I am doing my PhD in Germany and I’m under a three year DFG grant, which ends in September, and with it my visa. Although I can get an 18-month visa to find a job after my PhD, this won’t be granted until after my defense (when I get my certificate).

My supervisor had no idea that my residence in Germany depends on my employment contract/grant with the university. I asked him if I could submit my dissertation at the end of July and be guaranteed a defense date in September. He told me cannot guarantee this and that I’ll just have to submit my defense earlier.

I don’t want to rush my writing (I’m technically submitting my PhD early already) so finishing earlier than July is out of the question. But if I don’t get a defense date in September, I will have to leave Germany and come back to defend it. I come from a country that requires a Schengen visa, so coming back won’t be as easy as hopping on a plane.

Right now I am seriously considering submitting my thesis in July and then flying back at the end of September with or without a defense date. If I don’t get a defense date then I effectively quit my PhD.

What should I do? Any advice would be appreciated.

EDIT 1: Thanks for all of your advice. I'm slowly going through it.

I asked my supervisor if I can do it remotely and he said that Skype-ing for dissertation panels is not allowed. So he won't even consider a virtual presentation.

EDIT 2: My supervisor and I had a meeting and we discussed a few options. Since we are inviting a professor in the US to the panel, it is in everyone's best interest to have a tough timeline in mind. The timeline we selected is within the validity period of my current permit. Still no guarantees as anything could go wrong, but it's better than nothing.

Thanks again for those of you who gave thoughtful responses. To those of you who thought my question "makes no sense", I apologize deeply for my profound ignorance and I'm sorry that you didn't find my question relevant, unlike many people here. (Ironically my thesis is about online communities and how some more established members treat less active ones.)

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    Comments are not for extended discussion; this conversation has been moved to chat. In particular, please do not attempt to answer a question in the comments.
    – Wrzlprmft
    Commented Mar 23, 2018 at 11:01
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    @iamnarra If you want useful information, then you need to provide us with basis to give you that. For example, what's exactly your current status? Are you a student? Are you an employee of the university? What's your visa/residence permit type? When exactly does your current residence permit expire? The date on the document is very important!!!
    – AndrejaKo
    Commented Mar 25, 2018 at 18:50
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    @iamnarra I do understand, but immigration advice is directly related to your question. Therefore, there's nit much to say other than speak to international office and hope that their workers know someyhing. Good luck!
    – AndrejaKo
    Commented Mar 26, 2018 at 9:35
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    The premises of your question are needlessly all-or-nothing. "Quitting your PhD" is a misrepresentation of what would happen... It would simply be that the completion is delayed, not just "cancelled forever". To think of "quitting" because of delays is a huge over-reaction, and makes no sense. Commented Mar 26, 2018 at 15:06
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    To endure a delay of a few months is not nearly as bad as truly "starting over" in a PhD program, surely? That's why I think proposing that is a non-sequitur. (Although I've not experienced visa problems myself, many of my research students have, as well as others for whom I've had responsibility. I am trying to take such things into account in my comment... ) Commented Mar 26, 2018 at 16:09

6 Answers 6


You should talk immediately with the International Office (or equivalent) at your university, as well as any student-coordinated offices at your university. This is by no means the first time that they will have dealt with such a situation. Usually there are workarounds available—for instance, you could be extended on a part-time contract for a few months while waiting for the defense to be completed. You certainly do not need to be employed full-time to qualify for a visa—you just have to be able to show sufficient income, which even a 50% contract would be enough to satisfy.

However, I should point out that, depending on the university, there is no way to guarantee that you can turn in your thesis in July and be able to defend it in September. For instance, in the faculty where I used to work, reviewers were given three months to review a thesis. So if you turned in your thesis in July, you probably would not be able to have a defense before the beginning of November. You'll need to check the regulations for your program to see when the defense can be scheduled relative to the thesis being handed in.

Moreover, the "art" of scheduling a thesis defense requires getting enough examiners together at the same time, never an easy task in the German system.

