Military Retiree, SOFA Status and Student Visa

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I just retired from the military as of November 1st.  I am currently studying to be a teacher with one of the local American universities (UMUC).  I already have a job lined up with NAF to which I would get SOFA status.  I have considered not working because between my retirement pay and my wife's wages (she is a teacher at a German high school), I would not have to work for the money, only the SOFA status.  The reason for the SOFA status is twofold:  I cannot go to school on  base (which many of my teaching classes are so-called "hybrid classes" where I physically attend class once a week and the rest in online) if I don't have SOFA status and the second is because I will not be able to get a job on base if I register as "ordinarily resident". 

 

I would very much like to not work and go only to school.  With the exception of the problems with not having SOFA status, it would be a much better solution.  We have had much less family stress with me at home as we have discovered with me staying at home the last few months (because of terminal leave and waiting for my job paperwork to process).  My wife would love for me to stay at home to take care of things while she can focus on her career.  She had to put her career on hold for many years while the kids were little (and one of them was chronically ill and had to be in the hospital for days at a time).  Now the kids are older (9 and 11) and my wife's career has started back up and is going great. 

 

I was considering attending school at the local German university in Kaiserslautern on a student visa.  Does anybody know how that works?  Would having a student visa preclude me from having to register as ordinarily resident?  Does anybody know anything about the process and for how long I can be on a student visa?

 

I appreciate any help anybody can give me.  I do not want to make a rash and uniformed decision and close doors to future employment with the American contingent in Kaiserslautern, although I am considering severing all ties with the military because I am already tiring of the SOFA status problem.  I am sure that I could find employment somehow at a later time after I finish my master's degree.  I just would like some input if anybody can give me some advice.

 

Thanks in advance!

 

Tim B.

Kaiserslautern, Germany

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I may be missing the obvious here, but isn't your wife German? Then you don't need to worry about non-EU citizen visa issues, as her citizenship gives you the right to apply for an Aufenthaltserlaubnis (AE).

 

More info on that here.

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I'm actually not sure about the student visa, but I can tell you what my experience with SOFA was.  I married a German and moved here back in August.  I am very close to an Air Force base and talked a lot to my dad about potentially working on base  (he's retired AF and was stationed at this exact base back in the 80s), and what he and the people at my nearby base told me was that you get a 90 day window when you first arrive to stay under SOFA (or when you are on the limited visa).  I was told by some Americans in my area that a lot of people apply very quickly for NAF jobs just to get into the system, so that they can get that logistical support.  (Some later apply for GS positions once they get their ID card.)  Unfortunately, I became Ordinarily Resident without even realizing it.  My husband and I thought we were being very proactive and efficient by getting all of my paperwork done.  However, obtaining my 3 year Residence Permit and being added to my husband's national health insurance policy automatically kicked me out of SOFA even though I was still inside that 90 day window.  In talking with another girl who was recently in a similar situation, she said that the various personnel offices and one of the contractor offices told her that the moment you enter the German system, SOFA disappears.  If you get a residence permit, if you earn money from a German company, or if you receive any kind of German benefits, SOFA is gone.  I had someone sign me onto the base so that I could sit down face to face with someone in Personnel, and they pretty much confirmed that information.  They said once you lose SOFA the only way to get it back is to move back to the states for six months.

 

I'm wondering - would you be fluent in German by the time you got your Master's degree?  I only ask because I also have a Master's degree (English Literature), but because I'm not fluent in German, it's virtually worthless to German companies.  I have found that my degrees are really only successful in Luxembourg as one of their main languages of business is English.  Three months of intense job searching has yielded interviews almost entirely in Luxembourg.  What jobs I can find on this side of the border without fluency in German have been freelance and/or mini-jobs.  Nothing of financial substance.  The girl I spoke of above also had a Master's degree (Social Work) but couldn't work for German organizations either without fluent language skills.    

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TexasFrau is spot on. Once you go native, there is no going back. It used to be you could leave Germany for a year and come back but I hear that loophole has been closed too.  So the OP should carefully consider how important SOFA status is for him.  Being able to go to the commissary and PX is about all you get on NAF for logistical support.  And also tax relief on purchases and some utilities.  Not sure about gas card though - I had one but I was working for a university under a special clause of SOFA that covers non-profits. 

 

On the other hand, the OP's wife will have to be in tax class I as if she were single because the OP is not officially in Germany.  If the OP decides to go ordinarily resident, then she goes to tax class III and there should be savings there too.  It's a tough decision but you can calculate the pros/cons financially and decide if it is right for you.  Also check with UMUC to see if you can get an installation pass to be able to attend classes even if you are not an ID card holder.  It used to be that the base commander or head of the MPs could issue one. And as a retiree you might have some leeway there to finish your studies as you have already started. 

