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Foreign Tech Workers Still Wanted in Germany

Germany this week extended its "Green card" program to skilled immigrants. The move comes at a time when the country's immigration policy hangs in the balance.


Germany wanted 20,000 foreign IT specialists. It got less than that.

Had Chancellor Gerhard Schröder's government gotten its way, Germany's first immigration law would already be attracting highly-qualified workers to the country.

But Germany's constitutional court threw out the proposed law in December 2003, one month before it was to take effect. The court ruled that the way the law was passed in Germany's upper house of parliament, the Bundesrat, was unconstitutional.

In place of the law is the policy Germany has had since it first invited guest workers into the country in the 1950s. An addition to that policy, the Green Card program, was quietly extended this week. The move by Economic Minister Wolfgang Clement shows the Social Democratic-Green Party coalition is holding fast to at least part of its promise to pull qualified workers into Germany.

Launched to a great fuss in 2000, the program sought to bring in badly needed IT specialists from Eastern Europe, India and Russia to feed a booming industry. That industry has all but collapsed, leaving a portion of the round 14,000 Green card holders out of a job. In Munich, the home of one of the largest concentrations of Green card holders, 7 percent had registered themselves as unemployed, according to a recent study.

The situation fuels the arguments of Christian Democratic Union politicians who say Germany must do more to get the more than 4 million unemployed Germans a job before focusing on bringing in immigrants.

But economic experts are quick to point out that with every foreigner brought in, Germans benefit.

"They manage, through their special productive efficiency and willingness to be productive, to create more jobs," said Bernhard Rohleder, of the IT association, Bitkom.

In addition, they pay taxes, buy groceries and go out at night, contributing their share to keeping the German economy going, Rohleder told Deutsche Welle. The problem Germany has is not bringing in enough of them.

Germany not very welcoming

Indeed, government officials hoped to have handed out 20,000 Green cards by now. But many candidates have been hesitant to go to a country where English is a second language and the nightly news carries reports on Neo-nazi attacks on foreigners. Germany hasn't done a good enough job of making the newcomers feel wanted, said Christoph Schmidt, president of the Economic Institute RWI.

The USA and Australia have no problem "bringing young people to their universities in order to … later integrate them as valuable members of the workforce," Schmidt said.

The new immigration law foresaw more money and effort devoted to integrating foreigners already in Germany. Now, that money has been put on hold.

Earlier this month, the government asked a committee involving members of both houses of parliament to examine the proposed law again. But serious negotiations aren't expected to take place until the Fall.

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