Organisational and Legal Aspects
Occasionally things may happen “over night” (and work out wonderfully well, when interests match), but usually both employers and interns prefer to plan ahead of time. The planning pattern most often followed by Bremen students will have them contact potential employers about six months before the proposed internship starting date. However, if employers prefer earlier dates for receiving applications, the Career Center (once they have heard from the organisation or company) will make sure to spread that information in the relevant schools. In general, a preparation time of half a year seems to have established itself as a useful time frame for both companies and students.
Overall, the target should be to sign (or confirm reliably by email) an internship agreement at least two months before the start date; three months would be ideal and are in fact essential in those cases where interns need to apply for a work permit. As always, given the fact that there are a number of practical and administrative tasks to be accomplished before your trainee is ready to leave, “the sooner the better” is a good motto to keep in mind when it comes to making the final decision.
As well as any other work-related rules are, of course, under the jurisdiction of the employer. Interns would usually expect a full-time assignment of around 35 to 40 working hours per week, which actually is a pre-requisite for their mandatory practical training periods. They are certainly ready to work overtime when necessary and would appreciate to hear in advance how overtime may be compensated. Being trainees on temporary assignments, students from Bremen would normally not expect many benefits, if any, but would more than gratefully accept them if the employer is ready to offer them, like for instance a few days leave for longer-lasting assignments. Overall, one of the ideas of an international internship is for the interns to immerse themselves in the foreign working environment, prepared to accept the existing national or company terms. Experience has shown that the more transparent these rules are made to future trainees, the less likely is the risk of any misunderstandings. Therefore, as an employer, please don’t be surprised when applicants tactfully enquire about these aspects of their potential assignment – this is driven by the intent to know, to be well prepared, and to comply.
The same is valid for any questions regarding possible compensation for the work interns contribute to during their stay: it is absolutely at the company’s discretion what they may want to propose in terms of compensation, which sometimes is also regulated by national legislation. Nobody expects high salaries for a practical training period, and those students who can afford it are sometimes willing to accept unpaid excellent and rewarding assignments. Every applicant certainly knows how valuable a good assignment is for one’s professional and personal development and would not regard any international internship position primarily as a source of income.
As we all know, most students live on tight budgets but are still willing to carry all expenses for their journey to their destination country and to and from their place of work. However, any compensation (occasionally, free housing has turned out to be a good option) an employer can afford towards the trainee’s living expenses is more than appreciated. In some cases, this may be vital for the students to be in a position to financially cover their costs. Particularly in the case of well advanced and highly qualified students, many employers have, in recent years, considered this a matter of fairness towards their interns, who will always be less expensive than regular staff, and frequently almost similarly qualified.
Trainees will always try not to depend on internship salaries. There are ways to receive small grants from a number of sources for internship periods abroad, but competition is fierce. Those who apply for travel and/or maintenance grants will often depend on the employers’ willingness to fill in a few forms to support their application, demonstrating the relevance of the training to their studies. These formalities will differ from programme to programme, and as an employer you can rely on the fact that applicants are fully in control of their grant applications, and will keep the administrative efforts for the employer at a minimum. Some grant schemes are supervised by state or university authorities, and they pursue the same approach: to make it as easy as possible for employers to support their future trainees with these applications.
All in all, there are no rules or regulations regarding compensation for a practical training period for the applicant, and it is up to the employer to decide what is possible under the given circumstances. There are no obligations whatsoever; however, any compensation offered will be gratefully received.
If the employer decides to pay any compensation, it is only natural that national tax laws fully apply, and trainees have been made aware of that when they attended orientation sessions in Bremen.
We strongly advise our students to take care of their own insurance matters before they leave Germany, and also to ask the insurer to provide some sort of descriptive proof of coverage in English. Ideally, students will arrive at their destination holding a comprehensive insurance package covering health and accidents and, very often, personal liability. Employers abroad should therefore have no obligations to handle any insurance matters for their interns other than those prescribed by national laws (as was mentioned above regarding taxes).
Simplified procedures exist for EU (and European Economic Area) students when they travel to other EU countries. On the basis of the recently introduced European Health Insurance Card, EU citizens are entitled to receive immediately necessary medical treatment in all member states, according to local regulations and conditions while they are staying abroad. Nevertheless, in order to avoid any possible gaps in health insurance coverage, even EU students will be advised in Bremen to obtain additional health insurance on top of their host country public insurance package. In particular, work-related accidents should be part of these extra insurance schemes. Thus, employers should not have to worry about the health insurance of their trainees.
The same is true for non-EU companies and organisations (and EU employers receiving non-EU students), who can expect trainees to hold adequate health insurance coverage under a special “go-and-work-abroad” scheme they will have been told to obtain before departure. In countries that require work permits for student interns, visa regulations frequently require proof of sufficient insurance coverage before a work permit is granted. Since the University of Bremen is in no position to comprehensively check up on the insurance situation for each and every student, it is always a good idea for employers who are interested in these insurance matters to request their trainees to present a copy of their insurance contract in English.
