionals who already have a job and those who complete their studies or a training programme in Hamburg. Moreover, the integration of qualified workers without a job into the German labour market is increasingly playing a role. That also goes for refugees who have the relevant qualifications.

What exactly does the center offer?

On the one hand we offer services relating to registration requirements and grant residence permits. On the other we advise and support our customers as they start out in Hamburg. We help most people search for a job or apartment, offer training sessions on the application process and intercultural affairs, for example, and establish contact with companies. Furthermore, we arrange German language courses, provide tips on childcare and take care of accompanying family members. We are currently integrating several existing services in the Welcome Center, such as those relating to the central recognition of foreign qualifications and the “Make it in Hamburg” initiative, which specifically works to place qualified foreign professionals at companies in Hamburg. And we are developing further services relating to social integration. Per year we grant around 6,000 residence permits and our ten staff members or so advise roughly 25,000 customers.

What is your contribution to the welcome culture in Germany?

For me, welcome culture means creating a quality and service structure that does not depart from the quality of state institutions for the country’s citizens. It actually involves introducing self-evident service structures. We have succeeded in this, because we combine the tasks of a public authority such as granting residence permits with general advisory services and give everything a great service orientation, working with appointments for instance – “business-style government service”. We do not consider new citizens petitioners, but rather see them as important customers. From our point of view, this kind of comprehensive range of services in administration is very important.

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Hamburg Welcome Center website (German)

Hamburg Welcome Center website (English)

by Clara Görtz