However, to answer your main question, don't you think that quitting and starting over is counterproductive? If you're already writing a thesis, that shows you're relatively near to completion, and that your advisor thinks you're ready to move on. Giving that up because of the logistics of scheduling a PhD defense seems very shortsighted. Why would you not think that the same thing couldn't happen if you started over and worked somewhere else? Since you're so close to finishing, get it done!

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    A slight addition to this: Just because the supervisor cannot guarantee a defense date, doesn’t mean that it that a timely defense cannot happen or is even unlikely. As long as the regulations permit this, all you need to do is select a committee of people who have the time and will to review your thesis quickly.
    – Wrzlprmft
    Commented Mar 23, 2018 at 11:06
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    Also, while I don't think I've ever seen anyone actually doing this, I don't think there is a practical reason why a defense couldn't be done remotely through something like Google Hangouts; Worth at least asking if the examiners would be OK with that.
    – Cubic
    Commented Mar 23, 2018 at 11:08
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    @Kimball Germany isn't that different from most other places in the world... in that there's no real central system. The federal government doesn't have much of a say in education, so it varies from state to state, and the state governments usually let universities self-organise, certainly for details like how examinations are done. Universities in turn usually don't micro manage their individual faculties, which in turn are fairly hands-off with their professors...
    – Cubic
    Commented Mar 23, 2018 at 12:25
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    It is important to add, not to rely on the International Office. Traditionally German Universities can be quite unhelpful to students (its the opposite in the US, there the university considers the students as their repsonsibility), in Germany they consider the student as an applicant whose applications will be handled by law. Luckily admins are getting more and more mellow, but depending on the school one shoudnt solely rely on it.
    – lalala
    Commented Mar 24, 2018 at 15:37
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    @lalala: "It is important to add, not to rely on the International Office. Traditionally German Universities can be quite unhelpful to students" - while it's true that the mentality in German universities generally aims for students acting as autonomous individuals that are responsible for their own progress rather than relying on university guidance, the "international office" is usually explicitly meant to provide advice and support in precisely the kind of administrative difficulty specific to international students like what the OP describes here. Commented Mar 26, 2018 at 13:49

I think the easiest way to resolve your dilemma is to apply for an extension of your stay in Germany.

Even though you got your visa in your home country, you don't necessarily have to go back to your home country to apply for an extension of your stay — the relevant authority is called Ausländerbehörde (officially Landesamt für Bürger- und Ordnungsangelegenheiten — LABO). (Having to return to your home country might apply if you are a tourist applying for a new tourist visa — in any case, this should not apply to you.)

Since you are studying for a PhD at a recognized university/institution, you might have to apply for a new student visa (if you're currently on a work/tourist visa, say), or simply for an extension of your student visa.

Being enrolled as a student is enough here — even after your scholarship/grant expires, you stay a student until you graduate (i.e. defend your thesis). Of course you cannot stay a student forever and there is a limit to finishing your PhD studies, but it's longer than three years (usually more like seven).

Depending how big your city is, getting the necessary documents and an appointment at the Ausländerbehörde might take some time (usually 6-8 weeks for the first appointment), so it's better to get to it right away. It's good to have some help with all of this, so please get the International Office of your university involved.

Of course, quitting and starting over is a ridiculous idea, as everyone has said.

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    I am in a slightly similar situation as OP (Masters student in Germany - First semester) and your advice seems like common sense. I know many fellow students from non Schengen countries studying here who have taken way more than 2 years to finish their masters degree. Most students take 3 actually. If they all can get their visa extended, why can't OP?
    – Chani
    Commented Mar 25, 2018 at 8:20
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    It may very well be that the PhD student is employed by the university and hence is not in the possession of a student visa. So the situation may be different to those on scholarships or grants.
    – DCTLib
    Commented Mar 25, 2018 at 10:56
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    @DCTLib Yes, but being a student, they are able to apply for a student visa from within Germany, even if currently on a work visa.
    – Earthliŋ
    Commented Mar 25, 2018 at 10:58
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    Now you're asking a different question — "how do I support myself financially after my scholarship expires until my defence?". I don't know your financial situation. Can your parents lend you money just for the visa application? For what it is worth, I know that the rules are not hard rules. You cannot be denied the application if you satisfy all the requirements. But satisfying all the requirements is not always necessary to be granted an extension. Having a letter from the university explaining the situation and asking for you to be given the time to graduate can help your case immensely.
    – Earthliŋ
    Commented Mar 26, 2018 at 9:26
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    @Earthliŋ: 'Now you're asking a different question — "how do I support myself financially after my scholarship expires until my defence?"' - not necessarily. The amount of money that they actually need to sustain themselves may be lower than the amount that is required on the account for getting a visa. Furthermore, the OP may not be planning on staying the entire time, anyway, but just need a guarantee that they can come back in time for their defense on relatively short notice. Commented Mar 26, 2018 at 13:37