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I found out that I can get a student visa by going to an American university on the base and I also just found out that they changed the rule regarding retirees attending classes on base and now we can.  That solves the problem of needing SOFA status to go to school. 

 

Now all I need to do is find out if having a student visa would preclude me from getting hired on base at a later date.  I have talked to the German legal office on the base and they would not give me a straight answer.  He told me that could be true or it could not and it would be considered "on a case-by-case" basis at time of employment.

 

I found out a lot of good information at the German-American Community Office in Kaiserslautern and they got right on the phone with the county office to see about the student visa.

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My wife is German, so staying in Germany would not be an issue if I decided to "go native" as rhody put it.  If I decided to go full expat, I would close doors to future employment on the base.  However, I have been starting to lean towards doing that because they always seem to dangle that SOFA status in your face. 

 

The ONLY reason that I would need it is for future employment.  I don't worry about all the other stuff because as a retiree, I can still shop on base (I already have my "pink card") which is nice but I usually only buy Tostito chips and cans of Rotel.  I buy everything else off-base because it is cheaper and fresher (a can of corn is a can of corn).

 

I appreciate all the help and advice everybody has given.

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If you do lose SOFA, there are still a handful of jobs you could work on the base.  You would actually qualify to apply for the positions that are held back for German citizens.  Since you're in Kaiserslautern, I'm assuming you would be looking at Ramstein.  Here is a link to their current local national openings so that you can get an idea of what kind of options you would have without SOFA.  

 

http://www.ramstein.af.mil/shared/media/document/AFD-151201-001.pdf

 

However, you wouldn't be eligible to work for DoDEA - even as a substitute.  I already tried to go down that road at my base.

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1 hour ago, Timbear said:

I found out that I can get a student visa by going to an American university on the base and I also just found out that they changed the rule regarding retirees attending classes on base and now we can.  That solves the problem of needing SOFA status to go to school. 

 

Now all I need to do is find out if having a student visa would preclude me from getting hired on base at a later date.  I have talked to the German legal office on the base and they would not give me a straight answer.  He told me that could be true or it could not and it would be considered "on a case-by-case" basis at time of employment.

 

I found out a lot of good information at the German-American Community Office in Kaiserslautern and they got right on the phone with the county office to see about the student visa.

 

Again, you don't need a student visa, due to being married to a German national. Those advising you to get a student visa are not as well-informed as you think they are.

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I think he wants a student visa so that he can stay out of the German system and keep SOFA.  

 

I did some googling and found an American military expat blog.  Here is what she wrote:

 

For the Student

Student visas do exist for people taking classes at the local universities, but they are now basically the same thing as a residency visa, or “befristeter Aufenthaltserlaubnis.” You will want to contact the university you’ll be studying at first and register with them, so that they can help you with your visa paperwork.  US citizens can also apply for a student visa after arriving here, but you’ll also need to file for a residency permit in most cases. Student visas do not allow you to work in Germany. After obtaining a university degree, foreign students may stay for one year to find a job that matches their qualifications.

 

If you have to apply for a Residence Permit as part of the student visa, you won't be able to keep SOFA.

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Yeah, they don't make is easy do they?  The good news is this:  I do have the choice because I am already set up.  That is if I decided to be an expat (which I still am considering).  I have the NAF job for now which does give me SOFA status, so I will just see how it works out.  If it is too stressful for the family, I will reconsider becoming an expat. 

 

One thing is for certain:  I never knew that retiring would be this difficult.  It has been a balancing act, that's for sure. 

 

Appreciate all the help everybody!  There is certainly no "one stop shop" for the information that I need and you have all helped me a great deal!

 

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Hey everybody!  I have come to an important decision:  I have decided to go expat and not work for a while (at least a few years).  Why?  Over the last few months, I have gotten a taste of what it's like to be "Mr. Mom".  The stress level at home has been the lowest it's been in a long, long time.  My wife has absolutely loved it knowing that I can take care of the kids if they get sick and we don't have to juggle a schedule between two working adults.  My NAF job would have been for $8.75 an hour which is literally peanuts. 

 

I just found out a few days ago that I can go to school on base after all, so that way I can maximize my GI bill. 

 

I feel great that I can stay home, spend more time with the family and actually plan for vacations and things like that.  Since my wife's family is in Augsburg, I wouldn't know when I could even go because of a crappy work schedule.

 

Anyways, thank you all again for your help.  I already have everything else figured out and since I am a retiree with a pink card, I can still shop on base for Tostito chips and Pepsi cans!

 

Thanks everybody!

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Sounds like you made the right decision for you. Congratulations and good luck with the studies and family life!

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