Apart from health insurance which provides the most vital coverage students need when they travel abroad, local insurance schemes of the destination countries may apply. However, if employees on a temporary internship contract are exempt, employers should contact their national insurance agencies to find out about relevant rules in this area. Should any kind of social security scheme apply to interns from abroad, students have been informed in Bremen’s pre-departure orientation sessions to expect the respective costs to be deducted from their potential salaries, according to the regulations in the host country.
Put very simply, the following guidelines help to answer the question whether or not a student trainee from Bremen requires a permit to work, or the corresponding visa respectively:
EU-students going to work as an intern in another EU country do not need a work permit.
Students going to work as an intern in their home countries, or in countries that have introduced relevant visa waiver regulations between themselves and a student’s home country, do not need a work permit.
In all other cases, more often than not a work permit is very likely to be needed before interns can enter the destination countries and start their internships. Applicants for trainee positions may raise this issue in their communication with potential employers, but you can usually expect students from Bremen to have already been in touch with the consulates of their destination countries and have gathered some information about this issue beforehand.
Study-related internships usually fall under simplified procedures as far as obtaining a temporary work permit is concerned. Occasionally, visa requirements may be even waived if the working visit’s objective is to complement study and education. Of course, regulations and formalities differ between countries and are also subject to change from time to time. Local authorities dealing with the labour market or with educational affairs as well as the immigration authorities (under the supervision of the ministry in charge of foreign affairs) are the people to turn to for detailed information in case an employer is uncertain about the legislation in this area. To explain the situation, it is generally helpful to point out the temporary nature of the planned assignment as well as the fact that the practical training the students pursue is part of their studies in their home countries.
In many cases, a cultural exchange visa can be utilised instead of a “regular work permit”, which minimises the efforts to all parties concerned. Also, in countries where special “Work & Travel” visa programmes exist, it is always worth exploring if such a visa could be used to legalise the intended internship period. Generally speaking, Work & Travel visas (appearing under different names, like e.g. Working Holiday Maker (Australia, New Zealand) or Youth Mobility Programs (Canada)) are even simpler to apply for than any “Training/Student Trainee/Internship”-category that may exist; consular or immigration authorities provide the necessary background information. In some countries e.g. in the USA, applicants for such visas (both Work & Travel and Internship/Trainee) are required by law to become participants in authorised exchange programs. These very often provide counselling services in this area and can also be helpful in identifying the most adequate kind of work permit. As always, if there are competitors in the field it is well worth comparing programme prices and conditions.
All in all, due to the widespread acceptance of international practical training being a desirable educational component, employers will find that hiring an intern will mostly create fewer administrative tasks than recruiting internationally for their regular work force. Should any company or organisation still be hesitant because of the legal implications, please feel free to get in touch with Bremen’s Career Center for advice.
Basically, internship agreements between employers and their future trainees develop out of the discussions and negotiations between those two parties. We at the University of Bremen think that employers know best what their company can provide and what it needs in terms of additional qualified staff. Equally, students can best explain what their expectations and necessities for the practical training are. Therefore, it would only be under exceptional circumstances that staff from Bremen would get involved in any internship negotiations. Work experience assignments for students that are officially agreed upon by the faculty in Bremen and selected partners abroad follow their own development patterns.
At the same time, the university is of course highly interested in learning about the successes, or maybe weaknesses, of the practical trainings their students undergo. With mandatory internships, university staff responsible to recognise work experience as valid components of the students’ curricula depend upon some input to be able to make a fair assessment of how students have performed and about what they have accomplished. As a basis of such judgments, students would typically be asked to hand in a detailed report about their internships after they return. In the case of longer training periods, it may also be decided to continuously assess the progress trainees are making, for instance through monthly or quarterly reports or similar. Most of the time, these reports will be prepared by the trainees themselves and would only require a signature from the company supervisor. In this respect, the employers’ co-operation is greatly appreciated and helps students to fulfill curricular requirements. Also, as various evaluations show, employers consider these monitoring systems often serving as an efficient tool to enhance and organise the communication between trainees and the departments employing them.
Minimally, the University of Bremen would ask any employer who hires a student trainee to provide a written confirmation of the practical assignment at the end of the internship. This confirmation should state the internship period, the hours worked per week and the departments which trainees were allocated to. Ideally, a short assessment of the employers’ overall impression about the student’s performance, efforts, and potential would be provided. If in addition the student’s supervisor would be willing to write a more detailed letter of reference, students would be more than grateful to accept as this could be used to help with future employment applications.
Also, formalised internship agreements have proven to be very useful in terms of clarifying and defining the needs and expectations as well as some basic rules for the internship period. Working areas and locations as well as regular working hours and rules for possible overtime can be specified here. Also, special duties and responsibilities the employer would like to point out as well as details of the trainee’s supervisor worth to be put in writing. For your convenience, we have designed a loosely phrased sample internship agreement form which we hope will be helpful. You could either use it as it is, or as a basis for any kind of agreement you may want to phrase yourself. The template version of this form can be downloaded here: Work Experience Agreement (Fillable).pdf