Talk to the relevant office in your institution.

You're unlikely to be the first person in this situation, and there are most likely ways to get your visa extended or renewed.


I don’t want to rush my writing so finishing earlier than July is out of the question....I am seriously considering submitting my thesis in July and then fly back at the end of September with or without defense date. If I don’t get a defense date then I effectively quit my PhD.

What should I do? Any advice would be appreciated.

While you said you're unwilling to rush your writing (it's out of the question), you also said that any advice would be appreciated.

Your advisor has advised you:

He told me ... that I’ll just have to submit my defense earlier.

He believes you'll be able to do so to the standards required. It may be that your standards are higher than the reviewer's standards, or that he believes you can meet their standards in the time frame you need to.

In the absence of better information, I'd trust your advisor's assessment of your abilities, and work towards that goal.

If you run into issues, or need assistance, ask him for tools, techniques, services, and whatever other assistance you need that you may currently be unaware of. You might be surprised to learn, for instance, that there are resources dedicated to helping you with aspects of your work which you are currently unaware of.

Even if you disagree with your advisor, and cannot see a way to submit the kind of work you want to be known for, you should consider that it's better to submit your best possible work within the timeframe given than it is to abandon your work altogether.

It may be painful to let go of the ideal and settle or compromise on something less than your absolute best work, however you have a goal and a deadline, and if that cannot be resolved, then you shouldn't throw what you have away.

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    And, regarding that last point, you'll find in both academia and the industry that oftentimes deadlines are more important than polish, and a person who can do good work to a deadline is more valuable than a person who does perfect work but misses the deadline.
    – Adam Davis
    Commented Mar 23, 2018 at 13:36

If I don’t get a defence date then I effectively quit my PhD

Not necessarily, it's perfectly possible to obtain a visa to come back for the defence.

However, it's best to avoid having extra travel costs, visa costs, losing time, and taking the risk of missing your defence because of a delayed visa. You should try to extend your current visa to cover the defence. Don't wait until the defence date is known, try to clarify your situation as early as possible.

While your first contact should be the person responsible for foreign students at your university, I advise you to clarify the situation directly with the relevant government agencies: Ausländerbehörde or Auslandersamt. In the worst case, you will hear the same story twice. However, if the view of your situation by the the agencies is different, you should know that the decision about your visa will be taken by government officials alone, and it will not depend on what university staff told or promised you.

  • What do you mean by "Ausländerbehörde or Auslandersamt" and "same story twice". As far as I know "Ausländeramt" is just a different name for Ausländerbehörde (the official name is again different, see my answer).
    – Earthliŋ
    Commented Mar 27, 2018 at 15:24
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    @Earthliŋ By "same story twice" I mean that people at Ausländerbehörde may tell the OP the same things people at the uni told him. Or they may tell him something different, at which point he should listen to what they say, not the uni. Commented Mar 27, 2018 at 15:29

First of all, you should change your mind from QUIT to COMPLETE your PhD.

So once you decide to complete your PhD, then you will definitely find a number of favorable ways how to do it. I can understand your situation at this moment, but never feel alone to take a right decision.

So as suggested by aeismail and others, there must be a division in your University who takes care of the International students.

So PLEASE visit that division in your university and ask them that how can you extend your VISA and can work somewhere part-time to support your staying.

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