- The Washington Times - Thursday, November 23, 2000

BONN The information technology industry called for it, the government granted it, and when the German "green card" was finally introduced in August, hopes were high that foreign IT specialists would flock to Germany to work in a sector badly in need of experts. Three months later, the hope has not been fulfilled.
Up to 20,000 workers from countries outside the European Union were to be allowed to work in the German information technology (IT) sector with the green card a combined work and residency permit valid for five years.
At a computer fair earlier this year, an association of IT companies complained they needed as many as 75,000 people qualified to work as software programmers and developers, IT consultants and network specialists.
The government agreed to make it easier for German companies to employ non-EU citizens who could alleviate the shortage. But as of this month, only 2,500 persons have taken advantage of the opportunity.
Jean Lanzeray of the government's Central Office for Job Placement in Bonn said he was not surprised.
"Nobody could realistically have expected for all these 20,000 experts to come at once," he said. But others are asking why the program has not been more successful.
Some critics are blaming the five-year limit on the cards, saying it is less attractive than an American green card which has no time limit.
"This five-year-limit is a barrier which people refuse to take as long as they can go to the U.S. or to England without any such restrictions," said Hans-Olaf Henkel, president of the Association of German Industry, in an interview with Deutschland Radio.
Government officials reject that argument.
"You can't compare our German green card to the American one," said Mr. Lanzeray. "The United States offer foreign IT specialists a limited work permit, too, that is valid for six years."
In light of personnel shortages in the high-tech industry, the U.S. Congress has agreed to raise the number of visas available to foreign IT specialists to 585,000 during the next three years.
Chief executive officers of German start-up companies are up in arms against a further limitation to the German green card. Rules require that an annual salary of at least $44,000 be paid to IT specialists who lack a college degree.
"That's simply unreal for a start-up company," said Felix Frohn-Bernau, CEO of the Berlin-based start-up "Dooyoo."
Start-ups do hire college dropouts and self-styled computer experts, but their pay usually ranges between $25,000 and $35,000, Mr. Frohn-Bernau said. This generally includes stock options a form of payment the rules on green cards do not take into account.
German companies face stiff competition from other countries in their search for qualified IT specialists, according to one international study.
Indian IT experts would rather work in California's Silicon Valley or in New York rather than Germany, according to the study conducted by a Dutch job agency, a Swedish consulting firm and an Indian consulting firm.
Germany's language and renowned bureaucracy are only two of the barriers that Indian IT specialists dread. Highly publicized attacks on foreigners in recent months in different parts of Germany also have raised fears.

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